He’s been called Gorgeous George, il Bel Giorgio and even the Black Forest Adonis. And ever since making his world debut in the spring of 2005 as the 48-year-old personal secretary of the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI, Mgr Georg Gänswein has been one of the most talked about personalities at the Vatican, reports The Tablet.
Never in recent memory has a papal aide been such an obsession for tabloid writers, and adoring women. His fans have even erected several websites on the internet, mythologising the Pope’s strikingly handsome secretary as a former ski instructor, tennis player and helicopter pilot.
Currently aged 56 and with grey creeping through his sandy-coloured hair, he is still a youthful and attractive figure compared to the old men with fleshy jowls and balding heads who are more commonly associated with the Roman Curia.
And now his admirers have something much more substantial to celebrate in the dashing German monsignor than merely his enduring good looks and proximity to the papal throne. Last week, Pope Benedict announced that he was making his personal assistant the prefect of the Papal Household and was elevating him to the senior rank of archbishop.
It was a surprising move that undoubtedly delighted Don Georg’s friends and fans, but one that also left many others – especially some inside the Vatican – perplexed and troubled. “The naming of Gänswein as prefect and archbishop is a scandal,” complained one church official. “The Renaissance papacy lives,” he said, clearly accusing the Pope of promoting favourites.
Many reports said Pope Benedict gave Mgr Gänswein the important new post so he could shore up an Apostolic Palace left in disarray in the wake of the VatiLeaks scandal. They suggested the previous prefect of the Papal Household, the (recently created) Cardinal James Harvey, was responsible for hiring the papal butler who was eventually convicted for stealing the Pope’s personal papers and leaking them to the press.
In their scenario, the new appointment of the meticulous and regimented papal secretary, especially because of his closeness to the Pope, would be the best guarantee against future security breaches. That may be true. But they overlooked the glaring fact that Mgr Gänswein had a more immediate supervisory role over the butler and spent much more time in his presence than did Harvey.
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict made Mgr Gänswein prefect and catapulted him to the second-highest rung of the Church’s hierarchy in order to strengthen his role as “gatekeeper”. Although the prefect of the Papal (or Pontifical) Household works with the Secretariat of State in deciding who has access to the Pope and who doesn’t, because of his intimacy with Benedict, Archbishop-elect Gänswein will have effective power to make the final decisions.
The reason is simple. As the Pope grows older and frailer, he will need to rely increasingly on this man whom he deeply trusts to protect him from being manipulated by others.
FULL STORY Power behind the Papal throne (Tablet)