New bishops in summer

Everything, including the Church, slows down over summer. As a result, there are few appointments and consecrations of bishops in August. Nonetheless, Germany gained two of them: Msgr. Peter Kohlgraf was consecrated as bishop of Mainz on 27 August and Msgr. Franz Josef Gebert became the third auxiliary bishop of Trier last Sunday.

These two consecrations fill out the roster of German bishops: there are no vacant sees or auxiliary bishop positions among the 28 (arch)dioceses in the country. This, however, is not a situation that will continue for long: Würzburg’s Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann is already 75, while Hildesheim’s Bishop Norbert Trelle reached that age today. Both dioceses can therefore expect a new bishop relatively soon (barring any exceptional circumstances, such as in the Austrian diocese of Innsbruck, which has been awaiting a new bishop since November of 2015).

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^Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, flanked by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Stephan Burger and Cardinal Rainer Woelki, greets people gathered after his consecration.

Bishop Kohlgraf is the successor of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who headed the Diocese of Mainz for 33 years until his retirement in May of 2016. It is a public secret that the cardinal had wanted his auxiliary Bishop Udo Markus Bentz to succeed him, but the latter’s appointment as Bishop Kohlgraf’s vicar general can be seen as a form of continuity with the Lehmann era. The previous vicar general, and diocesan administrator during the year-long sede vacante, Msgr. Dietmar Giebelmann, has been appointed as episcopal vicar for, among others, migration and integration, thus indicating some of the initial points of focus of the new bishop.

Bishop Franz Gebert was appointed to fill the position left by Bishop Helmut Dieser, who was appointed as Bishop of Aachen in September of last year. Like other German dioceses, Trier has a standard number of auxiliary bishops, in this case three, as episcopal vicars for individual pastoral areas are made bishops as a rule. Bishop Gebert headed the diocesan charity office before his appointment as auxiliary bishop, and will continue in that role as episcopal vicar for the caritas. Additionally, he will be responsible for pastoral visitation in the Trier area on behalf of Bishop Stephan Ackermann.

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Bishop Franz Gebert (front row, second from right) poses with the other bishops hailing from the Diocese of Trier: front row: Leo Schwarz (auziliary bishop emeritus), Robert Brahm (auxiliary bishop), Stephan Ackermann (ordinary), Franz Gebert, Jörg Peters (uxiliary bishop), Alfred Kleinermeilert (auxiliary bishop emeritus). Back row: Helmut Dieser (bishop of Aachen), Felix Genn (bishop of Münster), Georg Bätzing (bishop of Limburg).

Photo credit: [1] Stefan Sämsmer, [2] Bistum Trier

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The middle ground between the cardinal and the Jesuit – the pastoral duty of the Church

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, published on Friday, is a clear-headed and factual explanation of how and why the Catholic Church relates to people with same-sex attraction the way she does, but also how she fails to relate to them. Because, like Fr. James Martin SJ says, to name but one person who looks at the issue somewhat differently than the Church as a whole does, there is room for improvement in this matter.

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There are two lines of thought to consider here which, I think, are represented pretty well by Cardinal Sarah and Father Martin respectively. On the one hand, there is the unchanging teaching, outlined by the cardinal in his article, taking seriously the message of Jesus Christ, who invites us to a high but achievable standard, to the fulfillment of our human potential and calling. On the other hand, there is the concern voiced by many people that the Church is harsh, even discriminatory in this teaching or, more often, in the way she translates it into daily practice. Fr. Martin often speaks about building bridges towards people with same-sex attraction, and Cardinal Sarah also acknowledges this when he says that the Church must “determine whether [she is] reaching out effectively to a group in need”.

BvUyZbwkI am not joining into the Catholic social media tradition of bashing either Cardinal Sarah or Father Martin for their positions or approach, even though I find myself agreeing with the Cardinal more. But that’s no excuse to attack anyone.

The Catholic teachings regarding sexuality, relationships and sin are well-developed and deserve to be taken seriously. The same is true for the pastoral obligations the Church – meaning all of us Catholics – has towards people who, for whatever reason, fail in living up to those teachings. We have no excuse to discriminate, express hate or loathing towards anyone. When people feel they are being hated or discriminated against, we must take their feelings seriously. In the first place by listening, followed by examining if we make a mistake, and if so, what mistake. Both Cardinal Sarah and Father Martin would agree with this, I believe.

If we take Jesus and His word, the foundation of the teachings of the Church, seriously, these must be the framework and basis of everything we say and do. Jesus would eat and speak with sinners – so should we. He would also explain what they should change in their lives. We are called to exercise that same respect. Father Martin says we should build a bridge – to sit and listen. Cardinal Sarah tells us to be rooted in the teachings of Christ – to admonish and teach. Both sitting and teaching are expressions of the respect due to every person.

