VATICAN CITY, Italy – Pope Francis has instructed Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, former private secretary to the late Pope Benedict, to return to his native Germany without any new assignment by the end of the month.
This decision was announced in a brief statement issued by the Vatican on Thursday, June 15, 2023, marking an end to ongoing speculation about Gaenswein’s future role within the Church.
The archbishop has been a prominent figure in the Vatican for over a decade, until he was sidelined by Pope Francis after a personal disagreement.
Pope Benedict passed away on December 31, 2022, almost ten years after his resignation in 2013, marking the first papal resignation in 600 years.
Gaenswein, a long-time aide to Pope Benedict, is currently 66 years old.
It is highly unusual for a figure of his rank and relatively young age to not be assigned a new post, leading many to interpret the Pope’s decision as a form of exile.
The Vatican’s statement explained that Pope Francis had arranged for Gaenswein to return to his diocese in Freiburg “for the time being”.
Historically, former papal secretaries have typically been appointed to lead dioceses or granted high-profile positions such as cardinals.
The archbishop, who is nine years shy of the standard retirement age of 75 for bishops, had reportedly met with Pope Francis multiple times in recent months to discuss his future.
There has been speculation within Catholic media that he was hoping for a diplomatic appointment as a nuncio, or ambassador, to a country.
Archbishop Gaenswein has not immediately responded to requests for comment regarding this recent development and has previously declined requests from Reuters to comment on his situation over the past weeks.
Gaenswein served as Pope Benedict’s personal secretary since 2003, when Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, remaining at his side for nearly 20 years, including almost 10 years after Benedict’s resignation.