VATICAN CITY — As the Vatican prepares for the opening of the conclave on Tuesday (March 12) to elect a new pope, officials announced that the personal secretary of former Pope Benedict XVI will return to Rome for the first time since Benedict’s resignation on Feb. 28.
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was Benedict’s closest aide when he was pope, moved with Benedict to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo when the retired pope left the Vatican on Feb. 28.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Monday that Gaenswein will be one of the senior Vatican officials to take part in the solemn procession of cardinals into the Sistine Chapel that will open the conclave on Tuesday afternoon.
His presence will once again highlight the unprecedented situation — and potential complications — of having a retired pope still living just as cardinals gather to elect his successor.
The Vatican said Gaenswein will remain at the former pope’s side when he returns to the Vatican to live out his retirement at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery inside the Vatican walls.
Just a month before resigning, Benedict appointed Gaenswein prefect of the papal household, a role that will entail working in close contact with the future pope to set his schedule.
On Tuesday, Gaenswein will be inside the Sistine Chapel as the 115 cardinal-electors take their oaths of secrecy, and will leave when the master of papal ceremonies orders “extra omnes!” (Latin for “everybody out!”) to mark the official beginning of the conclave shutdown.
According to Lombardi, during the cardinals’ last pre-conclave meeting on Monday, they heard Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state, give a “concise” presentation on the operations of the scandal-scarred Vatican Bank, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione.
Bertone lost his role as the church’s No. 2 official when Benedict resigned, but he remains the president of the cardinals’ commission overseeing the Vatican Bank.
The bank is under investigation in Italy for alleged money laundering, despite Benedict’s efforts during his pontificate to bring the Vatican’s financial transparency policies in line with international standards.
On Monday’s final “General Congregation” meeting, 28 cardinals took to the floor to address the assembled princes of the church. Even though some prelates were still signed up to speak, the cardinals voted by a two-thirds majority not to meet on Monday afternoon to allow themselves time to prepare for the conclave.
As the voting inside the Sistine Chapel approaches, workers rushed to finish last-minute preparations at the Vatican.
Crimson curtains were hung on the balcony on the facade of St. Peter’s basilica where the newly elected pope will first appear to address the crowd.
Lombardi said that, for the first time, the new pope will have the chance to spend some minutes in solitary silent prayer in the Pauline Chapel, adjacent to the Sistine Chapel, before making his first public appearance as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
On Monday afternoon, about 90 people who will assist during the conclave — priests ready to hear confessions, doctors, nurses, drivers, and cleaning and kitchen staff in the cardinals’ Santa Marta residence — took an oath of secrecy in front of Bertone.
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