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He led a diocese for less than four hours, but Bishop Manfred Melzer probably won’t lose any sleep over it. It is simply standard procedure in Cologne: as the archbishop retires, leadership of the archdiocese falls automatically to the most senior auxiliary bishop. Until, that is, the cathedral chapter has picked a diocesan administrator, and they didn’t take very long to do that. Vicar General Msgr. Stefan Heβe (pronounced “Hesse”) (pictured at right) runs the ongoing affairs of the archdiocese until Pope Francis confirms the election of a successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who retired today after 25 years, two months and a few days at the head of one of Germany’s oldest sees.
In 1988, Cardinal Meisner came to Cologne from Berlin, 14 months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Höffner. Today he becomes the first archbishop of Cologne in almost 129 years to retire, and he does so at the almost unprecedented age of 80. Cologne now joins three other German dioceses – Erfurt, Passau and Freiburg in Breisgau – which are also still awaiting a new bishop, in the case of the former two since October of 2012.
Cardinal Meisner leaves Cologne in the hands of diocesan administrator Msgr. Heβe, and Auxiliary Bishops Melzer, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The diocesan administrator now had the duty to collect an expansive report on the state of the archdiocese and send that to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In the meantime, the see of Cologne is Sede vacante nihil innovetur, in other words, while there is no new bishop, no changes may be made. In other respects, Msgr. Heβe has the same rights and duties as a diocesan bishop.
The Archdiocese of Cologne, or Köln as it is properly called, is the second oldest in Germany (only Trier is older), dating back to the year 200, and once dominated the western part of modern Germany as well as major parts of the Low Countries. The Dioceses of Roermond (Netherlands), Magdeburg, Aachen and Essen (Germany) and parts of Liège (Belgium) were at one time or another all part of Cologne.
The archbishops of Cologne were powerful men, in that rather German way that they were both spiritual and worldly leaders, being electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, while not the primatial see of Germany, Cologne remains important, being the largest diocese in number of faithful (some 2 million) and covering a significant part of the Industrial Ruhr area and including the major cities of Cologne, Bonn (former capital city of West Germany) and Düsseldorf. Cologne has produced 10 cardinals and 7 ordinaries who were declared saints.
Joachim Meisner was born on Christmas Day 1933, in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, but at the time the city of Breslau in Germany, which was rapidly falling into the clutches of the Nazis. Having lived through the war as a child and young teenager, Joachim Meisner ultimately became a priest of the Diocese of Fulda in 1962, days before his 29th birthday. In 1975, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, which has been established only two years before (tensions between communist East Germany and the Holy See meant that the former had almost no full-fledged dioceses). Bishop Meisner was also given the titular see of Vina. In 1980, he became the bishop of Berlin, which, because of the aforementioned tensions, was not yet an archdiocese. Bishop Meisner stayed there for eight years, being created a cardinal in 1983, before being called to Cologne in 1980 (a poster welcoming his arrival is pictured at left).
Coinciding with his retirement, Cardinal Meisner published his final Lenten letter, which is also a farewell to his archdiocese and the faithful for whom he was pastorally responsible. He concludes the letter as follows:
Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,
I was allowed to serve you as Archbishop of Cologne for a quarter of a century. I have always wanted to testify to the peace of God and bring this across to you, since it is the strength of our hope. I thank you once again from my heart for all the strength which I found in that and beg you all very much for your forgiveness when my service were not a source of strength, but perhaps a source of irritation. The Lord will complete everything which was only fragmentary in my service. I will remain – God willing – among you until the hour of my death and will now have more time to pray for you all, and bring all your concerns and hopes to the heart of God.
The all-powerful God bless you all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”
And now? The Archdiocese of Cologne has already started the process of selecting a new archbishop by appointing a diocesan administrator. Possible candidates will now be chosen by several entities, all according to the Concordat that the Holy See signed in 1929 with Prussia, the state of which Cologne was then a part. Among these entities are Archbishop Eterovic (pictured) as the Papal Nuncio; the bishops of the other dioceses which were part of Prussia: Aachen, Berlin, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Görlitz, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Trier; and the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The Nuncio will then collect all proposed candidates and will create a list of three candidates which he considers the best choices. This so-called terna will be added to the other proposals and sent to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will draft its own terna based on the information provided. The list will then go to the Pope, who will either confirm it, or make some changes of his own. Then, the list goes back to the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from final terna. Voting continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes (at least 8 out of 15). After three voting rounds, only the two candidates who got the most votes continue. If all candidates have five votes after the second round, only the two oldest candidates continue on. For the fourth round of voting a simple majority is sufficient. Do both candidates still have the same amount of votes, the oldest candidate is elected.
