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Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Germany’s largest and most venerable archdiocese of Cologne, looks ahead to his upcoming retirement and other current affairs in the Church in Germany, via an article in the Aachener Zeitung today.
Cardinal Meisner, who turns 80 on Christmas Day, expects his retirement to become effective no later than February. Pope Francis has already indicated to be willing to grant it. He may want to wait, however, on the 25th anniversary of Meisner’s installation as archbishop of Cologne on 9 March.
The cardinal also spoke about the most recent, and quite serious, development in the German Church: the one-sided decision, independent of the world Church’s teaching authority, to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. Prelates in the Curia, among them Synod of Bishops chief Archbishop Baldisseri, have indicated that the topic should be discussed and looked again closely once more, but no chance in Church law or teaching has come about (and likely won’t for the foreseeable future, if ever). Cardinal Meisner says about this:
“I consider that wishful thinking. I think it’s the Church’s teaching. The Pope won’t change anything about that. That’s my firm belief.”
He also speaks about Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, whom he continues to support, although not unconditionally so. He is very critical about the bishop lying about flying first-class to India.
“That is – I should say – a stupidity. [...] He should not have done that.” He has urged Tebartz-van Elst to repay the 20,000 Euro settlement in the legal proceedings against him, saying, “Pay it, and then it’s gone!”
But Cardinal Meisner also reveals that members of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s family in his native Kevelaer at times also felt the attacks against the bishop. Nieces and nephews were sometimes unable to attend school, and other family members were accosted in the street. No matter what happened, the Cardinal says, this is truly unfair to everyone involved.
After retirement, Cardinal Meisner wants to take up residence in the chapter house across from the cathedral, assisting priests and providing pastoral care for as long as time, and the Lord, allows him. And as for his successor? “That’s no longer any of my business.”
Photo credit: dpa
The German dioceses are somewhat unique in the world, in that at least some of them can elect their own bishops, with the Pope approving (or not) the elected prelate. One of these is the Archdiocese of Cologne, and its next election is coming up very soon.
When its current archbishop, Joachim Cardinal Meisner was appointed in 1988, that was the end of a 14-month election process. None of the three candidates on the list that Pope John Paul II had created won an absolute majority until then-Bishop Meisner of Berlin was selected. This time around, though, the rules have changed.
As Fr. Norbert Feldhoff explains here, the new process will be not unlike the way a Pope is elected. After two rounds of voting, when there is no winner, only the two candidates with the most votes can continue. If all three candidates get an equal number of votes, the two oldest candidates move on to the next round. If the third vote is also inconclusive, there is no longer a need for an absolute majority. A regular majority will then do to elect the new archbishop. If both candidates again get the same number of votes, the oldest candidate is proclaimed elected. With those new rules, the new archbishop of Cologne should be elected in no more than four rounds, considerably speeding up the process.
Cardinal Meisner (above) is serving well past the retirement age of 75. Turning 80 at Christmas, he is the fifth oldest active prelate in the Latin church, and the third-oldest ordinary of a regular diocese.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa
A bit late, but I wanted to look back at the consecration of Bishop Ansgar Puff, last Saturday, as auxiliary bishop of Cologne and titular bishop of Gordus. Doing the consecrating honours were Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne; and Bishops Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp, auxiliaries of the same archdiocese. From Rome, German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, attended the consecration.
Arguably Germany’s tallest bishops, Msgr. Puff still reached to Cardinal Meisner’s shoulders when kneeling for his consecration through prayer and the imposition of the cardinal’s hands. In his homily, Cardinal Meisner said that a bishop is ”and advocate of the world to heaven and an advocate of God for the people on earth”.
Bishop Puff is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and is not afraid to go out in the streets or confront people of different opinions. In the past, as personnel chief of the archdiocese, he has spoken with priests advocating reform in the Church, and in 2009 he participated in the eleven-day “Missionale Düsseldorf”, as one of 70 priests inviting passers-by into conversations about the faith.
