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A conference in Germany, held last week, in which the Catholic bishops of that country participated alongside some 300 experts to discuss reform in the Church, led to some worrying developments. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the bishops’ conference, presented some of this at the conference’s closing.
The first suggestion is to allow women to be ordained as deacons. According to Archbishop Zollitsch, this would be one of the reforms that would allow the Church to regain credibility and strength. But, as Regensburg’s Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (the last German bishop to have been appointed by Benedict XVI) rightly commented, the diaconate is inextricably bound to the priesthood, which is only open to men. Allowing women to be deacons would make them different deacons than men: unable to progress on to priestly ordination, it remains to be seen what their duties in liturgy and parish would and could be. Whatever the case, they will not be deacons like men are deacons.
A second suggestion regards the position of divorced and remarried people in the Church. Their rights to sit on parish councils and the like is certainly open to debate, but their partaking of Communion and the other sacraments is another topic altogether. Archbishop Zollitsch said that he doesn’t intend to undermine the sanctity of marriage, but also wants to take these faithful seriously and make them feel welcome and respected.
Personally, I think that much greater progress may be made by the Church, as far as her credibility is concerned, in presenting her faith seriously and acting on it. But in the end, the Church is not in the business of being credible and liked. She is in the business of saving souls, and that purpose is not served by pandering to majority opinion, especially when that opinion does not gel with the faith of the centuries. In that respect, divorced and remarried faithful will be better served by good teaching and compassionate guidance, and not by pretending that there is no problem. Problems are not solved by ignoring them.
Throwing the diaconate open to women, even if this were possible, also will not solve any problem, assuming there even is a problem. Instead, it will only confuse people as to what is true and real; it will be a pretense.
Conferences on reform in the Church are actually bound to fail if they limit themselves to one country. The German bishops, for example, are not able to change the faith and teachings of the world Church. At most, they can create a rift between themselves and the rest of the Church. So what if a conference finds that there is a widespread desire for one thing or another? The standard response of the Church to that should not automatically be to agree and go along. Rather, she should consider it in the light of the faith and then decide of that desire is something she can work towards making reality. If she finds she can’t, her task is to teach, always motivated by love, and present the faith that Christ has given her to protect and communicate.
In the middle of the month we had the momentous announcement and we ended up with the actual vacant see of Rome. With 10,148 page views, I am happy to see that my thoughts about this historic period in the Church were read and appreciated by many. Readers from The Spectator in the UK found their way here (nice to see you here!), as did many others via blogs and social media. Fr. Roderick’s sharing my blog post about the Pope’s last general audience also caused a spike in the page views, so thanks very much for that!
Anyway, on to the top 10, which may be a bit different than expected.
1: Cardinal watch: Cardinal Arinze turns 80 251
2: Countdown to papal Twitter launch 145
3: Boodschap voor de Vastentijd 2013 102
4: The pope who resigned – St. Celestine V 98
5: ‘Bel Giorgio’ takes over the household 91
6: One cardinal stays at home – Indonesia’s Darmaatmadja not attending the conclave 89
7: Distancing – how not to disagree & Risky business – German bishops allow abortive drugs, but only when they’re not abortive 83
8: The final farewell 80
9: Obsession, but on whose part? 75
10: The bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer – a first step? 70
At Ars Vivendi,we find English translations of statements from Joachim Cardinal Meisner and the spokesman for the press office of the Archdiocese of Cologne about the bishops’ conference’s decision to allow for the use of certain types of morning after pills in Catholic hospitals. For topics like this, it is always good to get information from the source, since there is such a risk of words being twisted, taken out of context and changed to suit a particular agenda, and not just in secular circles.
Although the bishops’ reasoning makes sense, and fits with what the Church has consistently taught about these matters, it is an enormous leap of faith: since the reasoning hinges upon the apparent existence of pills which prevent fertilisation rather than the implantation of a fertilised egg, it is at the mercy of the medical lobby. I fervently hope that the bishops have some very good independent Catholic experts on their side in this matter.
Although many would have us believe otherwise, this does not change much in the Catholic teaching about contraception and the dignity of life. Drugs like the morning after pill, even if they only prevent fertilisation, still can not be used without consequence. Sexual relations are inherently open to life. The willful blocking of the possibility of new life, such as happens with the use of condoms or, indeed, anti-fertilisation pills, is counter to Catholic teaching and sinful.
