A long wait for Erfurt

Cologne may have been given a new archbishop only four months after the retirement of its previous archbishop, this latest appointment does not do anything to decrease the number of vacant sees in Germany. Cologne is off the list, but Berlin is back on it, only three years after it last appeared.

vacant sees in Germany

Indicated in the above map, joining Berlin are Hamburg in the north, and Limburg and Erfurt in central Germany. While the former two have been vacant for only four months, Erfurt stands out. It has been 19 months since Bishop Joachim Wanke retired for health reasons, and to all appearances, Erfurt has been passed over several times. Of course, reality is different, as the needs of one diocese are not necessarily the same as another, and a bishop who may be a good fit for one diocese, need not be so for another.

HaukeReinhard130In his congratulatory message for Cardinal Woelki’s new appointment, Bishop Reinhard Hauke (pictured), auxiliary bishop and Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt, notes: “And I pray and hope that the remaining vacant dioceses in Germany may also soon be able to rejoice about the appointment of a new bishop. Certainly we in the Diocese of Erfurt have been waiting for a long time.” In western Europe, only the Diocese of Leeds has been vacant for longer.

The expectation is that Hamburg won’t get a new archbishop before the year is over, and Limburg is a special case in itself. The selection of its new bishop will be a careful one. Berlin is only getting started with the entire process, but Erfurt has been waiting long enough, it would seem. The next new bishop in Germany should be going to Erfurt.

For Cologne, it’s 1988 all over again – Woelki comes home

Far earlier than anyone expected, and even before Erfurt, which has been vacant for 18 months, Cologne is given a new archbishop. Succeeding Cardinal Meisner, who retired in February, is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, until today the archbishop of Berlin.

woelkiA native son of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki was a priest and auxiliary bishop of that ancient see until he was appointed to Berlin almost exactly three years ago. This German-language video profile of the cardinal gives a hint of why Pope Francis chose him to head Cologne. Responsible for the caritas of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Woelki explains that the care for the poor is one of the three pillars of our faith, next to proclaimation and worship.

“A church without caritas, without diaconal ministry, is not the Church of Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

His parents having been refugees from eastern Prussia after the war, Cardinal Woelki is especially sensitive to the plight of refugees. Himself a resident in the subburb of Wedding, where his neighbours are mainly immigrants and labourers, Cardinal Woelki made an effort to meet with representatives of the Roma and other immigrant communities very soon after arriving in the German capital.

The new appointment, despite the generational differences, can be seen in continuity with Cardinal Meisner. Cardinal Woelki worked with Meisner as a priest and auxiliary bishop and is considered to be a confidant of the retired cardinal, whose personal secretary he was before being made a bishop. But Woelki also seems to be on a line with Pope Francis, as he emphasis the need for renewed pastoral approaches to homosexuals and remarried persons.

Like Meisner, Woelki is rumoured not to have been the choice of the cathedral chapter of Cologne, who had, it is said, put the names of diocesan administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier and Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen (the latter, like Woelki, also a former auxiliary bishop of Cologne) on the list they sent to Rome. But, as happened in Freiburg in April, the Pope used his freedom to choose another.

Cardinal Woelki is generally quite popular with faithful and media for his clarity and pastoral aptitude in the headline topics of sexuality and the position of women in the Church. Regarding the former he has said he doesn’t want to police the bedroom, and concerning the latter he has entrusted several offices and duties in the Archdiocese of Berlin to women. The Church can not be an exclusively male club, he has said, and at the same time he supports the impossibility of ordination of women. But, as always, there are also topics for which he has been criticised, and these mainly have to do with decisions made regarding the efficiency of managing the Archdiocese of Berlin. Parishes are being merged and united into larger bodies, as they are in more than a few Northwestern European dioceses, and this has led to criticism regarding democracy, influence from the ground up and the distance between curia and faithful. Whether this will be an issue in Cologne, which has some 2 million faithful compared to Berlin’s 400,000, remains to be seen.

Cardinal Meisner headed the archdiocese for 25 years, and since Cardinal Woelki is only 57, we may be looking at another lengthy and influential period in Cologne’s history.

Photo credit: dapd