“The freedom to commit myself” – Archbishop Heße on marriage and fatherhood

Portrait_Hesse_webThere are many eyes on the German bishops in the runup to the Synod of Bishops assembly in autumn. Their ideas about family, marriage and related topics has been much discussed and criticised. Today I came across an interview with the archbishop of Hamburg Msgr. Stefan Heße. Journalist Norbert Vojta is not overly familiar with the Catholic Church and has managed to craft an honest and open interview with the archbishop, which delves into various topics, from Pentecost and the Holy Spirit to the archbishop’s football team preferences (he has none) and hobbies (classical music). From some questions on celibacy, Archbishop Heße moves to the topic of marriage, which I share in translation here:

“I believe that freedom does not consist of me leaving everything open and free and undertermined, but instead, that I choose and commit myself. Analogously, that is also the case in marriage. […] I can’t permanently keep all options open, but I am only happy when I can concretely commit myself to someone.”

“In our understanding, I can not get a divorce. Marriage exists until death separates the spouses. The idea is that I give myself fully and completely to a person and trust him or her fully and completely. That is a magnificent undertaking. I am happy that my parents are able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Of course, I also know that marriages do fail.”

Does the archbishop have no wish to be married and have children?

“I can imagine myself as a father. In all honesty, that was a topic during my studies.That was very clearly a question I had to ask myself.”

“For me it is a comfort that I can also see myself as a husband or father. I would have found it harder if I had told myself, well, you’re unsuited to be a father or husband, so you may as well be a priest.”

Among the bishops, three big events

A noteable day for the German episcopate yesterday as three major life events occured.

First, there was the news of the death of Bishop Manfred Müller, bishop emeritus of Regensburg. The 88-year-old prelate had been bishop of the southern diocese from 1982 to 2002, when he was succeeded by now-Cardinal Gerhard Müller (no relation). Bishop Müller led the commission for education in the German Bishops’ Conference, and after his retirement he lived in Mallersdorf monastery, which is where he died yesterday morning.

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^Bishop Müller launches the website of the Diocese of regensburg, in this photo from 2001.

Later on the same day, which was his 75th birthday, Bishop Norbert Werbs, auxiliary bishop of Hamburg, saw the acceptance of his resignation. Bishop Werbs was the longest-serving auxiliary bishop of Germany, first for the Catholics in Schwerin, then nominally part of the Diocese of Osnabrück although it lay in Communist East Germany, and since 1994 in the restored Archdiocese of Hamburg. He remains a keen photographer and amateur engineer, wont to repair his own car when it breaks down.

norbert werbs^ A keen photographer, Bishop Werbs is the subject of an extensive photo gallery  on the occasion of his 75th birthday.

Lastly, yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the ordination of Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau. Still one of the younger bishops in the country, the archbishop was ordained with 22 other priests in 1990. Yesterday, he stated in a homily to mark the anniversary:

silbernespriesterjubilaeum_1386_quer burger“To not be confused, remaining true to the Good News of the Lord, to hold fast to the fact that He is the way, the truth and the life for us, that is also the commandment of the day, for the present time…

25 years ago we did not step forward to proclaim the failures of man and Church, but this Word that goes out from the Father and which is Christ Himself.

Structures are subject to the progression of time, but the love of Christ isn’t, His message isn’t, and therefore the nature of the Church is ultimately unchangeable”.

Be a priest and see the world

burasPriests usually go where they are called, but in the case of Father Dariusz Buras that is a bit further than most. The Polish priest of the Diocese of Tarnów was appointed as Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau in Kazakhstan on Friday, but this is just another new home away from home for him.

Most recently working as a priest in Oslo, Norway, Fr. Buras was ordained and worked in the Diocese of Tarnów, but after two years he relocated to Ternopil in Ukraine to work as a missionary priest. In 2006 he headed further east, to Atyrau in western Kazakhstan. In the academic year 2006-2007 he was spiritual counselor for the seminary of the Diocese of Karaganda, also in Kazakhstan. He then returned to Poland to fulfill the same duties in the missionary formation centre in Warsaw, at which time he also earned a licentiate in spiritual theology at Warsaw’s Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. In 2010 he went to Oslo, where he was attached to the cathedral parish and was responsible for the permanent formation of priests from Tarnów working in Norway. Later this month, he returns to Atyrau, to take on the duties of a bishop without actually being one. The mostly Muslim area is home to 2,000 Catholics and seven priests.

Fr. Buras’ missionary work stems from Pope Pius XII’s 1957 Encyclical Fidei Donum, which urged bishops to make priests available to mission territories. These priests remained incardinated in their home dioceses and would often return after several years. A local example of such a priest is Bishop Jan de Brie, retired auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, who did mission work in Brazil in the 1970s.

German bishops stand for frank and faithful words

bischof-oster-passau-124~_v-img__16__9__xl_-d31c35f8186ebeb80b0cd843a7c267a0e0c81647Just to show that not all German bishops  intent on upending all Catholic teaching, as some media would have us believe, here is a translation of a letter sent by five bishops to the bishop of Passau, msgr. Stefan Oster, after the latter criticised the call from the Central Committee of German Catholics (the ZdK) to start blessing same-sex relationships as well as new relationships of divorced Catholics. The ZdK is a lay movement recognised by the Bishops’ Conference to promote the lay apostolate in the Church. Bishop Oster criticised their proposal by pointing out the Biblical basis of marriage and the understanding of Biblical revelation. He also pointed out that the “use” of Pope Francis to support the calls for change has no basis in reality.

“Honourable Lord Bishop Oster, Dear Brother Stefan,

Wethank you for taking position against the proposal presented at the ZdK’s spring assembly, titled “Building bridges between doctrine and life – Family and Church in the modern world”. Weagree woleheartedly with your remarks on the teaching about the Christian view of humanity regarding the importance for man- and womanhood, and especially its importance regarding Christian marriage, based as it is on the teaching of Jesus in Scripture and the Tradition of the Church.

In German we are living in a strongly secularised society. This situation should not discourage us or make us want to adapt to the opinion of the majority, but it should be seen as an opportunity to rediscover the unique nature of the Christian vocation in today’s world. A frank and faithful proclamation of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel and the development of a relationship with Him as the richness of our lives, as you have undertaken in your repy, are an essential prerequisite.

We are convinced that many faithful are also very grateful for your frank words.

In fraternal solidarity, the bishops of:

Augsburg: Dr. Konrad Zdarsa
Eichstätt: Gregor M. Hanke OSB
Görlitz: Wolfgang Ipolt
Regensburg: Dr. Rudolf Voderholzer
Würzburg: Dr. Friedhelm Hofmann”

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.

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.

A cardinal in name alone

cardinal o'brienPope Francis yesterday took the unusual and rare step of remoing a cardinal’s rights and duties, and on the cardinal’s own request. Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, retired archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh asked for the removal of all his rights and duties in the wake of a report about the accusations of sexual abuse against him which appeared several years ago. In 2013 this was also reason for him to retire as archbishop and not to attend the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

There was some confusion as to whether Cardinal O’Brien was still a cardinal, but it would appear that he remains one by name only. He no longer has any duties in the Curia (he was a member of the Pontifical Councils for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples; for Social Communications; and for the Family), including the right to attend and vote in future conclaves (although, being 77, the chances of Cardinal O’Brien taking part in the election of a new Pope were slim anyway), or to attend any future consistories. Gcatholic.org also indicates that he has lost his title church, Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.

Cardinal O’Brien is not the first cardinal to have lost his rights and priviles that come with the red hat, although it hasn’t happened since 1911, when French Cardinal Louis Billot, who asked Pope Pius IX to accept his resignation as cardinal, allegedly since he supported the nationalist Action Française movement, which the Pope had condemned.

Other cardinals resigned their titles for rather different reasons. Intitially, back in the fifteenth century, a number of pseudocardinals (cardinals created by a pope who was not accepted as legitimate) lost heir titles for supporting an antipope. Other cardinals wanted to lead a simple life of solitude, mostly in a monastery or other form of religious life. The most recent example of this is Carlo Odescalchi, who resigned because he wanted to enter the Jesuit Order. He did so in 1838, three years before his death.

A more secular reason for cardinals to resign was, since they often came from the nobility, the fact that their families had no male heirs. In 1807, Cardinal Marino Carafa di Belvedere resigned for this reason, became the prince of Acquaviva and married.

Political reasons could also lead to cardinals resigning. In 1788, Pope Pius VI made Étienne-Charles de Loménie de Brienne a cardinal, but the latter never went to Rome to accept his red hat and title. He later accepted the terms imposed by the French revolutionairy government. The Pope severely rebuked him for his disloyalty, after which Cardinal de Loménie de Brienne resigned. In 1793 he was jailed, and he renounced his faith for fear of his own safety.

Other cardinal resigned or even refused to be created cardinal since they considered themselves unworthy of the honour or simply too old.

The reasons for cardinals to resign have been varied, but Cardinal O’Brien’s case remains unique in that he has been allowed to keep his title, even if he has lost everything that comes with it.