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Various bishops have written messages to their faithful on the occasion of Lent. In this post I want to go over six of them, written by bishops in and around the Netherlands. I have been scanning the various diocesan websites for them, and an interesting conclusion from that is that there aren’t a lot. I have found one in the Netherlands, and a few in Belgium and the Nordic countries. Oh, and one from Luxembourg. None from Germany, oddly enough.
Anyway, let’s see what the bishops who did write a message found important to share.
From Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk speaks about charity. He writes:
”For many of us [Lent] is a time of abstinence, a period in which we deny ourselves “the pleasures of life” or at least limit ourselves. Lent is a journey through the darkness to the Light of Easter, a journey through the desert to the Source. And we take the time for that: this is not ‘merely’ a Four-Day March, but one of forty days. We do not fast with an eye on losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle – although these can certainly be positive side effects… [...] During Lent we place not ourselves but God and also our neighbours at the centre. It is the we have in mind when we downsize our consumption pattern.”
But the cardinal warns, Lent is not just about saving money to give to some charity. He quotes Pope Francis, who said that if we do not have Christ and the Cross, we are a enthusiastic NGO, but not a Church. In other words, we can’t lose sight of our faith when doing good. In addition to fighting material poverty, we must also fight spiritual poverty.
“[Lent] is after all a time in which we make room to enrich our heart and our spirit, through prayer and reading Scripture, by directing these on what the should be the heart of our existence: our personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We remove the frills and side issues from our life to experience that our wellbeing does not depend on them.”
In essence, Cardinal Eijk explains, our charitable actions can not be seen separate from the Eucharist.
“In the sacrament of the Eucharist we come closest to Our Lord Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we are conformed to Him. This creates obligations and holds an assignment: from now on, try to act in His Spirit.”
He concludes with pointing out several “desert experiences” that deserve our attention: the loneliness of people around us, and the loneliness that we as faithful can sometimes experience.
“We live in a time in which faith has long since ceased to be a matter of course, in which not belonging to a religion is increasingly becoming normative. Going to Church on Sunday has almost become “socially maladjusted behaviour” now that this day is beginning to look more and more like every other day of the week. And then there is the unavoidable fact that several churches will have to be closed in the coming period, churches in which parishioners have often had decades worth of precious experiences and memories. It is clear: a person of faith in the year 2014 must stand firm to continue following Jesus faithfully.
But the person of faith and his faith can also be shaken from within. Every faith life has fruitful and barren periods. Barren periods during which we are locked up in ourselves, imprisoned by doubt and sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of a loved one or the disappearance of what was once familiar. In those dark nights of abandonment it may seems as it of our prayer do not reach beyond that barrier of sorrow, as if they return to us like a boomerang.”
Countering that is the realisation that Christ is with us, even in times of sorrow and suffering, even of sin.
Brussels’ Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard sheds a light on the three constituent elements of Lent – fasting, almsgiving and prayer – and asks his audience some direct questions. About fasting, he writes:
“Properly understood, fasting is an act of love for God. Is it not right to happily deny ourselves something for the people we love the most? [...] The way in which our Muslim brother and sisters practice Ramadan can inspire us in an exemplary manner to be at our most generous in this field.”
About almsgiving, the archbishop explains:
“This is an important aspect of Lent. Brotherly sharing starts at home. With that I mean the sharing of friendship, respect, patience and service.”
Lastly, there is prayer. Archbishop Léonard remind sus that the most important prayer is the Eucharist. About personal prayer, he asks us a question:
“We all know, at least in theory, the importance of prayer. But reality shows that a solid reminder sometimes does wonders! I ask you again: “How much time did we spend on prayer over the past month? Where were we?” Lent is an excellent opportunity to make a new start or, who knows, finally get started. Spending a few minutes a day with the Lord is not to much to ask, is it?”
And prayer is not hard:
“We must at least realise that every one of us can pray, even a longer prayer. Prayer is not reserved to priests and religious. It does not require a diploma or any special talent. The desire for prayer and asking Jesus, like His Apostles did, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1), is enough. Let su listen to the voice of the Lord, who asks us, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s side” (Rev. 3:20).”
Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg uses his message to urge the his faithful to devote themselves even more to the practices of Lent and Easter. In order the hear the voice of God, we must be ready to do so, he writes.
