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Msgr. Klaus Metzl called it the most beautiful day of the year so far, and well he might. The Diocese of Passau, located where Germany meets Austria and the Czech Republic, had been without a bishop for 18 months, so the appointment of a new shepherd on Friday was indeed what both he and the faithful had “waited, hoped and prayed for”.
In october of 2012, Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired after almost eleven years at the helm of the almost 1300-year-old diocese, but stayed on for one more year as Apostolic Administrator, after which Msgr. Metzl took over.
And now the choice has fallen on Bishop-elect Stefan Oster to be the 85th bishop of Passau. The new bishop is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (an order which boasts an additional 124 bishops and cardinals among its members) and will be the youngest ordinary of Germany upon his consecration on 24 May. There are five German bishops younger than him, but they are all auxiliaries.
The appointment of Bishop-elect Oster has been welcomed almost everywhere, which seems to be generally due to his unassuming yet communicative personality. A former journalist, the 48-year-old future bishop never held positions of power, either within or outside the Salesians. The fact that he was chosen must therefore be due to his person qualities, or, as the case may be, those which he exhibited in his life before joining the Salesians, when he was a journalist, student of philosophy, history and religion in Germany and the UK, and ultimately theology before ordained in 2001. After an award-winning dissertation at the University of Augsburg, he joined the future bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, in Trier. In recent years he has been mainly active as a teacher. And he also juggles.
A trained dogmatist, Bishop-elect Oster has the ingredients for a long and fruitful occupation of the see that was first established by Saint Boniface: communication, an unassuming and fraternal personality and theological acumen.
The number of vacant dioceses in Germany is now back to five – Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne, Limburg and Hamburg.
Photo credit: DPA
In Hamburg, Archbishop Werner Thissen entered retirement accepted today, making Germany’s largest diocese the fifth to become vacant, after Passau, Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau and Cologne. Archbishop Thissen came to Hamburg in 2002 and turned 75 in December.
The Archdiocese of Hamburg in its current form is very young, being restored in 1994 out of territories formerly belonging to the Dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück and the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which was completely absorbed by the new circumscription. Hamburg is the only diocese to cover parts of both former West and East Germany. But although it didn’t exist for the major part of the 20th century (from 1930 to 1994), Hamburg does have a long history.
It was first established in the ninth century from the Diocese of Bremen and was already a metropolitan archdiocese then. It not only included parts of modern Germany, but also most of modern Denmark. In 1972 it was unified with Bremen, becoming the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, which covered also parts of modern Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states. In the 16th century the Reformation hit, and Hamburg-Bremen was suppressed. Almost a century later the Church in northern Germany reached a new semi-stability as the Apostolic Vicariate of the Nordic Mission, which included roughly the northern half of Germany, parts of modern Poland, the Nordic countries including Iceland. After much of that territory was split off into various new dioceses and administrations, the rump of the Nordic Missions vanished again, becoming part of the Diocese of Osnabrück in 1930. Schwerin, the part of Osnabrück that was in East Germany, became its own administration in 1973. In 1994, the new Archdiocese of Hamburg was restored as outlined in the image above, taking the bishop of Osnabrück, Ludwig Averkamp, with it as its first archbishop.
A short video on the Archdiocesan website serves as a small note of thanks to the retired archbishop, highlighting, among other things, the funeral of Archbishop Averkamp and Archbishop Thissen’s efforts that lead to the beatification of the martyrs of Lübeck, three priests and a Lutheran pastor who were murdered by the Nazi regime.
Archbishop Thissen hails from the Diocese of Münster, having been born in the city of Kleve near the Dutch border. After his ordination in 1966 he was a parish priest, spiritual councillor and subregent of the diocesan seminary. Following his promotion in 1974 he worked in the diocesan offices in the sections for general pastoral care and pastoral care for clergy and employees of the diocese. He became a resident cathedral chapter member of Münster in 1984 and vicar general in 1986. In 1999, Msgr. Thissen was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Münster and titular bishop of Scampa. In 2003 followed his appointment as archbishop of Hamburg.
And a second video, showing Archbishop Thissen’s love for music as he says goodbye to a number of faithful at the chapel of St. Ansgar in Hamburg:
The process of selecting a new archbishop is not unlike the one I outlined earlier, when discussing how a new archbishop of Cologne is chosen. A diocesan administrator is to be chosen within eight days, and in the meantime the senior auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Norbert Werbs, runs the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter, the nuncio and the bishops of the Province of Hamburg (which also includes Osnabrück and Hildesheim), as well as those of the Provinces of Cologne and Paderborn, the Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Erfurt and Görlitz are all to present candidates. The Pope will then draft a list of three names from all of these proposals, from which the cathedral chapter is to choose a new archbishop. The expectation is that this entire process can take as long as a year.
Later today, the German bishops will elect their new chairman. While their spring assembly lasts until tomorrow, this is by far the most eagerly anticipated part of their deliberations. A total of 66 electors will be voting: 63 ordinaries and auxiliary bishops, as well as the administrators of 3 vacant sees. Limburg’s Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is not present; his place is taken by Administrator Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the departing chairman of the conference, also votes for his own successor, as he is the administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau.
^Archbishop Zollitsch at the opening Mass for the Bishops’ Conference’s meeting.
There are no clear favourites in this election, but whatever the choice, it will constitute a generational shift. But this shift has been typical for the German Bishops’ Conference since about last year. A fair number of bishops and archbishops are retiring or have already done so. Among them are, for example, the aforementioned Archbishop Zollitsch, Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner and in the near future, Mainz’s Cardinal Lehmann and Hamburg’s Archbishop Thissen.
