Head of the Dutch bishops meets the Pope – some speculations about how the Church fights abuse

Although no details have emerged about yesterday’s private audience of Bishop Hans van den Hende and Dr. Wim Deetman with Pope Francis, the mere names of the participants make it virtually impossible to not conclude that the abuse crisis must have been at the heart of the encounter.

DSC_2699_31481e79b67ab70c5ca711c62299f166Bishop van den Hende (at right) is the bishop of Rotterdam and the president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and, as such, will take part in February’s meeting in Rome with all the heads of the world’s bishops’ conference to discuss the abuse crisis and formulate a unified response. Dr. Deetman, former education minister and mayor of The Hague, headed the investigation into historical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church on behalf of the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious.

A recent study by the Dutch Broadcast Foundation (NOS) reveals that, in the seen years since the publication of the Deetman Commission’s conclusions, there have been 103 background checks on priests who were under consideration of being transferred or appointed in one of the Dutch dioceses. In one case a bishop blocked such a transfer or appointment because of past abuse claims against the priest involved. Similarly, a further 46 claims of “unacceptable behaviour” have been made since 2015, eight of which involved sexually unacceptable behaviour committed after the publication of the Deetman report. These all involved adults, not minors, and three of the claims are still under investigation. Two of the claims involve an unnamed religious movement which does not fall under the authority of a bishop and is also not a member of the Conference of Dutch Religious. An unidentified auxiliary bishop has informed the Vatican and the police about the movement and the claims against them, as well as his own bishop, who is keeping an eye on the developing situation.

Also interesting in light of the private audience is a letter sent to the participants in the meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church”, scheduled to take place from 21 to 24 February. The letter, issued by the organising committee consisting of Cardinals Cupich and Gracias, Archbishop Scicluna and Father Zollner, emphasised that “Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.” The authors urge the Conference presidents to reach out to and meet with victims before the meeting, something which the Dutch bishops, as well as bishops from other countries, have been doing over the last few years. In other countries, however, this is something new.* The letter concludes: “[E]ach of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable.”

As said, it will probably remain unknown what Bishop van den Hende and Dr. Deetman discussed with the Pope, unless one of them chooses to reveal something, but if the abuse crisis was discussed, perhaps the actions of the Dutch bishops, which can be an example of correct policies, not just for the Church, but for society as a whole, will influence the preparations of the February meeting in a constructive and positive way.

* A recent development from the Archdiocese of Cologne comes to mind, where a priest from Cameroon had been working among the French-speaking faithful. This despite the fact that he had been laicised in his home diocese. However, for his work abroad, his bishop is said to have issued letters confirming his good standing… The exact details remain unclear. The laicisation is aid to have taken place in 2013, and there is talk of an emeritus bishop of the Archdiocese of Bertoua having provided credentials to the former priest. The only living emeritus archbishop of that see is Belgian-born Roger Pirenne, who retired in 2009. Why credentials were seemingly issued by a retired bishop, instead of current Archbishop Joseph Atanga, remains unclear. It is clear, however, that the abuse issues is not yet being taken seriously in all parts of the world. Let’s hope that the February meeting can do something to change that.

Photo credit: KN/Jan Peeters

Advertisements

25 years in, Bishop Hofmann leaves the seat of Würzburg

ba5a6005As announced by the Nuncio yesterday, the retirement of Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann will begin today. The bishop of Würzburg, who celebrated his 75th birthday in May, has been at the helm of the diocese for 13 years.

The announcement of the upcoming retirement was made on Sunday when the bishop and diocese celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop. Before coming to Würzburg in 2004, Bishop Hofmann served as an auxiliary bishop of Cologne for 12 years.

The silver jubilee of his ordination as bishop was thus also an opportunity to thank Msgr. Hofmann for his service. Numerous bishops from Germany and abroad had come to concelebrate, among them Cardinals Reinhard Marx and Friedrich Wetter, from Munich both, Archbishop Piero Marini, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, the previous nuncio to Germany, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich from Luxembourg, Bishop John Ndimbo from Mbinga in Tanzania and Bishop Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann from Óbidos in Brazil, both partner dioceses of Würzburg.

