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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.

der-neue-bischof-von-passau-stefan-oster

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

franz-peter tebartz-van elstReports 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.

Grothe_webThe 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.

thissen-HA-Hamburg-HamburgIn 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.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgIt 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.

vorrath

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.

zimmermann overbeck

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

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Stefan_Hesse1_jpg_763125014He 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.

meisner posterJoachim 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!”

Nikola-EterovicAnd 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.

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lehmannIn 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.

tomasi scicluna“Church slammed by UN, grilled about sexual abuse, heavily criticised…”

Just a sample of some of the headlines I came across yesterday and today. All because of the regular report that the Holy See has to make to the United Nations because it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990. The Holy See joined such countries as Germany, the Congo and Yemen in reporting yesterday, but was the single signatory singled out in the media. In a way that is understandable. After all, no country or international body has been so heavily scrutinised for its sexual abuse record in recent years, and no country or international body has been so open about it or active in fighting this horrible crime and sin. Not even the United Nations itself can boast about that.

As Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (pictured above at left), the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, explained in his opening statement yesterday, recent years have seen a major effort on the part of the Holy See to fight the scourge of sexual abuse. This has happened in sharpening laws, but also in continuous reminders by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (the latter did so as recently as yesterday). Local Churches have also been called to strengthen their efforts and create extensive programs to root out the evil of sexual abuse and to assist the victims. A good example mentioned by Archbishop Tomasi is the one of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (this week, the Diocese of Stockton became the tenth American diocese to file for bankruptcy because of financial compensation to victims of abuse – an example of how far they are going to aid the victims). Other bishops’ conferences, among them the Dutch, are also undertaking unprecedented efforts to address the problem. This indicates where the fight is taking place: not in the higher echelons of the Vatican, but primarily on the ground, in the local communities, where the victims and perpetrators may be found. And also the place, as Bishop Charles J. Scicluna (pictured above at right), also present at the meeting yesterday, says, where the laws of specific countries must be enacted and followed.

The question of the efficiency of these measures, as John L. Allen Jr. explains, is a matter of debate. It will take time to find that out. But the fact that steps are being taken is a clear sign that the Holy See is taking its obligations seriously.

What we see in the criticism, however, is that it generally wants to change the past. Time and again we hear about serious mistakes that the Holy See made in dealing with past abuse cases, mistakes the Holy See fully acknowledges and regrets. We see little to no recognition or understanding of the current efforts, in which the Holy See is leading the way for many other countries and international institutions. The past can’t be changed, but how we relate to people today and in the future can.

Sexual abuse of minors by clergy and members of the Church is an enormously painful and shameful affair for all Catholics. Pope Francis has rightly said we should be ashamed as a Church. We owe it to the victims to recognise their pain and to do our utmost to prevent it from ever happening again. I think that that is now being undertaken on the various levels of the Church. But in considering pain and attempting prevention we must always adhere to the truth. The truth that the past can’t be changed, that for a good number of years already the Church is taking her responsibility and taking effective steps in rooting out the evil of sexual abuse.

Even without digging into the details, I can comfortably say that 2013 has been the strangest, most unexpected, most challenging and most rollercoaster-like year in recent memory. From the historical retirement of Pope Benedict XVI to the long-awaited ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops, a Catholic blogger with his eye on current Church events had plenty of things to write about. A look back on the past twelve months.

January

“Dear fathers, dear mothers, let God be great amid your family, so that your children can grow up in the security of His love.”

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, shortly after his consecration as Bishop of Regensburg, 26 January 2013

gänsweinJanuary was a month of ongoing affairs, although some new issues also appeared. One example of this was the question of the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops. Otherwise, things went on as usual as Pope Benedict XVI continued much as he had done in earlier years: he consecrated Archbishop Gänswein (pictured), baptised children, created a diocese for the Ukrainian Catholics in western Europe, performed some damage control on the issue of marriage, gender and sacraments, released his Message for World Communications Day, and tweeted his support for life. Little did we expect how much that would soon change…

Locally, things were not too much out of the ordinary. In the abuse crisis, Cardinal Simonis was not prosecuted, Bishop van Burgsteden was announced to be offering a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, the bishops made it easier to leave the Church, and Cardinal Eijk spoke on palliative care,

As a blogger, I shared my thoughts about the .catholic domain name, upcoming German bishop retirements, a Protestant leader disregarding ecumenism, baby hatches, and a new and Catholic queen.

February

“…well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant…”

Pope Benedict XVI, 11 February 2013

The year really started on 11 February, with the shock announcement of Pope Benedict XVI that he would retire by the month’s end. So much of what would characterise the rest of 2013 has its roots in that decision and announcement. With it we started to wrap up a pontificate, with a lot of final things. The faithful were certainly loath to see Papa Benedetto go, as both his final general audiences and his last Angelus show. And then that last farewell came, for me the one moment which stands out in this year.

But before all that took place, there were also other developments. Pope Benedict released his Message for Lent and begin his Lenten retreat, this time led by the tweeting Cardinal Ravasi. In Germany, the bishops made some iffy decisions regarding contraception, and in Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien fell from grace.

Locally the Dutch bishops decided to limit their tv appearances (a decision later corrected by Pope Francis), and they also responded to the Pope’s retirement, collectively and individually. There were also some changes to the Eucharistic Prayer, triggered by the sede vacante.

I spoke some thoughts on a  few topics as well, among them the teaching authority of bishops, communication, vacancies in the College of Cardinals, and some more about communication.

March

“Bueno sera.”

Pope Francis, first words to the world after his election, 13 March

Pope-FrancisIn March a new chapter was opened. Whereas Pope Benedict XVI had educated us about the faith, Pope Francis would show us how to put it into practice. The tone was set from that first shy “good evening”. But before all that took place, we had to wait while the cardinal electors met and sketched a profile of the new pontiff. As the conclave opened, all eyes were on a humble chimney, about as humble as the Pope it announced after five ballots.

Of course, there were many reactions to the election of Pope Francis, such as the one by Archbishop Léonard. But live in the Church also went on. Cardinal Dolan reminded us of what really mattered, the Vatican guarded communication to the outside, the second Deetman report on excessive physical abuse in the Church came out, Bishop Jos Punt returned from three weeks living as a hermit in Spain, Pope Francis directed our attention to what it’s all about and he met with his predecessor, and it was also Easter.

April

“Christ is everything for me, the centre of my life, from Baptism to death. He is the personification of God, showing us how to live in intimate union with God, how to literally embody that great and incomprehensible God. Or, as the Gospel of John tells us, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father”. When you become the Body of Christ together, you experience in a fundamental way that you belong together and support one another.”

Words from Bishop Tiny Muskens, quoted by Bishop Liesen in the eulogy for the late bishop of Breda.

A month of settling into the new papacy and all the impressions that brings. Things returned to normal, and an overview of April is basically a list of events, with no major overarching themes.

muskensThe Dutch Church got a 25th basilica, 300 young Dutch Catholics signed up for the World Youth Days in Rio, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch plays it hard regarding rebellious priests, Pope Francis established a group of eight cardinals to advice in the reform of the Curia, Bishop Tiny Muskens (pictured) passes away, with Bishop Jan Liesen offering his funeral Mass, a group of Dutch professors published a strange manifesto against the bishops, Archbishop Léonard was attacked and taught us a lesson by his reaction, Pope Francis met with the future King and Queen of the Netherlands, and I wrote my first post on the upcoming Sacra Liturgia conference.

May

“I am very thankful that you have taken the effort to send me some words of support and solidarity after the protest action of the Femen group. Your words have been very comforting for me.”

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in a letter sent to those who wrote to him in support after the attack on him by leftwing protesters in April

benedict francisA quiet month which nonetheless closed the the events of the first few months, as the Pope emeritus came home (pictured). In other events, we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord, Michael Voris commented on the state of the Church in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium offered a status report of the sexual abuse crisis in their country, Bishop de Korte responded to last month’s professors’ manifesto, The Pope did not perform an exorcism, nine new priests were to be ordained, and Archbishop Léonard sent a gracious letter to all those who supported him after the Femen attack.

In addition to all that, I offered some thoughts on reform proposals from the German bishops, abortion and the right to life, the fact that the Church does not condone violence against homosexuals, and Pope Francis’ comment that Christ redeemed everyone.

June

“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice.”

Bishop Jan Hendriks remembers  Bishop Jo Gijsen, who passed away on 24 June

gijsenAt the start of June the world gathered around the Blessed Sacrament, a new bishop was appointed to Liège, a successful Europe-wide pro-life initiative got underway, auxiliary bishops were appointed to Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne and Osnabrück, one of the last Dutch missionary bishops (and host to a group of Dutch World Youth Day pilgrims) retires, and Bishop Jo Gijsen (pictured), emeritus of both Roermond and Reykjavík, passes away.

I also made the first Dutch translation (as far as I was able to find) of Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical In Hac Tanta, on St. Boniface, and I wrote about the issue of same-sex marriage from the viewpoints of two seeming opposites.

July

“It is impossible to serve God without going to the human brother, met on the path of our lives. But it is also impossible to substantially love the neighbor without understanding that this is the Son of God himself who first became the neighbour of every man.”

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in the homily at the consecration of Bishop Jean-Pierre Delville of Liège, 14 July

cardijnThe summer months saw the stream of blog posts shrink to a trickle, and a mere 10 posts were made in July. Among those things that I did write about were the first encyclical of Pope Francis, the United Nations launching a rather one-sided demand to the Holy See about sexual abuse, the launch of the cause for the beatification of Belgian Cardinal Cardijn (pictured), Dutch pilgrims departing for Rio, the consecration of Bishop Delville of Liège, and a young Dutch woman’s encounter with the Pope.

August

“As John took Mary into his home, you took Bishop Bluyssen into your home. There is of course a great difference between giving someone a space to live and giving someone a home. You have done the latter.”

Bishop Antoon Hurkmans to the sisters of the Mariënburg monastery, 13 August

parolinStill summer, and I visited a foreign cathedral, in Slovenia the effects of Pope Francis’ reforms are first felt, Bishop Johannes Bluyssen passes away, Namur gains  a new basilica, and the Church a new Secretary of State (pictured). Another quiet month, but the things that did happen were sometimes quite momentous. A sign of more to come.

September

“I have decided to proclaim for the  whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of  Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and  throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow  Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to  participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”

Pope Francis, 1 September

Tebartz-van ElstIn Germany, the biggest story of the year erupted in Limburg (Bishop Tebartz-van Elst pictured), and Cardinal Lajolo was sent to settle things, for now. Pope Francis called for prayer for Syria (and armed interventions were averted). In Osnabrück, Freiburg and Cologne, bishops were consecrated, and Freiburg’s Archbishop Zollitsch retired soon afterwards. The pro-life “One of Us” initiative collected 1 million signatures, and the Dutch bishops appointed a new spokeswoman (who would soon undergo her baptism by fire in the ad limina visit). And then, Pope Francis was interviewed.

October

 “The Eucharist (which refers to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ) is the most important sacrament, in which the faithful celebrate their unity with God and each other.”

Wim Cardinal Eijk, responding to liturgical abuse by an overly creative priest, 7 October

eijkIn this very busy month, the Council of Cardinals got to work, and the first fruits of Pope Francis’ reforms became visible in the Synod of Bishops, which sent a questionnaire to the world’s Catholics at the end of the month. Rumours surfaced that the Dutch bishops would be going on their ad limina visit soon, rumours which would soon be confirmed. One of the most notable efforts to spring up in relation to this was the so-called Pauspetitie. Back home, Cardinal Eijk (pictured) made a stand against excessive liturgical abuse, which revealed how rotten some parts of the Church are. Later that month, the cardinal also wrote a letter to the faithful about church closings. In other news, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ Msgr. Paul Tighe spoke at the CNMC in Boston about the Holy See’s work in social media, and a solution was found for the Limburg situation. The Holy See announced a consistory for February, in which Pope Francis will be creating his first class of cardinals.

With the help of Fr. Roderick’s more faithful translation of last month’s papal interview, I drafted an improved English translation. All this before later developments would seriously invalidate the level of accuracy, as the interviewer admitted to not having recorded the interview or taking notes.

November

“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 text 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.”

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in a letter to the bishops of Germany, 11 November

A bit a weird month, mostly devoted to looking ahead to the upcoming ad limina, but there were also some other topics which needed discussion or correction.

MüllerFirst of all, there was good news as we learned that annual television spectacle The Passion would be visiting my home town in 2014. The Dutch bishops decided on the fastest and most efficient means to deal with the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. On 19 November, Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet passed away. Most attention internationally, however, was for Archbishop Müller’s letter to the German bishops, informing them that their pastoral initiative on marriage and the sacraments needed revising. In Germany, things remained rebellious. On the ad limina visit, Bishop de Korte looked ahead, and I took a closer look at the general report that the bishops published.

Oh, and then there was a little Apostolic Exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium

Of the latter category, things that needed correction or further explanation, we can mention the visit of politician Boris Dittrich to the Holy See, much confusion on Christmas hymns in the liturgy.

December

“Finally, the Pope also asked us a sort of question of conscience. Where do you yourself, as bishops, find the strength, your hope and joy amid all the concerns and problems? The Gospel must always be visible as the Good News of forgiveness, salvation and redemption. He urged us to always quench our thirst from that and communicate it to others. The Church, the Pope indicated, grows from an authentically experienced faith and through honest attraction. She is being sent to awaken and plant faith, hope and love in people.”

Bishop Jos Punt, looking back on the ad limina visit, 14 December

bishops st. peter's  squareAnd so, after nine years, the bishops returned to Rome and we launched into the 2013 ad limina visit. Opening with the audience with Pope Francis, the ad limina was a hopeful occasion, for both bishops and faithful back home. Although a fair few had expected otherwise, the bishops received encouraging scenes to continue on the path they were on, especially regarding how they dealt with the sexual abuse crisis. Very helpful and enjoyable was the daily reporting by various bishops as events unfolded. After returning home, several bishops felt called to write down their experiences once more.

December was also the month of Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner, who looked ahead to his upcoming retirement, spoke frankly about some current affairs and saw Christmas day – and his 80th birthday – marked by desecration.

In other news, Michael Voris put the spotlight on a Dutch bishop, Archbishop Müller clarified what clear minds had logically assumed from the start, Archbishop Zollitsch made some worrisome comments,, the Pope marked his 1st birthday on Twitter and his 77th real birthday, Pope Francis released his Message for the World Day of Peace, Cardinal Koch expressed some concern about papal popularity, Cardinal Burke was demoted (but only in the minds of some) and there was some excitement when a papal visit to the Netherlands was discussed. And it was Christmas.

Who we lost:

deceasedprelates

  • Jozéf Cardinal Glemp, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, passed away on 23 January, aged 83
  • Giovanni Cardinal Cheli, Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano, passed away on 8 February, aged 94
  • Julien Cardinal Ries, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia, passed away on 23 February, aged 92
  • Jean Cardinal Honoré, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Salute a Primavalle, passed away on 28 February, aged 92
  • Bishop Bernard Rieger, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
  • Lorenzo Cardinal Antonetti, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Agnese in Agone, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
  • Bishop Reinard Lettmann, bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 16 April, aged 80
  • Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens, bishop emeritus of Breda, passed away on 16 April, aged 77
  • Stanislaw Cardinal Nagy, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala, passed away on 5 June, aged 91
  • Bishop Franz Xaver Eder, bishop emeritus of Passau, passed away on 20 June, aged 87
  • Bishop Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen, bishop emeritus of Reykjavík, passed away on 24 June, aged 80
  • Simon Ignatius Cardinal Pimenta, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria «Regina Mundi» a Torre Spaccata, passed away on 19 July, aged 93
  • Ersilio Cardinal Tonini, Cardinal-Priest of Santissimo Redentore a Valmelaina, passed away on 28 July, aged 99
  • Archbishop Ludwig Averkamp, archbishop emeritus of Hamburg, passed away on 29 July, aged 86
  • Bishop Johannes Willem Maria Bluyssen, bishop emeritus of ‘s Hertogenbosch, passed away on 8 August, aged 87
  • Medardo Joseph Cardinal Mazombwe, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza, passed away on 29 August, aged 81
  • Bishop Ernst Gutting, auxiliary bishop emeritus Speyer, passed away on 27 September, aged 94
  • Bishop Georg Weinhold, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Dresden-Meiβen, passed away on 10 October, aged 78
  • Domenica Cardinal Bartolucci, Cardinal-Deacon of Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata, passed away on 11 November, aged 96
  • Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Haarlem, passed away on 19 November, aged 90
  • Bishop Max Georg von Twickel, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 28 November, aged 87
  • Ricardo María Cardinal Carles Gordó, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Marie Consolatrice al Tiburtino, passed away on 17 December, aged 86

New appointments and consecrations in the dioceses of northwestern Europe:

  • Bishop Heiner Koch, auxiliary bishop of Köln, was appointed as bishop of Dresden-Meiβen on 18 January and installed on 18 March
  • Fr. Rudolf Voderholzer was consecrated as bishop of Regensburg on 26 January
  • Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville was appointed as bishop of Liège on 31 May and consecrated on 14 July.
  • Bishop Aloys Jousten retired as bishop of Liège on 31 May
  • Fr. Michael Gerber was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Freisgau on 12 June and consecrated on 8 September
  • Fr. Ansgar Puff was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Köln on 14 June and consecrated on 21 September
  • Fr. Johannes Wübbe was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Osnabrück on 18 June and consecrated on 1 September
  • Bishop Werner Radspieler retired as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg on 9 September
  • Archbishop Robert Zollitsch retired as archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 17 September
  • Archbishop Nikola Eterovic was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany on 21 September; Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset retired as such on the same day
  • Bishop Rainer Klug retired as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 21 November

evangelii gaudiumIn the past year, my blog enjoyed 113,702 visits, some 26,000 more than in 2012. The retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the following conclave and the election of Pope Francis, the Scalfari interview and the corrected English translation I provided, the letter of Archbishop Müller to the German bishops and the upcoming election of the successor of Cardinal Meisner, Evangelii Gaudium and Cardinal Eijk’s sanction against the Dominican priest who was excessively creative are among the topics and events that drew most readers. A good year. Much gratitude and encouragement to continue merrily onwards into 2014.

May your new year be blessed and joyful!

MüllerIn a recent interviewer for the Passauer Neuen Presse, to be published on Thursday, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller comments directly on the criticism levelled against him by, among others, Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who claimed that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tried to stop discussion on the topic of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments. Kath.net reports.

Archbishop Müller wrote extensively – and after consulting with Pope Francis – on the subject in November (read my translation of the subsequent letter sent to Germany’s bishops here). Several German dioceses and bishops then expressed the wish and intent to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments (if they hadn’t  done so already). Current Church doctrine teaches that these faithful – if their previous marriage is not nullified – can’t receive the sacraments, although the pastoral implementation, and even the canons of the law itself, may well be changed by the joint teaching authority of bishops and Pope. Such changes, however, have not been made or implemented, so any one-sided decisions on the part of individual bishops are, at the very least, premature, and at worst cause for scandal.

About the claim that he is trying to stop discussion, Archbishop Müller now says that he, “as one can easily see, did not speak of any end to the discussion, but of its basis in the teaching of Christ and the Church, which is not under discussion.” He also adds that the confession of faith “is not to be confused with a party program, which can be adapted in accordance with the wishes of members and voters”. Responsible pastoral teaching, he concluded, is always built “upon sound doctrine”.

It is not unlike what I have been saying: Archbishop Müller simply reminds us of the current situation and the possibilities it offers. And it turns out that there are many who need such a reminder, among them bishops and cardinals.

It quite frankly boggles the mind that anyone who has read the archbishop’s article and letter would conclude that it is simply an attempt to stop all debate. It is not as if the Church has nothing to say about these issues, or that Archbishop Müller simply came up with some reasons why it is not possible, at this moment, for remarried faithful to receive Communion. Sure, in the pastoral reality of every day, these are not enjoyable things to come across, to have to inform anyone that they can’t receive the sacraments. But it is no different for any of us. Every single faithful has to be in the right disposition and in a state of grace before he or she can receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Much can be remedied by the Sacrament of Confession, but some obstacles are a bit harder to remove.

This is the task of any bishop: to safeguard and communicate the faith, including all those bits we may not like. Archbishop Müller is doing his duty, and it is our duty to receive his teaching with an open mind.

Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, but He did promise to guide us, come back for us when we lost our way and never burden us with more than we could carry.

meisnerJoachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Germany’s largest and most venerable archdiocese of Cologne, looks ahead to his upcoming retirement and other current affairs in the Church in Germany, via an article in the Aachener Zeitung today.

Cardinal Meisner, who turns 80 on Christmas Day, expects his retirement to become effective no later than February. Pope Francis has already indicated to be willing to grant it. He may want to wait, however, on the 25th anniversary of Meisner’s installation as archbishop of Cologne on 9 March.

The cardinal also spoke about the most recent, and quite serious, development in the German Church: the one-sided decision, independent of the world Church’s teaching authority, to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. Prelates in the Curia, among them Synod of Bishops chief Archbishop Baldisseri, have indicated that the topic should be discussed and looked again closely once more, but no chance in Church law or teaching has come about (and likely won’t for the foreseeable future, if ever). Cardinal Meisner says about this:

“I consider that wishful thinking. I think it’s the Church’s teaching. The Pope won’t change anything about that. That’s my firm belief.”

He also speaks about Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, whom he continues to support, although not unconditionally so. He is very critical about the bishop lying about flying first-class to India.

“That is – I should say – a stupidity. [...] He should not have done that.” He has urged Tebartz-van Elst to repay the 20,000 Euro settlement in the legal proceedings against him, saying, “Pay it, and then it’s gone!”

But Cardinal Meisner also reveals that members of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s family in his native Kevelaer at times also felt the attacks against the bishop. Nieces and nephews were sometimes unable to attend school, and other family members were accosted in the street. No matter what happened, the Cardinal says, this is truly unfair to everyone involved.

After retirement, Cardinal Meisner wants to take up residence in the chapter house across from the cathedral, assisting priests and providing pastoral care for as long as time, and the Lord, allows him. And as for his successor? “That’s no longer any of my business.”

Photo credit: dpa

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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