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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.
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
There seems to be a general trend in the media to wonder what on Earth is keeping the five “absentee electors”. Cardinals Lehmann, Pham Minh Man, Nycz, Tong Hon and Naguib have missed the first three general congregations, although they are expected to arrive in Rome today or tomorrow. is it because they do not consider their duties in Rome very important, or because of travel distance, or something else altogether?
While we obviously can’t say anything about what any cardinal considers important, it is a safe bet to say that the entire College of Cardinals is well aware of their duties these days. Travel distance is also no longer a good excuse, not even for Cardinals Pham Minh Man and Tong Hon, who have to come from Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong respectively.
That leaves “something else” as a possible explanation. The five cardinals mentioned above all have on thing in common: they are ordinaries of a diocese, which is where their first responsibilities lie. So the explanation can be as simple as that: other duties kept the cardinals in Mainz, Ho Chi Minh City, Warsaw, Hong Kong and Alexandria a while longer. Is that a slight towards the other cardinals already gathered in Rome, or an attempt to influence the start date of the conclave? That is a standpoint that is far too cynical for my taste.
And in the case of Cardinal Naguib there is the added fact that his health is not as good as it once was. His recent retirement as Patriarch of the Coptic Catholics of Egypt was also granted for the same reason.
Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano
Today, all the cardinals of the Church received the official letter summoning them to Rome. Cardinal Sodano, as dean of the College of Cardinals, signed the letter. Cardinal Simonis, emeritus archbishop of Utrecht, was one of the cardinals who received the summons, although, like many others, he is already in Rome. The image below shows the letter in the hands of the cardinal, who won’t be able to vote in the conclave, as he is over the age of 80. But all cardinals, elector or not, are expected to take their responsibilities in managing the goods and needs of the Church and the faithful during the sede vacante, as well as preparing for the conclave.Cardinal Sodano’s letter invites the cardinals to the first two General Congregations on Monday. A date for the conclave may be decided upon then, but that is by no means certain. All indications are that the cardinals want time to talk and think.
The electors number 117, although two of them have chosen to remain at home. So here they are, the 115 cardinal electors who will soon be entering the conclave, which they will not be leaving until they have elected a new Supreme Pontiff. As Emeritus Pope Benedict (how odd it is to write that!) said yesterday morning, the new Pope is among them.
A short primer on who’s who among the electors, ordered by precedence (and from left to right and top to bottom, starting at top left and ending at bottom right, in the collage above):
Giovanni Cardinal Re, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops
- Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State and Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church
- Antonios Cardinal Naguib, Patriarch emeritus of Alexandria of the Copts
- Béchara Cardinal Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites
- Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels
- Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Köln
- Nicolás Cardinal López Rodríguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo
- Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles
- Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana
- Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop emeritus of Montréal
- Vinko Cardinal Puljic, Archbishop of Vrhbosna
- Juan Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara
- Antonio Cardinal Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid
- Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, Archbishop emeritus of Milan
- Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam
- Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna
- Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico
- Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago
- Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, President of the Congregation for Catholic Education
- Crescenzio Cardinal Sepe, Archbishop of Naples
- Walter Cardinal Kasper, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
- Ivan Cardinal Dias, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation fo the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Geraldo Cardinal Agnelo, Archbishop emritus of São Salvador da Bahia
- Audrys Cardinal Backis, Archbishop of Vilnius
- Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Archbishop emritus of Santiago
- Julio Cardinal Terrazas Sandoval, Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra
- Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban
- Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
- Juan Cardinal Cipriani Thorne, Archbishop of Lima
- Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Clergy
- Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires
- José Cardinal Policarpo, Patriarch of Lisbon
- Severino Cardinal Poletto, Archbishop of Turin
- Karl Cardinal Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz
- Angelo Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan
- Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop emeritus of Lagos
- Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum
- Carlos Cardinal Amigo Vallejo, Archbishop emeritus of Sevilla
- Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia
- Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family
- Peter Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
- Telesphore Cardinal Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi
- George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
- Josip Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb
- Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City
- Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon
- Péter Cardinal Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest
- Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
- Agostino Cardinal Vallini, Archpriest of St. John Lateran
- Jorge Cardinal Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas
- Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux
- Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
- Seán Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
- Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków
- Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna
- Seán Cardinal Brady, Archbishop of Armagh
- Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona
- André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris
- Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa
- Théodore-Adrien Cardinal Sarr, Archbishop of Dakar
- Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay
- Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara
- Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
- Odilo Cardinal Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo
- John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi
- Raúl Cardinal Vela Chiriboga, Archbishop emeritus of Quito
- Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa
- Paolo Cardinal Romeo, Archbishop of Palermo
- Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
- Raymundo Cardinal Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida
- Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw
- Albert Cardinal Patabendige Don, Archbishop of Colombo
- Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising
- George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars
- Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto
- Dominik Cardinal Duka, Archbishop of Prague
- Willem Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht
- Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, Archbishop of Florence
- Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York
- Rainer Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin
- John Cardinal Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong
- Baselios Cardinal Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars
- John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja
- Jesús Cardinal Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogotá
- Luis Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila
- Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue
- Attilio Cardinal Nicora, President of the Financial Information Authority
- William Cardinal Levada, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Franc Cardinal Rode, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
- Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, President emeritus of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
- Paul Cardinal Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
- Angelo Cardinal Comastri, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica
- Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
- Raffaele Cardinal Farina, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library
- Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints
- Robert Cardinal Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
- Francesco Cardinal Monterisi, Archpriest emeritus of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls
- Raymond Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
- Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
- Paolo Cardinal Sardi, Partron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta
- Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy
- Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ
- Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
- Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary
- Santos Cardinal Abril y Castelló, Archpriest of St. Mary Major
- Antonio Cardinal Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
- Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
- Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
- João Cardinal Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
- Domenico Cardinal Calcagno, President of the Adminstration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See
- Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
- James Cardinal Harvey, Archpriest of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls
Who we will see in white on the balcony of St. Peter’s sometime later this month remains anyone’s guess. Only Our Lord knows and, as Cardinal Pell said, it is up to the electors to find out.