Despite the lack of favourites, there are a few names which have been mentioned more than others: Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx (who may have to let this one pass, as he has his share of responsibilities already: ordinary of Munich, Coordinator of the Council for the Economy, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals…). Other names are Osnabrück’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Trier’s Bishop Stephan Ackermann.
Whatever the choice, the expectation is that the new chairman will take Pope Francis’ program and run with it, which means a stronger focus on charity and evangelisation and, I fear, a greater risk of bishops getting head of themselves on issues like marriage and Communion (a topic the bishops are also discussing in this meeting), which we’ve already seen happen in Germany.
^Two electors with their own choice to make: Cologne’s auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp and Administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße are also set to vote for the new archbishop of Cologne.
The election is set to take place this morning, and per the schedule available at Domradio.de, the presentation of the new chairman is scheduled for 10:30 local time.
He led a diocese for less than four hours, but Bishop Manfred Melzer probably won’t lose any sleep over it. It is simply standard procedure in Cologne: as the archbishop retires, leadership of the archdiocese falls automatically to the most senior auxiliary bishop. Until, that is, the cathedral chapter has picked a diocesan administrator, and they didn’t take very long to do that. Vicar General Msgr. Stefan Heβe (pronounced “Hesse”) (pictured at right) runs the ongoing affairs of the archdiocese until Pope Francis confirms the election of a successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who retired today after 25 years, two months and a few days at the head of one of Germany’s oldest sees.
In 1988, Cardinal Meisner came to Cologne from Berlin, 14 months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Höffner. Today he becomes the first archbishop of Cologne in almost 129 years to retire, and he does so at the almost unprecedented age of 80. Cologne now joins three other German dioceses – Erfurt, Passau and Freiburg in Breisgau – which are also still awaiting a new bishop, in the case of the former two since October of 2012.
Cardinal Meisner leaves Cologne in the hands of diocesan administrator Msgr. Heβe, and Auxiliary Bishops Melzer, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The diocesan administrator now had the duty to collect an expansive report on the state of the archdiocese and send that to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In the meantime, the see of Cologne is Sede vacante nihil innovetur, in other words, while there is no new bishop, no changes may be made. In other respects, Msgr. Heβe has the same rights and duties as a diocesan bishop.
The Archdiocese of Cologne, or Köln as it is properly called, is the second oldest in Germany (only Trier is older), dating back to the year 200, and once dominated the western part of modern Germany as well as major parts of the Low Countries. The Dioceses of Roermond (Netherlands), Magdeburg, Aachen and Essen (Germany) and parts of Liège (Belgium) were at one time or another all part of Cologne.
The archbishops of Cologne were powerful men, in that rather German way that they were both spiritual and worldly leaders, being electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, while not the primatial see of Germany, Cologne remains important, being the largest diocese in number of faithful (some 2 million) and covering a significant part of the Industrial Ruhr area and including the major cities of Cologne, Bonn (former capital city of West Germany) and Düsseldorf. Cologne has produced 10 cardinals and 7 ordinaries who were declared saints.
Joachim Meisner was born on Christmas Day 1933, in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, but at the time the city of Breslau in Germany, which was rapidly falling into the clutches of the Nazis. Having lived through the war as a child and young teenager, Joachim Meisner ultimately became a priest of the Diocese of Fulda in 1962, days before his 29th birthday. In 1975, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, which has been established only two years before (tensions between communist East Germany and the Holy See meant that the former had almost no full-fledged dioceses). Bishop Meisner was also given the titular see of Vina. In 1980, he became the bishop of Berlin, which, because of the aforementioned tensions, was not yet an archdiocese. Bishop Meisner stayed there for eight years, being created a cardinal in 1983, before being called to Cologne in 1980 (a poster welcoming his arrival is pictured at left).
Coinciding with his retirement, Cardinal Meisner published his final Lenten letter, which is also a farewell to his archdiocese and the faithful for whom he was pastorally responsible. He concludes the letter as follows:
Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,
I was allowed to serve you as Archbishop of Cologne for a quarter of a century. I have always wanted to testify to the peace of God and bring this across to you, since it is the strength of our hope. I thank you once again from my heart for all the strength which I found in that and beg you all very much for your forgiveness when my service were not a source of strength, but perhaps a source of irritation. The Lord will complete everything which was only fragmentary in my service. I will remain – God willing – among you until the hour of my death and will now have more time to pray for you all, and bring all your concerns and hopes to the heart of God.
The all-powerful God bless you all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”
And now? The Archdiocese of Cologne has already started the process of selecting a new archbishop by appointing a diocesan administrator. Possible candidates will now be chosen by several entities, all according to the Concordat that the Holy See signed in 1929 with Prussia, the state of which Cologne was then a part. Among these entities are Archbishop Eterovic (pictured) as the Papal Nuncio; the bishops of the other dioceses which were part of Prussia: Aachen, Berlin, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Görlitz, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Trier; and the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The Nuncio will then collect all proposed candidates and will create a list of three candidates which he considers the best choices. This so-called terna will be added to the other proposals and sent to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will draft its own terna based on the information provided. The list will then go to the Pope, who will either confirm it, or make some changes of his own. Then, the list goes back to the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from final terna. Voting continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes (at least 8 out of 15). After three voting rounds, only the two candidates who got the most votes continue. If all candidates have five votes after the second round, only the two oldest candidates continue on. For the fourth round of voting a simple majority is sufficient. Do both candidates still have the same amount of votes, the oldest candidate is elected.
After a new archbishop is elected, the governments of the States of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz can voice political concerns against the elected. The Nuncio must seek and obtain the permission of the elected for this. Once the governments agree, the Pope officially appoints the new archbishop.
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