Maike Hickson

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Pope Benedict XVI with his personal secretary Georg Ganswein, February 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

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Pope Benedict’s secretary: He who works to ‘invent new Church…abuses his spiritual authority’

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

May 1, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Prefect of the Papal Household, ordained four new priests at the Stift Heiligenkreuz monastery in Austria. In his homily, he spoke of the duty of the priest to remain loyal to the “truth of the Gospels” and rebuked those within the Church who wish to “invent a new Church.”

During his homily at the April 27 ordination, the German prelate first recounted the legend of the captain of a warship who advises what he thinks is another ship but is really a “lighthouse keeper of inferior rank” to change course to avoid a collision. While the captain, with an air of superiority, continually orders the other to change course, the lighthouse keeper calmly repeats that it is the captain who must change course. The proud captain then boasts of the power of his ship and threatens to take measures to ensure the safety of his ship and crew. To this, the keeper replies that he’s running a lighthouse and that it’s impossible for him to change course.

Using this image of a lighthouse keeper, Archbishop Gänswein told the four priestly candidates that they too have to be like the lighthouse and its keeper, “because priests, too, deal with the matter of keeping the course and changing the course.” Priests, he explained, are “influencing the course of the lives of men, they steer, they change.” “Yes,” he added, “your position is similar to the second-class lighthouse keeper.”

Unlike some of the powerful ships in the sea, the lighthouse itself “has no warships,” the prelate explained. So, too the priest, whose “strength does not come from external means of power.” They lead people and guide them, “by simply proclaiming the Truth that has become Incarnate in Jesus Christ,” he added.

As Gänswein stated, a priest “is not strong out of his own power,” he only has strength inasmuch as he “gives witness to the truth.” People should change their ways because they have come in contact with the “truth of the Gospels,” just as a ship has to change course when coming in contact with a lighthouse. Since God entrusted that truth to His Church, the Church may “not proclaim anything else but that truth, be it in season or out of season.” 

While a priest might hear voices similar to the captain of the warship ordering the lighthouse to change course, added the German archbishop, he has to give a “simple answer,” that of the “beauty and truth of the Faith,” to advise people to go the right path to “eternal salvation.”

Archbishop Gänswein advises the new priests not to teach their “own good ideas, but, rather, that which God has given to us.” It is not about “our own cherished ideas, but about salvation,” he explained. And the “strength stems from the Sacraments.” Thus, a priest does not need to have a “striking personality,” and he will not “make the headlines,” just like the lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper, Gänswein stated, “would only make headlines if he would leave his post in order to something else.”

“Only when the lighthouse keepers leave their posts, then there is disaster, and then there come the headlines.”

“And when priests, bishops do not anymore have the courage,” the prelate continued, “to proclaim the Gospels with strength and in its entirety, but to merely present one's own words of wisdom, then there comes disaster, and then there are headlines.”

“Have we not had enough of that in recent times?” Gänswein asked, likely referring to the current revelations of clerical sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church and perhaps also alluding to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's own letter on the moral and doctrinal roots of the current abuse crisis. 

This is at least what Kathpress, the news website of the Austrian bishops thought. In a April 28 report on these words, Kathpress noted: “The background for these statements might very well have been the discussions about a controversial [sic] text of Benedict XVI, in which the retired Pope in the end presented a personal accounting and analysis of the abuse scandal and its consequences for the Church.”

Kathpress also states that Heiligenkreuz, as a priestly seminary, has currently 314 students and thus “is among the largest places for priestly formation in Europe.”  

Making another indirect reference to a recent discussion as launched by Bishop Heiner Wilmer who claimed that “abuse of power is in the DNA of the Church,” Archbishop Gänswein further stated in his April 27 homily: “And he who wishes to invent a new Church and who wants to tinker with the so-called DNA, is on the wrong track and abuses his spiritual authority.”

The “holy task” is not to “draw attention to oneself,” he further explained, “not to invent anything new in order to save the Church,” but to rely on Jesus Christ Himself, something which “calls for humility, but not less courage.” 

The priests, Gänswein told the priestly candidates, should have an awareness that they “are being sent,” and here they may speak “much bolder than when they speak in their own name.” They “themselves did not invent the Gospels,” he added. At the same time – while remaining in humility – the new priests should also be aware “that you have a dignity which distinguishes you from all those who are not priests. But you did not acquire that dignity by yourselves.” The German prelate encouraged the new priests further by saying that “you may have the awareness to do something great, something that will not pass away.”

It is important, he added, to have courage and humility and “only to do that which is to be done and said in the name of Jesus Christ.” That courage and humility “stem from the loyalty to the given Word and from the faith that you have something to give,” the speaker said, “and that goes beyond anything human and which contains the Divine.”

Archbishop Gänswein reminded the congregation that a priest is not an “office holder,” who fulfills certain “functions in society.” Rather, the priest “does something that no man can do out of himself.”

The priest “gives absolution for our sins in the name of Jesus Christ and speaks over the gifts of bread and wine the words of transsubstantiation,” thus opening the hearts of mankind to Grace and God. 

“Priesthood is not simply an office,” the prelate added, “but a Sacrament.” In spite of our own human weaknesses, it is important to remember the “greatness of the priesthood.”

Speaking before the ordinations in a small interview with Heiligenkreuz monastery, Archbishop Gäanswein explained that such ordinations “are one of the most beautiful experiences,” in that he can “administer to young men the Sacrament of Priestly Ordination.” “It is something very emotional,” he said, “something very theological, something very personal, and also something very Catholic.”

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.