Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Georg the Magnificent

So who is this Georg Ganswein?

It's one of the top questions I get -- and every day, about 15 or 20 people Googling his name come and stay here awhile.

As it's the Pope's 100 Days, it's an opportune time to get up to speed on the breakout star of this pontificate.

Just as John Paul II had the famous "Polish Mafia" of friends and collaborators around him (Dziwisz, Jaworski, Rylko, Stryczen, et. al.), the 48 year-old Ganswein -- commonly called "Don Giorgio" -- shares the German origins of Benedict XVI, as, of course, do the towering figures of Ingrid, Clemens and Birgit.

Despite having worked in the CDF, his background isn't so much in theology as it is in canon law, making him the first canonist papal secretary since Pasquale Macchi in the days of Paul VI. It's Pure Ratzi to have a canonist on hand to counterbalance and supplement his theological aecumen, another example of the telling quality this Pope has of bringing the best and brightest around him, reflecting his strong prefererence for an exchange of ideas which might just change or refine his mind to a gaggle of voiceless aides.

Ganswein taught the canons at the University of the Holy Cross, the Opus Dei Institute in Rome, and it's said he exhorted his students to "Never judge on the basis of prejudices or appearances -- always be reflective." It's a good quality in a segretario particolare.

Georg was brought into the lower ranks in the CDF in the late '90s. At the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger's beloved right-hand aide of 24 years, Mons. Josef Clemens, to the episcopacy and the secretary's post at the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Ganswein got the nod to succeed him as head of the Prefect's inner office. In this capacity, he operated on several occasions as Ratzinger's media spokesman, most prominently in the aftermath of the October 2003 Bunte article when the latter was quoted as saying John Paul II was "in a bad way" -- a line which led Dziwisz to severely rebuke Ratzinger, causing the cardinal to weep.

In his downtime, I'm told, the secretary enjoys skiing, tennis, other athletic pursuits, and he's known around Rome as quite the sociable dinner guest. That the secretary has a life of his own by no means clashes with the Pope's mentality of work. Under B16, the demands of the job, while still great, aren't what they were with John Paul. Benedict XVI enjoys diving into the details of things which Wojtyla routinely left to Don Stanislaw or others.

Moreover, the secretary's requisite presence at dinner is no more -- the Pope prefers to dine alone (often at home), leaving the work behind at the office. He sees relaxation and fun not as luxuries, but a necessary component in maintaining a healthy sense of life, a "work hard, play hard" sense of balance he encourages in the people around him.

The laid-back approach which the Germans have brought to the Apartment has already yielded significant dividends, but the next hundred days are promising to be more tumultuous than the first. Stay tuned.



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