The rollercoaster of 2013

Even without digging into the details, I can comfortably say that 2013 has been the strangest, most unexpected, most challenging and most rollercoaster-like year in recent memory. From the historical retirement of Pope Benedict XVI to the long-awaited ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops, a Catholic blogger with his eye on current Church events had plenty of things to write about. A look back on the past twelve months.

January

“Dear fathers, dear mothers, let God be great amid your family, so that your children can grow up in the security of His love.”

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, shortly after his consecration as Bishop of Regensburg, 26 January 2013

gänsweinJanuary was a month of ongoing affairs, although some new issues also appeared. One example of this was the question of the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops. Otherwise, things went on as usual as Pope Benedict XVI continued much as he had done in earlier years: he consecrated Archbishop Gänswein (pictured), baptised children, created a diocese for the Ukrainian Catholics in western Europe, performed some damage control on the issue of marriage, gender and sacraments, released his Message for World Communications Day, and tweeted his support for life. Little did we expect how much that would soon change…

Locally, things were not too much out of the ordinary. In the abuse crisis, Cardinal Simonis was not prosecuted, Bishop van Burgsteden was announced to be offering a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, the bishops made it easier to leave the Church, and Cardinal Eijk spoke on palliative care,

As a blogger, I shared my thoughts about the .catholic domain name, upcoming German bishop retirements, a Protestant leader disregarding ecumenism, baby hatches, and a new and Catholic queen.

February

“…well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant…”

Pope Benedict XVI, 11 February 2013

The year really started on 11 February, with the shock announcement of Pope Benedict XVI that he would retire by the month’s end. So much of what would characterise the rest of 2013 has its roots in that decision and announcement. With it we started to wrap up a pontificate, with a lot of final things. The faithful were certainly loath to see Papa Benedetto go, as both his final general audiences and his last Angelus show. And then that last farewell came, for me the one moment which stands out in this year.

But before all that took place, there were also other developments. Pope Benedict released his Message for Lent and begin his Lenten retreat, this time led by the tweeting Cardinal Ravasi. In Germany, the bishops made some iffy decisions regarding contraception, and in Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien fell from grace.

Locally the Dutch bishops decided to limit their tv appearances (a decision later corrected by Pope Francis), and they also responded to the Pope’s retirement, collectively and individually. There were also some changes to the Eucharistic Prayer, triggered by the sede vacante.

I spoke some thoughts on a  few topics as well, among them the teaching authority of bishops, communication, vacancies in the College of Cardinals, and some more about communication.

March

“Bueno sera.”

Pope Francis, first words to the world after his election, 13 March

Pope-FrancisIn March a new chapter was opened. Whereas Pope Benedict XVI had educated us about the faith, Pope Francis would show us how to put it into practice. The tone was set from that first shy “good evening”. But before all that took place, we had to wait while the cardinal electors met and sketched a profile of the new pontiff. As the conclave opened, all eyes were on a humble chimney, about as humble as the Pope it announced after five ballots.

Of course, there were many reactions to the election of Pope Francis, such as the one by Archbishop Léonard. But live in the Church also went on. Cardinal Dolan reminded us of what really mattered, the Vatican guarded communication to the outside, the second Deetman report on excessive physical abuse in the Church came out, Bishop Jos Punt returned from three weeks living as a hermit in Spain, Pope Francis directed our attention to what it’s all about and he met with his predecessor, and it was also Easter.

April

“Christ is everything for me, the centre of my life, from Baptism to death. He is the personification of God, showing us how to live in intimate union with God, how to literally embody that great and incomprehensible God. Or, as the Gospel of John tells us, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father”. When you become the Body of Christ together, you experience in a fundamental way that you belong together and support one another.”

Words from Bishop Tiny Muskens, quoted by Bishop Liesen in the eulogy for the late bishop of Breda.

A month of settling into the new papacy and all the impressions that brings. Things returned to normal, and an overview of April is basically a list of events, with no major overarching themes.

muskensThe Dutch Church got a 25th basilica, 300 young Dutch Catholics signed up for the World Youth Days in Rio, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch plays it hard regarding rebellious priests, Pope Francis established a group of eight cardinals to advice in the reform of the Curia, Bishop Tiny Muskens (pictured) passes away, with Bishop Jan Liesen offering his funeral Mass, a group of Dutch professors published a strange manifesto against the bishops, Archbishop Léonard was attacked and taught us a lesson by his reaction, Pope Francis met with the future King and Queen of the Netherlands, and I wrote my first post on the upcoming Sacra Liturgia conference.

May

“I am very thankful that you have taken the effort to send me some words of support and solidarity after the protest action of the Femen group. Your words have been very comforting for me.”

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in a letter sent to those who wrote to him in support after the attack on him by leftwing protesters in April

benedict francisA quiet month which nonetheless closed the the events of the first few months, as the Pope emeritus came home (pictured). In other events, we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord, Michael Voris commented on the state of the Church in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium offered a status report of the sexual abuse crisis in their country, Bishop de Korte responded to last month’s professors’ manifesto, The Pope did not perform an exorcism, nine new priests were to be ordained, and Archbishop Léonard sent a gracious letter to all those who supported him after the Femen attack.

