he was hired in 1995 by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome to an initial fiveyear term as a staff member.
It was during this time, while living at the Teutonic College inside the Vatican, that he got to know the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Gänswein, who was then 39, obviously made a strong impression on the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), for hardly a year later (1996) the future Pope took the extremely rare step of having the young German priest transferred from Worship to the CDF. While working at the doctrinal office, Gänswein also taught canon law at the Opus Dei-run University of the Holy Cross in Rome. In 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger asked him to be his personal secretary. He replaced Mgr Josef Clemens, another German nine years his senior, who was named bishop and No. 2 official at the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Then, just a year and half later, Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope and he took Mgr Gänswein with him to the Apostolic Palace.
There is a widespread conviction among officials in the Roman Curia that the personal secretary has had an unusually strong influence on Pope Benedict’s governance of the Church, especially on his personnel appointments. And the outcome has not always been happy. One particular case worth noting happened in early 2009 when the Pope named the little-known Fr Gerhard Maria Wagner, apparently a friend of Mgr Gänswein, as an auxiliary bishop in Linz, Austria. Shortly after his appointment was announced, however, it was reported that Fr Wagner had written articles calling Hurricane Katrina “God’s punishment” for the sins of a sexually permissive society and condemning the Harry Potter books for “spreading Satanism”. The uproar among Catholics in Austria spread throughout Europe and became so intense and embarrassing that the Vatican eventually convinced the priest to “resign” before he was even ordained a bishop.
It is also widely believed that Archbishopelect Gänswein serves as one of the Pope’s chief advisers for Curia appointments and governing decisions. But perhaps more than influencing Pope Benedict, the personal secretary serves to confirm, reinforce and encourage the pontiff ’s already conservative leanings. No one more than he has consistently spent long periods of time in conversation with the Pope. And he likes to let people know that they are very close. Visitors are often somewhat taken aback to hear Mgr Gänswein refer to the Pope and himself as “us”.
Now as prefect of the Papal Household he will add even broader institutional powers to his already more intimate duties of sharing the Pope’s living arrangements and looking out for his health. Georg Gänswein will essentially run the Apostolic Palace, as it were, and supervises the planning of papal visits in Rome and throughout Italy. And, naturally, he will continue, with more authority than before, to help Pope Benedict set his and the Church’s agenda.
‘We defend freedom of expression but sense a great injustice when innocents pay the price’
It used to be as much a staple of Saturday night television as The Generation Game or Doctor Who, and in the 1970s nothing could entertain me quite so much as Candid Camera. For some reason – being a small child is my main excuse – duping people into believing that a man was swallowing goldfish whole when in fact he was chomping on slivers of carrot in an aquarium seemed to me the height of wit.
The penny would drop for the people duped when they were told: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”
They seem innocent times now, compared to the hoaxes that pass for twenty-first-century humour. Perhaps it was a question of courtesy that made for a different approach, with the producers asking the people involved for the go-ahead before the film was broadcast. Or maybe broadcasters back then were wiser about the vulnerability of some people and the difficulties of foreseeing that fragility.
The very fact of letting those hoaxed in on the joke suggested some sort of alliance; it was as if they joined in the fun. But in recent times, from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross fooling Andrew Sachs regarding his granddaughter, to the nurse tricked by Australian DJs with such terrible consequences, there has been a troubling mocking of the duped. Rather than sharing in the joke, they are served up for the amusement of their tormentors and the rest of us.
Duping others has a lengthy literary history: think of the way that most of the leading characters in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are involved in fooling one another, or how Volpone, in Ben Jonson’s eponymous play, pretends to be on his deathbed in order to both fool and expose three tradesmen, eager to try and get their hands on the Venetian’s money. But dupings in the literary canon lead to denouements that satisfy our desire to see the deserving benefit and the undeserving suffer.
In the cases of Ross and Brand’s victim, Andrew Sachs, and Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who was so tormented by the antics of the Australian DJs who fooled her into forwarding a phone call purportedly from the Queen and Prince Charles to the hospital ward where the Duchess of Cambridge was staying, it was the deserving who suffered. And however much we might like humour or speak up for freedom of expression, we have an instinctive sense of a great injustice when innocents pay the price. In other words, these aren’t pranks: they are a form of bullying.
There is a also a certain irony in what happened at the hands of the Australian DJs. Within days of the Leveson inquiry, which advocated broadcasting-style regulation of the press while showing an incomplete understanding of the power of digital media, the case of Jacintha Saldanha showed how official approval – the Australian radio station was indeed regulated – failed to halt a tasteless broadcast which ended in disaster. Meanwhile the digital media spread the story exponentially.
The capacity for hoaxing has expanded in line with the digital media explosion. Last weekend, up popped on Twitter an account with the name CDF_VA@CDF_VATICAN and the claim that it was investigating this publication. There had been no information of such an investigation taking place, and The Tablet is not an official publication of the Church or run by someone ordained or teaching in a Catholic institution. A short while later came another message from CDF_VA @CDF_ VATICAN: “CDF gratefully acknowledges receipt of bank transfer from @The_ Tablet. Investigation complete. Findings: no case to answer.”
This was not so much malevolence as something akin to an April fool, as were two later Tweets from the alleged CDF: “CDF can announce that upon retirement on Dec 31st, Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury will be received into the @UKOrdinariate” and later “CDF regrets that Dr Rowan Williams application to join@UKOrdinariate rejected due to ticking the box ‘heterosexual’ on application form.”
Intriguingly, the profile page of CDF_VA @CDF_VATICAN appeared to sprout an additional word in the afternoon: parody. Perhaps the “pranksters” thought they had better insert this as insurance in the wake of the Saldanha affair. But as the media expands, the capacity for more japes, more hoaxes and more bullying will grow too. Personally, I’m feeling nostalgic for the days of Candid Camera. Better a hoaxer holding a piece of carrot than having blood on his hands.
15 December 2012 | THE TABLET | 5