“I [...] propose we fast and do abstinence every Friday during this time of preparation for Easter. A simple meal can help us break down barriers in our daily routine and to open ourselves to Christ’s call. It is also a gesture of solidarity with the poor. And it would be good to not do it alone, but to do so in our various communities. Fasting and abstinence open our hearts and make us better able to pray. Would this not be an opportunity to pray more, to maintain dialogue and contact with the living God? Without personal prayer these things elude us!”
Archbishop Hollerich also speaks about almsgiving, about giving something up for the other. And this is also good for ourselves:
“Let’s shake ourselves up during this Lent! Let’s open our hearts to the distress of the world, which also exists in Luxembourg. Only someone who opens their hands to share can receive this gift: the freedom of the children of God.”
The archbishop urges us to celebrate all of Lent, not just Easter, but also Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in order to encounter Christ fully in our hearts.
Despite the problems the Church faces, and we as individual faithful also, Lent is ultimately a season of hope, and that hope grows the closer we come to the Living Lord.
Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm takes a slightly different approach to his message for Lent, as he does not explicitly discuss what we can and should do during this season. Instead, he begins with the image of a forgotten God, opening his letter with these blunt lines:
“We forget God. We live in age where God has become the forgotten God. Even the one who says, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14) has in fact himself forgotten God.”
But God does not forget us, he continues. We can’t imagine how close God is to is, and how much he loves us. It is up to us to remind others that, while they may forget Him, He never forgets them. And that is hard to communicate, but we must remain hopeful.
Forgetting God contains an enormous risk for us, the bishop explains:
“When we forget God, there is a great risk that we also forget man and fail to see him in his dignity of being created in the image of God. When God is forgotten, creation itself is diminished and so are all created beings. In a time and environment where consumerism is paramount, everything – and everybody – is easily reduced to things that can be consumed. When God is out of sight, so is humanity – indeed all of creation is brought down and diminished.”
But God is knowable in His creation, Bishop Arborelius states. “His presence permeates everything”. And when we get to know God, our respect for His creation grows. In Lent, that respect is shown by our refraining from making unnecessary use of created things.
“We eat less. We disengage ourselves from our covetousness. We try to help our neighbour. We meet God in the poor and naked. We forget ourselves so that we can set God in the centre. We serve those who need us. We praise Go for His goodness. We deepen our faith. Lent helps us to seek God with greater eagerness. We are more receptive to God’s will for us.” St. Birgitta likens God to a washerwoman, who constantly washes us clean of our sins and guilt. During Lent we are serious about our conversion. We prepare ourselves for the triumph and joy of Easter through contrition and penance, by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation and by participating in the Eucharist more often. We unite ourselves to the suffering and crucified Christ so that we can meet Him as the Risen and glorified Lord. The cross always leads us to the joy and peace of Easter.”
During Lent we must make a choice, the bishop insists.
“We must choose sides. We cannot limp on both sides. Mediocrity and half-heartedness must give way to devotion and commitment. We must begin each day anew in the new life of grace. We must seek the face of God each day by praying to Him and serving Him in our neighbour.”
But we need not stand alone in this radical choice. We are part of the community of the Church, which strengthens us, and the saints in heaven support us by their prayer. This is an antidote against selfishness and forgetting God.
Bishop Arborelius concludes his letter by presenting the Blessed Virgin, to whom the bishops of the Nordic countries will consecrate their nations on 22 March in Lund, Sweden, as our great help in heaven. She helps us be more evangelising and a better witness of Christ.
Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny devotes a major part of his message to the Belgian bill which allows euthanasia on minors. He quotes part of the bishops’ response to that immoral piece of legislation, which was sadly signed into law by King Philippe only days ago.
“The bishops agree with all who have expressed themselves unambiguously against this law on the basis of their experience and expertise. They fully support the rights of the child, of which the rights to love and respect are the most fundamental. But the right of a child to request his or her own death is a step too far for them. It is a transgression of the prohibition to kill, which forms the basis of our humane society.”
Following this reminder of the Church’s opposition to the laws of death, Bishop Bonny writes about the two complementary topics of freedom and solidarity.
“From where does our freedom come, and what does it consist of? Where does our solidarity consist of and what does it consist of? In the Christian view of humanity and the world freedom and solidarity are inseparable. They are like twins who belong together and strengthen each other.”
