VATICAN CITY –– Pope Benedict XVI will ordain his longtime secretary an archbishop Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany. The pope named his closest aide to be prefect of the papal household, a job that involves organizing the pope’s daily round of audiences and meetings.
Here is a list of 10 things to know about Archbishop-designate Georg Ganswein:
1. Impervious to criticism: When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005, his longtime secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, was propelled along with him onto the world stage. Catty gossip and jealous accusations of being power hungry dogged the monsignor. But after realizing the Vatican is also “a courtly state” and there would be petty “court chatter,” the archbishop-designate said he learned how to handle the rumors and become immune to the poisoned arrows.
2. Super organized and precise: When he was called to take the stand during the “VatiLeaks” trial of the papal butler, Paolo Gabriele, this summer, the 56-year-old Archbishop-designate Ganswein was asked by a Vatican judge whether he was well-organized and would have noticed any missing documents. The papal secretary replied, “I am a meticulous person, indeed, extremely meticulous.”
3. Well-trusted papal aide: Archbishop-designate Ganswein has been working with the pope since 1996 when he went to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He became then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s personal secretary in 2003. A short time later, the archbishop-designate already proved his ability to handle PR for the future pope when journalists overheard the cardinal ask some visitors to pray for then-Pope John Paul II because he was “in a bad way.” The cardinal’s secretary beat back the media frenzy, which assumed the pope’s immediate demise, and said it was obvious the pope wasn’t well, but there was no reason for alarm.
4. Sporty: Growing up, sports was one of his favorite hobbies, particularly soccer and skiing, and he worked at his local ski club as a ski instructor. Archbishop-designate Ganswein is still quite fit and always accompanies the Holy Father on his afternoon walks in the Vatican Gardens each day, praying the rosary and enjoying the fresh air.
5. Small-town boy: The archbishop-designate was born in a tiny village in the Black Forest. He is the oldest of five children; their father was a blacksmith and mother a stay-at-home mom. He’s credited growing up in the middle of nature with giving him “an instinct that helps tell the genuine from the fake.”
6. Typical teenager: Being a teenager during the ’70s, his favorite musical artists were Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens and the Beatles, he has said. He also let his curly hair grow out “pretty long” back then, which led to clashes with his father about going to the barber. He said that rebel phase ended pretty quickly, though he admits that giving-in still isn’t a strong point. He saved up for college working as a mailman and dreamed of becoming a stock broker.
7. Brainy with the brawn: Lots has been written or said — for example, in People Magazine or by Italian designer Donatella Versace — about the archbishop-designate’s good looks. But under the “bello” there is a brain. He knew he was bright and clever enough to work in the world of finance, but deeper questions about life intrigued him more and he fell in love with philosophy and theology. He’s said the compliments and love letters are “flattering,” but wishes people would “also acknowledge the substance.” He did remark that if all the attention he gets helped people “look at the faith I’m trying to convey, then it’s a good thing.”
8. Does nothing half-baked: His attraction to theology got to the point where he felt “I couldn’t drive at half speed” — either he had to pursue those studies completely or not at all. In his mind, doing “a little theology” wasn’t possible, and he started considering the priesthood. As a priest, he was sent to Munich to study canon law — a subject he said he found at the time to be dry and boring even though he loved to study. He was ready to give up, but said he was grateful when his professor helped him gain a new perspective on the subject and finish his doctorate.
9. Papal gatekeeper: When the newly elected Pope Benedict moved into the papal apartments, his secretary got a crash course from his predecessor, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, in what the new job would entail. The outgoing papal secretary told him that the hardest part of the job would be to make sure the pope isn’t “suffocated” by anything or anyone. The archbishop-designate said requests for “just a minute” with the pope were endless and he discovered he had to “put in a stronger filter.” The danger of “suffocation” and isolation also affects him, too, the secretary has said, and to counteract that he makes sure he gets out and spends time with friends.
10. Kid-friendly: It would be hard to not to have your heart melt when you’re handed a cute baby during a papal audience. But Archbishop-designate Ganswein displays a natural ease and radiant joy every time he’s passed an infant of any size or emotional state (bawling or gurgling, he shows no fear). One child described him as “like a very nice uncle” when he chatted with kids and townsfolk outside the pope’s house in Pentling, Germany, in 2006. During his years as a young assistant pastor in Germany, the archbishop-designate was in charge of children’s liturgies; he’s said kids are “unforgiving” if a priest is superficial or insincere. He’s co-authored a children’s book about the pope titled, “Why Does the Pope Wear Red Shoes?” and wrote the preface to another kid’s book about the pope told from the point of view of an orange cat.