Pope’s secretary victim of Facebook hoax

January 19, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later.

Someone pretending to be Pope Benedict’s personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein, a German priest whose good looks have made him a celebrity in his own right, has set up a false Facebook account in his name. Several journalists in Rome have received an invitation from someone claiming to be him and asking them to be his Facebook friend.

But the journalists noted something strange in the dialogue with the purported monsignor. He sprinkles his Italian with German words like gut (good)  — something the real one doesn’t  do since he speaks perfect Italian. The bogus monsignor also posted a video clip of the real Gänswein walking with the pope during the Benedict’s summer holidays last year in the northern Italian mountains. The video — shot by Vatican television — is readily available.

(Photo: Monsignor Georg Gänswein and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 7 June 2006/Max Rossi)

But the real Gänswein, dubbed “gorgeous George,” doesn’t really need Facebook to make friends. There already are at least four Facebook fan clubs started by swooning admirers. One of the fan clubs uses an Italian play on words that can mean both that he should leave the priesthood or take off his priestly clothes.

Another fan club, writing in English, says “The papal secretary is a very attractive older man.” Gänswein may have some problems with that. He is only 52 and looks much younger.

Gänswein has played a much more marginal role in Benedict’s pontificate compared to his predecessor Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was Pope John Paul’s private secretary for all 27 years of his papacy and had served him when Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow (where Dziwisz is now cardinal). Dziwisz was a mover and shaker who enjoyed being the gatekeeper. He kept up contacts between the pope and journalists, politicians, commentators, authors and artists.

Gänswein keeps a much lower profile, perhaps because he worked with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger only for a few years before his boss became pontiff in 2005. But his good looks have often thrust him in the limelight he tries to avoid.

The pope’s secretary may not like being part of the new media, but the Vatican does. On Friday, the Vatican and Google will announce that the Holy See will have its own channel on the video sharing site YouTube.

Is a hoax like this disrespectful? Or just the price to pay for being a public personality?

(Photo: Georg Gänswein, 17 May 2006/Max Rossi)
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