Using the example of St. Damian, Bishop Bonny then asks what connection we still make between freedom and solidarity. Lent leads us to the answer to that question.
“What was Good Friday but the ultimate unity of those two: freedom and solidarity. Why did Jesus end up on a cross? On the one hand because He wanted to be free: free to witness to the truth free to say and do what the Spirit of God inspired Him to do, free to give His life for His friends. On the other hand because He wanted to remain solidary: solidary with poor and broken people, solidary with the martyrs of all times, solidary with a weak and sinful humanity. He did not make a success story out of His life. He lost His trial. He was carried off through the backdoor of society.”
And so we come full circle, as the bishop seems to want to imply a link between the victims of draconian laws and Jesus Christ.
Reykjavík’s Bishop Pétur Bürcher writes about the Year for Consecrated Life that Pope Francis has announced for 2015, and uses the opportunity the address the religious communities in Iceland which, he says, “are a sign of hope for our Church!” The bishop goes on to relate the contributions that the religious communities have made to Catholic Iceland and announces a plan for the future:
“I would like to establish a male monastery, if possible with the Benedictines or Augustinians who in the Middle Ages possessed several monasteries in Iceland. We have already found a large piece of land with houses and a heated church in Úlfljótsvatn. Now we have to find a monastic community! I have undertaken a lot to find it and hope soon for a fulfillment of my dream which has become one of many people in Iceland and abroad!”
Lastly, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt opens his message by acknowledging that our environment does not make it easy for us to have the right attitude to start Lent.
“There is very little around us which calls us to it. The chocolate Easter eggs are already in the supermarket and commercials and media have always spoken with more easy about carnival, dieting and the Ramadan than about Christian fasting. Lent is apparently considered to be a private matter which we had better not discuss too much.”
But Lent is a precious time of conversion, the bishop says, drawing parallels with Christ’s time in the desert and the forty years that the people of Israel spent in the desert. It is a time of conversion from worldly things, in preparation for the future. And that conversion begins with the person of Jesus. Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Hoogmartens says we must understand Christ’s deepest ‘being’.
“Jesus reveals Himself, not with worldly power and wealth, both more so in weakness and poverty. He came to us with a love which does not hesitate to sacrifice itself. He became like us in every way, except in sin. He carried our suffering and died on the Cross. It is He who we must open our hearts and lives much more to during Lent. From out of the love of Jesus, out of His mercy as the Christ, we can, as it were, ’practice’ our witnessing, in honest love for the other, during Lent.”
The bishop emphasises the two sorts of poverty we must address, material and moral. About the latter he says:
“The extreme emphasis on human autonomy, for example, which became to shockingly visible in the recent amendments in Belgium regarding euthanasia, must urge us Christians to even more support care and nearness to suffering people according to the Gospel.”
In the first place, the bishops concludes, we must first make a conversion ourselves, before we can address the various sorts of poverty we see around us, for it is in Jesus that we find the means to fight it.
As many styles as there are bishops. Some offer deep theology, others outline plans for the future, but all offer points that we can keep in mind during Lent.
Three weeks before the first Francis-style consistory, a look at exactly what titles the new cardinals may be receiving. As always, it’s a guessing game, but an interesting one, which sheds a light on how the cardinals of the world Church are a part of the local Church of Rome, symbolising their unity with the See of Peter.
There will be 19 new cardinals, and only four of these will be Cardinal-Deacons, as they work in the Roman Curia. They are Cardinals-designate Pietro Parolin, Lorenzo Baldisseri, Gerhard Müller and Beniamino Stella. These four can be granted one of nine available Cardinal Deaconries (that is assuming Pope Francis won’t elevate any new ones, as he is free to do, even when there are existing deaconries vacant). They are:
Sant’Agnese in Agone
- Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino
- Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia
- San Giovanni Battista Decollato
- Santa Maria della Scalia
- Santa Maria in Cosmedin
- San Teodoro
- Santi Cosma e Damiano
- Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata
Most of these deaconries fell vacant only recently, with the exception of San Teodoro (since 2000), San Giovanni Battista Decollato (since 1988) and Santa Maria in Cosmedin (since 1967) (pictured). Assigning these three would be high time, then. San Teodoro, however, is used by the Greek Orthodox community in Rome, after Pope John Paul II granted them its use in 2000. Keeping this deaconry vacant would be a sign of good will that Pope Francis may well want to to extend.
