2013 – the great German turnaround

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.

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700On 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.

meisnerThese 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: [1] Hartmut W. Schmidt, [2] Harald Tittel (c) dpa – Bildfunk

.catholic – a coup by the Church?

Digibron1An article on RD.nl by Reformed minister Dr. Hans Kronenburg (pictured) challenges the efforts by the Catholic Church to register the domain name extension .catholic. He identifies it as “nothing but a conscious or subconscious digital coup”. From a Protestant point of view he is absolutely right, but from a Catholic one he couldn’t be more wrong.

The .catholic extension, if granted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory body responsible for these things, would be allowed to be used only by institutions, groups, individuals and societies which are in good standing with the Catholic Church. Basically, the Church will have the final say if any group or person may use the extension. This would, of course, offer some control over the Catholic ‘brand’. It offers some surety that a website using the extension .catholic is, in fact, that. There are, after all, some responsibilities that come with calling yourself ‘Catholic’.

What are the problems that Dr. Kronenburg has with what he calls a coup or power grab by the Church? The core of the problem is as follows, in his own words, translated by me:

“It is the same old song again: a church which forms just one branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, namely the Roman Catholic, appropriates something that belongs to the church of Christ as a whole, as it is confessed in the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople (381).”

He also shares and agrees with three points of the complaint lodged with ICANN by Saudi Arabia (of all nations). 1) The church claims the name Catholic, while other churches do likewise, 2) Ecumenically speaking, it is not done to give one church control over the name ‘catholic’ when it is not authorised to do so by other churches, and 3) there are questions about the ‘catholicity’ of the Catholic Church, since she alone considers herself fully Catholic. That is not universal, but sectarian. According to Dr. Kronenburg.

Generally, it is easy to agree with at least the first point above. There is a problem when multiple churches, rightly or wrongly, claim to be catholic. In their own understanding, if not that of the Catholic Church, they are catholic.

Points two and three are, frankly, nonsensical. Ecumenism, as mentioned in point two, is about finding common ground and a growth towards unity in the one Church of Christ. It is pertinently not about changing identities, which is what happens if one church is told by another what she can or can not call herself. Point three is very much related to the understanding of the term ‘Catholic’, and that is the very core of the problem, as I mentioned above.

Catholic is a term that indicates the universality of the Church, in both time and space. Jesus Christ established His Church, which is composed of all the faithful and which has a clear structure. Here is where the Catholic and Protestant understanding depart: The unity and universality of the Church is made visible in the form she takes here and now. Christ established a Church composed of faithful, certainly, but also gave them shepherds and means to exercise authority. Over time, but fairly soon, that has coalesced into the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. In various ways, the Protestant church communities, but also the Orthodox Churches, which have remained close to us in other ways, have departed from this structure. The Protestant church communities are Catholic in that they share our faith in many ways. There are also basic differences, to the detriment of their claim of ‘catholicity’. The Catholic Church is truly Catholic in that she has not only kept the faith in Christ, but also the unity, both invisibly and very visibly, that Christ prayed for.

Dr. Kronenburg’s claim that the Catholic Church is just one branch of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Creed is therefore not true. If she was a branch, she would have been at most a variation on one basic trunk: the faith that Christ gave us. There would be only negligible differences with the other branches. The problem is that these differences are not negligible. Dr. Kronenburg’s own Reformed Church, for example, does not constitute a different branch, but a different trunk of the same tree altogether. The faith of the different churches and church communities may share similarities, but they are by no means equal. To claim that is to neglect the major differences in teaching, understanding and faith that still exist.

And besides all this, there is the logic of domain name extensions. A Protestant website using the extension .catholic would be rather confusing. Even an Orthodox website ending in .catholic, which would have a better claim to the name, would cause confusion.

Photo credit: RD, Anton Dommerholt