Is Francis the last Pope? A rare interview with Archbishop Gänswein

By Anian Christoph Wimmer

What is Benedict XVI’s own view of his historical resignation? What has the fall-out been from his secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s controversial remark on an “expanded petrine office”? What about the “Prophesy of Malachy,” which allegedly sees Francis as the last pontiff?

In a recent and candid conversation, veteran journalist and EWTN Rome correspondent Paul Badde sat down with Archbishop Gänswein, who gave his take on these and a number of other questions.

The German archbishop currently serves Pope Francis as Prefect of the Papal Household, and has also maintained his duties as secretary for retired pontiff Benedict XVI.

‘Nature had spoken’

When a massive lightning strike lit up the top of Saint Peter’s dome on the evening of Feb. 11, 2013, many observers chose to interpret this as a divine reaction to the historical announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation, made that very morning. As his personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, reminisced about how both he and Benedict only found out about the lightning strike after the event. “The impression was one of a sign from above, a reaction,” he told Badde. When he showed Benedict images of the spectacular incident a few days later, the pope asked whether this was some kind of digital montage, Gänswein said, adding: “however, nature had spoken.”

How Pope Benedict sees his decision to resign today

Archbishop Gänswein spoke about the painful emotional impact of Benedict’s farewell from the papal office and household. “Indeed, I found myself compelled to openly cry,” he said. However, with three years having passed since, “there has been a lot of reflection, personal reflection included.”

He affirmed that “Pope Benedict was – and to this day all the more is – very much at peace with his decision to resign, and that it was the right step to take. That helped me personally to overcome my initial resistance and accept what Pope Benedict truly realized after much struggle and prayer, what he found to be the right thing and then decided on.”

Benedict’s greatest joys since retiring, Gänswein said, are “to have time for prayer, for reflection and reading – but also for personal encounters,” despite also living “the life of a monk” in the monastery he now resides in.

An ‘Expanded Petrine Office?’

There are a number of cardinals, Paul Badde said during the interview, that are “upset when hearing that the Church currently has two living successors to Peter. Recently you spoke about an expanded petrine office, that Pope Benedict is said to have introduced. Could you explain that a bit further?”

“I saw from among the reactions that I was imputed to have said a number of things that I did not say. Of course, Pope Francis is the legitimate and legitimately elected pope,” Archbishop Gänswein said.

“Any talk of two popes, one legitimate, one illegitimate, is therefore incorrect.” What he did in fact say, Archbishop Gänswein added, was that Benedict continues to be present in prayer and sacrifice, which bears spiritual fruit.

The archbishop also dismissed any talk of problems or even some form of rivalry. “When applying common sense, faith and a little theology, that should be clear.”

The ‘Prophecy of the Popes’

During the interview, Paul Badde referenced an old alleged prophecy that has recently gained traction in some clerical discussions: The “Prophesy of the Popes.” Also known as the “Prophesy of Malachy,” the prediction is attributed to Saint Philipp Neri – according to which, Pope Francis may be considered to be the last pope.

“Indeed, when looking at the prophecy, and considering how there was always a sound reference to popes mentioned in its history – that gives me the shivers,” Archbishop Gänswein admitted.

Although Catholics aren’t required to accept the prophecy, “speaking from historical experience, one has to say: Yes, it is a wake-up call.”

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