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Cologne may have been given a new archbishop only four months after the retirement of its previous archbishop, this latest appointment does not do anything to decrease the number of vacant sees in Germany. Cologne is off the list, but Berlin is back on it, only three years after it last appeared.
Indicated in the above map, joining Berlin are Hamburg in the north, and Limburg and Erfurt in central Germany. While the former two have been vacant for only four months, Erfurt stands out. It has been 19 months since Bishop Joachim Wanke retired for health reasons, and to all appearances, Erfurt has been passed over several times. Of course, reality is different, as the needs of one diocese are not necessarily the same as another, and a bishop who may be a good fit for one diocese, need not be so for another.
In his congratulatory message for Cardinal Woelki’s new appointment, Bishop Reinhard Hauke (pictured), auxiliary bishop and Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt, notes: “And I pray and hope that the remaining vacant dioceses in Germany may also soon be able to rejoice about the appointment of a new bishop. Certainly we in the Diocese of Erfurt have been waiting for a long time.” In western Europe, only the Diocese of Leeds has been vacant for longer.
The expectation is that Hamburg won’t get a new archbishop before the year is over, and Limburg is a special case in itself. The selection of its new bishop will be a careful one. Berlin is only getting started with the entire process, but Erfurt has been waiting long enough, it would seem. The next new bishop in Germany should be going to Erfurt.
Double duty for the German bishops today, as they have two consecrations of new bishops today to choose from.
In Essen, the diocese of the Ruhr, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck will consecrate Bishop Wilhelm Zimmermann as auxiliary bishop of that diocese. Essen’s other auxiliary, Bishop Ludger Schepers, and retired auxiliary Bishop Franz Vorrath will be co-consecrators. Also present will be Hong Kong’s bishop, John Cardinal Tong Hon.
The Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau will see the consecration of its new archbishop, Msgr. Stephan Burger. Promising to start using Twitter after his consecration, the new archbishop, Germany’s youngest at 52, has been received generally very positive, although his perceived orthodoxy has ruffled the usual feathers.
Consecrating him is his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, with the ordinaries of the Province of Freiburg’s other two dioceses, Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, as co-consecrators. The consecration is embedded in Freiburg’s “Diözesantag”, which began esterday with a concert and choral evensong, and continues today with midday prayers, a live program in the square before the cathedral, with music and interviews. After the Mass in which the new archbishop will be consecrated, the festivities close with a “feast of encounter”. The cathedral itself has remained closed due to the preparations for the live television broadcast, and will open only in the early afternoon, about 90 minutes before the Mass starts at 14:30.
As today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the traditional date new metropolitan archbishops come to Rome to receive their pallia to signify their shepherd’s duty, Archbishop Burger will receive his today from the hands of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. This is an unusual action, but does mean that Archbishop Burger doesn’t have to wait a full twelve months to receive his pallium.
Eight months after Archbishop Robert Zollitsch retired as archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau, and was immediately appointed as Apostolic Administrator of that see, a successor has been found. In the case of Freiburg, which was never part of Prussia and is therefore not bound by the concordat between that former state and the Holy See, the cathedral chapter is the sole party to select candidates. The Apostolic Nuncio has the duty to investigate the candidates and what he finds is used by the Holy See to make a list of three names, of which at least one must be that of a native priest of the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter then elects one of the three priests on that list. The Pope subsequently confirms the election by appointing the new archbishop.
This entire process has now resulted in the 15th archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau: Msgr. Stephan Burger. At 52 he is by far the youngest metropolitan archbishop of the country – the next youngest is Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki, at 57. Until now, Archbishop-elect Burger was the judicial vicar of the archdiocese, representing the archbishop in legal matters and leading the ecclesiastical court. Notable in this context is that the judicial vicar is also responsible for marital matters, most especially deciding on the validity of a marriage.
Archbishop-elect Stephan Burger was born in Freiburg, but raised in nearby Löffingen. He was ordained in 1990, after having studied philosophy in Freiburg and Munich. He spent his first years in parishes in Tauberbischofsheim, in the far north of the archdiocese, and in Pforzheim, halfway between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart. In 1995 he was appointed as parish priest in Sankt Leon-Rot, north of Karlsruhe. At the same time, between 2004 and 2006, he studied canon law at the University of Münster, completing it with a licentiate in canon law. From 2002 onwards, he was also active as defender of the bond in the ecclesiastical court, and since 2006 he was promoter of justice. A year later he took on the function he held until today. Upon the appointment of Bishop Michael Gerber as auxiliary bishop last year, Archbishop Zollitsch made some changes to the cathedral chapter, and Msgr. Burger joined in 2013.
