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