Bishop Puff’s area of pastoral responsibility will be the southern part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is home to some 600,000 Catholics.
Photo credit: Boecker
Judging from their joint declaration, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo (pictured) has succeeded in achieving soe measure of resolve in the ongoing dispute between Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and the cathedral chapter and other bodies of the Diocese of Limburg.
Both the bishop and the cathedral chapter have made assurances, the first to allow openness about the expenses of the new bishop’s house as well as making more use of the advisory bodies at his disposal, and the second to follow the bishop’s direction in a spirit of loyalty.
Cardinal Lajolo will be reporting to Pope Francis, as the declaration, translated below, states, but the general tone of the Assurances make it unlikely that the Holy Father will decide on drastic measures, such as, as some have suggested, a new appointment for the bishop (although his name is still being mentioned for Cologne, a see that will most likely become vacant before the year is out).
Joint Declaration from the Bishop and the Cathedral Chapter of Limburg at the Closing of the Visit of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo to the Diocese of Limburg:
The paternal concern of the Bishop of Rome, Pope France, who “leads in love”, has been convincingly expressed in the fraternal visit of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo.
We have gratefully received the urgent appeal of the Holy Father to us in the Diocese of Limburg to seek peace and maintain unity.
- The purpose of the visit was to gain a clear and nuanced picture of the situation in the diocese and to move all to mutual understanding and harmony.
- Over the course of the week, the cardinal has held numerous conversations with the bishop, the cathedral chapter, representatives of the council of priests and synodal bodies, and also with other religious, priests and laity, and will inform the Holy Father about this in detail.
- The bishop has assured that he will immediately allow all costs for the construction projection on the cathedral hill to be published in the diocese and will make available a special audit by a commission, which he has requested from the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. The commission’s final report, which will determine and record all costs, funding and means, will be published.
- The bishop has once more expressed his firm desire to make regular and reliable use of the advisory bodies in the management of the diocese, as provided for in general and particular Church law.
- In accordance with the wish of the Holy Father, the cathedral chapter will attentively and loyally follow the bishop’s path.
- The bishop is confident that the conference and councils will contribute in this way to resolve the current problems in a spirit of openness and fraternity.
Limburg, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14-9-2013
Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, Dean of the Cathedral Günther Geis
Photo credit: picture-alliance/dpa
Clearly, it’s the season for new bishops in Germany. Following Freiburg im Breisgau and Cologne, the Diocese of Osnabrück gets a new auxiliary bishop. He is 47-year-old Johannes Wübbe, a priest since 1993 and the first bishop to be consecrated, on 1 September, in Osnabrück’s St. Peter’s Cathedral since 1989.
Fr. Johannes Wübbe has been, until today, parish priest in four towns just west of Osnabrück. Before his ordination, he studied Catholic theology in Münster and Freiburg. His first assignment as priest was in the city of Osnabrück, with the added task of the pastoral care for the city’s Catholic youth. In 1997, he was appointed to Meppen, just across the border from where I was born and raised (as a personal aside). In 2000, he was appointed to spearhead the diocesan pastoral care for the youth. In 2010, he was assigned to his current placement in the towns of Spelle, Schapen, Venhaus and Lünne.
Bishop-elect Wübbe will work with Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who has been the ordinary of Osnabrück since 1995. Although there is no real concept of auxiliary bishops succeeding one another, in Germany there are several dioceses which do have a traditionally set number of auxiliaries, each tasked with the pastoral care of a specific region or field. Bishop-elect Wübbe, in that sense, succeeds Bishop Theodor Kettmann, who retired in November of 2011, and may then take over the responsibility for the Caritas and other social services in the Diocese of Osnabrück that Bishop Kettmann has held until today.
As a titular see, Bishop-elect Wübbe has been assigned Ros Cré in Ireland, previously held by Bishop Heiner Koch before the latter was appointed to Dresden-Meiβen. His motto is a paraphrase from the Letter to the Romans: In spe credere (4:18), which means “to believe in hope” or “hopefully believing”.
