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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.
Today the German Diocese of Görlitz bade farewell to its first bishop, Rudolf Müller, who had passed away on Christmas Day at the age of 81. A priest since 1955. Bishop Müller was appointed to head the Apostolic Administration of Görlitz in 1987. He became the first ordinary when Görlitz became a diocese in 1994. In 2006 he retired.
The Requiem Mass at the cathedral of St. James was offered by Rainer Cardinal Woelki, archbishop of Berlin, together with Görlitz’s current ordinary, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt. Bishop Leopold Nowak, emeritus of Magdeburg, gave the homily, while the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, Bishop Norbert Trelle of Hildesheim, representing the German Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Stefan Cichy of Legnica, Poland, also attended.
Bishop Müller’s death was sudden, despite his advanced age. Bishop Cichy said of the deceased: “Bishop Rudolf remains in my memory as a joyful man who liked to sing, a good neighbour and a true friend.”
Photo credit: www.bistum-goerlitz.de/
With yesterday’s retirement of Bishop Joachim Reinelt the Berlin Church Province is close to completing a significant generational shift. For the first time since the province, which consists of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen, was established in its modern form in 1994*, a new generation of bishops is set to take over.
In July 2010, the bishop of Görlitz, Konrad Zdarsa, was moved to Augsburg, and he can be considered something of a transitional bishop, having helmed Görlitz for only three years. His predecessor, Bishop Rudolf Müller, had been Görlitz’s chief shepherd for almost 20 years. In June of last year, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt became the new bishop.
In February of last year, Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky retired as Archbishop of Berlin, making way for Rainer Maria Woelki to become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals as of three days ago.
And yesterday, Bishop Joachim Reinelt retired as the bishop of Dresden-Meiβen, a position he had held since 1988. He reached the obligatory retirement age of 75 in October, but, as these things go, the resignation he tendered then was only now accepted. Running the diocese now is 71-year-old vicar general Msgr. Michael Bautz, but the eventual new bishop may well be younger than that. The neighboring bishops, Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki and auxiliary Matthias Heinrich, and Görlitz’s Ipolt, are 55, 57 and 57 respectively.
The Diocese of Dresden-Meiβen covers the major part of Saxony and small parts of eastern Thuringia, and is centered around the cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Dresden and the co-cathedral of Saint Peter in Bautzen.
*On 27 June of that year, Berlin became a metropolitan archdiocese with Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen as its suffragan dioceses. Before that date, Görlitz had been an apostolic administration ever since it was split off from the Polish Archdiocese of Wroclaw in 1972, and Dresden-Meiβen had been immediately subject to the Holy See. A reflection of the status quo of post-war East Germany.
Photo credit: Lisa Boscheinen / Erzbistum Freiburg
Last year all eyes were on Pope Benedict’s successful visit to the United Kingdom, and now we are at the brink of what I think could be an equally momentous visit: the first official state visit to Germany. And while 100 parliamentarians plan to be somewhere else than the Bundestag tomorrow (and Archbishop Zollitsch optimistically hopes they’ll give the pope’s address a good read afterwards), while protesters claim to be able to muster several tens of thousands to their cause (and the Holy Father is rumoured to have some trepidation because of that – not that it’ll keep him away from his native country), and while even Hans Küng is stirred from his slumbers to make some old-fashioned comments, many thousands of people from Germany and abroad eagerly await to papal shoes setting foot on the concrete of Berlin’s Tegel airport.
If the UK visit is anything to go by (and that remains to be seen), this visit certainly has the potential to stir things up and reinvigorate the German faithful and Church, and even those beyond. And what with Germany’s leading position in Europe, this visit is in many ways a visit to Europe as well. What the pope will say and do will have a bearing on Germany, but. I expect, no less on all Europeans, especially those in the secularised west. As the Holy Father said in his televised address three days ago: “[I]n these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.” The hearts and minds of the people of the secularised west must be reopened to God, so that He may become visible again in our lives. The visit will therefore be a missionary visit: like Saints Paul and Peter travelled to strengthen the faith of small Christian communities, so does the Successor of Peter visit the Christian communities, Catholic or not, of Germany this week.
For Archbishop Rainer Woelki, installed less than a month ago as Berlin’s ninth bishop (and second archbishop), this will the big event he never had the time to prepare for, and the one his predecessor, Cardinal Sterzinsky, had hoped he would live long enough to see. But Archbishop Woelki, who will welcome the pope upon his arrival in Berlin tomorrow, will be used to the rocky start of his heading the Church of Berlin; one day after his own installation, he was called upon to consecrate new Bishop Ipolt of Görlitz, one of Berlin’s two suffragan dioceses. Having the pope come for a visit will perhaps be something of a matter of course now. Although his joy, his awe and his desire to impress the magnitude of this occasion on the people of Berlin do shine through in a letter which was read in all churches of the archdiocese this weekend.
And it is a momentous occasion. For the pope, certainly, who has few chances to visit the country where he grew up and which he clearly loves. But also for the Church in Germany, for the people of all faiths and also for the political world in and beyond Germany. The pope comes as a head of state, certainly. He was invited as such by the federal president. But the pope can never be just a head of state. He also comes as the Successor of Peter as the visible head under which all Catholic faithful are united, as the man to whom Christ Himself entrusted the care of His Church in these times. We do well to give him our ear and our mind, and pay loving attention to what the Holy Father will teach and express in the coming days.
Because, as the motto of this papal visit says, Where God is, is the Future!
