Georg Gänswein – or Gorgeous George – brings an unlikely touch of sex appeal and glamour to the Pope’s visit to the UK.
By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 1:36PM BST 16 Sep 2010
Father Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, has earned his nickname because of his square jaw, tousled blonde hair and tall, athletic frame.
Known to Italians as “Bel Giorgio”, the well-preserved 54-year-old has been compared by the Italian edition of Vanity Fair to George Clooney, while English-speaking Vatican observers have dubbed him the “Hugh Grant of the Holy See”.
Italian gossip magazines have run breathless articles alongside paparazzi photographs of him playing tennis in his whites.
As a keen skier and qualified pilot, he lends a rare man-of-action image to the often stuffy, staid world of the Vatican hierarchy. He will be at the side of the 83-year-old pontiff throughout the four day trip to London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, making sure he has the right speech to deliver, handing him his spectacles, ensuring his personal welfare and fussing over his appearance.
During Benedict’s trip to Malta in April, Father Gänswein made sure the Pope was comfortable in his white, bullet-proof Popemobile as he was driven among cheering crowds and prevented his cream-coloured cape and cassock from flapping around his face during a windy boat tour of Valletta Harbour.
“He is the bridge between the Pope and the world,” said Jack Valero, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales who is closely involved in this week’s visit.
“Whatever the Pope needs, he will get it. He’s very good looking – straight out of central casting.”
Father Gänswein was born the eldest of five children in Riedern-am-Wald, a tiny town in the Black Forest, and has admitted to a fondness during his teenage years for Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens and for wearing his hair long.
He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1984 and moved to Rome a decade later, becoming a professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, which is closely affiliated to the conservative Catholic order Opus Dei.
In 1996 he joined the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by the future Pope, and became his personal secretary in 2003.
After Benedict’s election as the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics in 2005, Gänswein moved in with him to the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“He’s not just a pretty face. He’s become a much valued friend, prop and confidant to Benedict,” said a Vatican insider who asked not to be named.
“He does fuss over the Pope like an old woman, but his role goes way beyond that.
“He can control access to the Pope – who he sees and when. The potential to wield influence is huge, especially with an ageing Pope like Benedict. If the Pope became incapacitated, as John Paul II did in his last years, then Gänswein could assume a very important role.”
Vatican experts point to the example of John Paul II’s personal secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who became a key decision maker in the last years of the ailing pontiff’s papacy.
Father Gänswein, who has said he is flattered but also irritated by the attention paid to his looks, gave a rare insight into Benedict’s working day during an interview on Vatican Radio.
“The Pope’s day begins with Mass at 7am, followed by morning prayer and a period of contemplation,” he said.
“Afterwards we eat breakfast together, and my day then begins with sorting through the correspondence, which arrives in considerable quantity.”
The two men eat lunch and take a short walk before Benedict has a short rest. After that, Father Gänswein’s duties are to “present to the Pope documents which require his signature, or his study and approval”. They then have dinner together most evenings.
Three years ago, Donatella Versace launched a line of men’s clothing which she said was inspired by Father Gänswein’s “clergyman look”.
Describing his style of dress as “elegantly austere”, the fashion designer unveiled clerical-style jackets and charcoal grey trousers during Milan’s fashion show.
He may be a reluctant fashion icon, but Father Gänswein has turned his hand to books, writing a slim volume devoted to answering children’s questions about the Pope called Why Does the Pope Have Red Shoes?