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.

In Cologne, the auxiliaries are complete again

While the number of vacant dioceses in Germany now numbers three (Limburg continues to be without a bishop since March of 2014, Dresden-Meißen has been awaiting a new shepherd since June of this year, and Aachen became the third vacancy last week), the appointment of auxiliary bishops continues smoothly. Since June of this year the Archdiocese of Cologne, which usually has three auxiliaries for each of its pastoral areas, has had only two as Bishop Manfred Melzer retired in that month. Today his successor was appointed. He is 63-year-old Msgr. Rolf Steinhäuser.

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Bishop-elect Steinhäuser will have episcopal responsibility, under that of the archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of course, of the Central pastoral area of the archdiocese. This area includes the city of Cologne itself, as well as Leverkusen and the Rhein-Erft area. Before his new appointment, which came as a surprise to him, the new auxiliary bishop was a non-resident canon of the cathedral, head of the Edith Stein retreat house, and official for the new evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Cologne.

Of his appointment, Bishop-elect Steinhäuser said, “I was very surprised, as I had already assumed that my current assignment would be the last in my life. As auxiliary bishop I want to contribute to reform and formation of the Church, in the line of Pope Francis.” Looking ahead to the future, he added, “I hope that my duties as auxiliary bishop will allow me much direct contact with people, and that I can accompany them in the important moments of their lives”.

The consecration of the new bishop, who has been given the titular see of Thuburnica in modern Tunisia, is scheduled for 10 January. It may be assumed that Cardinal Woelki will be the main consecrator, with auxiliary bishops Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff serving as co-consecrators.

Bishop-elect Steinhäuser is a native son of Cologne, having been born there in 1952. He was ordained as a priest in 1977. From 1984 to 1997 he was involved in the pastoral care of youth, first in Bonn and later in the entire archdiocese. In 1997 he became the city dean of Düsseldorf. Pope Saint John Paul II gave him the title monsignor in 1998, and in 2006 he joined the cathedral chapter.

After the Ad Limina, Bishop Schwaderlapp on the “erosion of faith”

In his homily for the second Sunday of Advent in the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, auxiliary of that diocese, looked back on the recent Ad Limina visit of the German bishops. The full text of his homily can be found, in the original German, here, and below I present a translation of the relevant section concerning the Ad Limina. It touches upon some of the most frequent criticism against the German episcopate and church, and succeeds, in my opinion, in indicating where the solution lies.

schwaderlapp“Everywhere he went, John the Baptist proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). That promise that John proclaimed can only enter into our hearts when we are willing to repent and begin anew. Repentance is painless when we want and demand it from others. It only becomes real when it is about me personally. Where do we need to repent? Where do I need to repent? When about two weeks ago we German bishops were in Rome for the Ad Limina visit, the Holy Father gave us a speech to take with us, one peppered with warnings: Clear words! In it, he speaks about the “erosion of faith” in our country. I once looked up on Wikipedia what erosion means: Improper land use removing especially fertile soil.

Dear sisters and brothers, the Church in Germany is certainly the best financed and best organised in the entire world. But what do we actually do? How can it be that – with all the means at our disposal – we must conclude that knowledge of and belief in the faith are ever more decreasing?

Are we really taking our mission to proclaim the faith seriously? We do it in other areas. For example: in our archdiocese, in an effort to prevent sexual abuse, hundreds of thousands, who are working with young people, are being trained. They must follow a set curriculum. Is there a similarly compulsory curriculum about questions of faith? No! Pope Francis has said, “New structures are continuously being created, but there are not faithful to fill them.” Are we obsessed with structures? In short, a word that is a warning for us as bishops and the Church in Germany.

And the Holy Father continues with what the erosion of faith means to him concretely. He discusses the Holy Eucharist and Confession. Holy Mass – the gift of God’s presence par excellence! Fewer than 10% of Catholics in our archdiocese attend it on Sunday. And when, because of decreasing numbers of priests, Mass times change or even, in some places, a Mass is no longer possible on every Sunday, a whole range of people stays away from Holy Mass. Has the Holy Eucharist become a sort of folklore in our lives, to embellish our Sundays? Our is it the foundation of our lives?