Photo credit: Bistum Osnabrück
Another day, and another new bishop in Germany. This time it’s the Archdiocese of Cologne receiving a new auxiliary. Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff succeeds Bishop Heiner Koch, who was appointed as ordinary of Dresden-Meißen in January.
The new auxiliary bishop joins Cardinal Joachim Meisner and fellow auxiliaries Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp in the archdiocesan curia. His titular see is Gordus in modern Turkey, a see previously held by the late Bishop Alfons Demming, auxiliary bishop of Münster, who died last October.
Bishop-elect Puff will be consecrated on 21 September, at Cologne’s landmark cathedral of Ss. Peter and Mary. He will hold pastoral responsibility for the archdiocese’s southern district, which includes the city of Bonn and is home to some 600,000 Catholics.
Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff is 57 years old and has been a priest since 1987. He has been a parish priest in, among others, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Since 2012, he has also directed the archdiocesan office tasked with pastoral care and formation of priests, deacons and pastoral workers.
In an interview with Dom Radio, the newly-appointed bishop said that, upon hearing the news of his appointment, he felt as if the ground fell away underneath him:
“As it should be, the cardinal told me the news, which I was first obliged to keep a secret. But now I am happy to be able to share it. As a first reaction, I was of course quite shocked.”
In the same interview, Msgr. Puff also speaks about his vocation to the priesthood. Upon the interviewer’s remark that it wasn’t immediately clear that young Ansgar would embark upon a career in the Church, he said:
“The good Lord does write on crooked lines, and I took a long time to find my way. Piously said: the good Lord needed a long time before he had me where I am today.”
How did he come to the realisation to become a priest?
“That is a long story. It was a search for the meaning of life. My core question was: If I am the best social worker in the world, and people still die some day, what point is there to life? Concretely: if death exists, why does one live? Without faith I was unable to answer this question and so I embarked on the search of faith.”
About what he most looks forward too, Msgr. Puff said:
“To the meetings with people, to the contacts with the communities! I want to be like a travelling priest and proclaim the happy news of Jesus Christ.”
Not unlike Pope Francis, then.
“I don’t yet know him personally, but everything that I have heard and read about him has impressed me much. Especially his thought that you have to go out, not remain closed within the Church. Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth.” And salt has to go into the soup. If it stays in the salt jar, it is of no use. We have to go out, give ourselves purely, disperse ourselves and give the taste to others. In the language of faith: to be a servant of the peace of the world. I think that is a good perspective.”
Photo credit: PEK/Kasiske
As the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.
Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:
1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
- 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
- 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
- 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
- 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s College, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.
The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.
Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.
Photo credit: Belga.
Turning 80 on Christmas Day of this year, Joachim Cardinal Meisner is among the oldest diocesan ordinaries. Bishops are required to tender their resignation upon their 75th birthday, although the Pope is free to allow or disregard it as and when he sees fit. Cardinal Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, has six other active ordinaries above him in age, as well as three Curial prelates, one auxiliary bishop and the prelate of Opus Dei. And four of these are clerics of non-Latin Catholic Churches, who may not always have the same rules regarding age and retirement.
When Pope Francis will allow Cardinal Meisner is as yet unknown, but the cardinal has his post-retirement plans ready nonetheless, as he reveals in Polish church magazine Gosc Niedzielny. He intends to be regularly available to hear confessions in Cologne’s Dom Cathedral, to visit sick priests and to be of help “where there is need”. He will be the first archbishop of Cologne to enjoy his retirement since Archbishop Paul Melchers, who left the see in 1885.
