Pope wants to evict Archbishop Gänswein from Rome and plans to visit Argentina in 2024

Interview with Pope Francis 

He plans to go to Argentina in 2024

This is what the Supreme Pontiff assured in dialogue with LA NACION; next year there will be no elections in the country, so he would avoid any political or partisan connotation to his visit.

Perhaps because he longs for his country or because he considers the time is right (or both), the truth is that Pope Francis plans to visit Argentina in 2024. "I want to go to the country next year," he told this journalist. According to the Pontiff, his visit to the country has been pending since 2017 and he has never ruled out such a trip, although the successive postponements have been attributed to reasons that were not the real ones. In 2024, there will be no elections in Argentina and, in this way, he will avoid any political or partisan connotation to his visit.

Strictly speaking, pontiffs never travel to any country that is in the midst of an electoral process. Perhaps the decision to bring forward his plan to travel to Argentina in 2024 is also due to the need to disassociate it from this year's presidential elections. He will go, whoever is elected to lead the new Argentine government.

In 2017, he was scheduled to visit Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. But the then Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, asked him to postpone the trip until after that year's presidential elections in Chile. The date was set for December of that year and he could only go to Argentina in January, a month usually paralysed by the southern summer. Pope Bergoglio then decided to postpone his tours of Argentina and Uruguay and visit only Chile and Peru. As a result, he now points out that the reunion with his native country has been postponed since 2017, although it was never definitively cancelled, as was speculated on several occasions.

The Pope hates to be associated with political currents in Argentina, whether in government or in the opposition. In the three interviews he recently gave to the Argentine media on the occasion of his tenth year of pontificate (one of them to the Rome correspondent of LA NACION, Elisabetta Piqué), the Pope clearly explained that he has no political preferences in Argentina. "I have been out of the country for ten years. I don't have my finger on the pulse of what is happening in Argentina. It would be unfair for me to have sympathies or antipathies in such circumstances", the Pope pointed out.

For the time being, he is preparing to appoint imminently, in the coming weeks, the replacement for the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, who resigned from his post last November, when he reached the age of 75. "I can only say that there are three strong candidates," Francis said, but he declined to name any of them. "I cannot name anyone because only one will be appointed," he explained. He added: "I must take into account the opinion of the Vatican institutions and the cardinals who are in charge of those institutions. It is not just a personal decision," he added.

Last Tuesday, the Pontiff met with Cardinal Poli, to whom he said that his replacement will take place in the very near future. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires holds the title of Primate of Argentina and is elevated almost immediately to the rank of Cardinal. The Pope always defends Poli, although he has kept a very low profile throughout his time as head of the archbishopric of Buenos Aires.

Pope Francis also made a strong defence of John Paul II, after Pietro Orlandi made accusations against the Polish pontiff for the kidnapping of his sister, Emanuela Orlandi, who disappeared in 1983, when she was a 15-year-old teenager. The Orlandis are the children of a former Vatican official and lived in the city of the Popes, although Emanuela was abducted near Piazza Navona in Rome's historic centre. The so-called "Orlandi case" regained notoriety after a recent documentary aired on Netflix, although it makes no reference to the alleged guilt of the Polish pope. "John Paul II was a saint in life and is now a saint formally after his death. No one can honestly doubt the decency of Pope Wojtyla," Francis said, categorically.

Speaking of his predecessors, the Pope said he still misses Benedict XVI, his immediate predecessor, who died on 31 December last year, less than four months ago. The two popes lived together in the Vatican (Benedict lived in a convent very close to Santa Marta, where Francis resides) for almost ten years. "I always had nothing but good advice and constant help from him. We saw much more of each other than is known, especially in recent times when it was evident that his health was deteriorating irremediably," he recalled.

As for Benedict XVI, the Pope proposed to his former private secretary, the once powerful German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, that he return to his diocese in Germany. Gänswein had written a memoir about his relationship with the dead pope ("Nothing but the truth", also published in Argentina) while waiting for the death of the former pontiff. Gänswein's book, which began selling a few days after Benedict XVI's death, refers to the moment when Francis effectively, though not explicitly, displaced him as prefect of the Papal Household after it was established that he had incorporated the name of Pope Emeritus Ratzinger as co-author of a book with the ultra-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah. Ratzinger later withdrew his signature from that book, but Francis' relationship with Gänswein was severed for good, although Gänswein remained Benedict's private secretary until his death.

Gänswein himself records in his book that the relationship between the two popes was very good, but stresses that, in his perception, he never had the confidence of Francis. Now, with Benedict gone, Francis has decided that Gänswein can decide whether to stay in Italy or return to Germany, but either option will have to keep him outside the Vatican walls. He will also have to leave the flat he lives in within the Vatican in another couple of months. Francis reportedly reminded Gänswein that all the Popes' private secretaries returned to their Dioceses when the Pontiff died. He cited the case of John Paul II's former private secretary, who returned to Krakow in his native Poland after the end of Wojtyla's pontificate. Gänswein's period as a highly influential figure in the Vatican, and a regular at Vatican ceremonies and events, has come to an end, according to all indications in Francis' entourage.

The Argentinian Pope appears extremely lucid and his face is in perfect condition, although his knee still requires him to use a cane for the short stretches or a wheelchair for the long ones. "I always wanted to return to the country," he repeats shortly before saying goodbye. "Don't link me to Argentinean politics, please," he urges at the end, before saying goodbye.



The future of Gänswein

Francis returned to the subject of Benedict XVI and said that he had proposed to Archbishop Georg Gänswein to return to Germany. Bergoglio drew a parallel with Stanisław Jan Dziwisz. Based on these statements, he should have become Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau.

Archbishop Stephan Burger, however, is only sixty years old, so should he have been moved? 

Francis knows very well that the parallelism with John Paul II's secretary does not work and can only be propounded to journalists who are not familiar with this 'system' at all. In Poland, Dziwisz certainly did not have the problems that a man like Gänswein might have in Germany. Poland certainly does not have the problems, including doctrinal ones, that Germany has. Quite the contrary.  Moreover, the two are characteristically quite different and the result was also evident during the pontificate of Benedict XVI himself. Dziwisz was a sergeant here in the Vatican and never let anyone step on his toes. 

Let us not forget that the Bishops' Conference is made up of Protestants rather than Catholics. Sending Gänswein would be a huge spite.

Bergoglio, however, told the journalist that Benedict XVI's former secretary has two choices: either Germany or stay in Italy but with a post outside the Vatican. 

The Pope who has become famous for being innovative, therefore, on the future of his predecessors' secretaries does not want to bring any new element. We take note of this.


Cathcon: Given the multitude of unresolved scandals, it may well not legally be safe for the Pope to visit his home country.