In Rottenburg-Stuttgart, a bishop goes and another arrives

Yesterday saw the early retirement of Bishop Johannes Kreidler, auxiliary of the southern German Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and the appointment of his successor. Unlike dioceses in most parts of the world, the ones in German almost all seem to come with a standard set of auxiliary bishops; when one retires, a new one is appointed almost immediately. There are exceptions, and some sees may do without an auxiliary bishop for  a while, but they can expect the eventual appointment of one in due time. While Rottenburg-Stuttgart has two, other dioceses have rather more, with Münster topping the list with no less than four auxiliary bishops (and a fifth is expected to be named some time this year). In many cases the appointment to auxiliary bishop is a given for episcopal vicars of specific pastoral areas of a diocese. It makes for a rather large and – I imagine – unwieldy bishops’ conference.

Matthäus KarrerBack to Rottenburg-Stuttgart. The successor of 70-year-old Bishop Johannes Kreidler, who has retired for health reasons, is 48-year-old Matthäus Karrer. The new bishop is a member of the cathedral chapter and heads the department of pastoral planning in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. He joins Bishop Gebhard Fürst and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Renz at the head of that diocese, which covers the central and eastern part of the State of Baden-Württemberg. Bishop-elect Karrer studied theology in Tübingen and Munich, writing a dissertation on “marriage and family as house Church”. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1995. In 2008, after more than a decade as parish priest in several locations, he was appointed as the first Dean of Allgäu-Oberschwaben.

The consecration of Bishop Karrer is scheduled for 28 May. As an auxiliary bishop he has been given the titular see of Tunnuna. That former diocese, located in modern Tunisia, has a bit of a recent tendency of not being held long by one bishop. Bishop-elect Karrer’s predecessors there, Bishops Stephen Robson, now of Dunkeld, Scotland, and Jan Liesen, now of Breda, the Netherlands, were appointed as ordinaries of dioceses of their one after less than two years. In Germany, only Mainz is still awaiting a new ordinary…

Photo credit: Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart/Jochen Wiedemann

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The unique nature of marriage and the rights of everyone – Bishop Fürst tackles a difficult situation

In a recent communique to the members of the diocesan council, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart presented his reasons for not allowing the blessing of a same-sex couple in a church in his diocese. It is a clear explanation, balancing doctrine and pastoral care, and a welcome one in the wake of much debate and harsh words against the bishop for his decision. At the same time, it highlights the problems the Church identifies, not only with regard to same-sex marriages, but also artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, and the adoption of children. These problems, as Bishop Fürst illustrates, are for a large part about the rights of all persons:

Bischof Gebhard Fürst“Dear members of the diocesan council!

Because of certain developments, I want to express myself on a topic which has especially occupied and haunted the heart, minds and tempers of many people in the past week.

You have been able to read and hear that I did not meet the expectations of a homosexual couple, living as registered partners, for a Church ceremony. My decision was preceded by a written correspondence with one of the persons concerned, Mr. Kaufmann. In a letter I explained to him why I can not agree to a Church celebration to bless the relationship of him and his partner.

I wrote to him that a Church ceremony for same-sex couples is not possible and also gave the reasons for this. “Ceremonies of blessings are not just private actions, but they are also an action of the Church, which is committed to the Christian image of man. Ceremonies in relation to same-sex partnerships can therefore not be celebrated. Als because such celebrations can give the impression of being  “quasi-sacramental”” (cf. German Bishops’ Conference, Protocol of 25/26 November 2002, N. 7). This does not exclude, but rather implies that pastoral guidance is always and in all cases possible and that every discrimination of the persons concerned must be avoided.

You know that I was strongly attacked and rebuked in the public media. I had anticipated this beforehand and expressed my decision with this knowledge and will not change my position as bishop in retrospect because of violent attacks. With this position, I am aware of the collegial unity with my brothers of the German Bishops’ Conference.

The argument of the confusability of a Church blessing with a wedding or Church marriage has been proven to be correct in hindsight. Many media have spoken about a church wedding in the Lutheran Schlosskirche in Stuttgart. The visual appearance of the celebration, the photo of the exchange of rings and some other elements have created this impression.

The referendum in Ireland in favour of gay marriage has given a new dimension to the debate on same-sex unions.

The “Ehe für alle” movement and some state governments are aiming for the full equality of registered partnerships with “Marriage and family”, which is under special protection by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I acknowledge that, in a pluralistic and secular society a way of life of a registered partnership guaranteed by the state can exist, and that this must have protection and rights. Of course not all citizens of free democratic society can be obliged to hold to the Christian image of man, which includes an unambiguous and clear image of marriage and family as a union of man and women with an openness to children. Yet I have to wonder if the state does not also and especially have the duty to especially protect the cultural heritage of western Christian tradition, from which it itself comes and in which a society marked by human dignity and human rights has its roots. Part of this heritage is a prominent place for marriage and family as the nucleus of society and guarantee for the future of society.

I reject, however, a complete equality of registered partnerships of man-man and woman-woman with marriage and family. Dissimilar things can not simply be treated as completely similar. I know of no communities or groups of people in recent history which have ever created an institution for man-man or woman-woman, let alone one with the name marriage.

This is especially pertinent for the right of adoption. Here I see a compromise of the child’s best interests. I am convinced that the bipolarity of the sexes of man and woman, which indeed alone can bring forth human life and without which no child can be conceived, is also good and necessary for the upbringing and development of children after their birth.