In contrast with the expressions of appreciation and gratitude for his work, from brother bishops as well as the local Lutheran bishop and the president of the Bavarian parliament, Bishop Hofmann rather more critical in his homily. Looking back on the past 25 years, he noted how the problems in society had not improved. “On the contrary, the problems became more acute and new challenges have arisen”. Examples mentioned by the bishop were the cries in the world leading to increasing streams of refugees, the increase in religiously motivated extremism, and the ethical challenges of genetic research. How can this be compatible with God’s love for us? Referring to his motto, “Ave crux, spes unica“, Bishop Hofmann said, “What may seem to us as the ultimate humiliation, is for Jesus the rising and entrance into the glory of the Father. This belief shakes us up and presupposes knowledge of the fullness of our salvation.”

In a recent interview for the Tagespost, Bishop Hofmann looked ahead to his retirement, saying:

“I am aware that I am taking a step back. I will not interfere in how my successor executes his office. I have decided that for myself. My predecessor, Bishop Scheele, did the same thing. But I am willing to help out when I am asked, for examples with confirmations. I will continue living in Würzburg.”

Said interview also contains a number of comments from Bishop Hofmann on a number of topics, comments which show that, in many respects, this is a bishop with his head screwed on right.

On same-sex marriage, promoted in Germany by the “Ehe für alle” (marriage for all) initiative, he says:

“The so-called “Ehe für alle” is, in my opinion, a catastrophe for society. Marriage is a God-willed union of man and woman, which is open to the generation of new life. An “Ehe für alle” is therefore impossible according to Catholic understanding.  Pointing this out is not remotely the same as attacking or discriminating homosexual people”.\

About the presence of Muslim immigrants (and often second- and third-generation Muslims) in German society, which in the basis remains a Christian society:

“It should be clear: when Muslims come to us and want to live here, they must accept our social rules. But for me as a Christian, the Islam is not a challenge. It is rather the failing of Christianity that we should fear. We must speak with Muslims on equal footing. We must make it clear to them that basic civilian advances such as the Charter of the United Nations of the Basic Law of Germany are based on Christian ethics. We must inform them that their freedom and wellbeing also depend on the continued existence of that Christian foundation.”

The shortage of priests is also felt in Würzburg. The number of young men knocking on seminary doors is small. Bishop Hofmann points out several reasons for this.

“These days, young men often no longer come from a Christian family. When God is not mentioned at home, when there is no prayer, it is difficult to arrive at the thought to go this path. Secondly, young people have a fear of commitment. This can also be seen with marriage. People no longer want to commit themselves to one person for their entire lives. That obviously makes celibacy a major hurdle, which many cannot overcome, although they may certainly be suitable for the priesthood. And then there is the great pressure of expectation on the priest from the community. Many priests experience this. Young people then wonder if they want to do that to themselves.”

Another hot-button topic is the question of ordaining women to the priesthood. Bishop Hofmann has something to say about that, and about celibacy and the ordination of married men, too.

“The ordination of women is not possible. The priest, after all, represents Christ and must therefore be a man. The Church has no leeway there. This is a different question than that of celibacy. I consider celibacy to be a very important concept. In it, the Church makes clear that she is not a great worldly concern, but is built on a different foundation. But there have always been married priests as well in our Church, for example in the Uniate churches or converts. It is therefore possible to discuss the question of the viri probati. But this discussion should not be held in such a way that one speaks ill of celibacy and considers it superfluous. It can only be about ordaining proven men, for example deacons, who have shown themselves capable of ecclesiastical service as married men. Such a step can only be made in unity with the word Church. The pope is certainly open to thinking in this direction, but at the same time he is not one who wants to rip the Church from her foundations.”

The Church in Germany is among the richest in the world. In the past, Pope Benedict XVI, himself a German, has been very critical about the wealth of the Church. Bishop Hofmann says:

“Pope Benedict was completely right. In Germany, we are a rich Church. But in the face of the needs of the world I often wonder myself if all the reserves that we are building are justified, or if we shouldn’t give that money to the poor and hungry.”