Photo credit: [1] PA, [2] Fr. Martin on Twitter

Bishop Voderholzer’s remedy to dropping numbers

In a homily at the pilgrimage site of St. Anna Schäffer in Mindelstetten, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg addressed the recently released statistics regarding church attendance and such in the Catholic Church in Germany. He compares them to the equally disastrous numbers in the Lutheran church and explains that the standard liberal remedies of constantly wanting to change church and faith, and getting rid of perceived oppressive dogmas, is not the solution to the crisis.

According to Bishop Voderholzer, the numbers point out something else: an evaporation of faith. He also puts this into perspective, saying that the Lord never promised his followers to be a majority anywhere. Rather, he foresaw difficulties and opposition. So, depressing numbers should, in themselves, really not be a cause for us to give up.

1085557_m1w590q75v2214_PortrtbildBischof_2“Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Last Friday, the 21st of July, the statistics for the Catholic Churc and the Lutheran Church in Germany for the year 2016 were published. You will probably have heard a few things about it via radio and television or in the newspaper.

The outcome was not very surprising. Like before, the number of people leaving the Church are disconcertingly high, even when they have dropped by some 11 percent in the Catholic Church as compared to 2015. The number of baptisms has increased slightly, the number of marriages decreased soewhat. In Hamburg and Berlin the number of Catholics has grown, due to the influx of Catholic foreigners; but in general the number of Catholics is growing smaller.

Dear sisters and brothers, I do not want to bore you with numbers and statictics today, on the Anna Schäffer Day of Remembrance. But the public reactions to these numbers are noteworthy and lead us to look further.

As a remedy to turn these trends around and to preserve our social relevance we are continuously advised to – literally – “open up and rid ourselves of rigid conservative dogmas.”

In this case, these are:

Abolishing the celibacy of priests;

Removing the different tasks and appointments of men and women in the Church and admitting women into apostolic ministry;

Consenting to the demand of full legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage;

Admitting everyone to Communion, and so on.

You know the list of demands as well as I do.

Dear sisters and brothers! The problematic nature of this advice becomes clear with a quick glance at the statistics of the Lutheran church. If the application of the aforementioned pieces of advice would really be a way of improving the situation of the Church, flourishing life must be visible in the Lutheran church.

But what do the numbers say? More people leave the Lutheran church – and have done so, with the exception of 2014, for years – than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that in the Lutheran church these demands have all basically been fulfilled and all these alleged impediments to being church are no longer present. But this is generally ignored in public, even though the numbers were presented on the same day. Isn’t the reason that this is being ignored perhaps that it would reveal the blatant weakness, yes, the inconsistency and absurdity of this “good” advice to the Catholic Church?! Can one, in all seriousness, present the path of the Lutheran church as a remedy, when it is so often led to an even greater distance to the faith and the church? I say this without malice! I know Lutheran fellow Christians who completely agree with my assessment and who warn us Catholics not to make the same mistakes.

We must look much further in the whole debate. The statictics reveal a secularisation which has been progressing for years, a loss of church affiliation and lastly a decline in the substance of faith, an evaporation of the awareness of God. That is why we do not really have a shortage of priests, but a much more fundamental shortage of faith. The priest shortage is a symptom, like a fever. But the fever is not itself the disease, but it indicates the presence of an inflammation. I am certain: the fever of the priest shortage indicates the disease of lack of faith. As an aside, the Lutheran church has also long known the phantom of lack of priests, as there are too few young people who study theology and are willing to also put themselves professionally at the service of the Gospel; all this without celibacy and with the possibility for women to also assume the office of the priesthood! This should give us a sense of the true reasons for the lack of church adherence.

Dear sisters and brothers, come together at the grave of Saint Anna Schäffer! We all have the image and the fate of the Church at heart. But not in the sense that we belong to her as to a club whose public image and strength are the ultimate goal; but for the sake of the message and the sake of the people, for whose sake God became man in Jesus Christ. In the Church He takes us into service for His Gospel. The Lord did not promise us that we would always be the majority; rather, He predicted headwind and resistance.

For that reason we should not concern ourselves too much with numbers and statistics. What should concern us is that the Gospel can lighten up our environment, through our lives in faith. Everywhere where we overshadow the Gospel because of inattentiveness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness, we are called to convert and once more give the Lord space.

