In Regensburg, a spiritual guide is to be made a bishop

The Diocese of Regensburg today announces the appointment of a second auxiliary bishop in the person of 57-year-old Msgr. Josef Graf. Most recently active as spiritual director of the St. Wolfgang seminary in Regensburg, the new auxiliary joins Bishop Rudlf Voderholzer and Auxiliary Bishop Reinhard Pappenberger. Bishop-elect Graf has been given the titular see of Inis Cathaig in Ireland, which fell vacant in July of 2013 when Bishop Frank Caggiano was appointed as bishop of Bridgeport.

spiritual-dr-josef-grafMsgr. Graf was raised and educated in and near Regensburg before studying theology in Rome, which is also where he was ordained in 1983. From 1984 to 1986 he worked in a parish in Regensburg, after which he returned to Rome for further studies. In 1990 he was promoted to doctor of theology, with a thesis on the theology of Gottlieb Söhngens (who also taught Joseph Ratzinger). Since 1989 he has been the spiritual director of the diocesan seminary, in addition to other pastoral activities. On the website of the seminary we read the following quote from the new bishop:

“The duty of a spiritual director has two sides. One of teaching and one of guidance. In the role of spiritual teacher I see myself as part of many events which take place in our house. Even more important is the so-called forum internum, in which I am available to the seminarians as conversation partner and spiritual guide and confessor. Part of this duty is that, contrary to the rector and vice-rector, I am not a supervisor of the students and therefore also not a part of the leadership of the house. Leadership is not what my duty is about, but guidance; not about making decisions, but helping in clarifying the paths of the seminarians own lives.”

Of course, being a bishop does entail some form of leadership, or rather responsibility, although a bishop is always called to be a servant. Not unlike a spiritual director then.

A date for the consecration is yet to beannounced,but according to Canon Law it has to be within three months after the announcement, so no later than 24 July.

The reason for requesting a second auxiliary bishop is the size of the Diocese of Regensburg, which stretches along the Czech border and is the largest in Bavaria. Established in 739, Regensburg, or Ratisbon as it is also often known, was a springboard for the evangelisation of the Bohemian, Moravian and Slovakian lands. Among the best-known former bishops of Regensburg are of course Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was bishop from 2002 to 2012, and Saint Albert the Great, bishop from 1260 to 1280.

A month before retirement, Archbishop Léonard in court

léonardA court in Liège has convicted Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of negligence in the face of complaints against an abusive priest, made known to him when he was bishop of Namur in the 1990s. The victim intially kept quiet about the years of sexual abuse he suffered, wanting to be a priest himself, but eventually did inform the Catholic Church. He had a long conversation with then-Bishop André-Mutien Léonard, but saw little follow-up. The priest in question was merely transferred. Only in 2001 did the victim go to court over the abuse and was eventually awarded 37,000 euros in damages, to be paid by the abusive priest. Archbishop Léonard was also charged in 2013, but not convicted because he wasn’t a bishop yet when the abuse took place and the victim had already been awarded damages. A subsequent appeal was successful, and Archbishop Léonard has now been ordered to pay an additional 10,000 euros in damages for having underestimated the seriousness of the abuse. Five percent of the victim’s disability is due to the archbishop’s inaction, the court judged.

This is the first time that a bishop in Belgium has been convicted for failing to act against sexual abuse by clergy. This case is all the more noticeable in light of the recent removal of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, two years after he was convicted of similarly failing to act (Bishop Finn waited overly long before reporting a priest who possessed child porn to the authorities). Archbishop Léonard will most likely not be facing such a removal as he turns 75 next month and will send his letter of resignation to the Holy Father. Another important difference in the two cases is that Archbishop Léonard was dealing with crimes which took place when the period of limitation had already ended.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Pope Francis in March of 2014, has recently been emphasising the accountability of bishops, and it may be expected that they will want to take a close look at this case. Ever since the sexual abuse crisis broke, and especially in the last five years, the Church does not hold to periods of limitation when it comes to sexual abuse by clergy.

I have no doubt that the archbishop will accept the verdict, nor do I suspect any ill will in his transfer of the abusive priest, but it is clear that it was a wrong decision (although we don’t know if the priest went on abusing elsewhere, that is not a risk that should ever be taken). And wrong decisions also have their consequences.

God’s voice – Bishop Bode on the realities of life

bode_purpur_240In an interview for Katholisch.de, the official Internet portal of the Catholic Church in Germany, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück expands upon his statement that the reality of life is a source of revelation and faith on the same level as Scripture and Tradition. Bishop Bode is one of the three German bishop delegates to the upcoming Synod of Bishops in the autumn, and his comments have been heavily criticised by lay commentators, brother bishops and even cardinals alike.