After a new archbishop is elected, the governments of the States of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz can voice political concerns against the elected. The Nuncio must seek and obtain the permission of the elected for this. Once the governments agree, the Pope officially appoints the new archbishop.
In the list of search terms that have led people to my blog I have been noticing a number of specific questions. I thought it might be interesting and useful to address some of them, and try and provide an answer. I have looked back over the past week and selected questions that are not too general, and have a clear answer.
1: Who is Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu? He is the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua since 12 November 2012. 52 years old, the native Nigerian was consecrated as a bishop in 6 January. Before his current position as the Holy See’s ambassador to the government and Church of Nicaragua, he was Head of Protocol at the Secretariat of State, and before that a priest of the Diocese of Aba in Nigeria. As an archbishop without a diocese of his own, he has been given the titular archdiocese of Aquaviva, which is located south of Bari in Italy.
2: How many Catholic Churches are under Diocese of Rotterdam? Encompassing virtually the entire Dutch province of Zuid-Holland, the Diocese of Rotterdam is the most densely populated of the Dutch dioceses. It is home to more than half a million Catholics, of whom about 8.6% are regular Churchgoers. Bishop Hans van den Hende has been the ordinary since 10 May 2011. The diocesan website states that there are 78 parishes and 7 parish federations in the diocese. As for the number of churches, we may assume that each parish has use of several churches.
3: How come Berlin’s cathedral chapter gets to elect its own bishop? Like all dioceses, the cathedral chapter of the Archdiocese of Berlin took over the day-to-day affairs of running the diocese after the previous archbishop, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, retired. They had the obligation to choose an Apostolic Administrator until a new archbishop was appointed. They also were to create a so-called terna, a list of three names which they sent to the Apostolic Nuncio. This list, with any additions and notes that the Nuncio added, was sent to Rome. Another terna came from the German Bishops’ Conference. These lists, and any other pertinent information, was then used by the Congregation for Bishops to supply a final list to the Pope, who then made his final choice. In that choice, the Pope had no obligation to actually select one of the names on the list. He could theoretically have chosen another priest to become archbishop of Berlin. Whether Cardinal Rainer Woelki, who was appointed on 2 July 2011, was on any of the ternae remains anyone’s guess.
The cathedral chapter, then, does not elect a bishop by itself, but it does have a say in the matter, and an important role in providing the necessary information by which a bishop is selected.
Three questions, hopefully with informative answers, to start with. More to come as they appear among the search terms.
In 2011, Cologne sent one of its auxiliary bishops to Berlin to become archbishop there. Today, history repeats itself as another of Cologne’s auxiliaries is appointed to head one of Berlin’s suffragan dioceses: Heiner Koch succeeds Joachim Reinelt as Bishop of Dresden-Meißen.
Dresden-Meißen, which covers virtually all of Saxony and eastern Thuringia and is home to some 140,000 Catholics, has been a vacant diocese since February of 2012 and with today’s appointment only Erfurt and Passau remain vacant among Germany’s 29 circumscriptions.
Bishop Koch was born in 1954 in Düsseldorf and ordained to the priesthood in 1980. Since 2006 he has been auxiliary bishop of Cologne, with the titular see of Ros Cré in Ireland. As priest he worked in pastoral care for both youth and adults, and he was also attached to the University of Düsseldorf as university chaplain. In 2002, he became vicar general of the Archdiocese of Cologne. As general secretary, he was responsibly for the organisation of the 2005 World Youth Day, which took place in Cologne.
Bishop Koch will be the 8th bishop of Dresden-Meißen since it was established as a diocese in 1921, and the 49th since this area of Saxony was first organised as an ecclesiastical territory. He will be installed on 16 March, in a Mass at Dresden’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. On 23 January there will be a press conference in which the new ordinary will be introduced.
Did Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki endorse same-sex relationships in a recent speech? Judging from some blogs’ jubilant reporting it would seem so. Translated, the cardinal seems to have said this:
“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationship.”
Little else to infer from that than that he indeed endorse gay relationships, or at least called them equal to heterosexual relationships. It’s a major turnaround for the archbishop who, upon his appointment to the German capital, was considered far too orthodox for the tastes of Berlin’s citizenry. But quotes without context are almost always worthless, especially when they seem to be so out of character for the speaker.
