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Reports that the Vatican would make a statement regarding Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst started breaking this morning, to the effect that he will not be returning to his diocese.
Awaiting the official statement, which Domradio has announced to be commenting on at noon, we can only guess at the details. We can, however safely assume that the heart of the decision will be either that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has indeed mismanaged the funds of the Diocese of Limburg, especially those related to the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts of the diocesan complex, which includes his own apartment (and it is likely that his lies under oath about his traveling to India will also play a part in it), or that the atmosphere in Limburg and Germany as a whole is such that his return is unwise. With the amount of hostility against his person, warranted or not, his work as ordinary of a diocese would have been almost impossibly difficult.
There are also reports that the bishop’s mental health has suffered in the past months, which can also be a determining factor in this decision.
If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will indeed not return, the Diocese of Limburg is the sixth diocese in Germany to fall vacant.
This is the text of the decision as released by the Holy See today, in my translation:
Regarding the administration of the Diocese of Limburg, in Germany, the Congregation for Bishops has studied in detail the report of the Commission, that was established according to the desires of the bishop and the cathedral chapter, to investigate in detail the responsibilities regarding the construction of the Diocesan Centre “St. Nicholas”.
Given that a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Holy See has accepted the resignation as offered by the bishop on 20 october 2013 and has appointed an Apostolic Administrator in the person of Monsignor Manfred Grothe.
The outgoing bishop, Msgr. Tebartz-van Elst, will be given other duties in due time.
The Holy Father asks the clergy and the faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to accept the decision of the Holy See willingly, and strive for a return to a climate of compassion and reconciliation.
The full report of the German bishops on this matter is set for publication at 3:30 this afternoon.
The new Apostolic Administrator of Limburg, who will work in conjunction with Bishop Thomas Löhr, auxiliary bishop of the diocese, and Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch, the vicar general appointed as Bishop Tebartz-van Elst began his leave of absence, is Bishop Manfred Grothe (pictured). He is the senior auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Paderborn, which borders Limburg to the north. He led the bishops’ investigation into the whole affair.
Paderborn’s Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker sees the appointment of Bishop Grothe as a “great sign of confidence” from Pope Francis. He said, “I am certain that Auxiliary Bishop Grothe will be a good companion for the Church of Limburg on the road they start today. His decades-long experience, his great knowledge and above his factual nature, which is yet directed towards the people, make him ideal for the task before him.”
It is interesting to note that the Holy See does not expound much on the reasons for accepting Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation. But what it does say is interesting. The communique does refer to the investigation conducted by the German Bishops’ Conference and studied by the Congregation for Bishops, but merely notes that “a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst”. These are very factual statements. Regardless of whether or not the bishops concluded that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has made grave mistakes, it is by now virtually impossible to be a diocesan ordinary. This is as much due to the situation created by himself (of which only the lying under oath is proven and admitted, which is serious enough), as to how he has been portrayed in the media. In many cases this portrayal has been objetive and necessary, but in a fair number of cases it has not. The words of support from, for example, Cardinal Lehmann, but also those of Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Gänswein, should therefore not automatically be construed as an error of judgement on their part, but, together with the Holy See statement, as an acknowledgement of the fact that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation will not be solely due to what he did or did not do wrong.
The full report from the bishops’ commission, published this afternoon, is a lengthy tome, and while I am able to make a working translation of short German texts, this, I have to be honest, is a whole different animal. Summaries and analyses of what exactly went wrong are therefore better left to others. The fact remains that things went seriously wrong and while the intentions of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may have been good and honest, the execution of the entire construction project most certainly was not. It is, however, good to remember that he inherited this whole affair to a certain extent, as the initial plans, with a number of inherent financial miscalculations, were drawn up by the cathedral chapter in 2004, a full three years before Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was appointed as ordinary of Limburg. But he did authorise new plans and their execution, and made sure that he was the sole responsible party.
