Pope Francis has ordered Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the private secretary of the late Pope Benedict, to return to his native Germany by the end of the month without any new assignment.
The Vatican disclosed this in a statement on Thursday, thus putting an end to speculation about what role Gaenswein, a powerful figure in the Vatican for more than a decade before Francis sidelined him after a personal falling out, would have in the Church.
Former Pope Benedict died on Dec. 31, nearly a decade after he resigned in 2013, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.
Gaenswein, a long-time aide of the late Pope Benedict, is 66 and it is exceptionally unusual for someone of that relatively young age and rank not to have an assignment, giving the pope’s decision a sense of banishment.
The two-line statement said Francis “had disposed” that the 66-year-old Gaenswein returns to his diocese of Freiburg “for the time being”.
Nearly all papal secretaries in the past have either been assigned to lead dioceses or made cardinals or given some other high-profile post.
Gaenswein is nine years short of the normal retirement age of 75 for bishops.
He has met Francis several times in the past months about his future and there has been speculation in Catholic media that he was hoping to land a diplomatic assignment as nuncio, or ambassador, to a country.
Gaenswein did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
He has refused requests from Reuters to comment on his situation in the past few weeks.
He was Benedict’s personal secretary from 2003, when Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and remained at his side for nearly 20 years, nearly 10 of them after Benedict resigned.