Msgr. Stephan hails from a strongly Catholic family, with his parents having been active as Church musicians. His brother Hans took the religious name Tutilo when he entered the Benedictine Order, and he is now the Archabbott of Beuron Abbey. He will assist his brother at his consecration.
^The ladies of Freiburg are already fond of their new archbishop.
The new archbishop’s appointment was received very positively in the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. Mr. Alfred Gut, chairman of the parish council of Vogtsburg, where Archbishop-elect Burger has been active as a priest for the past ten years, said,”I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I think it’s great. Stephan Burger is incredibly nice, open, sociable and has a ready ear for everyone.” While the news was welcomed, the new archbishop will be missed in the parishes of Kaiserstuhl, Burkheim and Vogstburg.
Although his work as the ecclesiastical courts was potentially dry, strict and serious, Msgr. Stephan has always seen it as pastoral work in the first place. Marriage annulments took up the major part of his work, but he saw it as his duty to “offer people in difficult situations an opportunity to talk in addition to the legal aspets. These people are part of our Church!” As archbishop, Msgr. Burger will obviously work from Freiburg, but he intends to be on the road when he can, to meet the people where they work and live.
Msgr. Burger’s consecration is planned fairly soon: on 29 June, the same day that the archdiocese is hosting a diocesan day,for all volunteers active in the churches, in the square in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady. Expect a major turnout of faithful, then. His predecessor, Archbishop Zollitsch, will be the main consecrator, while Bishop Uhl and Gerber, the archdiocese’s two auxiliaries, may be expected to serve as co-consecrators.
For his motto, the archbishop-elect took a line from the Letter to the Ephesians as inspiration: Christus in cordibus (Christ in the heart), from “s0 that Christ may live in your hearts through faith” (3:17).
Not only does this appointment continue the rejuvenation of the German episcopate, it also indicates that the appointments under Pope Francis seem to continue in the vein of those under Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop-elect Stephan Burger is, it would seem, liturgically quite sound and well educated in canon law. He also has pastoral experience, maintained ever since his first years as a priest.
Photo credit:  Rita Eggstein
In a message to the organisation and participants of the German Katholikentag, it’s 99th edition starting in Regensburg today, Pope Francis takes on the events motto to write about what it means to imitate Christ in His building of bridges between people and between God and people. Classic Francis:
“My honourable brother Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg!
In heartfelt unity I greet you and all our brothers in the episcopate, the priests, the deacons and laity who have come from all parts of Germany, and also from the Czech Republic, Austria and other countries to the time-honoured “City of Bridges” Regensburg on the occasion of the 99th Catholic Day, taking place from 28 May to 1 June. Under the motto “Building bridges with Christ” you wish to celebrate together in these days, to learn from each other and pray from one another, bearing witness of our faith, through the means of the Catholic Day, as builders of bridges in Church and society.
We Christians have the standing commandment to build bridges of relationships, of maintaining a dialogue about the questions of life with other and not to lose sight of the care for the margins – be they those of society, of religion or human relationships. Christ is the foundation upon we start building; for it is he who has broken down the dividing wall between people and between God and people (cf. Eph. 2:14). Through His death on the Cross and His resurrection he builds for us the bridge of life. In his Ascension into Heaven he became the bridge builder between God and people, as a bridge between time and eternity. He calls us through Baptism and Confirmation to follow Him in building bridges.
History teaches us that dialogue is not an easy task. Just one hundred years ago it was negatively shown how people tear down bridges and refused dialogue. The terrible First World War broke out. Many more terrible wars and conflicts followed – altogether a bloody century. In the hearts of people the walls of distrust, of anger and hate for the other grew. In such a way man isolates himself in his resentment. Walls are raised, first in the heart and then between houses. How difficult does reconciliation then become. In your country, you have bitterly experienced this – with the Berlin Wall. How much pain, how much division did this wall cause. But then people came together in Churches, to pray for peace. And in the power of prayer they went out into their city, week after week. Increasing numbers of people joined them. And finally the wall was torn down – this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this event. There we see the mission of Christians: to pray and the go out and bring to others the Good News, for which people yearn most deeply.
Building bridges with Christ means, in particular, to pray. Prayer is not a one-way road. It is a real dialogue. Christ answers and helps us. We must pay attention, because Jesus often speaks very quietly. He speaks to us through the Gospels and through our encounters with our fellow human beings. It is important to be watchful and to often read the Gospel. Entrust yourself to the Lord and His good guidance! At the Catholic Day you give a sign for true dialogue: dialogue with Christ and with each other. In this way you become true witnesses and capable bridge coworkers with Christ in “building bridges” for peace and eternal salvation. With this in mind I gladly give all participants of the Catholic Day the Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 23 May 2014
Msgr. Klaus Metzl called it the most beautiful day of the year so far, and well he might. The Diocese of Passau, located where Germany meets Austria and the Czech Republic, had been without a bishop for 18 months, so the appointment of a new shepherd on Friday was indeed what both he and the faithful had “waited, hoped and prayed for”.