Photo credit:  RKK.nl,  collage my own.
2013 will be the year of one of the largest shakeups of the German episcopate, at least for the foreseeable future. No less than four bishops, including two archbishops, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75, while a further three are already 75 or older. Additionally, two dioceses remain without a bishop. There is of course no guarantee that all, or even any, of these bishops will retire this year, or the sees be filled, but the odds are large enough to warrant a look at what the exact changes may be.
On 9 August, the first episcopal 75th will be marked by the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (pictured) of Freiburg im Breisgau. He will be followed on 13 December by one of his auxiliaries, Bishop Rainer Klug. In the southern German archdiocese, that will leave only 66 year-old auxiliary Bishop Bernd Joachim Uhl of the current diocesan curia.
In between these two bishops, on 13 August and 3 December respectively, Bishop Werner Radspieler, auxiliary of Bamberg, and Archbishop Werner Thissen, of Hamburg, will mark their 75th birthdays.
Both Freiburg and Hamburg are significant archdioceses, the first by population (some 5 million Catholics) and the second by sheer size, being Germany largest circumscription.
These four milestones are in addition to three bishops who are still serving despite being past the age of 75. The first is Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary of Essen, and the other two are both cardinals: Karl Cardinal Lehmann, bishop of Mainz, and Joachim Cardinal Meisner (pictured) of Cologne (who will mark his 80th birthday on Christmas Day, and may then become one of those rarest of cardinals: no longer eligible to vote in a conclave, yet still serving as a diocesan ordinary).
Over the course of this year then, we may see two dioceses (Dresden-Meißen and Passau) being filled and between two and four becoming vacant. If the maximum of four do indeed become vacant, we will witness another fairly unique situation: three of Germany’s seven metropolitan archdioceses and historically significant Mainz, after Trier and Cologne the German diocese with the longest pedigree, and held by cardinals since the 1960s, will be empty.
Photo credit:  Hartmut W. Schmidt,  Harald Tittel (c) dpa - Bildfunk
This afternoon, Bishop Werner Guballa, auxiliary if the Diocese of Mainz, succumbed to severe pneumonia, after a battle with pancreatic cancer which began in June of last year. Bishop Guballa was 67. Half an hour ago, the largest bell of the tower of the Cathedral of Saints Martin of Tour and Stephen rang to announce his passing.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Bishop Guballa spoke of his disease:
“I am ill and I accept the will of God in that. But I also say to God: “Help me to find a way. I am not so much concerned about the disease, but about the road to health. [...] I will fight [the disease], provided I have the power to do so. I said to my tumor: “You will not have the last word”. [...] I go my way, not with fear, but with confidence.”
Bishop Guballa was appointed auxiliary bishop of Mainz in February of 2003, and held the titular see of Catrum. He was the first titular bishop of that Algerian see. Within the German Bishops’ Conference, he was responsible for the portfolio of Marriage and Family.
Remaining in the diocesan curia of Mainz are Bishop Karl Cardinal Lehmann and Auxiliary Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr.
Father Ray Blake has a good suggestion on what to do when we are faced with a vacant diocese. Apart from praying or a good and holy new bishop, he says, we should write “in praise of good and faithful priests”. The powers that be in Rome rely also on the opinions and thoughts of the faithful when faced with the choice of a new bishop, and I somehow think that they don’t hear a whole lot from the Dutch faithful.
