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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.
Painful scenes in Cologne’s cathedral on Christmas morning. As Cardinal Meisner, on his 80th birthday, celebrated the birth of the Lord among us, a disturbed woman mounted the altar and struck a pose, bare-breasted, shouting “I am God!”. She was forcefully removed from the sacristy and cathedral
Footage below (it may be disturbing):
Like Brussels’ Archbishop Léonard – another target of Femen hooligans before him – Cardinal Meisner remained as calm as can be in his response. At the end of Mass he offered his blessing to all, including the woman who, he said, “needs it most”. He has not made much mention of the incident since. Auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp deemed the action not worthy to make a big fuss about.
Like the earlier incident with Archbishop Léonard, it is perhaps a good thing to express your support and prayerful union with the cardinal archbishop and the faithful of Cologne. Cardinal Meisner may be contacted via this address:
Seiner Eminenz Joachim Kardinal Meisner
It is also good to pray for this obviously disturbed woman and others who are tempted by evil ideologies and actions.
One day before his 80th birthday, and his retirement from Curial functions that comes with it, Cardinal Joachim Meisner makes some bold and critical statements in an interview for Deutschlandfunk. The archbishop of Cologne is known to be in disagreement with most other German bishops about if, when and how divorced and remarried Catholics can be allowed to receive the sacraments. In that respect he is very much in agreement with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He also speaks about being critical of Pope Francis, in a personal conversation no less. He says:
“During my last visit to Pope Francis I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of topics. And I also told him that his proclamation in the form of interviews and short statements leaves many questions unanswered, questions which should be explained further for the uninformed. The Pope looked at me with surprise and asked me to please give him an example. And my reply was that, in his return from Rio to Rome, on the airplane, he was asked about the question of divorced and remarried people. And as the Pope said, divorced people can receive Holy Communion, remarried divorced people can not. In the Orthodox Church it is possible to marry twice. That was his statement. And then he spoke of mercy, which in my experience, which is what I told him, is only understood in this country as a substitute for all human failings. And the Pope very energetically replied that he is a son of the Catholic Church and is not saying anything but the teachings of the Church. And mercy must be identical to truth, or it doesn’t deserve the name mercy. And in addition, he emphasised that when theological questions remain, then there is the important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to formulate and explain the details. And you must always remember that this Congregation, which before the Council was chaired by the Pope himself, is still the first in the Curial order. And you can’t relate to the Prefect as a private person, just because he was once a member of the Bishops’ Conference.”
This is pretty unheard of, that a cardinal so freely discusses his disagreements with the Pope. Pope Francis’ reaction is no less interesting, of course. It shows how he wants the Curia, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the lead, to function. Not as a behemoth controlled by the Pope, but as a body assisting the Pope in his ministry. And I think that also shows us how we should all act as Catholics. We should be willing and able to explain and clarify in love, to proclaim, not just by speaking about Jesus Christ, but also by knowing and living our faith, even in the face of misunderstanding and adversity.
Cardinal Meisner was also asked about demands from certain groups that the Church should adapt to the times. Such sentiments were heard anew in the wake of the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. Although this was never intended as a means to ask the faithful for their opinions on Church teaching, many have used it as a chance to express theirs nonetheless.
“The Church must conform to the Word of God and not to the opinion of people. As Church we must know the opinions of people, to be able to proclaim the Word of God accordingly. But conforming, as they are asking, is not a part of the Gospel. It is amazing that the Evangelical Church has defined, with her position paper on questions of sexuality, a total alignment to the so-called spirit of the times. And what does the state of the Evangelical Church look like? As I understand, the number of people leaving it are even higher than ours. That can’t, ultimately, be because of the question of sexuality.”
Isn’t the cardinal afraid to stand alone, to become isolated, because what he says is not in accordance with what others are saying?
“I am not afraid to stand alone. During my school days in Thuringia I was the only Catholic boy, pupil. And I was always a part of everything and never allowed myself to be isolated. The mission of the ZdK (Central Committee of German Catholics) is to make the Gospel visible and have effect in the secular dimension, as it’s called, in the world. And here this group must seriously ask itself if they have remained true to their mission and vocation? You are asking if, in this context, I have no fear of being isolated? I have real concern for those people who bend their faith to themselves and who make their own faith, and who do not accept in awe what Christ Himself has entrusted to us. There is no solution there.”
Joachim 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
The German dioceses are somewhat unique in the world, in that at least some of them can elect their own bishops, with the Pope approving (or not) the elected prelate. One of these is the Archdiocese of Cologne, and its next election is coming up very soon.
When its current archbishop, Joachim Cardinal Meisner was appointed in 1988, that was the end of a 14-month election process. None of the three candidates on the list that Pope John Paul II had created won an absolute majority until then-Bishop Meisner of Berlin was selected. This time around, though, the rules have changed.