Rod Dreher, at The American Conservative, is one of the few to provide that context, in the form of a statement from Cardinal Woelki’s press secretary. He explained that the cardinal was arguing against the discrimination of homosexuals:
“Cardinal Woelki set long-term homosexual relationships in which two people have already made a life-long commitment to one another in relation to [certain] heterosexual relationships which indeed are not in any case “in [proper] Catholic order” (the unmarried, those lacking commitment, etc.). A comparison with sacramental marriage between man and wife was absolutely not the theme. [...] Sacramental marriage between man and woman retains its special role. I see no cause for confusion.”
The only cause for confusion comes in the way the cardinal’s words were reported by certain media. Here lies a task for all Catholics, clergy or laity, to be as clear and unequivocal as possible, exactly to avoid such confusion. On the other hand, even crystal clear explanations won’t stop certain writers from drawing the exactly opposite conclusion from what the speaker intended to say.
Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
With yesterday’s retirement of Bishop Joachim Reinelt the Berlin Church Province is close to completing a significant generational shift. For the first time since the province, which consists of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen, was established in its modern form in 1994*, a new generation of bishops is set to take over.
In July 2010, the bishop of Görlitz, Konrad Zdarsa, was moved to Augsburg, and he can be considered something of a transitional bishop, having helmed Görlitz for only three years. His predecessor, Bishop Rudolf Müller, had been Görlitz’s chief shepherd for almost 20 years. In June of last year, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt became the new bishop.
In February of last year, Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky retired as Archbishop of Berlin, making way for Rainer Maria Woelki to become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals as of three days ago.
And yesterday, Bishop Joachim Reinelt retired as the bishop of Dresden-Meiβen, a position he had held since 1988. He reached the obligatory retirement age of 75 in October, but, as these things go, the resignation he tendered then was only now accepted. Running the diocese now is 71-year-old vicar general Msgr. Michael Bautz, but the eventual new bishop may well be younger than that. The neighboring bishops, Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki and auxiliary Matthias Heinrich, and Görlitz’s Ipolt, are 55, 57 and 57 respectively.
The Diocese of Dresden-Meiβen covers the major part of Saxony and small parts of eastern Thuringia, and is centered around the cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Dresden and the co-cathedral of Saint Peter in Bautzen.
*On 27 June of that year, Berlin became a metropolitan archdiocese with Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen as its suffragan dioceses. Before that date, Görlitz had been an apostolic administration ever since it was split off from the Polish Archdiocese of Wroclaw in 1972, and Dresden-Meiβen had been immediately subject to the Holy See. A reflection of the status quo of post-war East Germany.
Photo credit: Lisa Boscheinen / Erzbistum Freiburg
With 5,496 views in December, 2011 closed off quite well when it comes to the traffic this blog received. For the third month in a row, it’s been well over 5,000. In the top 10 we find various topics, both positive and negative. Since the month’s been quite a ride, I am actually glad that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look:
1: The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?” 76
2: Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory 73
3: Het probleem Medjugorje & Communication problems, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say 50
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests & “By popular demand”, Bishop Punt’s excellent homily 47
5: The Dutch Church’s emotional storm 45
6: Homily at the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Jan Hendriks 44
7: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 37
8: The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg 34
9: O Adonai! 31
10: The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet 30
Naturally, when we look back at the whole of 2011, the numbers are higher, if a little lower than those for 2010. But that may be explained by the unusual peak of July 2010, which led to some 4,000 more visitors than 2011′s final tally of 59,496. The 2011 top 10 is nicely varied and includes a number of posts from the previous year. Here it is:
1: The Stations of the Cross 592
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 572
3: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 421
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests 406
5: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 292
6: Under the Roman Sky 273
7: Cardinals according to John Allen 268
8: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 258
9: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 254
10: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 233
In August of last year we welcomed the 100,000th visitor. The number now stands at 123,945. Who knows, maybe we’ll reach 200,000 in this year?