Today the technology of reproduction makes a new form of “adoption” possible: through donating eggs and sperm, through the means of In vitro fertilisation and through surrogate motherhood it is possible that two gay men can have a child produced and buy it. I highly recommend reading the article in the Frankfurter Algemeine: “Your twins belong to me” of 4 April 2015, s. 9. This article has the subtitle: “When men access the surrogate motherhood flat rate: in many countries the baby market for homosexuals is booming. The risks for women are lost in the propaganda battle.” For reasons of time I can’t tell you in detail how many human embryos are selected and killed with this method, how many tens of thousands of dollars or euros in costs are paid, and how the selected, often surrogate mothers living in deepest poverty and illiteracy, are objectified, disenfranchised and discriminated. I can tell you much which would disconcert you from my own knowledge of biotechnology and my own experience, for example in California, in the largest IV fertilisation clinic in the United States, where I spoke for two hours with the team of doctors and nurses of the IV department.

The FAZ article I mentioned above concludes its with the sentence, regarding the reproduction industry which is emerging in the baby business and the discrimination of surrogate mothers: “A group, which itself is suffering under the deprivation of rights would do well to consider carefully how far it is willing to go for a child,” ie. if it is justifiable for them to discriminate women and selecting human embryos.

In conclusion I want to say: Registered partnerships must be acknowledged by all in society and can not be discriminated against. I reject a Church ceremony of blessing. I likewise reject “gay marriage”, the “marriage for all”. The wellbeing of children has clear priority over the wishes of registered partners. I consider the fulfillment of a desire for children of homosexual registered partners through in vitro fertilisation and surrogate mothers unconscionable.

It remains the difficult task of us, the Church to fight discrimination in this context and respect and support the dignity of every person.”

It is often held against the German bishops as a whole that they are solely concerned with the pastoral care and not so much with doctrine. Bt the Church needs both. Bishop Fürst makes use of both in this text, as he presents the facts of the doctrine about marriage and family, while also underlining the pastoral needs of those who can not or do not succeed in achieving what the faith asks. This is the way forward, in my opinion. We can’t choose between doctrine and pastoral care, but we need both.

In Germany, double consecrations

Double duty for the German bishops today, as they have two consecrations of new bishops today to choose from.

wilhelm zimmermannIn Essen, the diocese of the Ruhr, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck will consecrate Bishop Wilhelm Zimmermann as auxiliary bishop of that diocese. Essen’s other auxiliary, Bishop Ludger Schepers, and retired auxiliary Bishop Franz Vorrath will be co-consecrators. Also present will be Hong Kong’s bishop, John Cardinal Tong Hon.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau will see the consecration of its new archbishop, Msgr. Stephan Burger. Promising to start using Twitter after his consecration, the new archbishop, Germany’s youngest at 52, has been received generally very positive, although his perceived orthodoxy has ruffled the usual feathers.

burgerConsecrating him is his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, with the ordinaries of the Province of Freiburg’s other two dioceses, Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, as co-consecrators. The consecration is embedded in Freiburg’s “Diözesantag”, which began esterday with a concert and choral evensong, and continues today with midday prayers, a live program in the square before the cathedral, with music and interviews. After the Mass in which the new archbishop will be consecrated, the festivities close with a “feast of encounter”. The cathedral itself has remained closed due to the preparations for the live television broadcast, and will open only in the early afternoon, about 90 minutes before the Mass starts at 14:30.

As today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the traditional date new metropolitan archbishops come to Rome to receive their pallia to signify their shepherd’s duty, Archbishop Burger will receive his today from the hands of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. This is an unusual action, but does mean that Archbishop Burger doesn’t have to wait a full twelve months to receive his pallium.

A rebellion developing in Germany?

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

The limitations of the virtual Church

Yesterday, Bishop Gebhard Fürst, ordinary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and holder of the media portfolio in the German bishops’ conference, expressed his doubts about so-called church services via social media, specifically Facebook.”A true church service needs the presence of the entire person,” he said in an ecumenical newsletter. “We see and experience ourselves in the entire atmosphere of a church service.”

Earlier this month, the first Catholic service on Facebook took place in Germany. The evangelical churches have been doing this for the past few years, both in Germany and in other countries, including the Netherlands.

Bishop Fürst admits he is not much of a social media user himself, although he agrees that it has value in modern communications and appreciates the current course that Rome is taking in this respect.

Although I use my share of social media, I must say I agree with Bishop Fürst. Social media are a great asset that we can use to communicate, write, think and discuss our faith, but, from a Catholic perspective at least, that does not mean it is equal to the unique environment of the liturgy of the Mass. This is obviously different for the various other Christian faith communities who have a different understanding of church services.

The Mass, our Catholic church service par excellence, is at its heart not a matter of communication between people. Rather, it is the communication/communio between God and people. And God comes, as the bishop indicated above, to the entire person, not solely the intellectual part of him, or the part of him that interacts behind a computer screen or smartphone.

Mass is a full-body experience. We are there, in heart and mind, for the experience of the encounter with God. That is something different altogether from a discussion about faith, from reading a reflection on Bible text or theological article (or even a blog post), from expounding on our own understanding of what we experience. There are places for that, and social media amply provides them, but the Mass is not that place. It is where we gain the topics, the experiences, the thoughts, the ideas that we talk about later. We shouldn’t  close our eyes for God in order to talk about Him amongst ourselves. First we see, we experience, then we share.

http://www.kathweb.at/site/nachrichten/database/46300.html