In october of 2012, Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired after almost eleven years at the helm of the almost 1300-year-old diocese, but stayed on for one more year as Apostolic Administrator, after which Msgr. Metzl took over.
And now the choice has fallen on Bishop-elect Stefan Oster to be the 85th bishop of Passau. The new bishop is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (an order which boasts an additional 124 bishops and cardinals among its members) and will be the youngest ordinary of Germany upon his consecration on 24 May. There are five German bishops younger than him, but they are all auxiliaries.
The appointment of Bishop-elect Oster has been welcomed almost everywhere, which seems to be generally due to his unassuming yet communicative personality. A former journalist, the 48-year-old future bishop never held positions of power, either within or outside the Salesians. The fact that he was chosen must therefore be due to his person qualities, or, as the case may be, those which he exhibited in his life before joining the Salesians, when he was a journalist, student of philosophy, history and religion in Germany and the UK, and ultimately theology before ordained in 2001. After an award-winning dissertation at the University of Augsburg, he joined the future bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, in Trier. In recent years he has been mainly active as a teacher. And he also juggles.
A trained dogmatist, Bishop-elect Oster has the ingredients for a long and fruitful occupation of the see that was first established by Saint Boniface: communication, an unassuming and fraternal personality and theological acumen.
The number of vacant dioceses in Germany is now back to five – Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne, Limburg and Hamburg.
Photo credit: DPA
Reports that the Vatican would make a statement regarding Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst started breaking this morning, to the effect that he will not be returning to his diocese.
Awaiting the official statement, which Domradio has announced to be commenting on at noon, we can only guess at the details. We can, however safely assume that the heart of the decision will be either that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has indeed mismanaged the funds of the Diocese of Limburg, especially those related to the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts of the diocesan complex, which includes his own apartment (and it is likely that his lies under oath about his traveling to India will also play a part in it), or that the atmosphere in Limburg and Germany as a whole is such that his return is unwise. With the amount of hostility against his person, warranted or not, his work as ordinary of a diocese would have been almost impossibly difficult.
There are also reports that the bishop’s mental health has suffered in the past months, which can also be a determining factor in this decision.
If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will indeed not return, the Diocese of Limburg is the sixth diocese in Germany to fall vacant.
This is the text of the decision as released by the Holy See today, in my translation:
Regarding the administration of the Diocese of Limburg, in Germany, the Congregation for Bishops has studied in detail the report of the Commission, that was established according to the desires of the bishop and the cathedral chapter, to investigate in detail the responsibilities regarding the construction of the Diocesan Centre “St. Nicholas”.
Given that a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Holy See has accepted the resignation as offered by the bishop on 20 october 2013 and has appointed an Apostolic Administrator in the person of Monsignor Manfred Grothe.
The outgoing bishop, Msgr. Tebartz-van Elst, will be given other duties in due time.
The Holy Father asks the clergy and the faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to accept the decision of the Holy See willingly, and strive for a return to a climate of compassion and reconciliation.
The full report of the German bishops on this matter is set for publication at 3:30 this afternoon.
The new Apostolic Administrator of Limburg, who will work in conjunction with Bishop Thomas Löhr, auxiliary bishop of the diocese, and Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch, the vicar general appointed as Bishop Tebartz-van Elst began his leave of absence, is Bishop Manfred Grothe (pictured). He is the senior auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Paderborn, which borders Limburg to the north. He led the bishops’ investigation into the whole affair.
Paderborn’s Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker sees the appointment of Bishop Grothe as a “great sign of confidence” from Pope Francis. He said, “I am certain that Auxiliary Bishop Grothe will be a good companion for the Church of Limburg on the road they start today. His decades-long experience, his great knowledge and above his factual nature, which is yet directed towards the people, make him ideal for the task before him.”
It is interesting to note that the Holy See does not expound much on the reasons for accepting Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation. But what it does say is interesting. The communique does refer to the investigation conducted by the German Bishops’ Conference and studied by the Congregation for Bishops, but merely notes that “a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst”. These are very factual statements. Regardless of whether or not the bishops concluded that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has made grave mistakes, it is by now virtually impossible to be a diocesan ordinary. This is as much due to the situation created by himself (of which only the lying under oath is proven and admitted, which is serious enough), as to how he has been portrayed in the media. In many cases this portrayal has been objetive and necessary, but in a fair number of cases it has not. The words of support from, for example, Cardinal Lehmann, but also those of Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Gänswein, should therefore not automatically be construed as an error of judgement on their part, but, together with the Holy See statement, as an acknowledgement of the fact that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation will not be solely due to what he did or did not do wrong.
The full report from the bishops’ commission, published this afternoon, is a lengthy tome, and while I am able to make a working translation of short German texts, this, I have to be honest, is a whole different animal. Summaries and analyses of what exactly went wrong are therefore better left to others. The fact remains that things went seriously wrong and while the intentions of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may have been good and honest, the execution of the entire construction project most certainly was not. It is, however, good to remember that he inherited this whole affair to a certain extent, as the initial plans, with a number of inherent financial miscalculations, were drawn up by the cathedral chapter in 2004, a full three years before Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was appointed as ordinary of Limburg. But he did authorise new plans and their execution, and made sure that he was the sole responsible party.
In a very ill-advised move, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has now issued a statement denying a number of conclusions from the commission’s report, stating that he was, from the very start, dedicated to ensure “quality and sustainability”, especially in the context of unfortunate experiences with other construction projects in the diocese. In my opinion, this is a counterproductive and unwise move. For the Diocese of Limburg and its faithful, and also for its former bishop, a period of trial and uncertainty has ended. As Bishop Manfred Grothe indicated, now is a time to look ahead. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may consider his intentions to have been righteous and his efforts to have been all he could do, the fact remains that things went wrong, or so the commission concludes. In denying these conclusions, the bishop is not only fighting the commission and his brother bishops, but also the opinion of the world. And that last one is a difficult opponent, which can not be changed or defeated by full-on assault and denial. It only becomes stronger. The bishop had better chosen another approach, of penance and regret, instead of this. Nothing good will come from it.
In Hamburg, Archbishop Werner Thissen entered retirement accepted today, making Germany’s largest diocese the fifth to become vacant, after Passau, Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau and Cologne. Archbishop Thissen came to Hamburg in 2002 and turned 75 in December.
The Archdiocese of Hamburg in its current form is very young, being restored in 1994 out of territories formerly belonging to the Dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück and the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which was completely absorbed by the new circumscription. Hamburg is the only diocese to cover parts of both former West and East Germany. But although it didn’t exist for the major part of the 20th century (from 1930 to 1994), Hamburg does have a long history.
It was first established in the ninth century from the Diocese of Bremen and was already a metropolitan archdiocese then. It not only included parts of modern Germany, but also most of modern Denmark. In 1972 it was unified with Bremen, becoming the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, which covered also parts of modern Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states. In the 16th century the Reformation hit, and Hamburg-Bremen was suppressed. Almost a century later the Church in northern Germany reached a new semi-stability as the Apostolic Vicariate of the Nordic Mission, which included roughly the northern half of Germany, parts of modern Poland, the Nordic countries including Iceland. After much of that territory was split off into various new dioceses and administrations, the rump of the Nordic Missions vanished again, becoming part of the Diocese of Osnabrück in 1930. Schwerin, the part of Osnabrück that was in East Germany, became its own administration in 1973. In 1994, the new Archdiocese of Hamburg was restored as outlined in the image above, taking the bishop of Osnabrück, Ludwig Averkamp, with it as its first archbishop.
A short video on the Archdiocesan website serves as a small note of thanks to the retired archbishop, highlighting, among other things, the funeral of Archbishop Averkamp and Archbishop Thissen’s efforts that lead to the beatification of the martyrs of Lübeck, three priests and a Lutheran pastor who were murdered by the Nazi regime.
Archbishop Thissen hails from the Diocese of Münster, having been born in the city of Kleve near the Dutch border. After his ordination in 1966 he was a parish priest, spiritual councillor and subregent of the diocesan seminary. Following his promotion in 1974 he worked in the diocesan offices in the sections for general pastoral care and pastoral care for clergy and employees of the diocese. He became a resident cathedral chapter member of Münster in 1984 and vicar general in 1986. In 1999, Msgr. Thissen was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Münster and titular bishop of Scampa. In 2003 followed his appointment as archbishop of Hamburg.
And a second video, showing Archbishop Thissen’s love for music as he says goodbye to a number of faithful at the chapel of St. Ansgar in Hamburg:
The process of selecting a new archbishop is not unlike the one I outlined earlier, when discussing how a new archbishop of Cologne is chosen. A diocesan administrator is to be chosen within eight days, and in the meantime the senior auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Norbert Werbs, runs the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter, the nuncio and the bishops of the Province of Hamburg (which also includes Osnabrück and Hildesheim), as well as those of the Provinces of Cologne and Paderborn, the Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Erfurt and Görlitz are all to present candidates. The Pope will then draft a list of three names from all of these proposals, from which the cathedral chapter is to choose a new archbishop. The expectation is that this entire process can take as long as a year.
