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What Is Monsignor Ganswein Up To?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 30, 2016

During his recent presentation of the book Beyond the Crisis in the Church: The Pontificate of Benedict XVI, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, who serves as personal secretary to “Pope Emeritus” Benedict XVI, inexplicably and quite mysteriously provided new depth, and thus new impetus, to the novel idea that Benedict’s renunciation of the papacy was qualified by a “changed understanding” of the papacy, according to which Benedict retained a “passive” aspect of the Petrine office while turning over its active exercise to Francis.

In the course of the book presentation Ganswein made remarks that surely reflect Benedict’s own understanding of his situation, including the precise meaning of the text of the renunciation, carefully phrased to refer to “the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter”. It is inconceivable that Ganswein would merely have offered his own opinion on the matter without having consulted Benedict.

According to Ganswein, while “there are not two Popes” as a result of the renunciation, there is nevertheless “a sort of exceptional state willed by heaven” according to which “the papal ministry is no longer what it was before…” Rather, Benedict “has profoundly and lastingly transformed it” such that “he has not abandoned the office of Peter [but] has instead innovated this office” so that there is “de facto a broadened ministry — with an active member [Francis] and a contemplative member [Benedict].”

Antonio Socci notes that only two conclusions are possible here: one nonsensical and the other of momentous significance. The first conclusion, as Socci writes, is that Benedict has created a “momentous turning point that in fact involves a radical mutation of the papacy, which today has become a collegial organ (but this is impossible according to Catholic doctrine).”  Indeed, it is impossible, and so the very contention is absurd. No matter what Benedict thinks he has done, no Pope has the power to change the nature of an office established in perpetuity by God Incarnate. That is, no Pope has the power to alter the divine constitution of the Church.  As even John Paul II remarked when he was about to undergo major surgery:  “You have to cure me because there is no room for a pope emeritus.”

The other conclusion, says Socci, is that “this discourse [by Ganswein] brings into view the ‘nullity’ of the renunciation by Benedict XVI.”  Indeed, if Benedict’s renunciation of the papacy was premised on his false opinion that he would remain a “contemplative member” of a “broadened” Petrine office by way of an innovation he himself had just originated, then how could the validity of that qualified renunciation not be called into question?  Is it not the case that Benedict still regards himself as the Pope in some sense?  And if that is so, how can he be said to have renounced the papacy unequivocally?

Indeed, as Ganswein observed: “For this reason, Benedict has renounced neither his name, nor the white cassock. For this reason, the correct appellation by which he refers to himself, even today, is “Holiness”; and for this reason, moreover, he did not retire to a remote monastery, but within the Vatican…”

I offer no answer to the question how this utter novelty affects Benedict’s renunciation of the papacy.  That is something history will have to judge — if indeed there is anything to judge.  I offer only another question:  Why is Monsignor Ganswein pressing this point now, three years into the tumultuous pontificate of Pope Francis?  Surely these remarks were well considered beforehand.  So what is he up to? 

A clue is found in Ganswein’s startling reference to the treachery at work in the conclave of 2005, during which the so-called “St. Gallen mafia,” including the infamous Cardinals Danneels and Kasper, contrived to elect Cardinal Bergoglio.  Amazingly, Ganswein refers to this development as simple historical fact, observing that the 2005 conclave involved “a dramatic struggle between the ‘Salt of the Earth’ party [of Ratzingerian orientation], revolving around Cardinals López Trujíllo, Ruini, Herranz, Rouco Varela and Medina, and the ‘Saint Gallen group’, revolving around Cardinals Danneels, Martini, Silvestrini and Murphy-O’Connor…”

Ganswein then ties the struggle at the conclave to two other telling facts: First, Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the conclave’s inception wherein he decried the “dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and views as the ultimate measure its own self and its own will.” Second, Pope Benedict’s request, immediately after his unexpected election, that the faithful pray for him that he not “flee in fear of the wolves.”

This is really quite remarkable: All in all, Ganswein’s remarks suggest that Benedict’s papacy was under attack by evil forces from beginning to end.  He makes that clear when he scoffs at the idea that anything as trivial as “Vatileaks” could have forced Benedict out of office:  “That scandal was too small for a thing of that kind and something much greater [prompted] the carefully considered step of millennial historic importance that Benedict took.”

Make of it what you will.  But do not underestimate the significance of Ganswein’s remarks in the midst of what is clearly the most disturbing papacy in the living memory of the Church: that of Benedict’s successor under mysterious and unprecedented circumstances.