Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the longtime personal aide to former Pope Benedict XVI, who Pope Francis continues to employ in the papal household, has given numerous interviews in recent weeks and has been remarkably frank in his observations — and left-handed compliments — about his new boss Francis.

Ganswein recently revealed, for example, in an interview for a German documentary, that Francis had sent Benedict a copy of his blockbuster interview last summer pre-publication. He had included a single blank page for the emeritus pope’s comments. Benedict sent back four pages of “observations,” which were apparently criticisms as well.

But I had missed Ganswein’s other, more explosive comment in the film, which was flagged by Elena Curti of The Tablet, about the election of Francis in the conclave a year ago:

“I had favored other candidates – I was wrong – but then so were other people,” Ganswein says.

Curti goes on to write:

By stating that he would have preferred that someone other than Pope Francis had been elected to the Chair of Peter he has made his own position untenable.

And with more than a hint of sourness he then said that at the moment the Pope is the darling of the media “but that won’t always be the case”. The Pope is not “everybody’s darling”, he adds, using the English phrase.

She says Ganswein ought to resign, given that the “serving two masters” ideal apparently isn’t working.

Should Ganswein go? Is he undermining his new boss? Or is Ganswein providing an admirable example of honesty in the church — and perhaps showing Benedict’s fans on the Catholic right that they don’t need to pretend, as so many do, that there is no difference between Francis and Benedict?


  1. I think that the whole premise is wrong. One would have to work pretty hard to construe Ganswein’s comments in that way. The quote is this: “I had favored other candidates – I was wrong – but then so were other people.” (Remember this is a translation.) The most natural way to read that, it seems to me, is that the verb doesn’t express preference but prediction—otherwise what sense does “I was wrong” mean? His observation that he “was wrong” affirms that what he meant was “I thought that someone else was more likely to win, but I was wrong, and so were the others.” How quickly we have forgotten that Bergoglio was not papabile. All of us “favored” other candidates to win, in the sense that we “favor” a particular horse in the 3:15: Not that we prefer that horse but in the sense that we think it will win, and we are “wrong” when it doesn’t. That’s all Ganswein meant.

  2. I mean, try it this way, in a way that is deliberately intended to be ambiguous: “In the 2012 election, I favored Mitt Romney (but I was wrong).” Without the parenthetical, the verb is ambiguous: It is unclear whether the speaker means “favor” in the sense of “supported” or “predicted the victory of.” But with the parenthetical, it’s very obvious that the sentence has the latter sense.

  3. David Gibson

    David Gibson

    Post author

    Paul, do you have a link to that?

    Simon, I think there are good questions about the intent of Ganswein’s statement, although the translation appears to be pretty spot on. But was it just about his prognosticating failure (one most of us shared!) or his perceived disappointment?

    In other venues he has made his equivocal views of Francis clear, but I’m not sure I see that as terribly problematic. He just has a different view. That’s fine. I don’t know that he has a key role in the pontificate either.

    I guess I’m surprised mainly at how “out there” he has been with interviews and such. That’s an odd role, but follows in the tracks of Cdl Ratzinger, who was a very outspoken CDF prefect.

  4. David, I’m not suggesting that the translation is defective, just that we have to be a little more liberal and contextual in assessing a translation of verbal remarks than we would in assessing verbal remarks made in English, which in turn we should be more liberal and contextual than we would in assessing written (and thus presumptively considered) remarks in English. I don’t know that the German verb used was, but if it has the same range of meaning as the English “to favor,” it’s ambiguous between the two senses I suggested, and snaps into focus given the parenthetical.

    The parenthetical nags because in what way would someone be “wrong” about preferring other candidates? Change the political analogy slightly: “In the 2012 primary, I favored Rick Perry, but I was wrong.” How so? “In the 2013 conclave, I favored Cardinal Burke, but I was wrong.” How so? “Wrong” is a logjam. Even if one has subsequently concluded (rightly or not, fairly or not, with integrity or not) that the eventual choice was a good one, it would be a very strange thing to say—at least in English, although perhaps not in German—that one’s original preference was “wrong.”

    One might say “I worried about Cardinal Bergoglio’s election, but I was wrong.” That would make sense; one had concerns, and one now concludes that they were unjustified. (I might say “wait a while,” but that’s a different issue.) One was “wrong” insofar as time has falsified the worry. But no one would say “I preferred someone else, but I was wrong,” because what has been falsified? In what way were you “wrong”? It’s just not a reading that makes sense, which tells me that the verb has to be interpreted in the sense of “I thought someone else would be elected.”

  5. Here:

    You can watch the video an read the complete transcript of the interview.

    RNS, Can You tell Us the minute/second Archbishop Gänswein said those words?


  6. Fr William Barrocas

    THESE matters are no longer necessary as to who FAVOURED whom and should have been burnt lock, stock and barrel with the ballots. Raising them now helps no cause whatsoever since in the conclave the electors were supposed to be docile to the SPIRIT, WHOSE ALONE IT IS THE PREROGATIVE TO CHOOSE THE SUCCESSOR TO ST PETER.

    • Calling for his resignation is a ridiculous stretch driven by some sort of need to make a mountain out of a mole hill. “Laborant montes, et nascitur mus.”

  7. He’s not that Machiavellian. He’s speaking clearly. He said he was wrong and he clearly means that he was wrong that Pope Francis was a bad choice. Please do not promote a culture of court intrigues at the Vatican. Yes, tehre is such a culture but the pope, the resigned pope, and George are working against it.

  8. Klaus-Peter Kuhn

    I am a german native speaker and I do not like Georg Gänswein at all. However, I have to admit, that Gänswein did not say what was insinuated. His original statement simply meant, that he had other candidates on his list, and did nit expect Bergoglio at all, as did other, too.

    I believe, that we rightly assume, that Gänswein has a distanced relationship to Bergoglio, but I definitely think we should find better evidence than this mistranslated statement.

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