We are talking about new beginnings needed in our Church. Indeed, that is needed. But one thing is clear: When we do not make the first call of Jesus, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, our own, when we do not make the call of John the Baptist our own, when we do not rediscover Confession as a place of God’s  mercy, there will be no new beginning! We can not make a new beginning by ourselves, but only implore God’s mercy for it.

Let us also ask ourselves: what does my faith look like? How seriously do I take it? How seriously do I take the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance? Do I try to deepen my attitude, my practice, to really experience this great gift of the mercy of God?”

For Berlin, a Synod Father

kochWith the appointment of Bishop Heiner Koch to Berlin, the German capital has an archbishop again after an almost eleven-month vacancy. He leaves the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, a suffragan of Berlin, vacant after less than two-and-a-half years, making it on of two empty sees in Germany, the other being Limburg.

Who is Archbishop-elect Heiner Koch? Like his predecessor in Berlin, Cardinal Woelki, he was born in the Archdiocese of Cologne, in Düsseldorf. He is less than a week away from his 61st birthday, has been a priest for 35 years (he was ordained on his 26th birthday in 1980) and a bishop for nine years. He is the third archbishop of Berlin, but the tenth ordinary since Berlin became a diocese in 1930. Six of his predecessors were made cardinals.

heiner kochThe new archbishop studied Catholic theology, philosophy and pedagogy at the University of Bonn and is a Doctor of Theology. After his ordination, he was attached to parishes in Kaarst and in Cologne itself (at the cathedral since 1993). He was also school pastor at the Heinrich Heine University in his native Düsseldorf, and in 1989 he started working in the vicariate general of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which probably set him on track to become a bishop. Made a Chaplain of His Holiness in 1993 and Honorary Prelate in 1996, now-Msgr. Koch was made the subsitute for the vicar general in 2002. In the same year he led the preparations for World Youth Day 2005, which took place in 2005.

The next year, he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Cologne, with the titular see of Ros Cré in Ireland. Bishop Koch was responsible for pastoral area South, as well as for the non-German speaking faithful of the archdiocese. In the German Bishops’ Conference, this extended to the pastoral care for Germans abroad.

In 2013, in one of his last appointments as such, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Koch as bishop of Dresden-Meißen, at the opposite end of the country. A year later, the German bishops chose him to head the Commission for Marriage and Family, which made sure he was also chosen as one of the country’s three delegates to this year’s assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

heiner kochThe Synod, then… In the entire saga about the German bishops and the Synod, Archbishop Koch has been one of the main players. He will attend the Synod with Osnabrück’s Bishop Bode and Cardinal Marx, and he also took part in what some have called the “shadow Synod” in Rome with representatives of the French and Swiss episcopates. But it is unfair to call the archbishop a liberal in matters of marriage, family and sexuality. In 2012, he stated that debating certain topics that have been authoritatively decided upon by the magisterium of the Pope and bishops is only “frustrating and ineffective”. “A productive and creative conversation,” he said, “is only possible on the basis of our mutual faith and our mutual understanding of what it means to be a Church.” More recently, Archbishop Koch has been accused of being in favour of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. In an interview in Feruary, he said:

“The questions is if we can’t allow faithful who have been divrced and remarried and are deeply pious to receive the Eucharist under certain conditions. That could take place, for example, after a long conversation with a confessor. We should consider such questions.”

His focus, however, is more on the question of how the Church can be close to people in that situation: not so much doctrine, but pastoral care, as he explained later.

In an interview on the occasion of his appointment to Dresden-Meißen, Archbishop Koch explained his priorities in relating to people, which perhaps also explain why some would falsely think that he is not overly concerned with doctrine:

“I don’t want to start with showing people the ethical consequences wihout them first knowing the reasons for them in the faith. I want to speak to them about God. I want to listen to them and hear what they can tell me about God in their lives.”

This attitude comes to the fore more often, when Archbishop Koch says that difficult questions are not resolved via headlines, but via conversations and encounters with people.

