Archbishop Gänswein begins battle for truth with Pope Francis

There are still only excerpts from Archbishop Georg Gänswein's new book. In it, however, he already settles accounts with Pope Francis - and promptly has received criticism. Gänswein also revealed what mission Benedict XVI gave him before he died.

Excerpts from a book by Archbishop Gänswein made headlines in Italian newspapers on Friday. The Roman daily, "Il Messaggero" reported under the headline "On the day of the funeral, an attack by George against Bergoglio" that in the book Gänswein complains retrospectively about his leave of absence by Pope Francis.

When the reigning Pope gave him an indefinite leave of absence from his post as "Prefect of the Papal Household" in February 2020, he was "shocked and speechless", Gänswein said. He has expressed his views in the book "Nient'altro che la verita" (Nothing but the truth), some excerpts of which have now been made public in advance. At the time, the Pope gave Gänswein leave of absence with the request that from now on he should exclusively take care of the Pope Emeritus, who was already 92 years old.

In an excerpt published by the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Gänswein wrote: "Benedict's hope that I would be the link between him and his successor was somewhat naïve." Benedict's long-time private secretary reports irritations after he was asked to stay away from a meeting of Pope Francis with the Sant'Egidio community in 2014, for example. According to the report, Gänswein told Francis afterwards that this behaviour had diminished his authority and that he had also felt personally humiliated by it. "He agreed that I was right and he apologised, but then added that humiliations do a lot of good."

"You will remain a prefect but you will not come to work from tomorrow"

After the discussions about Cardinal Robert Sarah's book "Des profondeurs de nos cœurs" ("From the depths of our hearts") in January 2020, Gänswein had once again asked Francis for a conversation with the question of how he should behave in the future. "He seemed a little surprised but said with a serious face: 'Henceforth, stay at home. Support Benedict, who needs you, be a shield for him.'" An attempt to reply was blocked by Francis, he said. "You will remain a prefect but from tomorrow you will no longer come to work."

Benedict XVI had commented on his successor's decision at the time with the ironic words, "I think that Pope Francis does not trust me anymore and that he wants you to guard me." He had then personally approached his successor to change his mind but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the Italian Curial Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia commented critically on the latest publications from Gänswein's book. "Silence would be better," Paglia said on the popular radio programme "Radio Ach'io" on Italy's RAI. There were obviously hurts and pains, he said, but it would still be "better to be silent and seek the true message of Benedict XVI". Paglia (77) was closely associated with the Community of Sant'Egidio for decades and has directed the Pontifical Academy for Life since 2016.

Archbishop Gänswein also explained in the book, which is to be published in Italy next week, that he had received an order from Benedict XVI to completely destroy his private notes. According to the book, the Pope Emeritus (2005-2013) ordered the destruction of all his private notes in writing, "without exceptions and without loopholes", Gänswein said.

Dziwisz disregarded order to destroy papers

A similar order had been issued by Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II (1978-2005). His private secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, however, overrode it because he wanted to preserve important private records of the late Pope for historical research.

Gänswein also reports in the book that he had received precise instructions from the late ex-Pope as to whom he should hand over what, especially from his library, from his book manuscripts to documents from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and correspondence.

In addition, Benedict XVI had left instructions regarding his material inheritance, for which he had appointed him, Gänswein, as executor. The ex-Pope had updated the instructions in this regard several times, the last time in 2021.