As Fr. Norbert Feldhoff explains here, the new process will be not unlike the way a Pope is elected. After two rounds of voting, when there is no winner, only the two candidates with the most votes can continue. If all three candidates get an equal number of votes, the two oldest candidates move on to the next round. If the third vote is also inconclusive, there is no longer a need for an absolute majority. A regular majority will then do to elect the new archbishop. If both candidates again get the same number of votes, the oldest candidate is proclaimed elected. With those new rules, the new archbishop of Cologne should be elected in no more than four rounds, considerably speeding up the process.
Cardinal Meisner (above) is serving well past the retirement age of 75. Turning 80 at Christmas, he is the fifth oldest active prelate in the Latin church, and the third-oldest ordinary of a regular diocese.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa
Following a week in Rome, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis on Monday, and today we learn the result of that meeting, which the bishop called “very encouraging”. Below is my English translation of the official press release, which contains some significant information.
The Holy Father has at all times been informed fully and objectively about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg.
In the diocese a situation has developed in which the bishop, H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst can’t exercise his episcopal service at this time.
After the “fraternal visit” of His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo this past September, the German Bishop’s Conference, pursuant to an agreement between the bishop and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, has established a commission to carry out a thorough investigation into the construction of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of said investigation and the related responsibilities in this matter, the Holy See considers it advisable for H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst to remain for some time outside the diocese.
Upon the decision of the Holy See the appointment of city dean Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, which was planned by the bishop for 1 January 2014, becomes effective today. Vicar General Rösch will manage the affairs of the Diocese of Limburg in absence of the bishop with the authority associated with his office.
First of all, we learnt hat the Holy Father “has at all times been informed fully and objectively”. We may therefore assume that the decision was made on the basis of facts instead of media assumptions. The fact that the Pope not only heard Bishop Tebartz-van Elst on the matter, but also Archbishop Zollitsch and Cardinal Meisner is evidence enough that he got the real story.
Furthermore, we find that the bishop will spend the course of the German Bishop’s Conference investigation into the matter outside the Diocese of Limburg. Other sources inform us that he will be in a monastery somewhere. Some have seen this is evidence that Pope Francis is paving the way for a quick succession when the investigation is over, but in my opinion it would simply be a precaution against stirring up the situation even more. If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be to return to Limburg immediately, many would use that against him, seriously impeding both his own work as bishop and the work of the bishops’ commission into the finances. In essence, it keep things quiet enough for everyone to do their work. And it allows the bishop the time to reflect on any thing he did wrong, to pray and eventually to return home strengthened and refreshed.
Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch (pictured above), in the meantime, sees his upcoming appointment as the new vicar general of the diocese moved forward. Current vicar general, Msgr. Franz Kaspar was to continue in his office until the star of the new year, but has to make way for his successor now.
A short history of Msgr. Rösch:
54-year-old Msgr. Rösch was until now the area dean of Wiesbaden. An engineer by trade, he studied philosophy and theology in Frankfurt and Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Bishop Karl Lehmann (now a cardinal) of Mainz in 1990. After various appointments as parish priest, Fr. Rösch was appointed by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s predecessor, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, to lead the diocesan seminary in 1997. He held that position until 2003, before returning to the parishes in Königstein and Wiesbaden.
The press release above states that Msgr. Rösch (the monsignor title comes with the office, and will be relinquished should the vicar general take on another appointment) will perform his duties “with the authority associated with his office”. What is that authority?
Canons 475 to 481 of the Code of Canon Law describe the function and authority of the vicar general. He assists the bishop in the exercise of his duties and has the same executive power as the bishop, except for those rights and duties which the bishop has reserved for himself or which are solely his by law. This means that the authority of vicar general Rösch is somewhat more limited than that of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. In essence, he will be able to manage the daily affairs of the diocese, but is limited in making changes and introducing new policies.
It is perhaps striking that Limburg’s auxiliary bishop (yes, there is one, who has remained outside the media frenzy quite effectively), Msgr. Thomas Löhr (pictured at right), has not been tasked with managing the diocese in the ordinary’s absence. Then again, while it is usual for an auxiliary bishop to be vicar general, it is not mandatory.
Lastly: despite what too many media outlets have claimed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not been suspended. He remains the bishop of Limburg with all the rights and duties attached to that office. The current ‘time out’ merely means he can’t exercise those duties until the Holy Father, or those speaking for him, decide otherwise. The bishop may at any time be allowed to resume in his episcopal ministry. There are no sanctions undertaken against him.
Photo credit: Bistum Limburg
A bit late, but I wanted to look back at the consecration of Bishop Ansgar Puff, last Saturday, as auxiliary bishop of Cologne and titular bishop of Gordus. Doing the consecrating honours were Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne; and Bishops Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp, auxiliaries of the same archdiocese. From Rome, German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, attended the consecration.