Photo credit:  Reuters/Tobias Schwarz ,  Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The east of this blog’s area of interest, that is.
Tucked away in the triangle formed by Germany’s borders with Poland and the Czech Republic is an interesting remnant of a once powerful ecclesiastical jurisdiction – or one of the remnants, one should say. The Diocese of Görlitz was created in 1972 as an apostolic administration to conform with the post-war borders in east and central Europe. Before 1972, this was part of the great Archdiocese of Breslau, stretching across parts of modern Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, and split in separate parts following the Allies’ divisions of the Third Reich.
Now one of the smallest German dioceses with a mere 30,000 Catholic faithful, Görlitz runs the risk of being something of a lost child in the Church of the west. But good things have a tendency to be noticed, as became clear in July 2010, when Görlitz’s bishop, Msgr. Konrad Zdarsa, was sent to Augsburg, where his predecessor, Bishop Mixa, had just left amid much rumours and confusion. Bishop Zdarsa had been occupying the see of Görlitz for only three years when he was reassigned, so evidently he must have made good in the small diocese. But his departure did leave the good people of eastern Saxony and southern Brandenburg without a bishop.
Now, almost exactly a year later, a clergyman from Erfurt is sent east become a shepherd. Msgr. Wolfgang Ipolt is 57 and becomes the fourth bishop of Görlitz, with its 60-some priests, and 80-some religious. Bishop-elect Ipolt was until now the rector of the interdiocesan seminary in Erfurt, which also serves Berlin, Dresden-Meiβen, Magdeburg and Görlitz, as well as students from Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic. As rector of such a seminary, Msgr. Ipolt may be expected to have a similarly international outlook, especially eastward towards the great Catholic nations of Poland and Lithuania, but also to the fledgling Church communities in the former German Democratic Republic – communist East Germany. The new bishop, then, reflects the identity of the diocese: situated between past and present – the strong Catholic history of past Breslau and the future of the new dioceses in eastern Germany.
With this appointment, only Berlin remains vacant in Germany.
With today’s acceptance of the resignation of Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky, a major European capital’s Catholic flock is left without an archbishop. For the time being of course, but the cardinal archbishop, who turned 75 some two weeks ago, leaves an interesting act to follow. When he was appointed in 1989 there was no Archdiocese of Berlin. Sterzinsky, until then a priest of Erfurt-Meiningen (now simply Erfurt), became the bishop of a divided diocese in an East Germany that started to show the cracks that would lead to the German reunification in 1990. Because of the important role of Berlin in the new Germany, and its position in history among other German cities, Bishop Sterzinsky was elevated to Cardinal in 1991, aged only 55. The reorganisation of the dioceses that followed the Wende saw Berlin elevated to an archdiocese and Sterzinsky as its first archbishop.
Berlin, which includes the city of the same name, north and central Brandenburg and eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (including the Baltic island Rügen), is now temporarily led by its auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Matthias Heinrich, who is obliged to convene the cathedral chapter to elect a diocesan administrator, who will run the archdiocese until the pope appoints a new archbishop.
In north and western Europe, where bishops and Catholics are a bit thinner on the ground than in the south, there are a number of bishops approaching the required retirement age of 75, and also some who are already past that age. In Germany, for example, they are Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (75) and Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Köln (77). Archbishop Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meissen will reach that age later this year. Related to that, the Diocese of Görlitz has been vacant since last year.
Outside Germany, the situation is comparable, although most surrounding countries have far fewer bishops. In Norway, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim has been vacant since 2009, with the bishop of Oslo running things temporarily. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam is vacant, although no other Dutch bishops will turn 75 for the next seven years. In Belgium, too, the next bishop up for resignation is Bishop Jousten of Liège in November of 2012. The archbishop of Luxembourg, Fernand Franck, on the other hand, will turn 77 in May, and is still in office. In the United Kingdom then, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Bishops Peter Moran of Aberdeen and Edwin Regan of Wrexham are all 75 or over and still in office. Meanwhile, the bishops of Brentwood, Hallam and Portsmouth will all reach 75 this year, while the Archdiocese of Cardiff remains vacant. Ireland, then, with its spate of bishops’ resignations in the wake of the abuse crisis, is a story in itself.
The current vacancy of Berlin may be a herald of some interesting changes in the Church in and around the Netherlands, but how long those changes will take is anyone’s guess.
All that being said, Cardinal Sterzinsky’s illness leaves him bedridden in the hospital, so his resignation is nothing but understandable, although it is said that he would have liked to be able to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in function when the latter will visit Berlin in September.
Photo credit: Deutscher Depeschendienst
It may be the time of year when nothing much seems to be happening – unless you’re a Belgian bishop – and he may be about to leave for his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, but Pope Benedict XVI has shown once again to be on top of things when it comes to appointing bishops in striken dioceses. First Bruges only had to wait a few months before seeing Msgr. De Kesel replace Bishop Vangheluwe, now Augsburg gets a new shepherd to succeed Bishop Walter Mixa, who resigned amid a storm of confusion and accusations to and fro. 66-year-old Bishop Konrad Zdarsa will go from Görlitz, where he was appointed only three years ago, to Augsburg. Let’s hope he gets along will with that diocese’s two auxiliary bishops and staff.
In a bit of random-yet-interesting trivia, Katholiek Nederland reports that the government of Bavaria has the right to veto any episcopal appointments in that state. Bishop Zdarsa passed their scrutiny, though.