In the same interview, he also explained the Church’s position on same-sex marriages:

“The Church is convinced that a child needs a father and a mother. I also know that there are married couples which neglect children, and homosexual coupes who love them. But that does not change the fact that the family consisting of father, mother and children is a great wealth for all, not least in their gender differences. God created people as man and woman. Together they reflect the fullness of the divine life. There is not consensus in society, but that does not mean that we should abandon this position”.

220px-Karte_Erzbistum_BerlinThe future in Berlin. As archbishop in the German capital (with equal pastoral responsibility for the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Archbishop Koch will increasingly be at the heart of the action for both state and Church. In a reflection of recent political history after the reunification, when Germany’s political institutions moved from Bonn  to Berlin, the German Bishops’ Conference has long been considering moving their offices to Berlin as well. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, also resides in that city. As mentioned above, six of his predecessors (including the five immediate ones) were made cardinals, so we may see a second Cardinal Koch (in addition to Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) at some point. Archbishop Koch is young enough to wear the red with influence. But even in purple he will have his work cut out for him.

His predecessor, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, quickly established himself as a bishop in the mold of Pope Francis: close to the margins of immigrants and workers. Archbishop Koch will probably have little problems taking that attitude on as well. The Archdiocese of Berlin is twice the size of Dresden-Meißen, but has about the same number of Catholic faithful. It is in the process of merging parishes to better serve these faithful, which is a sensitive process to lead for any bishop.

More to come…

End of an era as Melzer steps back

20111011_Stadtpatronefest_Weihbischof_Melzer_MG_7194_printbHe was the most senior bishop in the Archdiocese of Cologne, having served for almost twenty years. But now it is enough, as his health can no longer support the work he does, and Bishop Manfred Melzer , 71, is now taking the first steps towards retirement. Granted, Pope Francis did ask him to keep working until a successor has been named, but with today’s  announcement we could be looking at the end of the Meisner era (well, were it not for the fact that Cardinal Rainer Woelki can be safely considered as executing a smooth continuation of that era, which started in 1988).

Bishop Manfred Melzer was appointed in 1995, becoming part of the traditional group of auxiliary bishops of Cologne, one for each pastoral area (four before 2005, three since). His fellow bishops under Cardinal Meisner were Klaus Dick, who was succeeded in 2003 by then-Bishop Woelki; Norbert Trelle, who was appointed to Hildesheim in 2005 and was succeeded by Heiner Koch the next year; and Friedhelm Hofmann, who was appointed to Würzburg in 2004. Bishops Woelki and Koch also left the archdiocese, for Berlin and Dresden-Meißen respectively, although the former returned in 2014. The current group of auxiliary bishops consists of Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff, and can be considered a generation younger than Bishop Melzer.

As auxiliary bishop of Cologne (and titular bishop of Carinola), Bishop Melzer was appointed for the pastoral area Mitte, which includes Cologne itself, as well as the city of Leverkusen and surrounding areas. He was also the episcopal vicar for the female religious orders, the hermits and consecrated virgins in the archdiocese. In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Melzer was a member of the pastoral commission and the commission for questions of the world Church, as well as chairman of the subcommission for the mission. He made headlines most recently when he led the archdiocese for a few hours, between the retirement of Cardinal Meisner and the election of then-Msgr. Stefan Heße as Diocesan Administrator.

According to the statement on the website of the archdiocese, Bishop Melzer has been suffering from unspecified health complaints for some years now.

With its third archbishop, Hamburg gets around to consecrating for the first time

stefan hesseThe consecration of the new archbishop of Hamburg, Msgr. Stefan Heße, on 14 March, turns out to have a few unique features, as the plans for the event emerge.

While he is the third archbishop of the north German diocese, Archbishop-elect Heße will be the first to be consecrated there. His two predecessors, Archbishops Werner Thissen and Ludwig Averkamp were both consecrated as auxiliary bishop of Münster. Of the two current auxiliaries of Hamburg, Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke was an auxiliary of Osnabrück until he was transferred to Hamburg when it was created as a diocese in 1994. Bishop Norbert Werbs began as auxiliary bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which became part of Hamburg, also in 1994.