Yesterday Pope Francis accepted the retirement of one of the three remaining German bishops who were still active past their retirement age: Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary of the Diocese of Essen leaves only Cardinal Karl Lehmann (Mainz) and Archbishop Werner Thissen (Hamburg) awaiting their own retirement.
Bishop Vorrath turned 76 in July of last year. He is titular bishop of Vicus Aterii and has been an auxiliary of Essen since 22 November 1995, first under the recently deceased Bishop Hubert Luthe, then under Bishop Felix Genn, now of Münster, and most recently under Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck. In one of his first official acts as Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote a personal letter to the retiring bishop.
“For 18 years you have been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Essen, working with great devotion for the faithful in the Ruhr diocese, which in recent years had to undergo a major structural change,” the cardinal writes.
He thanks Bishop Vorrath for his work in the Conference on topics such as charity, migration and interreligious dialogue. He also notes how he led the Diocese of Essen as administrator from December 2008 to October 2009 “with careful attention.”
At the same time, a new auxiliary bishop was appointed in the person of Bishop-elect Wilhelm Zimmermann, so that Essen continues having two auxiliaries. The new auxiliary bishop, pictured below with ordinary Bishop Hans-Josef Overbeck, is 65, member of the cathedral chapter, dean of Gelsenkirchen and priest of the parish of St. Urban in that city.
Bishop-elect Zimmermann was appointed titular bishop of Benda, a location in modern Albania, which in the past was also held by Dutch Bishop Johannes Niënhaus, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht from 1982 to 2000. The new bishop has a background in Retail, working in that field before his beginning his theological evening studies in the 1970s. He was ordained as a priest in 1980, in his native Gelsenkirchen. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked in several parishes, was head of the Union of Catholic Youth in the Diocese of Essen, dean of Essen-Mitte, cathedral administrator, honorary canon and ultimately dean of Gelsenkirchen and member of the cathedral chapter.
It is not yet known when Bishop-elect Zimmermann will be consecrated, but the expectation is that Bishop Overbeck will do the honours, with Bishop Ludger Schepers, Essen’s other auxiliary, as one of the other consecrators.
Photo credit: Bistum Essen
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.
In a meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday, Karl Cardinal Lehmann, bishop of Mainz in Germany, spoke about some of the current events gripping the Church in Germany since last year. He advocated caution and expressed concern in two of these cases: the continuing ‘leave of absence’ of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from his Diocese of Limburg, and the German bishops’ efforts to broaden access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried faithful without taking current Canon Law and teaching into account.
About the first topic he said, in an interview for Domradio.de:
“Francis is amazingly well and correctly informed about that. I told him that I consider the Bishop of Limburg to be a very wise, highly educated and courteous person in whom I have never noticed any sign of wasteful swank. However, the procedure [against him] was burdened with a policy of secrecy fueled by a media campaign. I am worried that if we do not reach a solution soon, the atmosphere of optimism which was triggered by the Pope’s election will be threatened. For the process encourages mistrust and a hostile mood against the church.”
Once again it seems clear that those who know Bishop Tebartz-van Elst personally do not recognise him in the image that his opponents and the media have created. Related to this, Archbishop Georg Gänswein also said that he expects that the ongoing investigation by the German Bishops’ Conference will be concluded positively for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.
About the second topic, Cardinal Lehmann said:
“The question of receiving the sacraments is one that can’t be avoided, it must be addressed, but not in the first place. The Church must concern itself about people in broken and damaged relations – and these especially include the divorced and remarried. They have their own place in the Church. But one must accurately consider the specific situations. One can’t proclaim only mercy in all cases, justice is a part of mercy. This relationship must be reflected upon carefully.”
No one is blaming the German bishops for exploring new avenues of pastoral care for people in broken relationships, including persons who have civilly divorced and remarried. Cardinal Lehmann, while being a bit general in his comment, seems to be indicating that one sweeping reform of the whole practice of pastoral care is not something to be desired. Specific cases need to be considered well. Leaving the decision to receive the sacraments to individual person’s consciences, as the bishops are suggesting, is the opposite of that. It is very timely that the cardinal explains that mercy is far more than just being nice. Surely allowing everyone to receive the sacraments is very nice, but is it merciful? Justice, in service to the wellbeing of the faithful, is also merciful. Doing the right thing, while not necessarily pleasant at the time, is merciful in the long run.