Shortly after the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,  the German Catholic magazine Die Tagespost published a video of an interview between editor-in-chief Guido Horst and Archbishop Georg Gänswein, former private secretary of Pope Benedict XVI. Afterwards, several media outlets published news stories on Gänswein’s answer to a question related to the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, which limits the possibility of celebrating the Latin Mass.

The length of the interview was just under 35 minutes, and it dealt with several topics related to Pope Benedict, and the clip in which Gänswein discusses Traditionis Custodes was only 70 seconds, but it made headlines in numerous media outlets.

I would like to analyze here the words of Archbishop Gänswein and the reaction of the media.

In my capacity as a Public Translator of German, I offer my own transcription of Horst’s question and Gänswein’s full answer. The full text of the above-mentioned section runs from 23:17 to 24:50 in the original video.

My transcription from German is at the bottom. We will work with my English translation.

When analyzing Gänswein’s words, we have to keep in mind that he is a German and is exact in his words by nature. I know Germans well, having lived in Germany for four years. At the same time, we cannot forget that he is also a jurist with impeccable mental lucidity. Nothing escapes him.

HORST: “The reapproval of the 1962 Missal as a missal for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite did not go as Pope Benedict wished. He experienced it as pope emeritus when Francis’ Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes was published – was he disappointed?”

GÄNSWEIN: “That was a turning point.” 

This phrase is key, because Die Tagespost translates it into English in its own video as, “It hit him very hard,” when the phrase Gänswein uses is “Das war schon ein Einschnitt,” that is, literally: “And… that was a cut.” He does not speak of a blow or harshness. Several media outlets took Die Tagespost’s translation as valid, and even used it as a title.

GÄNSWEIN: “I believe that Pope Benedict read this Motu Proprio with pain in his heart, because he wanted to help those who had found a place in the old Mass, to lead them away from Lefebvre, and for them to find inner peace, also liturgical peace.”

First, Gänswein says “mit Schmerz im Herzen,” which translates into English as: “with pain in the heart.” This is very different from the English translation of the same Tagespost “(his) heart was broken” or the translation from English to Spanish: “se le rompió el corazón.”

He throws a bombshell

Here — and this is no small matter — Gänswein, a precise man if ever there was one, consciously drops a bombshell, but skillfully covers himself with the words, “I believe.” He does not make clear which part of his statement that is his opinion and and which part he affirms. In any case, he implies that Benedict received the news of the motu proprio “with pain in his heart,” and this is how the media interpreted it (albeit with more dramatic words), not as something he believes, but as a fact.

We can summarize the mission of Pope Benedict since his resignation from the Petrine ministry, without fear of being mistaken, by saying that it consisted in withdrawing completely from public life and that his personal opinions regarding the Magisterium of Pope Francis remain private.

As Benedict’s private secretary, Gänswein had and continues to have a moral responsibility to guard justly the privacy of the pope emeritus, especially anything that Benedict did not want to be known. Unfortunately in this case, we do not see him living up to his responsibility to protect the pope emeritus’s privacy.

Using Benedict for his purposes

To this we must add Gänswein’s evident intention to publicly oppose a decision of Pope Francis, using the figure of Benedict for this purpose. This is doubly reprehensible. And as if this was not enough, there is also the fact that this is a divisive issue in the Church. Three incandescent red lights.

With this lunge, he betrays both Benedict and Francis with one sentence. Why also Francis? Let us review what he has said in the past regarding the unity of both popes and his own mission.

In an interview published in XL Semanal, in 2014, Gänswein remarked that he sees Francis and Benedict as complementary, with which “continuity between pontificates” would be “assured,” and pointed out that “both have a relationship of friendship and fraternity, without jealousy or competition,” concluding that “to present them as opposing personalities is simplistic, I do not see them as opposites, but complementary.”

Later, Reuters publishes another interview with Gänswein, in which he states that he performs his service “in full harmony with the two popes, trying to act as a bridge between the two.”

Based on his own statements, we wonder if he is has been faithful to his mission. Has he been faithful to Pope Benedict? Has he been faithful to Pope Francis?

“You can’t imagine that the Latin Mass is useless”

We continue with his response in the interview:

GÄNSWEIN: “And I mean, the traditional Mass, if you think for how many centuries the traditional Mass was also a source of spiritual life for many people, nourishment for many saints, you cannot imagine that it is something that is useless (sic).”