Finally, Bishop Hofmann greatly respects the retired pope, and the way that he is sometimes discussed is a discgrace.

“Pope Benedict is one of the greatest theologians to have occupied the seat of Peter. He has given the world so much that is positive and important, in word and deed. It is a tragedy that we haven’t always positively accepted this in Germany. But I am convinced that in 20, 30 years Pope Benedict will find new listeners as a Doctor of the Church of the modern age.”

232px-Karte_Bistum_WürzburgWürzburg is the second diocese, after Hildesheim, to fall vacant after a brief spell in which every German diocese had a bishop at its head. When the retirement of Bishop Hofmann begins, at noon today, auxiliary bishop Ulrich Boom will be in charge until the cathedral chapter has chosen an administrator to oversee current affairs until a new bishop has been appointed. Würzburg is the northernmost diocese in Bavaria and a part of the Church province of Bamberg.

Photo credit: Markus Hauck (POW)

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.

131108-93-000110_0

“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

On the death of Cardinal Meisner

Cardeal-Joachim-MeisnerUnexpected and sad new from Cologne this morning. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of that see from 1988 to 2014, passed away this morning while on holiday in Bad Füssing, near Passau. The Pretiosa bell of Cologne cathedral just completed 15 minutes of tolling to mark the death of the cardinal, who passed away peacefully, according to a spokesman. He was 83 years old.

Cardinal Meisner recently visited the Netherlands on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Cardinal Simonis, and he was of course on the eye of the media as one of the authors of the dubia regarding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia.

The late cardinal will remembered during today’s midday prayers at Cologne’s cathedral, and at the evening Mass offered by Cardinal Woelki, Cardinal Meisner’s successor as archbishop. This will be streamed live via Domradio.de at 18:30 local time. The archdiocese has opened a condolence book on their website here.

In a telegram to Cardinal Woelki, Pope Francis wrote:

“With inner sympathy I learned of the news that the merciful God has suddenly and unexpectedly called Cardinal Joachim Meisner from this world. I am one withh im and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cologne in prayer for your deceased shepherd. Cardinal Meisner stood for the good news out of a deep faith and a sincere love for the Church. May Christ the Lord reward him for his loyal and unflinching work for the wellbeing of people in east and west, and may He grant him a part in the community of saints in heaven. I gladly grant all who remember the deceased in prayer and sacrifice, the apostolic blessing.”

Cardinal Woelki learned of the death of his predecessor this morning.

“I received a phone call this morning from auxiliary bishop Heinrich. The auxiliary bishop of Berlin is a friend of Cardinal Meisner and contacted us. He told me that Cardinal Meisner was found dead this morning by his friend Michael Schlede, while they were on vacation. The cardinal had sat there quite peacefully and had to have died immediately. He had wanted to celebrate Holy Mass with his friend, he had prepared everything for the celebration of the Eucharist and still had his breviary in his hands. He must have simply fallen asleep over it.”

For those who understand German, hear Cardinal Woelki reflect on the life of Cardinal Meisner:

The Archdiocese of Cologne has announced the program leading towards Cardinal Meisner’s funeral. From Friday 7 until the early morning of Saturday 15 July, the cardinal will lie in a closed coffin in the church of St. Gereon, at a fifteen-minute walk from the cathedral. The church will be open for the faithful until Monday the 10th. Cardinal Woelki will receive the deceased at Vespers on the Friday, and the liturgy of the hours will be prayed on each of those days. The church will open again on Friday, when a Vespers for the dead will be prayed. On Saturday the 15th, Cardinal Meisner will be carried in procession to the cathedral, where his funeral will take place at 10am. The cardinal will be buried in the crypt.

One of the last people to speak with Cardinal Meisner was Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who spoke with him over the phone on Tuesday evening: “He told me that he felt healthy, but that he was very concerned about the situation in the Catholic Church,” undoubtedly referring to the dubia, but also to Cardinal Müller’s retirement, which “upset” Cardinal Meisner.

More to come.