Instead of constantly changing the structures, also and especially the sacramental structures of the Church, instead of diluting the message of the Gospel and instead of proclaiming a light version of Jesus, evangelisation is called for, a saturation of society with the Spirit of Jesus. And the first and all-important step on that way is a daily striving towards holiness, the daily listening to God’s word and the willingness to begin the reform of the Church with myself. That is reformation: the renewal of faith, the restoration of the image of Christ which was engraved in us in Baptism and Confirmation. Where this is granted to us in God’s mercy, where we succeed in this, we will make the people of our time once again curious about the faith which supports us. And then we can also explain the hope that lives within us.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord! In the endeavours of evangelisation in our time Saint Anna Schäffer is in every aspect an example and also an advocate.

She wanted to devote her life to the mission abroad. But the Lord had destined her for the mission in her own country. Before becoming a comforter and source of joy in faith for many, she had to allow herself to be evangelised again, and radically so. Accepting her suffering as a partaking in the cross of Christ was anything but easy. Bedridden and with her gaze upon the cross she faced this process of inner healing and transformation. She so became a bright sign of God’s work, a messenger of faith to countless people and ultimately a saint of the Catholic Church.

And so we pray today for her intercession, that the Lord will grant each and everyone of us the grace to begin the reform of the Church in ourselves; that we muster the courage to lt ourselves be evangelised anew every day and in this way be prepared to serve the mission of the Church – for the salvation of humanity and the glory of the triune God, whose is the glory, today, every day and forever. Amen.”

75 years after his death, is the canonisation of Titus Brandsma any closer?

Blessed Titus BrandsmaOn this day in 1942, 75 years ago exactly, Dutch Carmelite priests Titus Brandsma died in the Dachau concentration camp. 22 years ago, in 1985, he was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II, and now, as his life and death are commemorated in his native Fryslân, as well as in Oss and Nijmegen, where he lived and worked, we may ask when he will be canonised.

The main thrust in that process, it turns out, comes from America, where, in 2004, a Carmelite priest was diagnosed with an advanced form of skin cancer. Members of his order in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as parishioners of St. Jude’s in that city, prayed for the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma for Father Michael Driscoll. After ten years of intermittent treatment and observation, Fr. Driscoll was dismissed by his doctors. He was clear of cancer cells.

In July of 2016 Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach opened the diocesan inquiry into the presumed miracle. Following this inquiry, in which all evidence, such as medical records, eyewitness accounts and testimonies will be collected and investigated, the case will advance to Rome, where the Congregation of Causes of Saints will once more look at the evidence and advise the Pope on whether a miracle has really occured and Blessed Titus Brandsma should be declared a saint.

Titus Brandsma was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis as one of several measures against the resistance of the Dutch Catholic Church, who protested the persecution of Jews and others in Germany and the countries they had occupied. His canonisation would underline the importance of free speech and the fight against hate, injustice and basic human dignity.

Politicising a funeral message

19884123_1597082450303992_1991844372893705580_nPope emeritus Benedict XVI’s message for the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, read out at said funeral by his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein (at right), has become the most discussed part of the impressive ceremony at Cologne cathedral. And it is a beautiful text, personal, full of fond memories of the late cardinal, outlining Cardinal Meisner as a prayeful man with a deep love for the sacraments, for the Eucharist Lord and for the Church of eastern Europe, but also as a passionate shepherd who found it hard to leave his office “at a time when the Church had a pressing need for shepherds who would oppose the dictatorship of the zeitgeist, fully resolved to act and think from a faith standpoint.”

The blogging bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, has a good translation of the Pope emeritus’ words. One line that has been highlighted from this has been the following:

“Yet I have been all the more impressed that in this last period of his life he learned to let go, and live increasingly from the conviction that the Lord does not leave his Church, even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck.”

Although it is a line deserving of attention, it has been abused by too many who wanted to see it as a judgement on the current affairs in the Church, and especially as a criticism against Pope Francis. In my opinion, this is does not do justice to either Benedict XVI’s intentions or Cardinal Meisner’s memory.

What should we take away from that line? That the the ship of the Church is about to be shipwrecked (the original German text speaks of ‘Kentern’ – capsizing)? Or is it that God does not leave His Church? Surely it is the last, as that was the conviction of Cardinal Meisner, one he increasingly learned to live from and be inspired by. Yes, in Germany, and Europe as a whole, the future of the Church does not seem rosy. That is a reality that Cardinal Meisner had to live with, but certainly not one that can be attributed to recent events alone. The papacy of Pope Francis hardly stood at the cradly of the decline. In his own papacy, from the very beginning even, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of it as well. No one would read the lines quoted as a criticism against his own papacy. Because it’s not, and neither is it aimed at what Francis does or fails to do. Rather, it serves as a realistic image of what Cardinal Meisner struggled with and how, towards the end of his life, he learned to live with it: by seeing and understanding that, no  matter how bleak things seem, the Lord does not abandon His Church. Not when Francis is Pope, and not when Benedict was.

