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.

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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.