All seats filled as Mainz gets its new bishop

teaser-lebenslaufAlmost a year after the retirement of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, all the dioceses of Germany have a bishop at the helm again – a situation that has not existed for several years. Succeeding the cardinal who led the Diocese of Mainz for 33 years is Father Peter Kohlgraf.

A priest of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Bishop-elect Kohlgraf has already been active in Mainz since 2012. He has been working as professor of pastoral theology at the Katholischen Hochschule in that city, and assistant priest in Wörrstadt, south of Mainz. Fr. Kohlgraf is a graduate of the Universities of Bonn and Münster, and has experience in pastoral care in the parish and for students as well as education.

The date for the bishop’s consecration is yet be announced, as is the identity of the consecrating bishops, but it would be surprising indeed of Cardinal Lehmann would decline the honour.

5-vorstellung-kohlgraf-tobkl-pk-170418-286
Cardinal Lehmann, seated, and Bishop elect Kohlgraf

With the appointment of Fr. Kohlgraf, Cologne once again shows itself to be one of the ‘bishop factories’ of Germany. Six of the 27 ordinaries in Germany hail from the archdiocese on the Rhine. Other such bishop factories are Paderborn with five ordinaries originating from there and Trier with four. All three dioceses are among the oldest in Germany and located in the central part of western Germany, to the west and north of Mainz.

In an interview for Katholisch.de, the new bishop of Mainz touched on some of the more sensitive topics in an dbeyond the church in Germany. Asked about the trend of merging parishes to create what the interviewer calls XXL parishes, as an answer to the shortage of priests, and if he has any alternatives, Fr. Kohlgraf responds:

“I think there is no standard solution here, either. In the Catholic Church we are faced with the tension that we rightly say that the celebration of the Eucharist is source and summit of the life of the Church. That means that, on Sundays, the Eucharist is the central celebration from which the Church and the community draw life. The question is then, of course, how Catholic life should function in small communities. I myself live in a small village in Rhenish Hesse, in a Catholic diaspora situation. That is this tension in which we exist. We should not merely think centralistic, but must also consider how Church life can function in each location. People must be motivated to live out their being Christian.”

Bishop-elect Kohlgraf’s thoughts here are comparable to those of, to name one, Bishop Gerard de Korte in the Netherlands.

As an academic, the bishop elect has followed the discourse about the priest shortage and possible solutions and especially the idea to ordain married men, the so-called viri probati. On this, he says:

“It should be proven if this really solves our problems. I am not so certain about that. I don’t want to look at this from ideological, philosophical or theological perspectives. But it is not without reason that the priestly vocation has always been an academic calling with a full study program. That has meaning. I think that we must remain able to speak theologically in modern society. That quality will play an increasingly greater part. That does not mean that there are not also highly qualified men among the so-called viri probati. But we must look at how a part-time formation would work in addition to holding a job. There are many questions which are not yet answered. I do not currently see a solution for it.”

It sounds as if Bishop-elect Kohlgraf is not opposed to detaching the priesthood from a mandatory vow of celibacy, but his uncertainty has to do with the practicality of it all, especially the years of study and formation. There are, however, places where part-time formation is practiced, albeit for the permanent diaconate, for example in Bovendonk, in the Dutch Diocese of Breda. Here, men study part-time next to their fulltime job, with the exception of the final years, in which they work fulltime in a parish.

Photo credit: [1] Bistum Mainz, [2] Bistum Mainz/Blum

For Hamburg, a first homegrown bishop

As expected, the Archdiocese of Hamburg as given a single auxiliary bishop on Thursday, and as equally expected, he is one of the three area deans appointed by Archbishop Stefan Heße last year as part of the organisational overhaul of the archdiocese. And although the new auxiliary bishop has been the area dean for Mecklenburg in the east of the archdiocese, as an auxiliary bishop he will reside in Hamburg. In the past Hamburg had two auxiliaries, one in Schwerin, the other in Hamburg. But as part of the reorganisation that number has been reduced to one, residing in the metropolitan heart of the area.

weihbischof-299Bishop-elect Horst Eberlein was born in 1950 in Walsleben (Altmark) and ordained to the priesthood in 1977. He was a priest in parishes in what was then the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which in 1994 became a part of the newly erected Archdiocese of Hamburg. He is then the first bishop to be appointed from among the clergy of Hamburg itself. His predecessors as auxiliary bishops came from Schwerin (Norbert Werbs) and Osnabrück (Hans-Jochen Jaschke), and the archbishops were also called from other circumscriptions. Archbishop Heße, for example, came from Cologne.

