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Shortly after the retirement of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch as ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau, someone in that archdiocese pushed through a proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. This caused some consternation, not least in the Vatican, since no such changes in doctrine had been proposed, let alone come into effect. Simply put, the archdiocese was out of line, doing something which it simply could not. Last month, Archbishop Gerhard Müller wrote an article outlining the Church’s teaching about marriage, divorce and the sacraments in L’Osservatore Romano.
Today, he wrote a letter to Archbishop Zollitsch, who still manages the affairs of Freiburg as Apostolic Administrator, in which he presents his conclusions about the proposal In short, it needs to be withdrawn and revised. Below is my translation of he letter, which will also be sent to the other diocesan bishops of Germany.
Honourable Lord Archbishop!
With the Document Prot. N. 2922/13, of 8 October 2013, the Apostolic Nuncio has communicated the draft of the guidelines for the pastoral care of separated, divorced and civilly remarried people in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, as well as your newsletter to the members of the German Bishops’ Conference prior to the publication of this letter, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A careful reading of the draft text reveals that it does contain very correct and important pastoral teachings, but is unclear in its terminology and does not correspond with Church teaching in two points:
“Remarried divorced people themselves stand in the way of their access to the Eucharist”
1. Regarding the reception of the sacraments by divorced and remarried faithful the proposal from the bishops of the Oberrhein area is recommended anew as a pastoral direction: after a process of discussion with the parish priests, people concerned can either reach the conclusion to participate much in the life of the Church, but to deliberately refrain from receiving the Sacraments, while others can in their concrete situations achieve a “responsibly reached decision of conscience” and be able to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, and this decision is “to be respected” by the priest and the community.
Contrary to this assumption the Magisterium of the Church emphasises that the pastors must recognise the various situations well and must invite the affected faithful to participation in the life of the Church, but also “reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried” (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, of 22 November 1981, N. 84; also compare the Letter of this Congregation of 14 September 1994 about the reception of Communion by remarried divorced faithful, which rejects the proposal from the Oberrhein bishops; and Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of 22 February 2009, N. 29).
This position of the Magisterium is well-founded. Remarried divorcees stand in the way of their access to the Eucharist, insofar as their state of life is an objective contradiction to the relationship of love between Christ and the Church, which is made visible and present in the Eucharist (doctrinal reason). If these people were allowed to receive the Eucharist this would cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage (pastoral reason).
2. In addition to this a prayer service is suggested for divorced faithful who enter into a new civil marriage. Although it is explicitly stated that this is not some “semi-marriage” and the ceremony should be simple. but it would still be a sort of “Rite” with an entrance, reading from the Word of God, blessing and giving of a candle, prayer and conclusion.
Such celebrations were expressly forbidden by John Paul II and Benedict XVI: “The respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 84).
The affected faithful are to be offered support, but it must be avoided that “confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of marriage” (Sacramentum Caritatis, N. 29).
Due to the aforementioned discrepancies, the draft text is to be withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching. Because the tekst has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issue, I felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it.
“Going paths which fully agree with the doctrine of the faith of the Church”
After consultation with the Holy Father, an article from my hand was published in L’Osservatore Romano on 23 October 2013, which sumarises the binding teaching of the Church on these questions. This contribution was also published in the weekly edition of the Vatican newspaper.
Since a number of bishops have turned to me and a working group of the German Bishops’ Conference is dealing with the topic, I would like to inform you that I will send a copy of this letter to all the diocesan bishops of Germany. Hoping that on this delicate issue we are going pastoral paths, which are in full agreement with the doctrine of the faith of the Church, I remain with heartfelt greeting and blessings in the Lord.
Gerhard L. Müller
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
It seems that the Synod of Bishops has become the first curial body to undergo Pope Francis’ expected and announced reforms. Following the appointment of its new General Secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri in September, Pope Francis fairly soon afterwards announced the first major assembly of the Synod: an Extraordinary General Assembly titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
Scheduled to take place from 5 to 19 November of next year, the assembly is styled ’extraordinary’ to signify the pressing urgency that Pope Francis attaches to the subject. Unlike the general assemblies, there will be no process of selecting participating clergy: the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Churches, the heads of the Curia offices in Rome and three members of religious institutes are the designated participants by canon law. The participants from continental northwestern Europe will therefore be Wim Cardinal Eijk from the Netherlands, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard from Belgium, Bishop Anders Arborelius from Scandinavia, and whoever the future president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be.
Today, Pope Francis selected the Relator General and the Special Secretary for the Extraordinary Assembly, which is only the third such gathering since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965. The Relator General opens the assembly and gathers the conclusions and results for the final message and ultimately the Post-Synodal Exhortation that Pope Francis will write. This task will be performed by Péter Cardinal Erdö, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The Special Secretary, who records the proceedings of the Synod, is Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (pictured) of Chieti-Vasto. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
With the next assembly on the horizon we are still expecting the final act of the previous one. The Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith closed in October of last year and the assumption then was that Pope Benedict XVI would publish its Post-Synodal Exhortation some time in 2014. Now that he has retired, and Pope Francis has begun his papacy, it will be the latter’s task to publish it. In June, he told the General Secretariat of the Synod that he would be writing much of the document in August and that it would be ready for publication before the end of the Year of Faith, on 24 November of this year.
In Germany, the changeover continues as, about one week since the consecration of his archdiocese’s third auxiliary bishop, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch retires as Metropolitan Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau. The archbishop reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 about a month ago, so this acceptance of his resignation is pretty swift. It is not, however, a complete and immediate cut-off.
Archbishop Zollitsch will continue managing the affairs of the archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator until a successor has been appointed. He will also complete his current term as president of the German Bishops’ Conference, which will end in March of 2014.
In the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, which covers the former state of Baden and province of Hohenzollern in southwest Germany, the search will now begin for a successor to Archbishop Zollitsch, who has been the ordinary since 2003. According to the concordat between Baden and the Holy See, the cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from a list of three candidates, which includes at least one prelate from the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. The list itself is drafted by the Holy See from the names that the retired archbishop has submitted every year.
Photo credit: Andreas Gerhardt / Erzbistum Freiburg
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.