So, no, the German bishops are not saying that the morning after pill may be used whenever we want to. Rather, it is allowed in cases such as the one that triggered the whole debate: hospital treatment after a rape or other sexual crime, where the morning after pill may be used as part of the treatment. Treatment or medication which, as a side effect, may lead to the death of an unborn child, can in some cases also be used, but the intent can never be the willful killing of the child.
Sometimes we will disagree with our bishops about some decision they made, or even about some topic which they believe should be discussed. In such a situation we have two options, really: we can hold on to our own opinion and attack the bishops, or anyone else, for daring to disagree with us; or we can express our different opinion, even enter into discussions to try and change their opinions, while at the same time accepting the teaching authority of the bishops.
International Catholic media outlet Gloria.tv has chosen the first option, and has done so in an utterly unacceptable way: by depicting six German bishops with a swastika superimposed over them, in response to the bishops’ intention to discuss the morning-after pill at their plenary meeting.
In response, the German Bishops’ Conference has expressly distanced itself from Gloria.tv and will no longer contribute any content to their website. A move which is, considering the tasteless depiction (doubly so in Germany) shared above, only understandable. Of course, Gloria.tv has in turn distanced itself from the bishops for their perceived intention to allow abortive drugs in Catholic hospitals.
I am as yet no aware what the bishops have said or decided about that issue, which started after Cardinal Meisner stated that the morning-after pill is allowed in some instances, so I won’t go into that here. I will say that, should the bishops decide that that pill is allowed, I would want to see some very good proof that it does not lead to the death of the unborn child. But the mere fact that the bishops talk about it? That is certainly no reason to attack them, let alone in such an insulting manner.
If one’s opinions and beliefs, regardless of what they are, are reason to vilify others. Gloria.tv is not helping itself by doing this, and is merely sowing division. Their concern is honest, but their methods are premature and cross the boundaries of common decency and, indeed, Christian charity.
In the list of search terms that have led people to my blog I have been noticing a number of specific questions. I thought it might be interesting and useful to address some of them, and try and provide an answer. I have looked back over the past week and selected questions that are not too general, and have a clear answer.
1: Who is Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu? He is the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua since 12 November 2012. 52 years old, the native Nigerian was consecrated as a bishop in 6 January. Before his current position as the Holy See’s ambassador to the government and Church of Nicaragua, he was Head of Protocol at the Secretariat of State, and before that a priest of the Diocese of Aba in Nigeria. As an archbishop without a diocese of his own, he has been given the titular archdiocese of Aquaviva, which is located south of Bari in Italy.
2: How many Catholic Churches are under Diocese of Rotterdam? Encompassing virtually the entire Dutch province of Zuid-Holland, the Diocese of Rotterdam is the most densely populated of the Dutch dioceses. It is home to more than half a million Catholics, of whom about 8.6% are regular Churchgoers. Bishop Hans van den Hende has been the ordinary since 10 May 2011. The diocesan website states that there are 78 parishes and 7 parish federations in the diocese. As for the number of churches, we may assume that each parish has use of several churches.
3: How come Berlin’s cathedral chapter gets to elect its own bishop? Like all dioceses, the cathedral chapter of the Archdiocese of Berlin took over the day-to-day affairs of running the diocese after the previous archbishop, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, retired. They had the obligation to choose an Apostolic Administrator until a new archbishop was appointed. They also were to create a so-called terna, a list of three names which they sent to the Apostolic Nuncio. This list, with any additions and notes that the Nuncio added, was sent to Rome. Another terna came from the German Bishops’ Conference. These lists, and any other pertinent information, was then used by the Congregation for Bishops to supply a final list to the Pope, who then made his final choice. In that choice, the Pope had no obligation to actually select one of the names on the list. He could theoretically have chosen another priest to become archbishop of Berlin. Whether Cardinal Rainer Woelki, who was appointed on 2 July 2011, was on any of the ternae remains anyone’s guess.
The cathedral chapter, then, does not elect a bishop by itself, but it does have a say in the matter, and an important role in providing the necessary information by which a bishop is selected.
Three questions, hopefully with informative answers, to start with. More to come as they appear among the search terms.