In a very ill-advised move, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has now issued a statement denying a number of conclusions from the commission’s report, stating that he was, from the very start, dedicated to ensure “quality and sustainability”, especially in the context of unfortunate experiences with other construction projects in the diocese. In my opinion, this is a counterproductive and unwise move. For the Diocese of Limburg and its faithful, and also for its former bishop, a period of trial and uncertainty has ended. As Bishop Manfred Grothe indicated, now is a time to look ahead. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may consider his intentions to have been righteous and his efforts to have been all he could do, the fact remains that things went wrong, or so the commission concludes. In denying these conclusions, the bishop is not only fighting the commission and his brother bishops, but also the opinion of the world. And that last one is a difficult opponent, which can not be changed or defeated by full-on assault and denial. It only becomes stronger. The bishop had better chosen another approach, of penance and regret, instead of this. Nothing good will come from it.
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.
There is a lot going on in the Diocese of Limburg, not least when it comes to the speculation about what Bishop Tebartz-van Elst did and did not do. Whatever the truth of all this may turn out to be (and that is, it would seem, now up to either Pope Francis or Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s Congregation for Bishops – or both), it seems that the bishop is by no means the only one who bears responsibility for the excessive costs of the St. Nicholas centre, which includes the bishop’s private appartments.
The most striking name involved is that of Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset (pictured), until about a month ago the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. Not only was he aware of the construction plans for the diocesan centre in Limburg an der Lahn, but he also agreed to the plan of splitting the project into ten smaller ones, thus avoiding seeking Vatican, as is mandatory with plans costing more than 5 million Euros. All this according to internal reports that German press agency KNA got their hands on.
Not only does this indicate that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, in Germany media these days often called the “luxury bishop” or even the “bishop of bling”, is not automatically the sole responsible party (although he carries the major part of the burden out of his responsibility as ordinary), but it may also shed a light on Archbishop Périsset’s retirement eight months before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75…
Oh well, all this may turn out to be mere speculation, but it is striking. One thing is certain: the situation is not as clear-cut as we, and the media, would perhaps like. It seems ever more likely that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, consciously or not, has made some serious errors of judgement. But others who he called in for advice and assistance, certainly aided him in that.
A whole raft of new appointments and assignments in the Curia today. It seems as if Pope Francis is really getting to work with what he has been saying he would since his election: the reform of the Curia. New Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin is already waiting in the wings, ready to take over the office from Cardinal Bertone on 15 October. The Curia that he will be working closely with is starting to change with today’s transfers and appointments, although some prelates had their positions confirmed as well. These confirmations usually take place within the first week after a new Pope has been elected, but Pope Francis is taking his time: six months in, there are still prelates waiting to be confirmed.
I won’t hazard to guess if the appointments are wise or not, although I remain willing to give the Holy Father and the prelates in question every chance at doing their new jobs in the Curia, helping Pope Francis manage the Catholic Church and communicate, defend and confirm the faith that the Lord entrusted to her.
An overview at the changes:
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, until today the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, succeeds Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro as Major Penitentiary. Cardinal Monteiro de Castro is 75 and has therefore retired. Cardinal Piacenza is 69 and has been a member of the Curia since 2000. He has been Undersecretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2000-2003) and President of the Pontifical Commissions for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and for Sacred Archaeology following his consecration as bishop (2003-2007). In 2007 he was elevated to the dignity of archbishop and appointed as Secretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2007-2010) and became its Prefect in 2010. In that same year he was created a cardinal. As head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Piacenza is in charge of the Church tribunal chiefly dealing with excommunications, dispensations and indulgences.
Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, was until today the Vice-President of the Pontifical Council “Ecclesia Dei”. He now returns to the office where he began his Curial career as he is appointed as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is a new position, as the Congregation also has a Secretary and an Undersecretary. Archbishop Di Noia began in the latter function in 2002. In 2009 he became the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which came with a consecration to bishop. In 2012 Archbishop Di Noia was appointed to “Ecclesia Dei”.
Archbishop Beniamino Stella succeeds Cardinal Piacenza as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He is a diplomat who began as Apostolic Delegate, Pro-Nuncio and Nuncio to various countries (Chad, the Central African Republic and Congo (1987-1992), Cuba (1992-1999) and Colombia (1999-2007). He was President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy which trains priests for diplomatic service, from 2007 to today.
- Archbishop-elect Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, was until today the Bishop of Paplanta in Mexico. He has no Curial experience yet. From 2009 to 2012 he was Coadjutor Bishop of Paplanta, and last year he became the ordinary. He will be the Secretary for the Seminaries in the Congregation for the Clergy. This is a fairly new position, as the Congregation only received responsibility for the formation of priests in January of this year.
- Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, for more than nine years the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the advisory body for the Pope which meets every couple of years for an intense series of discussions on specific topics. Before the task, Archbishop Eterovic served as the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, and he will now return to such a diplomatic posting, except this time in Germany. He succeeds Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, who is some six months shy of his 75th birthday and will therefore retire.
- Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, will retain one is his two offices, that of Secretary of the College of Cardinals. His other office, of Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops will be exchanged for that vacated by Archbishop Eterovic: Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri’s appointment may safely be considered in light of Pope Francis’ intent to move the Synod of Bishops to an instrument of an increased and more effective collegiality among the world’s bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri is also a diplomat, having served as Apostolic Nuncio to Haïti (1992-1995), Paraguay (1995-1999), India and Nepal (1999-2002) and Brazil (2002-2012).
- Archbishop-elect Giampiero Gloder is an official of the Secretariat of State who will succeed Archbishop Stella as President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Fernando Cardinal Filoni as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Archbishop Protase Rugambwa as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta as secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Although it is pertinently not an Apostolic Visitation but a ‘fraternal visit’, the dispatch of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo to the German Diocese of Limburg indicates that the standoff between bishop and faithful there is being taken seriously in Rome.
In a letter dated 3 September, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Congregation for Bishops expresses his fullest confidence in Bishop Franz-Peter Tebarzt-van Elst and underlines the purpose of Cardinal Lajolo’s forthcoming visit:
“Being very familiar with the situation of the Church in the German dioceses from his time as Apostolic Nuncio, the cardinal will enter into a fraternal dialogue with you, Your Excellence, with the cathedral chapter, but also with other relevant persons, with an alert eye on the needs of your local Church, help to distinguish the spirit and, where appropriate, to fraternally exhort, mainly in order to support and encourage your episcopal ministry towards peace and unity.”
As the above quote points out, Cardinal Lajolo was Apostolic Nuncio to Germany from 1995 to 2003. He was later recalled to Rome to work in the Secretariat of State and was later the President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State from 2006 until his retirement in 2011.
Limburg’s Bishop Tebartz-van Elst met with Cardinal Ouellet on 28 August in Rome and requested that an Apostolic Visitation be made to his diocese. Such a measure would mean an official investigation of, in this case, the finances of the bishop and the diocese, as well as the conduct of the bishop and the parties opposed to him. The visitor would then draft a report to authoritatively identify the root of the problems and recommend solutions. THis visit will not go that far, although Cardinal Lajolo will, as Cardinal Ouellet’s letter says, meet with all parties involved to resolve the situation amicably, so that Bishop Tebartz-van Ekst may continue his ministry in peace and unity.
Although the first weeks of a new Pope’s reign are undoubtedly not standard, there are duties which assert themselves fairly soon. Especially this year, the new Pope has had to devote himself to the duties of Holy Week, but there are also other duties related to the government of the Church which are being picked up again. One of these is the regular audiences with members of the Curia, and here we may keep a watchful eye for the future plans of Pope Francis regarding that same Curia.
In the past few days, four curial prelates have met with Pope Francis: Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (and fellow Argentinean); Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated and Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet (pictured), Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
Of course, the fact that these cardinals were among the first to meet officially with the Holy Father may be the result of pure chance, but it may also indicate who Pope Francis wanted to speak with most urgently. Cardinal Cordes’ work for the Holy See’s charitable arm certainly fits with the Pope’s concern for the poor and Cardinal Bráz de Aviz could have been on the list because Pope Francis was himself a member of a religious order. Cardinal Sandri’s audience may in part have been held because of their shared nationality, but may also point towards the importance that the Holy Father attaches to the Churches of the East. Cardinal Ouellet’s visit, finally, could be the most interesting.
Shortly after his election, Pope Francis spoke privately with Cardinal Ouellet, giving him, in the cardinal’s words, very concrete instructions. What these are have not been revealed. Could they indicate a new role for the Canadian cardinal within the Curia?
On the other hand, Cardinal Ouellet and Pope Francis may have simply been discussing the work of the Congregation for Bishops and upcoming appointments and transfers of new bishops.
Photo credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
In the final days before the Congregation for Bishops ceases its regular work when the Pope’s abdication goes into effect, it seems it wants to close some open files. Yesterday and today we saw a whole raft of appointments in such diverse countries as Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia and Congo, as well as in the Holy See’s diplomatic representation in several other countries.
Standing out are the appointments of Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis and Bishop Miguel Angel Olaverri Arroniz (pictured) of Pointe-Noire in Congo. Tunis is one of northern Africa’s major archdioceses. The previous archbishop, Msgr. Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham, was called to Jerusalem as an auxiliary bishop in January of last year. Pointe-Noire, then, lost her previous bishop, Msgr. Jean-Claude Makaya Loembe, when he was removed from his office because of mismanagement in March of 2011. He was one of the handful of bishops who lost their jobs under Pope Benedict XVI.
Among the reassignments of Apostolic Nuncios (five were appointed or reassigned today) is Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, who was the Undersecretary for the Relations with States at the Secretariat of State until today. He was assigned as Nuncio to Colombia, and some see this as a result of his name having been mentioned in the context of the Vatileaks scandal. Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, of course, but it does stand out.
The Prefect of the Congregation for Bishop, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, is considered a papabile, so perhaps the Congregation is wise to get as much work done in these last days: who knows, she may lose her prefect during the conclave…
Photo credit: Javier Valiente
The markedly strong-chinned Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán marks his 80th birthday today and so looses his position as a cardinal elector. There are now 118 electors remaining.
Born in Toluca in Mexico’s heartland, Javier Lozano Barragán attended seminary in Zamora and subsequently studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a doctorate in theology. In 1955 he was ordained to the priesthood.
Returning to Mexico, Fr. Lonzano Barragán taught dogmatic theology and history of philosophy at the seminary of Zamora. He later headed the Pastoral Institute of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference.
In 1979 he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of México with the titular see of Thinisa in Numidia. In 1984, Bishop Lozano Barragán was transferred to Zacatecas to become ordinary there. After twelve years, he once more returned to Rome as President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance of Health Care Workers. Two months later, at the start of 2007, he was granted the personal title of archbishop.
Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal in his last consistory, in 2003. Cardinal Lozano Barragán received the title church of San Michele Arcangelo. In 2009 the cardinal retired as president of the health care council. He remained a member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Congregation for Causes of the Saints, and the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses until today.
Cardinal Lozano Barragán made headlines several times, mostly in defence of life. He is strongly opposed to abortion and euthanasia and received criticism over his stance on homosexuality, although he never advocated discrimination towards homosexuals. The cardinal anticipated Pope Benedict XVI several times, in his advocacy for a quick beatification of Pope John Paul II, and also in his alleged preparation of a report which would state that the use of condoms would be a lesser evil if one of two partners was infected with HIV. That report was never published, and the pope would later state that the use of condoms could signal a moral improvement on the part of the user.