Arguably Germany’s tallest bishops, Msgr. Puff still reached to Cardinal Meisner’s shoulders when kneeling for his consecration through prayer and the imposition of the cardinal’s hands. In his homily, Cardinal Meisner said that a bishop is ”and advocate of the world to heaven and an advocate of God for the people on earth”.
Bishop Puff is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and is not afraid to go out in the streets or confront people of different opinions. In the past, as personnel chief of the archdiocese, he has spoken with priests advocating reform in the Church, and in 2009 he participated in the eleven-day “Missionale Düsseldorf”, as one of 70 priests inviting passers-by into conversations about the faith.
Bishop Puff’s area of pastoral responsibility will be the southern part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is home to some 600,000 Catholics.
Photo credit: Boecker
Another day, and another new bishop in Germany. This time it’s the Archdiocese of Cologne receiving a new auxiliary. Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff succeeds Bishop Heiner Koch, who was appointed as ordinary of Dresden-Meißen in January.
The new auxiliary bishop joins Cardinal Joachim Meisner and fellow auxiliaries Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp in the archdiocesan curia. His titular see is Gordus in modern Turkey, a see previously held by the late Bishop Alfons Demming, auxiliary bishop of Münster, who died last October.
Bishop-elect Puff will be consecrated on 21 September, at Cologne’s landmark cathedral of Ss. Peter and Mary. He will hold pastoral responsibility for the archdiocese’s southern district, which includes the city of Bonn and is home to some 600,000 Catholics.
Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff is 57 years old and has been a priest since 1987. He has been a parish priest in, among others, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Since 2012, he has also directed the archdiocesan office tasked with pastoral care and formation of priests, deacons and pastoral workers.
In an interview with Dom Radio, the newly-appointed bishop said that, upon hearing the news of his appointment, he felt as if the ground fell away underneath him:
“As it should be, the cardinal told me the news, which I was first obliged to keep a secret. But now I am happy to be able to share it. As a first reaction, I was of course quite shocked.”
In the same interview, Msgr. Puff also speaks about his vocation to the priesthood. Upon the interviewer’s remark that it wasn’t immediately clear that young Ansgar would embark upon a career in the Church, he said:
“The good Lord does write on crooked lines, and I took a long time to find my way. Piously said: the good Lord needed a long time before he had me where I am today.”
How did he come to the realisation to become a priest?
“That is a long story. It was a search for the meaning of life. My core question was: If I am the best social worker in the world, and people still die some day, what point is there to life? Concretely: if death exists, why does one live? Without faith I was unable to answer this question and so I embarked on the search of faith.”
About what he most looks forward too, Msgr. Puff said:
“To the meetings with people, to the contacts with the communities! I want to be like a travelling priest and proclaim the happy news of Jesus Christ.”
Not unlike Pope Francis, then.
“I don’t yet know him personally, but everything that I have heard and read about him has impressed me much. Especially his thought that you have to go out, not remain closed within the Church. Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth.” And salt has to go into the soup. If it stays in the salt jar, it is of no use. We have to go out, give ourselves purely, disperse ourselves and give the taste to others. In the language of faith: to be a servant of the peace of the world. I think that is a good perspective.”
Photo credit: PEK/Kasiske
Turning 80 on Christmas Day of this year, Joachim Cardinal Meisner is among the oldest diocesan ordinaries. Bishops are required to tender their resignation upon their 75th birthday, although the Pope is free to allow or disregard it as and when he sees fit. Cardinal Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, has six other active ordinaries above him in age, as well as three Curial prelates, one auxiliary bishop and the prelate of Opus Dei. And four of these are clerics of non-Latin Catholic Churches, who may not always have the same rules regarding age and retirement.
When Pope Francis will allow Cardinal Meisner is as yet unknown, but the cardinal has his post-retirement plans ready nonetheless, as he reveals in Polish church magazine Gosc Niedzielny. He intends to be regularly available to hear confessions in Cologne’s Dom Cathedral, to visit sick priests and to be of help “where there is need”. He will be the first archbishop of Cologne to enjoy his retirement since Archbishop Paul Melchers, who left the see in 1885.
In the same interview, Cardinal Meisner also comes to the defense of his fellow countryman, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. “I am almost ashamed as a German, as a Catholic Christian, to see how little this great Pope’s proclamation has been accepted and valued here,” he says. “The Church in Germany does not know what ‘treasure in the field’ they had in this Pope.” And the reason for this, so Cardinal Meisner says, may be a “kind of condescension and arrogance”, and perhaps also the existence of an anti-Catholic attitude in the homeland of the Reformation. Germany, with its society that is often just as anti-Christian as the Marxist regime that once ruled in the eastern part of the country, with the sole exception being the lack of a socialist ideology, is once again mission territory, he claims.
A harsh farewell, perhaps, but not without its grains of truth. Let’s just hope the cardinal, who can look back on 38 years of service as a bishop, and more than 50 as a priest, does not retire with such negative feelings.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa