Inside the Vatican has an interview with Father (Monsignor) Georg Gaenswein, who is Pope Benedict XVI's personal assistant. The original interview was with Peter Seewald for the German (Munich) newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung; Seewald, of course, interviewed Joseph Ratzinger at length in Salt of the Earth (Ignatius, 1997) and God and the World (Ignatius, 2002), and is the editor of Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth (Ignatius, 2005). This interview with Father Gaenswein was translated to English by Gerald Augustinus of "The Cafeteria Is Closed." An excerpt:
PS: Nobody thought that after a "millennium Pope" like Karol Wojtyla a successor could be successful this quickly. Now, everything has changed. Not only that Benedict XVI draws twice as many people. That his books are printed by the millions. Pope Ratzinger is viewed as one of the most important thinkers of our time. And, as opposed to his predecessor, he's rarely criticized. What does he have that others don't?
MG: With being Pope there comes a greater accessibility, a greater sphere of influence and a greater power of assertion. Someone very familiar with the goings-on in Rome said during the Bavaria trip last fall, "John Paul II opened the hearts of the people. Benedict XVI fills them." There is a lot of truth in that. The Pope reaches the hearts of the people, he speaks to them, but he doesn't speak of himself, he speaks of Jesus Christ, of God, and that in a descriptive, understandable and convincing manner. That is what people are looking for. Benedict XVI gives them spiritual nourishment.
PS:Did John Paul II want Cardinal Ratzinger to become his successor?
MG: There's been a lot of speculation about that. I don't know.
PS: After all, despite Ratzinger's asking several times to be dismissed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he did not let him go. Do you view that as an argumentum e silentio, as a conclusion out of silence?
MG: That may be. Pope John Paul II said to his close aides many times: I want to keep Cardinal Ratzinger. I need him as the head of theology. You can deduce some things from that.
PS: It has become quieter in the Palazzo Apostolico. Benedict XVI has reduced the number of audiences considerably and rarely has guests at his table. Of all things, there's less work under a German?
MG: There isn't less work being done, work is done in a more concentrated manner. The Pope is an effective and quick worker. For this he needs time - to read, to study, to pray, to think, to write. That's only possible, if you tighten a lot of things, modify some or eliminate them, for the sake of what's more important.
PS: Does this mean that his predecessor was by design overwhelmed?
MG: Not at all. With John Paul II, everything became superlative compared to prior pontificates. Just think of the number of audiences, the travels, the documents, the liturgies, or the early morning Masses in the private Papal chapel to which people were always being invited. That costs time, day after day, that has to be taken from somewhere else. For Benedict XVI, such a rhythm would be unthinkable. And, after all, John Paul II became Pope not at 78 but at 58.