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.

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.

“The strenght of our hope” – 25 years of Cardinal Meisner come to an end

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Stefan_Hesse1_jpg_763125014He 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.

meisner posterJoachim 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!”

Nikola-EterovicAnd 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.

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An “advocate for heaven and earth”, Bishop Puff consecrated in Cologne

A bit late, but I wanted to look back at the consecration of Bishop Ansgar Puff, last Saturday, as auxiliary bishop of Cologne and titular bishop of Gordus. Doing the consecrating honours were Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne; and Bishops Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp, auxiliaries of the same archdiocese. From Rome, German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, attended the consecration.

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Arguably Germany’s tallest bishops, Msgr. Puff still reached to Cardinal Meisner’s shoulders when kneeling for his consecration through prayer and the imposition of the cardinal’s hands. In his homily, Cardinal Meisner said that a bishop is “and advocate of the world to heaven and an advocate of God for the people on earth”.

Bishop Puff is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and is not afraid to go out in the streets or confront people of different opinions. In the past, as personnel chief of the archdiocese, he has spoken with priests advocating reform in the Church, and in 2009 he participated in the eleven-day “Missionale Düsseldorf”, as one of 70 priests inviting passers-by into conversations about the faith.

Bishop Puff’s area of pastoral responsibility will be the southern part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is home to some 600,000 Catholics.

Photo credit: Boecker

Servant of peace – Msgr. Ansgar Puff new auxiliary in Cologne

ansgar puffAnother day, and another new bishop in Germany. This time it’s the Archdiocese of Cologne receiving a new auxiliary. Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff succeeds Bishop Heiner Koch, who was appointed as ordinary of Dresden-Meißen in January.

The new auxiliary bishop joins Cardinal Joachim Meisner and fellow auxiliaries Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp in the archdiocesan curia. His titular see is Gordus in modern Turkey, a see previously held by the late Bishop Alfons Demming, auxiliary bishop of Münster, who died last October.

Bishop-elect Puff will be consecrated on 21 September, at Cologne’s landmark cathedral of Ss. Peter and Mary. He will hold pastoral responsibility for the archdiocese’s southern district, which includes the city of Bonn and is home to some 600,000 Catholics.

Bishop-elect Ansgar Puff is 57 years old and has been a priest since 1987. He has been a parish priest in, among others, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Since 2012, he has also directed the archdiocesan office tasked with pastoral care and formation of priests, deacons and pastoral workers.

In an interview with Dom Radio, the newly-appointed bishop said that, upon hearing the news of his appointment, he felt as if the ground fell away underneath him:

“As it should be, the cardinal told me the news, which I was first obliged to keep a secret. But now I am happy to be able to share it. As a first reaction, I was of course quite shocked.”

In the same interview, Msgr. Puff also speaks about his vocation to the priesthood. Upon the interviewer’s remark that it wasn’t immediately clear that young Ansgar would embark upon a career in the Church, he said:

“The good Lord does write on crooked lines, and I took a long time to find my way. Piously said: the good Lord needed a long time before he had me where I am today.”

How did he come to the realisation to become a priest?

“That is a long story. It was a search for the meaning of life. My core question was: If I am the best social worker in the world, and people still die some day, what point is there to life? Concretely: if death exists, why does one live? Without faith I was unable to answer this question and so I embarked on the search of faith.”

About what he most looks forward too, Msgr. Puff said:

“To the meetings with people, to the contacts with the communities! I want to be like a travelling priest and proclaim the happy news of Jesus Christ.”

Not unlike Pope Francis, then.

“I don’t yet know him personally, but everything that I have heard and read about him has impressed me much. Especially his thought that you have to go out, not remain closed within the Church. Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth.”  And salt has to go into the soup. If it stays in the salt jar, it is of no use. We have to go out, give ourselves purely, disperse ourselves and give the taste to others. In the language of faith: to be a servant of the peace of the world. I think that is a good perspective.”

Photo credit: PEK/Kasiske