The 15 other cardinals-designate will be Cardinal-Priests as they are ordinaries of dioceses, although three of them are retired. There are, however, only 13 Cardinal Titles available, so Pope Francis will either create some new ones, or (temporarily) elevate a few Cardinal-Deaconries to Titles. Below is the list:
- Santa Cecilia
- San Crisogono
- Sant’Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza
- San Gioacchino ai Prati di Castello
- San Giuseppe all’Aurelio
- Sante Maria della Salute a Primavalle
- Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza a Monte Verde
- Santa Maria ”Regina Mundi” a Torre Spaccata
- Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino
- San Roberto Bellarmino
- Santissimo Redentore a Valmelaina
- Santissimo Redentore e Sant’Alfonso in Via Merulana
First of all, this list contains Pope Francis’ own Cardinal Title of San Roberto Bellarmino (pictured), which he held until his election to the papacy. Maybe he’ll choose to keep to the pattern of that title being held by South American prelates, and he could even grant it to his own successor in Buenos Aires, Mario Poli. All these titles fell vacant in the past four years, so none is really in need of being filled immediately (if titles can ever be, of course). San Crisogono and Santa Maria in Trastevere are two of the oldest titles, dating back to the second century.
Originally the churches of the priests of Rome, and later those of the priests and deacons of Rome, and the bishops of the surrounding dioceses, who could elect the Pope, Cardinal Titles and Cardinal Deaconries today are largely ceremonial. The cardinals play no role in the daily affairs of their churches, although their coats of arms and names are usually present in the church somewhere. Some cardinals may even support their church financially or offer Mass in them when in Rome. Symbolically, the cardinals are a part of the Church’s foundation around Saint Peter in Rome, working with his successor in leading the Church.
This week, the annual numbers of the Church’s finances were released. In the Netherlands, roughly half of the Church’s income is generated by the Kerkbalans program, which calls on faithful to make their annual financial contribution. The other half of the financial means comes from regular donations, capital and holdings. The Dutch Church is financially self-sufficient in that there is no government funding, with the exception of buildings which are registered monuments. These are sometimes maintained via funds.
The most recent numbers over the year 2012 and are therefore accurate for one year ago.
A short overview of the most important statistics:
Income in general has dropped by 2.7%, or 3 million euros. The total stood at 104 million. About half of this came from Kerkbalans, which saw its own dropped of 2.8% to 57 million euros.
- Revenue generated by holding and savings increased slightly from 56.2 to 56.5 million euros.
- The income of parishes has dropped by 2.6 million, or 1.6% to 160.5 million euros. The drop has slowed down compared to 2011, when the loss totalled 3%.
- Parishes spent 177.5 million, which is 1.7% less than in 2011.
- Building maintenance and personnel costs fell by 0.5% and costs related to pastoral care by 2%. Other costs and payments fell by more than 6%, which is 2 million euros.
- The total deficit of the parishes is 17 million euros, 10.6% percent of the total income. This deficit is covered by existing capital and holdings, and has not changed since 2011.
- Income via Kerkbalans has dropped in all dioceses, with the exception of Groningen-Leeuwarden, where there is an increase.
- 40% of all Catholic households contribute on average 77 euros, a figure unchanged since 2011.
While the general image is one of decreasing income, there are also hopeful signs. Parishes have managed to decrease some of their costs and have kept their deficit at the same level. In this case, no increase is good news. The fact that one of the seven dioceses has shown an increase in Kerkbalans income is a hopeful sign for the future. Perhaps other dioceses can follow suit.
But for the immediate future the financial situation remains serious. It is not a situation you want to maintain indefinitely. The difference between costs and income must grow smaller in the future.
It is good te remember that this is the reason for serious and sometimes painful decisions on the part of the bishops: parish mergers church closings, decisions that have caused much pain in faith communities. But it must be understood that money is a necessary evil in these cases: it is simply necessary to keep communities, parishes and organisations afloat. And if the money isn’t there…
Dutch Catholics traditionally give less than their Protestant neighbours to Kerkbalans. This may well be due to a cultural difference: social cohesion and loyalty is often far more deeply ingrained among Protestants, so they are more likely to give in various ways to keep their communities afloat. We Catholics could learn from that. In essence, if we want something from the Church, we must also give something to the Church. That’s simply how it works.