In addition to all that, I offered some thoughts on reform proposals from the German bishops, abortion and the right to life, the fact that the Church does not condone violence against homosexuals, and Pope Francis’ comment that Christ redeemed everyone.

June

“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice.”

Bishop Jan Hendriks remembers  Bishop Jo Gijsen, who passed away on 24 June

gijsenAt the start of June the world gathered around the Blessed Sacrament, a new bishop was appointed to Liège, a successful Europe-wide pro-life initiative got underway, auxiliary bishops were appointed to Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne and Osnabrück, one of the last Dutch missionary bishops (and host to a group of Dutch World Youth Day pilgrims) retires, and Bishop Jo Gijsen (pictured), emeritus of both Roermond and Reykjavík, passes away.

I also made the first Dutch translation (as far as I was able to find) of Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical In Hac Tanta, on St. Boniface, and I wrote about the issue of same-sex marriage from the viewpoints of two seeming opposites.

July

“It is impossible to serve God without going to the human brother, met on the path of our lives. But it is also impossible to substantially love the neighbor without understanding that this is the Son of God himself who first became the neighbour of every man.”

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in the homily at the consecration of Bishop Jean-Pierre Delville of Liège, 14 July

cardijnThe summer months saw the stream of blog posts shrink to a trickle, and a mere 10 posts were made in July. Among those things that I did write about were the first encyclical of Pope Francis, the United Nations launching a rather one-sided demand to the Holy See about sexual abuse, the launch of the cause for the beatification of Belgian Cardinal Cardijn (pictured), Dutch pilgrims departing for Rio, the consecration of Bishop Delville of Liège, and a young Dutch woman’s encounter with the Pope.

August

“As John took Mary into his home, you took Bishop Bluyssen into your home. There is of course a great difference between giving someone a space to live and giving someone a home. You have done the latter.”

Bishop Antoon Hurkmans to the sisters of the Mariënburg monastery, 13 August

parolinStill summer, and I visited a foreign cathedral, in Slovenia the effects of Pope Francis’ reforms are first felt, Bishop Johannes Bluyssen passes away, Namur gains  a new basilica, and the Church a new Secretary of State (pictured). Another quiet month, but the things that did happen were sometimes quite momentous. A sign of more to come.

September

“I have decided to proclaim for the  whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of  Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and  throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow  Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to  participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”

Pope Francis, 1 September

Tebartz-van ElstIn Germany, the biggest story of the year erupted in Limburg (Bishop Tebartz-van Elst pictured), and Cardinal Lajolo was sent to settle things, for now. Pope Francis called for prayer for Syria (and armed interventions were averted). In Osnabrück, Freiburg and Cologne, bishops were consecrated, and Freiburg’s Archbishop Zollitsch retired soon afterwards. The pro-life “One of Us” initiative collected 1 million signatures, and the Dutch bishops appointed a new spokeswoman (who would soon undergo her baptism by fire in the ad limina visit). And then, Pope Francis was interviewed.

October

 “The Eucharist (which refers to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ) is the most important sacrament, in which the faithful celebrate their unity with God and each other.”

Wim Cardinal Eijk, responding to liturgical abuse by an overly creative priest, 7 October

eijkIn this very busy month, the Council of Cardinals got to work, and the first fruits of Pope Francis’ reforms became visible in the Synod of Bishops, which sent a questionnaire to the world’s Catholics at the end of the month. Rumours surfaced that the Dutch bishops would be going on their ad limina visit soon, rumours which would soon be confirmed. One of the most notable efforts to spring up in relation to this was the so-called Pauspetitie. Back home, Cardinal Eijk (pictured) made a stand against excessive liturgical abuse, which revealed how rotten some parts of the Church are. Later that month, the cardinal also wrote a letter to the faithful about church closings. In other news, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ Msgr. Paul Tighe spoke at the CNMC in Boston about the Holy See’s work in social media, and a solution was found for the Limburg situation. The Holy See announced a consistory for February, in which Pope Francis will be creating his first class of cardinals.

With the help of Fr. Roderick’s more faithful translation of last month’s papal interview, I drafted an improved English translation. All this before later developments would seriously invalidate the level of accuracy, as the interviewer admitted to not having recorded the interview or taking notes.

November

“Due to the aforementioned discrepancies, the draft text is to be withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching. Because the text has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issue, I felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it.”

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in a letter to the bishops of Germany, 11 November

A bit a weird month, mostly devoted to looking ahead to the upcoming ad limina, but there were also some other topics which needed discussion or correction.

MüllerFirst of all, there was good news as we learned that annual television spectacle The Passion would be visiting my home town in 2014. The Dutch bishops decided on the fastest and most efficient means to deal with the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. On 19 November, Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet passed away. Most attention internationally, however, was for Archbishop Müller’s letter to the German bishops, informing them that their pastoral initiative on marriage and the sacraments needed revising. In Germany, things remained rebellious. On the ad limina visit, Bishop de Korte looked ahead, and I took a closer look at the general report that the bishops published.