In the same interview, Cardinal Meisner also comes to the defense of his fellow countryman, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. “I am almost ashamed as a German, as a Catholic Christian, to see how little this great Pope’s proclamation has been accepted and valued here,” he says. “The Church in Germany does not know what ‘treasure in the field’ they had in this Pope.” And the reason for this, so Cardinal Meisner says, may be a “kind of condescension and arrogance”, and perhaps also the existence of an anti-Catholic attitude in the homeland of the Reformation. Germany, with its society that is often just as anti-Christian as the Marxist regime that once ruled in the eastern part of the country, with the sole exception being the lack of a socialist ideology, is once again mission territory, he claims.
A harsh farewell, perhaps, but not without its grains of truth. Let’s just hope the cardinal, who can look back on 38 years of service as a bishop, and more than 50 as a priest, does not retire with such negative feelings.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa
In 2011, Cologne sent one of its auxiliary bishops to Berlin to become archbishop there. Today, history repeats itself as another of Cologne’s auxiliaries is appointed to head one of Berlin’s suffragan dioceses: Heiner Koch succeeds Joachim Reinelt as Bishop of Dresden-Meißen.
Dresden-Meißen, which covers virtually all of Saxony and eastern Thuringia and is home to some 140,000 Catholics, has been a vacant diocese since February of 2012 and with today’s appointment only Erfurt and Passau remain vacant among Germany’s 29 circumscriptions.
Bishop Koch was born in 1954 in Düsseldorf and ordained to the priesthood in 1980. Since 2006 he has been auxiliary bishop of Cologne, with the titular see of Ros Cré in Ireland. As priest he worked in pastoral care for both youth and adults, and he was also attached to the University of Düsseldorf as university chaplain. In 2002, he became vicar general of the Archdiocese of Cologne. As general secretary, he was responsibly for the organisation of the 2005 World Youth Day, which took place in Cologne.
Bishop Koch will be the 8th bishop of Dresden-Meißen since it was established as a diocese in 1921, and the 49th since this area of Saxony was first organised as an ecclesiastical territory. He will be installed on 16 March, in a Mass at Dresden’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. On 23 January there will be a press conference in which the new ordinary will be introduced.
2013 will be the year of one of the largest shakeups of the German episcopate, at least for the foreseeable future. No less than four bishops, including two archbishops, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75, while a further three are already 75 or older. Additionally, two dioceses remain without a bishop. There is of course no guarantee that all, or even any, of these bishops will retire this year, or the sees be filled, but the odds are large enough to warrant a look at what the exact changes may be.
On 9 August, the first episcopal 75th will be marked by the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (pictured) of Freiburg im Breisgau. He will be followed on 13 December by one of his auxiliaries, Bishop Rainer Klug. In the southern German archdiocese, that will leave only 66 year-old auxiliary Bishop Bernd Joachim Uhl of the current diocesan curia.
In between these two bishops, on 13 August and 3 December respectively, Bishop Werner Radspieler, auxiliary of Bamberg, and Archbishop Werner Thissen, of Hamburg, will mark their 75th birthdays.
Both Freiburg and Hamburg are significant archdioceses, the first by population (some 5 million Catholics) and the second by sheer size, being Germany largest circumscription.
These four milestones are in addition to three bishops who are still serving despite being past the age of 75. The first is Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary of Essen, and the other two are both cardinals: Karl Cardinal Lehmann, bishop of Mainz, and Joachim Cardinal Meisner (pictured) of Cologne (who will mark his 80th birthday on Christmas Day, and may then become one of those rarest of cardinals: no longer eligible to vote in a conclave, yet still serving as a diocesan ordinary).
Over the course of this year then, we may see two dioceses (Dresden-Meißen and Passau) being filled and between two and four becoming vacant. If the maximum of four do indeed become vacant, we will witness another fairly unique situation: three of Germany’s seven metropolitan archdioceses and historically significant Mainz, after Trier and Cologne the German diocese with the longest pedigree, and held by cardinals since the 1960s, will be empty.
Photo credit:  Hartmut W. Schmidt,  Harald Tittel (c) dpa - Bildfunk