Since 2015, Bishop-elect Eberlein has been a non-resident member of the cathedral chapter, and in 2016 he was appointed as one of three area deans, representing the archbishop in Mecklenburg, the most eastern part of the archdiocese. As auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Eberlein will support the archbishop in running the archdiocese. The consecration of the new bishop is set for 25 March, in St. Mary’s cathedral in Hamburg. It will be only the second time that that church has been the setting for an episcopal consecration, after that of Archbishop Heße in March of 2015.

As auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Eberlein has been given the titular see of Tisedi, in modern Algeria. In the past, from 1999 to 2005, another German bishop, Gerhard Feige, held that title when he was auxiliary bishop of Magdeburg.

Photo credit: Klaus Bodig / HA

A Cold War arrangement ends as Germany is set to lose a bishop

The place of the German dioceses in the world Church is unique in several ways. Their relations with Rome are dictated by concordats which also influence the appointment of bishops (rather than the Pope choosing a new bishop from a list of three candidates, it is the other way around for most dioceses in Germany; it is the Pope providing a list of three candidates to the cathedral chapter of a given diocese, who then make their choice for the Pope to appoint). And there is also an unofficial tradition when it comes to auxiliary bishops: in at least the major (arch)dioceses, there will always be the same number of auxiliary bishops. For example, Cologne has three, one for each of its pastoral areas, and Hamburg has two.

Or had, at least.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgIn the Archdiocese of Hamburg the tradition is about to change. Hamburg is perhaps a little too young to have very old traditions, but this goes a bit further back than the archdiocese. Established in 1994, the archdiocese was given two auxiliary bishops, one residing in Hamburg, the other in Schwerin. And in Schwerin, the tradition of having a resident auxiliary bishop goes back another 40 years, to 1973, when the area, then still part of the Diocese of Osnabrück, was made a nominally separate Apostolic Administration. This because of the political situation at the time: the new Administration was that part of Osnabrück which lay in the communist German Democratic Republic, divided from the rest of the diocese by the iron curtain. As this border between west and east prevented easy travel by the bishop from Osnabrück to the faithful in Mecklenburg and Vorpommern, the Holy See appointed an auxiliary bishop to reside in Schwerin, who could be a bishop for the faithful there when the ordinary could not. After the German reunification, major parts of Osnabrück, including Schwerin, were split off to become the new Archdiocese of Hamburg, but the auxiliary bishop in Schwerin remained, now as an auxiliary bishop of Hamburg. Since 1981, that has been Bishop Norbert Werbs, who retired in May of 2015. No successor has been appointed since then, and none will, it now seems.

3079_4_WeihbischofJaschke2013_Foto_ErbeA spokesman of the archdiocese said that, in the future, the sole auxiliary bishop would reside in Hamburg, like the archbishop. That single auxiliary is currently Hans-Jochen Jaschke (at left) who is set to retire upon his 75th birthday on 29 September of this year. Not only is this the end of a cold war arrangement, one of those which so marked the recent history of the German dioceses – of which Hamburg is the only one incorporating parts of both former East and West Germany – but also a move that decreases the number of German bishops by one. Before now any retiring bishop, be he an ordinary or auxiliary, could expect a successor to be appointed within reasonable time (auxiliaries quicker than ordinaries).

The decision to no longer appoint two auxiliary bishops for Hamburg was made by Pope Francis and Archbishop Stefan Heße together, it is said. In preparation for the selection of the single new auxiliary, to be appointed when Bishop Jaschke retires, the archbishop has asked for suggestions from some 100 people in the archdiocese.