With the first consecration of a Hamburg archbishop in his own new territory, the choice of consecrators is not dictated by tradition. Archbishop-elect Heße will, somewhat surprisingly, not be consecrated by his predecessor, Archbishop Thissen. Instead, Osnabrück’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode will be the first consecrator. This choice is fitting as Hamburg and Osnabrück are closely related: the latter is a suffragan diocese of Hamburg and a great deal of its former territory is now part of the archdiocese.

Co-consecrators will be the aforementioned Bishop Norbert Werbs, auxiliary bishop of Hamburg, and Rainer Cardinal Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, where Archbishop-elect Heße was born and where he most recently was vicar general.

Photo credit: Klaus Bodig / HA

From big to big – Msgr. Heße comes to Hamburg

HeßeApparently he did a good job in managing the transition from Meisner to Woelki, good enough to be entrusted with shepherding the flock in the nation’s largest pasture. Msgr. Stefan Heße (pronounced as “Hese”) succeeds Archbishop Werner Thissen as ordinary of Hamburg.

Shortly after Friday’s announcement that Hamburg’s cathedral chapter would name the new archbishop on Monday, the name of Msgr. Heße appeared in rumours, first in the Bild newspaper and later also in various Catholic media. In the past, these rumours have proven to be accurate more often than not, and so in this case. They point to a serious leak in the otherwise secret and complex process of electing a bishop in most of Germany.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgThe Archdiocese of Hamburg is the largest diocese of the country, covering the states of Hamburg, Schleswigh-Holstein and the western part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In number of Catholics it is, however, among the smallest of dioceses. Its 400,000 faithful are a sharp contrast with the 2 million Catholics in Msgr. Heße’s native Cologne.

Hamburg fell vacant upon the retirement of Archbishop Thissen in March of last year. His successor will be the third archbishop of the see as it was reestablished in 1994.

Msgr. Heße was born in 1966 in a suburb of Cologne. Aged 48, he will be the youngest ordinary of a German diocese, and by far the youngest archbishop. He studied philosophy and theology in Bonn and Regensburg and was ordained a priest in 1993, by Cardinal Joachim Meisner. From 1993 to 1997 he worked in the parish in Bergheim, just west of Cologne, and from 1997 to 2003 he was a tutor at the archdiocesan seminary in Bonn, which was headed at the time by Msgr. Rainer Maria Woelki, the current archbishop of Cologne. In 2001 he became a doctor of theology. He led the pastoral care office of the archdiocese from 2003 to 2005 and was diocesan representative for radio and television until 2012. Msgr. Heße received the honorary titles of Chaplain of His Holiness and 2005 and Honorary Prelate in 2010. He subsequently became substitute to the vicar general and head of the personnel department of the archdiocese in 2006. In 2011 he joined the cathedral chapter. When Dominik Schwaderlapp became an auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Msgr. Heße succeeded him as vicar general. He was confirmed in that office after Cardinal Woelki became the new archbishop of Cologne in 2014.

Reputation, as fickle as that can be, indicates that Msgr. Heße is somewhat liberal, if such a qualification has any merit, and he has been generally praised for his work towards financial transparency of the Archdiocese of Cologne, an example that has since been followed by several other dioceses in Germany. In Hamburg he inherits a diaspora Church where ecumenical contacts are much valued. This is also visible in Hamburg’s best-known sainthood cause: that of the Martyrs of Lübeck, three Catholics priests and one Lutheran pastor, who were beheaded in 1943 for listening to enemy broadcasts, treason and demoralisation. Eyewitness reports state that there blood ran together on  the floor, which has since been seen as a potent symbol of ecumenism, not least by Pope Francis.

Msgr. Heße became known to the wider world when he was elected as diocesan administrator following the retirement of Cardinal Meisner, and it is said that his was one of the names on the final list from which the cathedral chapter elected the new archbishop. An archbishop he eventually becomes, if a bit farther from home than originally intended.

The consecration and installation of the new archbishop will be on 14 March.

As an aside, this is the third Stefan to be appointed as a bishop in Germany in less than a year, following Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg.

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^Msgr. Stefan Heße with Cologne auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp, whom he succeeded as vicar general, during the German Bishops’ Conference spring plenary of 2014.