This is a lesson to be learned from the life of Joachim Meisner, not a tool to put two Popes in opposition against one another.

EDIT: In Italian daily Il Giornale, Archbishop Gänswein commented today on the misuse of Benedict XVI’s words, saying that the Pope emeritus intended no criticism against Pope Francis. “The Pope emeritus was arbitrarily exploited with this sentence which alludes to nothing concrete,” the archbishop said. He also repeated that Pope Benedict XVI’s words were written on the request of Cardinal Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne.

Photo credit: Erzbistum Köln on Facebook

In new directive, Church ignores plight of coeliacs. Except it doesn’t.

eucharistIn a letter released yesterday by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Church once again emphasises what can and cannot be consecrated during Mass. In essence, the bread must be made of wheat and the wine must be real wine, with at least some fermentation having taking place. The bread, the Congregation explains, must also contain gluten, even if just a small amount “to obtain the confection of bread”.

Two things struck me in the reactions to this letter in (social) media. One, many assume these are new rules, and two, people with coeliac disease can’t receive Communion. Both assumptions are untrue.

As the authors of the letter emphasise, “the norms about the Eucharistic matter are given in can. 924 of the CIC and in numbers 319 – 323 of the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani and have already been explained in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by this Congregation (25 March 2004)”.  The regulation they now present anew are not new, but have been standardised in the Code of Canon Law and various instructions. This new letter is simply a reminder to bishops that bread must be bread and wine must be wine (and not cake and lemonade, for example) – after all, that is what Jesus used at the Last Supper, and He specifically follow His example.

People who suffer from coeliac disease, and who are therefore unable to digest gluten, are in no way barred from receiving Communion. In many cases, they can receive bread with a small amount of gluten, and for those who can’t, it is perfectly possible to receive only the Blood of Christ. He is, after all, completely present in both bread and wine.

It is a shame, if not unexpected, that media outlets take this letter and present it as something it is not, ie. as something new instead of a reminder of established regulations.

Cardinal Meisner’s spiritual testament

In 2011 Joachim Cardinal Meisner wrote his spiritual testament. Cardinal Woelki read it out in the memorial Vespers on Wednesday evening. Below is my translation of the original German text.

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“Dear brothers in spiritual service,
Dear coworkers in pastoral care and charity,
Dear sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese of Cologne,
Dear friends and family!

Like all people, I do not know day or hour, nor the manner and place of my death. That is why I want to write down a final word to you all now, which will then be read out at the right time. It will mainly be a final world in this world for you to Jesus Christ.

Dear Jesus Christ,
You are the word through which everything came into being. I thank you, that you have wanted me and thus assured my existence. Your word accompanied me in life and led me to your care for the world and people. That is why I became a priest and bishop, marked and consecrated by your wounds. It is one of the most astonishing things in my life, that you have used me at your cross and honoured me with your passion. Because of your love for the world, your heart, hands and feet were pierced. You touched me with your cross out of love for the people. You allowed me to be your priest and your bishop. That is why, especially in dying, I want to praise the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which joy came into the world.

In the Liturgy of the Hours I expressly testify and confess with our priests:

“Christ, divine Lord,
he loves you who has but strength to love:
unknowing, he who does not know you;
with longing, he who does.

Christ, you are my hope,
my peace, my happiness, all my life.
Christ, my spirit seeks you,
Christ, I adore you.

Christ, I cling to you
with all the power of my soul;
You, Lord, alone I love,
I seek you, I follow after you.”

In this joy, I desired to serve all in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Our bishop’s city of Cologne holds the honorary title of “Sancta Colonia Dei Gratia Romanae Ecclesiae Fidelis Filia” (Holy Cologne, through God’s mercy the faithful daughter of the Roman Church). In my episcopal service I tried to honour this distinction. Christ has established the Petrine ministry in the Church, to give direction and support to the many peoples in their time. This is my last request to you all for the sake of your salvation: Stand by our Holy Father. He is today’s Peter. Follow his directions. Listen to his words. Peter does not want anything for himself, but everything for the Lord and for his sisters and brothers.

You all know that my life encompassed three social systems: twelve years of Hitler’s Reich, forty-four years of Communist rule and now more than twenty years of free democracy. In all three eras of my life the service of the Pope has always given me direction, encouragement and support. Always hold on to the Pope and you will not lose Christ!

I do not desire the mercy granted to the Apostle John, nor the forgiveness you gave Peter, but only that which you granted on the cross to the thief, I beg: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).”

Photo credit: KNA