WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) ─ German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, former personal secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, told OSV News in a recent interview that he hopes those who read his new memoir "will recognize the real face or the real truth about the person but also the truth about what Benedict XVI and also Cardinal Ratzinger have done."
Archbishop Gänswein was in Poland recently promoting his book "Nothing but the Truth," which details his time as personal secretary to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during his last two years as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, to Pope Benedict XVI during the eight years he was in pontiff, and, finally, the decade when Pope Benedict was pope emeritus.
As he tours, Archbishop Gänswein is simultaneously awaiting Pope Francis' decision on what the archbishop's next position will be. He expected the decision to be communicated within the next few days.
"I hope Pope Francis will give me the opportunity to talk to him to hear (in person) what he has decided," Archbishop Gänswein told OSV News May 23. "I am calm. I can wait. I also have the patience to wait."
In his book, Archbishop Gänswein highlights his affection for Pope Benedict, describing him as a patient, calm and respectful figure, a firm opposition to how Cardinal Ratzinger was often described in the media as tough "God's Rottweiler" or "panzer cardinal." ("Panzer" in German means a "tank").
"It is important to correct some historical stereotypes" that are "not true," and "have been transformed" and "cemented unfortunately in people's minds and also in people's hearts," he said.
The aim of the book is to better "understand what (Pope Benedict) did, but also to "give an evaluation, an estimate or at least a more objective opinion of this great man of faith," Archbishop Gänswein said.
The Italian version of the book debuted Jan. 12, and the Polish text was released in May. No date has been given for the release of the English version.
In a conversation with OSV News, Archbishop Gänswein said the funeral of the retired pope and the almost 200,000 faithful who said goodbye to him in St. Peter's Basilica was "one of the first steps" to a full and better understanding of a "great personality that Cardinal Ratzinger was."
"It's impossible to understand him better just in one day … but I'm convinced that the day will come," he said.
Asked whether he's ever come to terms with the resignation of the pope he served as personal secretary, he said he never did.
"For me it was a great pain. I tried to accept it, but some pain remained. It would be a lie if I said now there is no more pain," he told OSV News.
However, It was not a decision "that depended on my person or my opinion. I had the assignment, I also had the duty and I did it with great heart, to accompany Benedict, as Benedict XVI, and as pope emeritus, on the last steps of his life," he said. "Because I promised when I first met him as pope in the Sistine Chapel that I am available and next to him every day until the end."
As he depicts in the book, Archbishop Gänswein learned about the pontiff's plan to resign well ahead of the announcement. "My intuitive reaction was making it clear that I disagreed," he told OSV News. "But then when I understood that it was a decision made, and not a matter to be discussed. … I understood it immediately and from that moment, I did everything to support him, to help him and also to make this very important and very delicate decision better understood."
In the book, the former papal secretary refutes the claim that Pope Benedict was forced out, saying the pontiff resigned of his own free will and fully aware of what he was doing in February 2013.
Asked whether retired pope ever expressed disagreement with the current pontiff, Archbishop Gänswein said, "Benedict XVI in all the years never commented on an important decision of Pope Francis because he said, 'He (Francis) is the pope and I am his predecessor,'" seeking not to "meddle in the church government" and saying it is "better to see but not to speak."
The late pope's secretary admitted that his own relationship with Pope Francis was always different then one with Pope Benedict, but stressed that it was Jesus Christ, who said, "'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.' This he said first to Peter and this he said to all the successors of Peter, to all the successors up to Pope Francis. And it also applies, like everyone else, to Pope Francis as well."
Speculation has circulated in the media in recent weeks about Archbishop Gänswein's next post. He gave an evasive answer when he was asked May 16 in Germany whether he could imagine a role as a bishop in his native country in the future. "I'm not the one who decides. I'm the one who is decided upon," he said in Wiesbaden as reported by the KNA news agency. He said he hoped to know more by Pentecost, May 28.
There are currently three vacant bishop's chairs in Germany -- in Bamberg, Paderborn and Osnabruck.
Looking back at the posts of former papal secretaries, it was Pope Benedict who appointed Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, St. John Paul II's longtime private secretary, as archbishop of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla's Polish archdiocese, Krakow. Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, who served as secretary of both St. John Paul and Pope Benedict, in the first years of his pontificate, was appointed archbishop of Lviv in 2008. Archbishop Mokrzycki had been ordained a priest in the Ukrainian city in 1987.
With his recent book, Archbishop Gänswein said he wants to promote the legacy of the pope he served and admired.
"The legacy, the treasure of Benedict's pontificate, first of all is the crystal-clear doctrine. All that he wrote is a treasure for the church, for all the faithful," he told OSV News.