From the German diocese of Münster comes the news of the passing of Bishop Alfons Demming, retired auxiliary bishop of that diocese, on 31 October. He died after a long illness which already lay at the basis for his early retirement in 1998, at the age of 70. A close friend of Bishop Reinhard Lettmann, bishop of Münster from 1980 to 2008, Bishop Demming was seen as a man of the people, especially in his area of responsibility within the diocese, the region of Borken-Steinfurt. In his episcopal career, which began with is consecration in 1977, he was cathedral administrator of Münster’s St. Paul’s cathedral and a member of the Pastoral Questions commission of the German Bishops’ Conference. Bishop Demming served with or under three Bishops of Münster: the late Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg until 1979, the aforementioned Bishop Lettmann and since 2008 Bishop Felix Genn.
Bishop Genn will celebrate the requiem Mass at St. Paul’s on Thursday, while Wednesday’s Vespers will be prayed for the deceased bishop.
Bishop Demming was titular bishop of Gordus in modern Turkey.
Photo credit: Diocese of Münster.
Over the past week, there has been something of a changing of the guard in southern Germany, or at least the start of one. As the country’s youngest bishop was consecrated on 27 July, two senior prelates retired on the 30th and the 31st.
Bishop Florian Wörner was consecrated in Augsburg by Bishop Konrad Zdarsa (Wörner pictured at left at the closing of the consecration Mass). He is now one of Augsburg’s two auxiliary bishops. In his homily, Bishop Zdarsa addressed the new bishop:
As a direct representative of the bishop you will have the special responsibility to ensure the promotion of the new evangelization in our diocese. The Lord also calls you, like the prophet: Fear not!
God’s word is not only placed in your mouth and heart, but you are similar to the Incarnate Word in Baptism and Confirmation, and in conformity to your ordination as a bishop, you will act and speak in persona Christi.
You are chosen from the people for the people, not to rule for your personal honor, but to serve. Yes, perhaps not even to have appeal and success, but rather to lose them.
However it may be - if this you may be certain: you are chosen by God to help people to get to know God and be saved by the foolishness of preaching the word of the cross.”
Elsewhere in Germany’s south, two veteran auxiliary bishops retired. In Freiburg im Breisgau Bishop Paul Friedrich Wehrle did so after 31 years, and in München und Freising Bishop Engelbert Siebler finished 26 years as auxiliary bishop.
72-year-old Bishop Wehrle retires for health reasons. The archdiocese will be requesting a successor, as it tries to maintain three active auxiliaries in lieu of the dioceses size. Auxiliary Bishop Rainer Klug and Bernd Uhl remain to assist Archbishop Robert Zollitsch. Both Zollitsch and Klug are 73, so this retirement heralds an almost complete change in diocesan leadership over the coming years.
Bishop Engelbert Siebler retires for reasons of age, having turned 75 in May. He has been active as a teacher, leading the Commission on Schooling and Formation in the bishops’ conference from 2001 to 2006. Upon his retirement, Bishop Siebler receives both the Federal and Bavarian Order of Merit.
As expected and as ever, July has been a slow month. Interesting events peter out until after summer, so the number of visitors peaked at 6,688. A significant percentage of those visited in the first week of te month, as the news of Archbishop Müller’s appointment to the CDF broke.
Here’s the month’s top 10:
1: An introduction to Abp. Müller 869
2: In Rio, a white dove for a late cardinal 70
3: Lectio Divina over het Doopsel 66
4: Why am I Catholic? 65
5: Het Probleem Medjugorje 55
6: Papal visit to England and Scotland, day one 51
7: The order of love – Woelki’s statements, one more time & Adoro to devote, two versions and a translation 49
8: A long-awaited appointment – Müller at the CDF 45
9: Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference 41
10: Cardinal watch: Cardinal de Araújo Sales passes away 40
There has been much talk about the new prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, but we haven’t heard much from him. Hence, as a sort of introduction, my translation of this interview, courtesy of Johannes Schidelko of Kath.net.
KNA: My Lord Archbishop, what do you feel in the face of your appointment?
Müller: Gratitude for the confidence that the pope gives me. It is not an easy task, considering the entirety of the World Church; but it is a beautiful assignment to be able to serve the pope in his teaching. The office has a universal ecclesiastic dimention – and has nothing to do with centralisation.
KNA: When did you know that you would be going to Rome?
Müller: For a while already. But the change of office needs to run its ordered course.
KNA: Do you know why the pope has appointed you? Did he want a German, a theologian, someone he trusted?
Müller: It certainly wasn’t about the nationality, and as Catholics we all belong to the world Church. But the Holy Father knows me and my theological work, not only as an author, but also as an expert of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and in the committees of Ecumenism and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference.
KNA: When do you begin in your office?
