Archbishop Georg Gänswein / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 15, 2023 / 04:31 am (CNA).

The Vatican confirmed Thursday that Pope Francis has asked Archbishop Georg Gänswein to return to Germany as of July 1.

The longtime private secretary of Pope Benedict XVI has been told to return to his home diocese of Freiburg in southwest Germany “for the time being,” according to a brief statement June 15.

The Vatican also said Gänswein’s role as prefect of the Papal Household concluded on Feb. 28. It did not indicate that he had been given any new assignment.

The news about the 66-year-old Gänswein was first reported by a German newspaper in early June.

According to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner agency, the Welt newspaper reported that Pope Francis had informed Gänswein of his decision during a private audience on May 19.

The future role of the late Benedict’s secretary has been the subject of rumor and gossip across Rome and the Church in Germany for months. Previous speculations included the claim that Gänswein would serve as papal ambassador in Costa Rica. The eloquent prelate is fluent in several languages, including German and Italian.

According to the German media report, Pope Francis “referred to the custom that the former private secretaries of deceased popes did not remain in Rome.”

Hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a blacksmith was ordained a priest in 1984 by Archbishop Oskar Saier in Freiburg and holds a doctorate in canon law from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

German media reported in February 2020 that Gänswein had been asked to take a leave of absence as prefect of the Papal Household.