Vatican City, Dec 3, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).
Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that both he and Benedict XVI have received three COVID-19 vaccine doses “out of conviction.”
The Vatican began administering doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in January and confirmed in February that the pope emeritus had received the second dose of the vaccine. It began to administer the third dose in October.
Gänswein was asked about Catholic opposition to coronavirus vaccines, some of which were produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses.
His interviewer said that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former apostolic nuncio to the United States, had criticized the Vatican for promoting a vaccination campaign.
Gänswein said that he could not understand the criticisms.
“One cannot raise the question of vaccination to the level of faith. Nor can one speak of Pope Francis having launched a media campaign for vaccination. But he did call for it and also had himself vaccinated at an early stage. That is correct,” the 65-year-old archbishop said.
“By the way, Pope Benedict and I have already been vaccinated for the third time. And we did so out of conviction.”
Pope Francis recorded a public service announcement supporting vaccination that was released in August in collaboration with the Ad Council.
Gänswein acknowledged that “every vaccination has advantages and disadvantages.” But he recalled that Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, became seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 and afterward cautioned “against any form of ideological crusade against vaccination.”
“One must not force anyone to vaccinate, that is quite clear. But one should appeal to the conscience,” Gänswein commented.
Asked if Benedict XVI saw the issue the same way, he answered in the affirmative, saying: “Otherwise he would not have had himself vaccinated three times.”
But Gänswein, who is from the Black Forest region of Germany, also criticized the Church’s response to the virus in his homeland.
“As far as Germany is concerned, I have never understood why Church authorities have sometimes even exceeded state guidelines and have been so excessively loyal to the state during the crisis,” he said.
“I understand the concern for safety and security. But when the welfare of the body is placed above the salvation of the soul, and that was not just my impression, then something is awry.”
CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the archbishop described Benedict XVI as “stable in his physical frailty and, thank God, crystal clear in his head.”
“But it is also understandable that at 94 and after the death of his brother, which took its toll on him, his physical strength continued to decline. It is similar with his voice. The best medicine for him is humor and a steady daily rhythm,” the archbishop said.
Gänswein became personal secretary to the future Pope Benedict XVI in 2003.
He was appointed prefect of the Papal Household in 2012, continuing in the role after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis a year later.
But he was placed on leave from his duties as prefect in 2020 to be able to dedicate his time exclusively to the former pope.
He said that the decision had troubled him, but he had been able to discuss it with Pope Francis.
“The good thing is that you can talk to him openly and directly,” he said.