Müller: I have already begun, on July 2nd.
KNA: You are now one of the most important people in the Vatican, and one of the closest collaborators of the pope. What are your first steps?
Müller: I have already met with the leaders of the Congregation, to get an overview of the daily procedures and responsibilities. The scope is very broad: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith consists of three departments: the doctrinal, disciplinary and marriage departmentd. The prefect is at also president of the Bible Commission and the International Theological Commission. We have about fifty immediate employees. Then there are the “Feria quarta”, the meetings of cardinals, which takes place every four weeks.
KNA: What are your substantive priorities?
Müller: The Congregation is responsible for the promotion of the doctrine of the faith, and not only for its protection. The 1965 reorganisation of the agency has placed this positive aspect in its heart. It is about the promotion of theology and its basis in Revelation, to ensure its quality, and to consider the important intellectual developments on a global scale. We can’t simply and mechanically repeat the doctrine of the faith. It must always be associated with the intellectual developments of the time, the sociological changes, the thinking of people.
KNA: What do you want to emphasise especially? What do you want to especially deal with in the near future?
Müller: The Congregation has the task of supporting the pope in his Magisterium. We must orient ourselves on the emphases he makes in his proclamations. During his journey to Germany, Benedict XVI put the question of God at the centre. He also spoke of the ‘worldliness’ of the Church – a topic not only intended for Germany. It is about a right understanding of the nature and mission of the Church; about finding the right balance between shutting out the world and adapting to it – so that we can truly serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In particular, we have to counter a widespread apathy in matters of faith. The ‘Year of Faith’, with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council and twenty years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be an essential contribution to this.
KNA: You begin your service in a turbulent time for the Vatican. Or is the Vatican currently back on its feet again?
Müller: I don’t know much about this concretely. It remains to be seen what the investigations reveal. What seems important to me is that the good works of the many hundreds of employees in the Curia are not overlooked. They are unfairly associated with these individual actions; the impression is created that everyone is involved. That is totally out of the question.
KNA: Another major topic in Rome is the anniversary of the Council. What do you expect from looking back?
Müller: We do not need a hermeneutic that is imposed upon the Council from outside. It is important to explore the hermeneutic that is included in the Council itself: the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, as the Holy Father has repeatedly underlined. A Council is the execution of the highest magisterium of the Church in the communion of the bishops with the Pope.
In this sense, the Second Vatican Council was a wonderful event, albeit from a somewhat different type than some previous councils. It was its legitimate intention to respond not only to certain errors and correct them, but to provide an overall view of the Catholic faith. It wanted not many individual elements, but the big picture, the great architecture of the present church with large rooms where you can feel at home and gladly live.
KNA: The Council, however, also created problems, for example for the SSPX.
Müller: Everyone who calls himself Catholic, will also have to keep the principles of the Catholic faith. These are not pre-formulated by the CDF or anyone else, but given to us in the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. One can therefore not simply pick from it what fits in a given structure.
Rather, one must be open to the whole of the Christian faith, the whole profession of faith, the Church’s history and development of her teaching. One must be open to the living Tradition which does not end somewhere – say in 1950 – but goes on. Inasmuch as we appreciate history with her great achievements, we must also see that every era is also directly related to God. Every era has its own challenges. We can not explain a historical era according to the classical pattern, but we walk from one summit to the next.
Photo credit: Armin Weigel dpa/lby
With the appointment, just before the Vatican comes to a virtual Summer standstill - of the new heard of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – in times past know as the Universal Inquisition (which never fails to raise hackles in some media) – there is the question: who is Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller?
On the website of his former Diocese of Regensburg we find an extensive biography in English which shows that Bishop Müller is very much the pope’s man. Like Benedict, he is a professor, at home in the world of academia. A former position as professor of Catholic dogmatics at Munich, and since a few years as the official coordinator of the publication of Pope Benedict’s collected works, cements this theological and academical closeness to the Holy Father.
Another aspect of the new prefect’s career coincides with the pope’s priorities of advancing ecumenism with the Orthodox Churches of the East. Within the German Bishop’s Conference, Bishop Müller, who received the personal title of archbishop upon his appointment, was co-responsible for contacts with the Orthodox.
There are more elements in his biography which gel well with his new duties as the Church’s ‘third man’. Succeeding Cardinal Levada, a red hat is a certainty for Bishop Müller, as are the presidencies which come with his new position: those of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, and the International Theological Commission.
Photo credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile