A decade’s wait over – Trondheim to get a new bishop

After a vacancy that lasted just over a decade, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim will finally have a bishop-prelate again. Since 2009, when Bishop Georg Müller was forced to retire (more about that here), the pastoral responsibility for the central Norwegian circumscription was in the hands of the bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, who served as apostolic administrator.

89cc0ebd-d2a4-488a-87b7-6e5911d937dbThe new bishop of Trondheim is a Norwegian, but coming home by way of England, where he has been the abbot of the Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Leicestershire. Bishop-elect Erik Varden is, despite his role as abbot, young for a bishop. At 45, he is the fifteenth-youngest bishop in the world, and certainly the youngest in Scandinavia and Europe (if we exclude Ukraine, a country which can boast seven bishops aged 43 and younger). Additionaly, Fr. Varden has also not been a priest or a religious for very long. He entered the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 2002, made his first profession in 2004, his solemn vows in 2007 and was ordained a priest in 2011. He has been the abbot of Mount St. Bernard since April of 2015.

Fr. Varden was informed of his appointment by Archbishop Edward Adams, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain. The fact that it was that nuncio, and not Archbishop James Green, the papal representative to Norway, who made this call, does beg the question if the appointment was made with or without the latter’s involvement. In a letter to the faithful of Trondheim, who number some 14.000 in 5 parishes, Bishop-elect Varden reflects on the significance of the date on which he received the news, writing:

“On the feast of St Theodore of Tarsus, 19 September, I was told that the Pope had named me bishop of Trondheim. The Nuncio in London communicated the news. He could not have been kinder. He reminded me that Theodore, like me, had been a monk; that he, too, in the name of obedience had been asked to leave a life and brethren he loved dearly. A compatriot of St Paul, he was appointed to Canterbury in 669. And there, said the Nuncio, he became a blessing — a sign of the Church’s unity, which transcends national and cultural boundaries. Theodore ‘set the Church on a firm foundation’, says the Collect for the day, which continues: ‘[may we too] remain steadfast on the rock which is Christ and be obedient to the calling we have received’.”

In the same letter, the new bishop also outlines something of a mission statement. Sharing a conversation he had in Ireland with an elderly monk on his death bed, who said that it grieved him to see Christ disappearing from Ireland. Fr. Varden says this has been an inspiration for him ever since, and writes:

“The situation my brother referred to is the same in much of Europe. In a world, a time, ever more marked by indifference and cynicism, hopelessness and division, it is our task to stand for something else: to point toward the Light that no darkness can overcome, to nurture good will, to let ourselves be reconciled, to enable a communion founded on trust, in peace, to bear witness that death has lost its sting, that life is meaningful and beautiful, of inviolable dignity. This is a great responsibility, but also a privilege — a source of transformative joy.”

abbederik_janerikkofoed8.jpeg^Bishop-elect Erik Varden, left, with Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo, during the former’s previous visit to Trondheim in 2018, when he gave the annual Olsok lecture.

The modern Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, a designation which places it just beneath a full diocese, can trace its history back to 1931, when it was established as the Mission sui iuris of Central Norway. In 1935 it was elevated to an Apostolic Prefecture and in 1953 to an Apostolic Vicariate. It took its current form in 1979, taking the name of Trondheim instead of Central Norway. The territory has had bishops since 1953, and Bishop Varden will be the fourth in that line. The long vacancy of the seat of Trondheim is not unique, by the way. Between Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer (1979-1983) and Georg Müller (1997-2009), the vacancy lasted no less than fourteen years.

The time and place of Bishop Varden’s consecration and installation, as well as the prelates involved, are yet to be announced.

Disgraced second Bishop of Trondheim passes away

georg müllerAlmost a week ago, on Sunday 25 October, the second bishop of the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, in Norway, passed away. Bishop Georg Müller was 64 and retired since 2009. He had lived in the community of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Picpus Fathers, in Münster since 2012. He had entered that order in 1971 and was ordained for it in 1978, while studying at their college in Simpelveld, the Netherlands.

It was his own choice to serve the Church in Norway, where he arrived following the completion of his studies at the University of Münster in 1981. He was given immediate responsibility in 1983, when Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer was transferred to Oslo but stayed on as Apostolic Administrator of Trondheim until 1988. Fr. Muller became vicar general in 1984, cathedral administrator in 1986 and in 1988 he took over as Apostolic Administrator. In 1989 he was the host of Pope Saint John Paul II as the pontiff visited the Nordic countries. It took until 1997 for Msgr. Müller to be appointed as Bishop of Trondheim, an office he held until his retirement in 2009. Like most other Nordic dioceses, Trondheim experienced a period of growth at that time, mainly because of immigration, a trend that still continues. In his time as ordinary, Bishop Müller invited a number of religious orders to come to his prelature: Birgittine sisters in Trondheim, Cistercian sisters in Tautra, Missionary Servants of the Holy Trinity, a Filipine community, in Molde, and Cistercians monks from France in Munkeby.

Bishop Müller retired for unspecified reasons in 2009. A year later it became clear that he had resigned because of accusations of sexual abuse of a minor, about which Bishop Müller admitted his guilt when confronted about the matter by Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm. The victim, at the time of the bishop’s retirement a man in his 30s, received the compensation he wished from the Church, and Bishop Müller was removed from all official duties in the Church. Prosecution in a court of law was not possible because of the statute of limitations on the crime. The year-long silence after Bishop Müller’s retirement was per the wish of the victim.

Bishop Müller underwent  therapy in Germany, and subsequently lived in his order’s general government in Rome. He moved to Münster in 2012. He suffered from unspecified health issues until his death.

Bishop Müller led the Church in Norway in the place where it once begun. It was once the Archdiocese of Nidaros, before the Reformation struck and the Church in Norway did not return in the public eye until 1843 and the once great archdiocese was resurrected as the mission “sui juris” of Central Norway. Only shortly before Father Müller’s arrival in the country, in 1979, did Central Norway become the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim. Bishop Müller is, for now at least, the last bishop of Trondheim. Upon his retirement in 2009, the bishop of Oslo, Msgr. Bernt Eidsvig, became Apostolic Administrator, and remains so until this day.

The funeral Mass for Bishop Müller will be offered on 4 November at the parish church in Werne, south of Münster, where he will also be buried. Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen will be the celebrant.