At the end of the interview, which covers the responses to the questionnaire sent to parishes and faithful, as well as the questions of marriage and other forms of long-term relationship, Bishop Bode discusses the gap between doctrine and the reality of life for most faithful. The Synod, he says, must find bridges to cross that gap, and simply confirming reality is not enough.

“Reality is not a source of revelation, and not even a source of faith for the “heart listening” to the people with their joys and hopes, their grief and their fears, but rather a voice of God, in which He makes a statement of His will, which can lead to deeper theological insights.”

In Scripture we read that were even two people are gathered in Christ’s name, Christ Himself is present, so it is a logical next step to consider the effects of Christ’s presence in such a gathering. I have the impression that that is what Bishop Bode wants to emphasise. These effects, this presence of the Lord can reveal things to us about the Lord and His plan for our lives. This is not on the same level as revealed truths that we find in Scripture and Tradition, but it must be seen through the lense of these.

By taking this approach in the discussions about marriage, family and sexuality, Bishop Bode does not differ too much from Pope Francis, who also emphasises the realities of the lives of faithful in dealing with all kinds of issues. And these realities are not something that must be ignored, since they are the starting point from which any solutions and answers must be reached. It is good to see if and how God speaks in these realities and hear His voice as we have come to know it in Scripture and the Tradition of ages.

Father goes viral – the Force is strong with this priest

Few priests have been the focus of so much media attention than Father Roderick Vonhögen in the past week. And it’s all positive too.

Following the release of the second teaser trailer of the upcoming seventh movie in the Star Wars series, Fr. Roderick, who is active in most social and regular media you can think of, decided to shoot a reaction video of his first viewing of the trailer.

First, here is the movie trailer (which, i must admit, had me grinnig broadly as well):

And here is Fr. Roderick’s reaction:

This video, which is by now approaching the 500,000 views, has been picked up and shared, to a flood of positive and enthusiastic responses, by sites like Buzzfeed and 9Gag, as well as Dutch and foreign television programs.

Fr. Roderick is working on a documentary on Star Wars and families, he writes on trideo.com. Why this priest’s fascination for a science fiction saga? Fr. Roderick explains:

“My passion for Star Wars, my media work and my presence on social networks has helped me to reach hundreds of thousands of people that I would otherwise never have met. In every Mass, I pray for them. I’m inspired by pope Francis, who asks us to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem most indifferent. If my goofy video has contributed a tiny little bit to the realization of that challenge, I’m a happy priest.”

Happy birtdhay to Father Benedict

Father Benedict, as he would have preferred to have been called instead of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, celebrates his 88th birthday today. It’s going to be a private affair, as usual, with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, visiting.

benedict

The retired Pope is doing well, according to his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in recent interviews: his mind as sharp as ever, although his legs have begun to give him trouble. Indoors he walks with a cane, outdoors with a walker. But at the age of 88, mortality is a topic that Father Benedict does not avoid. He has spoken about his own death several times with Msgr. Gänswein.

For now, however, we wish Benedict a happy birthday and all the blessings of the Lord for the future. May he live long in comfort, surrounded by those he loves, and aware of our gratitude for his prayer for us.

Fourteenth Station – Jesus is placed in the Tomb

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea… asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:38-40)

station14The thoughts of two followers of Jesus:

The bodies of those condemned to crucifixion were judged unworthy even of burial. Yet two men of standing, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were concerned to protect the body of Jesus.

“How fortunate for you and me” – Joseph tells us – “that we became disciples of Jesus! Before I was a secret disciple. But now I have found great courage. I even approached Pilate to obtain Jesus’ body. More than out of courage, I did it out of affection and joy. I am happy to have provided a new tomb hewn in the rock. To all of you I say: Love our Saviour!”

Nicodemus could well add: “I first met Jesus by night. From him I was invited to be born from above”. Only slowly did I come to understand his words. Now I am here to honour his body. I readily brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes. But in fact Jesus did much more for me: he brought new fragrance to my life!”.

The thoughts of Mary:

“John stood close to me. Beneath the cross my faith was sorely tried. As in Bethlehem and then in Nazareth, now once more I ponder these things in silence. I have put my trust in God. My hope, the hope of a mother, is not spent. You too need to trust! For all of you I implore the grace of a strong faith. And for those experiencing dark days, consolation”.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, sometimes we can do only do what seems to us to be too little, too late. Your followers left You in Your tie of agony, but they returned to do what they could to honour You with a proper burial.May we see that, no matter how small it seems to us, our efforts to help others have value and are worth doing. May we also do those things with hope in our hearts, looking forward to Your return.