It’s been a good month, as the momentum of last month continued well into the first half of November. Some tweaks in the WordPress stats layout show me that search engines are the most important tools by which people find this blog – 1,120 this month alone. But much gratitude must also go to those blogs who link to me, first and foremost Rorate Caeli, who keep a keen eye on the developments in the traditional field in the Netherlands. 388 people came here via them this month. The sum total number of views in November was 5,868, and here are the 10 most popular posts:
- The weak case of the disobedient priests 328
- Celebrating five years at St. Agnes 142
- The elderly priest and the diocese – a simple case of right and wrong? 61
- The change the Church needs & Berlin is vacant – herald of things to come? 40
- An impression of a unique occasion 39
- Revelations trigger revelations- further developments around Bishop Cor Schilder & Het probleem Medjugorje 37
- “I was not I who gave you the breath of life” – death merchants at the door 36
- Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 35
- Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 33
- The first Advent letter of 2011 & Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese 29
It’s been a good month here at the blog. Evidently, there have been several topics which drew much interest, since, numbers-wise, this his been the second-best month since I began. There have been 6,343 views, breaking the record of May and June of this year, when the numbers came close to 6,000. Still, this last month saw only a quarter of the views of that crazy July of 2010.
The top 10 of best viewed posts contains many local topics: the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop and the San Salvator soap opera which came to a conclusion this month. Older topics also remained of interest, with the previous archbishop of Berlin, the late Cardinal Sterzinsky, seeing some renewed interest. Let’s have a look.
1: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 85
2: Bishop Mutsaerts vs San Salvator 67
3: A long expected appointment 58
4: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 53
5: Twittering Cardinal Ravasi now turns to blogging 51
6: Het probleem Medjugorje 49
7: Assisi 2011, the official announcement, Bishop decline Mariënburg proposal to Protestantise Dutch Church 46
8: The artificial opposition of faith and dogma 45
9: Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 44
10 All Saints Day 42
Last year all eyes were on Pope Benedict’s successful visit to the United Kingdom, and now we are at the brink of what I think could be an equally momentous visit: the first official state visit to Germany. And while 100 parliamentarians plan to be somewhere else than the Bundestag tomorrow (and Archbishop Zollitsch optimistically hopes they’ll give the pope’s address a good read afterwards), while protesters claim to be able to muster several tens of thousands to their cause (and the Holy Father is rumoured to have some trepidation because of that – not that it’ll keep him away from his native country), and while even Hans Küng is stirred from his slumbers to make some old-fashioned comments, many thousands of people from Germany and abroad eagerly await to papal shoes setting foot on the concrete of Berlin’s Tegel airport.
If the UK visit is anything to go by (and that remains to be seen), this visit certainly has the potential to stir things up and reinvigorate the German faithful and Church, and even those beyond. And what with Germany’s leading position in Europe, this visit is in many ways a visit to Europe as well. What the pope will say and do will have a bearing on Germany, but. I expect, no less on all Europeans, especially those in the secularised west. As the Holy Father said in his televised address three days ago: “[I]n these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.” The hearts and minds of the people of the secularised west must be reopened to God, so that He may become visible again in our lives. The visit will therefore be a missionary visit: like Saints Paul and Peter travelled to strengthen the faith of small Christian communities, so does the Successor of Peter visit the Christian communities, Catholic or not, of Germany this week.
For Archbishop Rainer Woelki, installed less than a month ago as Berlin’s ninth bishop (and second archbishop), this will the big event he never had the time to prepare for, and the one his predecessor, Cardinal Sterzinsky, had hoped he would live long enough to see. But Archbishop Woelki, who will welcome the pope upon his arrival in Berlin tomorrow, will be used to the rocky start of his heading the Church of Berlin; one day after his own installation, he was called upon to consecrate new Bishop Ipolt of Görlitz, one of Berlin’s two suffragan dioceses. Having the pope come for a visit will perhaps be something of a matter of course now. Although his joy, his awe and his desire to impress the magnitude of this occasion on the people of Berlin do shine through in a letter which was read in all churches of the archdiocese this weekend.
And it is a momentous occasion. For the pope, certainly, who has few chances to visit the country where he grew up and which he clearly loves. But also for the Church in Germany, for the people of all faiths and also for the political world in and beyond Germany. The pope comes as a head of state, certainly. He was invited as such by the federal president. But the pope can never be just a head of state. He also comes as the Successor of Peter as the visible head under which all Catholic faithful are united, as the man to whom Christ Himself entrusted the care of His Church in these times. We do well to give him our ear and our mind, and pay loving attention to what the Holy Father will teach and express in the coming days.
Because, as the motto of this papal visit says, Where God is, is the Future!
Photo credit:  Reuters/Tobias Schwarz ,  Sean Gallup/Getty Images