In the Netherlands, we are of course still awaiting a new bishop in the Diocese of Breda, but after that appointment there will not be much change in the current lineup of ordinaries and auxiliaries. The oldest of the currently active bishops, Msgr. Frans Wiertz (right) of Roermond, won’t turn 75 until 2017, closely followed by Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 2019 and Bishop Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam in 2021. Only an appointment abroad, illness or, God forbid, an untimely death would change the playing field until then.
That’s at least 6 years in which we can notice and share the actions and words of good priests, and write to the appropriate authorities, who need and want to hear from the faithful here (and something else than complaints alone, please).
In the Netherlands, you can write to:
Z.E. Monseigneur François Bacqué
2517 KH ‘S-Gravenhage
Or directly to the Congregation for Bishops:
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII
In Germany, things are a bit different, since there four bishops are already over 75 and still in function. They are Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz, Cardinal Meisner of Cologne, Bishop Reinelt of Dresden-Meiβen and Bishop Schraml of Passau. In addition, two auxiliaries are approaching the age of 75: Bishop Siebler in München und Freising, and Bishop Vorath in Essen.
But of course, the above reasoning works for German readers as well, except that they should direct their writings to another Nuncio, pictured below:
S.E. Jean-Claude Périsset
Photo credit:  Bisdom Roermond,  Kirchensite.de
In 1988, Berlin lost its bishop – Joachim Meisner, now a cardinal – to Cologne. Now, it seems, the gesture is returned. Only four days after the death of the previous metropolitan of the German capital, Bishop Rainer Maria Woelki crosses the country from Cologne. And so none of the German dioceses remain vacant any longer.
Archbishop elect Woelki was born in Cologne in 1956 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. In 2003 he was ordained to be one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Cologne (he leaves three of them with Cardinal Meisner). In his time in Cologne he served as private secretary to the cardinal, and director of the Collegium Albertinum for seminarians studying in Bonn, among other duties. As auxiliary bishop he held the titular see of Scampa in modern Albania, and within the German bishops’ conference his responsibilities were in the fields of vocations, Church ministries and science & culture. At 54, he is among the youngest German bishops, and certainly the youngest archbishop.
As mentioned before, this appointment fills all German sees, but in the near future we may expect three new vacancies, one of which is Woelki’s native Cologne. Cardinal Meisner is 77 and thus overdue for retirement, and the same goes for Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (76) and Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz (75).
With today’s acceptance of the resignation of Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky, a major European capital’s Catholic flock is left without an archbishop. For the time being of course, but the cardinal archbishop, who turned 75 some two weeks ago, leaves an interesting act to follow. When he was appointed in 1989 there was no Archdiocese of Berlin. Sterzinsky, until then a priest of Erfurt-Meiningen (now simply Erfurt), became the bishop of a divided diocese in an East Germany that started to show the cracks that would lead to the German reunification in 1990. Because of the important role of Berlin in the new Germany, and its position in history among other German cities, Bishop Sterzinsky was elevated to Cardinal in 1991, aged only 55. The reorganisation of the dioceses that followed the Wende saw Berlin elevated to an archdiocese and Sterzinsky as its first archbishop.
Berlin, which includes the city of the same name, north and central Brandenburg and eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (including the Baltic island Rügen), is now temporarily led by its auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Matthias Heinrich, who is obliged to convene the cathedral chapter to elect a diocesan administrator, who will run the archdiocese until the pope appoints a new archbishop.
In north and western Europe, where bishops and Catholics are a bit thinner on the ground than in the south, there are a number of bishops approaching the required retirement age of 75, and also some who are already past that age. In Germany, for example, they are Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (75) and Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Köln (77). Archbishop Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meissen will reach that age later this year. Related to that, the Diocese of Görlitz has been vacant since last year.
Outside Germany, the situation is comparable, although most surrounding countries have far fewer bishops. In Norway, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim has been vacant since 2009, with the bishop of Oslo running things temporarily. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam is vacant, although no other Dutch bishops will turn 75 for the next seven years. In Belgium, too, the next bishop up for resignation is Bishop Jousten of Liège in November of 2012. The archbishop of Luxembourg, Fernand Franck, on the other hand, will turn 77 in May, and is still in office. In the United Kingdom then, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Bishops Peter Moran of Aberdeen and Edwin Regan of Wrexham are all 75 or over and still in office. Meanwhile, the bishops of Brentwood, Hallam and Portsmouth will all reach 75 this year, while the Archdiocese of Cardiff remains vacant. Ireland, then, with its spate of bishops’ resignations in the wake of the abuse crisis, is a story in itself.
The current vacancy of Berlin may be a herald of some interesting changes in the Church in and around the Netherlands, but how long those changes will take is anyone’s guess.
All that being said, Cardinal Sterzinsky’s illness leaves him bedridden in the hospital, so his resignation is nothing but understandable, although it is said that he would have liked to be able to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in function when the latter will visit Berlin in September.
Photo credit: Deutscher Depeschendienst