Die Tagespost translates: “It’s impossible to imagine that it no longer has anything to offer.” But Gänswein says literally and without euphemisms: “You cannot imagine that it (the Latin Mass) is something that is useless.” The Tagespost is benevolent with its translation. Gänswein is implying that Pope Francis does not believe that the Latin Mass is useful, when in his motu proprio he explains very well why he feels compelled to limit it. I do not see good intentions in Gänswein in this statement. Die Tagespost clearly didn’t see them either, and that’s apparently why they took liberties with their translation of the statement about the Latin Mass not being “useless.”

The fact that the Latin Mass was a source of spiritual life and nourishment for many saints deserves two observations. Those who were truly saints depended neither on the language nor on the form. A saint who follows Christ is prepared for the cross — for the radical and firm surrender — to forge unity in the Church and to raise his spirit in full obedience, in love and humility, to the pope and the bishops. No saint would have rebelled against a change in the form of the Mass, including the language; and how holy would they be if their holiness depended on the form in which the Sacrament of the Eucharist was celebrated? By this we do not deny the value of the Mass in a spirit of deep devotion. On the contrary, we affirm it. But it is essential to put it in context.

Personally, I am convinced of the value of the Latin Mass, and I have no doubt that it must remain until the end of time, as a sign of unity and integration of the tradition of the Church with the present and the future. However, considering it the only correct Mass or using it as a means to reject Vatican II automatically fractures communion with the Church and the Holy Father. That is a different issue. Once more, the key is context.

Too cliché: “The Latin Mass was nourishment for many saints.”

Secondly, it has become terribly cliché and boring to hear that the Latin Mass was a source of spiritual life for many saints. It sounds more like nostalgia than an aspiration to holiness. The Mass we celebrate today as a Church was and is the source of spiritual life for other saints, such as St. John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and many others. Obviously no one would claim that this is the reason why we should celebrate Mass in this way. The reason we celebrate Mass as we do is because it is a disposition of the Holy Mother Church. In another article we could go up a step, and meditate on how the Church, the councils, and especially the pope listen to the will of God in making decisions, and the spirit of love and humility that we are called to have before them.

Finally, we reach the end of Gänswein’s answer with these sentences:

GÄNSWEIN: “And we must not forget that many young people who were born after Vatican II no longer fully understand the theater (sic) connected with the Council. They know the new Mass, but they also find in the old Mass a spiritual home and a spiritual treasure. I don’t feel at all good about taking this treasure away from people.”

I had to listen to the last sentence several times, to be sure that Gänswein expressly says that it is his opinion and his personal feeling. “I don’t feel quite right.” It seems that this final passage is not an answer to Horst’s question about Benedict, but his own thoughts. Since he cannot put all that into the emeritus pope’s mouth, he ends up clarifying that it is about his personal opinion (which nobody asked for).

Can two contemporary popes think differently?

Of course they can. The question is outlandish, ridiculous. But it echoes a current problem. There are radical groups that believe that nothing should change (not from the time of Christ, but from the time they long for, as if it were absolute), while there are other radical groups that believe that everything can change, that there is nothing fixed or stable.

Both have lost the centrality of the Christian spirit. Both groups are obsessively closed in on their concepts, provoking a greater reaction from the opposing group, thus contributing to the opposite spirit than the one they are aiming for.

Regarding Benedict’s opinion, it is possible that Gänswein’s words refer to the Pope Emeritus suffering because of the motu proprio, as Francis suffered when he promulgated it. But it is also possible that he suffered because he did not agree with Francis. I really don’t see why that would be a problem. I don’t see why they have to agree on their opinions.

A foundation of the Church is that the Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ, to whom obedience and respect are due, and this, in love and humility. And that each pope is anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church in communion and holiness. Therefore, each pope responds from his own conscience before the Holy Spirit for his decisions, and not by the conscience of others. This is the form of leadership that God chose for his Church. Only in humility will we be able to understand it.

Gänswein avoids the central issue

Polarization is a widespread problem in the world, and the Church is not exempt from it. And it is inevitable that when one becomes polarized, one loses objectivity and analyzes reality from the end that one pursues personally, but, obviously proclaiming that they do it “to save the truth.” In Gänswein’s case, as in the case of those he supports and promotes, he forgot to put both the Latin Mass and the motu proprio in context. The same goes for the media outlets that only reported on Benedict’s pain, without helping the recipients to understand it in all its reality. Manipulation is not of God. Neither are ideological struggles in the Church.

Rationale for the motu proprio Traditionis custodes

If we seek paths of holiness, and feel that the Latin Mass is very important for us and for the Church, I believe it is essential to read with humility and spirit of communion the rationale of Pope Francis in promulgating Traditionis Custodes. To that end, I share here just one sentence of his explanation:

“Ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’ One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency — ‘I belong to Paul; I belong instead to Apollo; I belong to Cephas; I belong to Christ’ — against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted.”

You may read Pope’s motivations for issuing Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes here.

And here is the link to Traditionis Custodes.

We are a scandal to the world

I do not know anyone who loves Francis and does not love Benedict wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I cannot affirm the contrary, and this says a lot about the reality that the Church is living. The aggressiveness against Francis has turned into an ideological struggle, rejecting the most basic Christian principles, such as love, respect for his person and respect for the truth, childlikeness, fraternity. It seems that we have emptied ourselves of Christ and his values in order to put Christ at the center. Sad irony.

We are a scandal before the world because of the divisions we provoke. We seem to believe that the Gospel was written for others. We seem to believe that winning ideological competitions (Gnosticism) and performing perfect works (Pelagianism), saves us (cfr. Gaudete et Exultate) and we forget the basis of Christianity: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:3). Spiritual childlikeness. The child seeks deep relationship with their mother and father, in love. “Relationship” is the key to Jesus, not wisdom or perfection of works, but perfection in love.

It is not a matter of thinking like the pope, but of being in communion with him

With regard to the pope, it is not a matter of thinking like him. It does not mean agreeing with all the decisions he makes. It means being in communion with him. And it means distancing ourselves from those who seek to cut off our communion with Peter and with the Church.

I see Jesus on the cross, redeeming us from our sins, and us, breaking our relationship with Him, to impose our “certainties” at any price. Neither do we enter Heaven nor do we allow others to enter (cf. Mt 23:13).

The key is the “relationship,” not wisdom or works

The key to the Christian is the “relationship,” first of all with Jesus. From there all the others arise: with the Church, with the Holy Father, with the family, with work — with our whole world. If relationships are disrupted, if we do not learn to love radically, we will not be able to convert our hearts, and the Church and Jesus will then be only an ideology.

By divulging his impressions of Pope Benedict’s private reaction to a decision of Pope Francis, Archbishop Gänswein delivered a blow to three missions: Benedict’s, Francis’s, and his own. Today his memoirs were published. We should expect more of the same. Our challenge will always be to separate the wheat from the chaff. And it is very easy to detect them. Where there is obsession with form, lack of love, ideological struggle, accentuation of a point without honestly putting it in context, God is not there. Where there is love, truth, respect, honest dialogue, openness, fraternity, childlikeness, commitment to the needy, openness to the Holy Spirit and communion in Peter, there is God.

Original German:

Question by Guido Horst of Die Tagespost in German, the language of the interview:

Die Wiederzulassung des Messbuchs von 1962 als Missale für die außerordentliche Form des römischen Ritus ist da nicht so weiter gegangen wie sich Papst Benedikt das gewünscht hatte. Das hat er als Emeritus noch erlebt als das Motu Proprio “Traditionis Custodes” von Franziskus erschien. Hat ihn das enttäuscht?

Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s response:

Das war schon ein Einschnitt. Ich glaube, dass Papst Benedikt also dieses Motu Proprio gelesen hat mit Schmerz im Herzen, weil er wollte ja gerade denen helfen, so zu sagen, den inneren Frieden zu finden, auch den liturgischen Frieden, um sie von Lefebvre wegzuziehen, die eben in der alten Messe einfach eine Heimat gefunden haben.

Und ich meine, die alte Messe, wenn man überlegt, wie viele Jahrhunderte die alte Messe für viele Menschen auch die Quelle des geistigen Lebens war, Nahrung für viele Heiligen, kann man sich nicht vorstellen, dass es etwas ist, das nicht mehr taugt.

Und auch nicht vergessen, darf man, dass viele junge Leute, die weiter nach Vatikan II geboren sind und das ganze Theater um das Konzil gar nicht mehr verstehen richtig. Dass diese auch kennen die neue, aber dann auch die alte Messe darin eine geistige Heimat, und einen geistigen Schatz gefunden haben. Den Menschen diesen Schatz wegzunehmen, ist es dabei mir nicht ganz wohl.

Image: Die Tagespost screenshot.

Discuss this article!

Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liked this post? Take a second to support Where Peter Is on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Enrique Soros, originally from Argentina, has lived for 25 years in Washington, DC, USA, with his wife Erica, with whom he has a son, Martín. He is a social communicator, writer, and public translator. He is a pastoral and communications specialist in the United States, where he is vice-president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry (NCCHM), whose mission is the promotion and integration of the Hispanic pastoral forces in the country. He participates in pastoral and communication projects in Latin America and since 2012 collaborates with CELAM (the Latin American Episcopal Council) in pastoral integration efforts between that institution and the Church in the United States.

Share via
Copy link