Just before the weekend, Cardinal Eijk wrote a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Utrecht about what could perhaps be considered the single most divisive topic in the Dutch Church today: parish mergers and the closing of church building.
The letter is, in my opinion, one of the better written outings of a bishop in recent years. Cardinal Eijk starts out by explaining his understanding the pain of seeing one’s church closed, and the role the building plays in the lives of so many faithful.
“It is the church where they let their prayers ascend to God, where they were baptised and had their children baptised, were they were married and were they said goodbye to their loved ones. The church also which the faith community itself saved up for: stone by stone, beam by beam, roof tile by roof tile. Until the church was ready to enter service as the highest attainable purpose for a building: as a House of God and meeting place for His people. The church is the place where we may receive the Eucharist and so can come closest to Christ.”
In recent years, the project of parish mergers in several dioceses has led to communities splitting off from the diocese and choosing their own path. These communities are usually driven by their very strong sense of community which they want to preserve. About that, the cardinal writes:
“There are faith communities where the sense of community is so strong that it acts like a barrier. We must strive to also be a faith community “with the neighbours”. And while a sense of community is a great good, it can’t put up walls. Solidarity transcends the boundaries of local faith communities, because as the human body has many limbs, we are all together in Christ one body. Among us as Christians the sense of community must reach further than the direct environment. What matters is that we desire to grow in unity of brothers and sisters in Christ: not just in our own faith community, but also and especially across the boundaries of our own faith community.”
Cardinal Eijk also devotes words to how the process works: that the initiative of closing churches does not lie with him, but with the parish councils in question, and that no one enjoys such a necessary step. But needs must, as they say, and the reality of today means that we can’t stick our heads in the sand, but that we must face it head on. And that is not always enjoyable.
And at the root of all these considerations? There lies our true support: the Lord Himself. When we become dejected, lose faith and even hope when our church is forced to close, we may find ourselves in the good company of the Apostles. But in Christ there is always hope, even if our home of many years is lost. As Catholics, we have a higher home to strive for, after all.
A good letter, well worth a read. I have an English translation available here
Following a week in Rome, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis on Monday, and today we learn the result of that meeting, which the bishop called “very encouraging”. Below is my English translation of the official press release, which contains some significant information.
The Holy Father has at all times been informed fully and objectively about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg.
In the diocese a situation has developed in which the bishop, H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst can’t exercise his episcopal service at this time.
After the “fraternal visit” of His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo this past September, the German Bishop’s Conference, pursuant to an agreement between the bishop and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, has established a commission to carry out a thorough investigation into the construction of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of said investigation and the related responsibilities in this matter, the Holy See considers it advisable for H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst to remain for some time outside the diocese.
Upon the decision of the Holy See the appointment of city dean Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, which was planned by the bishop for 1 January 2014, becomes effective today. Vicar General Rösch will manage the affairs of the Diocese of Limburg in absence of the bishop with the authority associated with his office.
First of all, we learnt hat the Holy Father “has at all times been informed fully and objectively”. We may therefore assume that the decision was made on the basis of facts instead of media assumptions. The fact that the Pope not only heard Bishop Tebartz-van Elst on the matter, but also Archbishop Zollitsch and Cardinal Meisner is evidence enough that he got the real story.
Furthermore, we find that the bishop will spend the course of the German Bishop’s Conference investigation into the matter outside the Diocese of Limburg. Other sources inform us that he will be in a monastery somewhere. Some have seen this is evidence that Pope Francis is paving the way for a quick succession when the investigation is over, but in my opinion it would simply be a precaution against stirring up the situation even more. If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be to return to Limburg immediately, many would use that against him, seriously impeding both his own work as bishop and the work of the bishops’ commission into the finances. In essence, it keep things quiet enough for everyone to do their work. And it allows the bishop the time to reflect on any thing he did wrong, to pray and eventually to return home strengthened and refreshed.
Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch (pictured above), in the meantime, sees his upcoming appointment as the new vicar general of the diocese moved forward. Current vicar general, Msgr. Franz Kaspar was to continue in his office until the star of the new year, but has to make way for his successor now.
A short history of Msgr. Rösch:
54-year-old Msgr. Rösch was until now the area dean of Wiesbaden. An engineer by trade, he studied philosophy and theology in Frankfurt and Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Bishop Karl Lehmann (now a cardinal) of Mainz in 1990. After various appointments as parish priest, Fr. Rösch was appointed by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s predecessor, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, to lead the diocesan seminary in 1997. He held that position until 2003, before returning to the parishes in Königstein and Wiesbaden.
The press release above states that Msgr. Rösch (the monsignor title comes with the office, and will be relinquished should the vicar general take on another appointment) will perform his duties “with the authority associated with his office”. What is that authority?
Canons 475 to 481 of the Code of Canon Law describe the function and authority of the vicar general. He assists the bishop in the exercise of his duties and has the same executive power as the bishop, except for those rights and duties which the bishop has reserved for himself or which are solely his by law. This means that the authority of vicar general Rösch is somewhat more limited than that of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. In essence, he will be able to manage the daily affairs of the diocese, but is limited in making changes and introducing new policies.
It is perhaps striking that Limburg’s auxiliary bishop (yes, there is one, who has remained outside the media frenzy quite effectively), Msgr. Thomas Löhr (pictured at right), has not been tasked with managing the diocese in the ordinary’s absence. Then again, while it is usual for an auxiliary bishop to be vicar general, it is not mandatory.
Lastly: despite what too many media outlets have claimed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not been suspended. He remains the bishop of Limburg with all the rights and duties attached to that office. The current ‘time out’ merely means he can’t exercise those duties until the Holy Father, or those speaking for him, decide otherwise. The bishop may at any time be allowed to resume in his episcopal ministry. There are no sanctions undertaken against him.
Photo credit: Bistum Limburg
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.
Especially the German media have found a rich source of articles, opinion pieces and reports in Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the embattled bishop of Limburg. Now that he has travelled to Rome to speak with both Pope Francis and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (as president of the German bishops’ conference responsible for setting up an investigative body to look into the problems keeping both the Diocese of Limburg and its bishop occupied), it would seem prudent to outline what exactly is going on. There are after all, so many words written about the case(s) that it’s hard to keep track of fact and opinion.
In short, there are three problem areas which have either raised the ire of clergy and faithful or caused serious questions being asked:
First there is the bishop’s style of management which is deemed to be authoritarian. Although a bishop has authority over the local Church, the style of this authority is important, and although it is a matter of perception, and Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may certainly not have intended to present himself as such, this is certainly something to be avoided.
Second is the case of the bishop’s flight to India. In a dispute with national newspaper Der Spiegel, the bishop presented official affidavits twice, claiming not to have flown first class. This now seems not to be true, as the court in Hamburg has charged Bishop Tebartz-van Elst for perjury.
Lastly, the St. Nicholas Centre near the cathedral of Limburg. A complex including the bishop’s private appartment, a chapel, meeting rooms, the diocesan museum and rooms for other functions, it exceeded projected costs by a factor of six. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, consequently, is accused of leading a life of excessive luxury, and this claim seems not to be wholly unsubstantiated. On the other hand, other bishops’ housings in Germany are no less luxurious or costly, it seems.
All this plays on the background of the initial steps taken by the Holy See to work towards a solution: the visit of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, former Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. The purpose of that visit was not to arrive at textbook solutions, but to listen to all sides of the conflict and try and achieve some form of reconciliation or, at the very least, the intention of all involved to work towards reconciliation. The joint declaration from Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, which I wrote about here, certainly reflects a desire for clarity and a joint effort towards a solution.
What the future will bring remains to be seen. There is little doubt that the meeting between Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and Pope Francis will be a deeply personal one. Regardless of the personae created by the media of both men, I suspect it will be a private and deeply pastoral conversation. Will the Pope dress down the bishop for his perceived life of luxury? That is what many who have an almost allergic reaction to anything and anyone perceived as orthodox think and hope. But that’s because they have an image of Pope Francis as, as Father Z is fond of putting it, “the very bestest and most wonderfulest ehvur”, who fires all nasty rule-loving clerics everywhere, in between kissing babies and blessing puppies.
In the meantime, let’s pray that all involved can maintain a semblance of openness, honesty and clarity as the conclusion (whatever it may be) of this crisis comes closer.
Photo credit: Uwe Anspach/DPA