Oh, and then there was a little Apostolic Exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium

Of the latter category, things that needed correction or further explanation, we can mention the visit of politician Boris Dittrich to the Holy See, much confusion on Christmas hymns in the liturgy.

December

“Finally, the Pope also asked us a sort of question of conscience. Where do you yourself, as bishops, find the strength, your hope and joy amid all the concerns and problems? The Gospel must always be visible as the Good News of forgiveness, salvation and redemption. He urged us to always quench our thirst from that and communicate it to others. The Church, the Pope indicated, grows from an authentically experienced faith and through honest attraction. She is being sent to awaken and plant faith, hope and love in people.”

Bishop Jos Punt, looking back on the ad limina visit, 14 December

bishops st. peter's  squareAnd so, after nine years, the bishops returned to Rome and we launched into the 2013 ad limina visit. Opening with the audience with Pope Francis, the ad limina was a hopeful occasion, for both bishops and faithful back home. Although a fair few had expected otherwise, the bishops received encouraging scenes to continue on the path they were on, especially regarding how they dealt with the sexual abuse crisis. Very helpful and enjoyable was the daily reporting by various bishops as events unfolded. After returning home, several bishops felt called to write down their experiences once more.

December was also the month of Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner, who looked ahead to his upcoming retirement, spoke frankly about some current affairs and saw Christmas day – and his 80th birthday – marked by desecration.

In other news, Michael Voris put the spotlight on a Dutch bishop, Archbishop Müller clarified what clear minds had logically assumed from the start, Archbishop Zollitsch made some worrisome comments,, the Pope marked his 1st birthday on Twitter and his 77th real birthday, Pope Francis released his Message for the World Day of Peace, Cardinal Koch expressed some concern about papal popularity, Cardinal Burke was demoted (but only in the minds of some) and there was some excitement when a papal visit to the Netherlands was discussed. And it was Christmas.

Who we lost:

deceasedprelates

  • Jozéf Cardinal Glemp, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, passed away on 23 January, aged 83
  • Giovanni Cardinal Cheli, Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano, passed away on 8 February, aged 94
  • Julien Cardinal Ries, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia, passed away on 23 February, aged 92
  • Jean Cardinal Honoré, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Salute a Primavalle, passed away on 28 February, aged 92
  • Bishop Bernard Rieger, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
  • Lorenzo Cardinal Antonetti, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Agnese in Agone, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
  • Bishop Reinard Lettmann, bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 16 April, aged 80
  • Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens, bishop emeritus of Breda, passed away on 16 April, aged 77
  • Stanislaw Cardinal Nagy, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala, passed away on 5 June, aged 91
  • Bishop Franz Xaver Eder, bishop emeritus of Passau, passed away on 20 June, aged 87
  • Bishop Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen, bishop emeritus of Reykjavík, passed away on 24 June, aged 80
  • Simon Ignatius Cardinal Pimenta, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria «Regina Mundi» a Torre Spaccata, passed away on 19 July, aged 93
  • Ersilio Cardinal Tonini, Cardinal-Priest of Santissimo Redentore a Valmelaina, passed away on 28 July, aged 99
  • Archbishop Ludwig Averkamp, archbishop emeritus of Hamburg, passed away on 29 July, aged 86
  • Bishop Johannes Willem Maria Bluyssen, bishop emeritus of ‘s Hertogenbosch, passed away on 8 August, aged 87
  • Medardo Joseph Cardinal Mazombwe, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza, passed away on 29 August, aged 81
  • Bishop Ernst Gutting, auxiliary bishop emeritus Speyer, passed away on 27 September, aged 94
  • Bishop Georg Weinhold, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Dresden-Meiβen, passed away on 10 October, aged 78
  • Domenica Cardinal Bartolucci, Cardinal-Deacon of Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata, passed away on 11 November, aged 96
  • Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Haarlem, passed away on 19 November, aged 90
  • Bishop Max Georg von Twickel, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 28 November, aged 87
  • Ricardo María Cardinal Carles Gordó, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Marie Consolatrice al Tiburtino, passed away on 17 December, aged 86

New appointments and consecrations in the dioceses of northwestern Europe:

  • Bishop Heiner Koch, auxiliary bishop of Köln, was appointed as bishop of Dresden-Meiβen on 18 January and installed on 18 March
  • Fr. Rudolf Voderholzer was consecrated as bishop of Regensburg on 26 January
  • Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville was appointed as bishop of Liège on 31 May and consecrated on 14 July.
  • Bishop Aloys Jousten retired as bishop of Liège on 31 May
  • Fr. Michael Gerber was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Freisgau on 12 June and consecrated on 8 September
  • Fr. Ansgar Puff was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Köln on 14 June and consecrated on 21 September
  • Fr. Johannes Wübbe was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Osnabrück on 18 June and consecrated on 1 September
  • Bishop Werner Radspieler retired as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg on 9 September
  • Archbishop Robert Zollitsch retired as archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 17 September
  • Archbishop Nikola Eterovic was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany on 21 September; Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset retired as such on the same day
  • Bishop Rainer Klug retired as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 21 November

evangelii gaudiumIn the past year, my blog enjoyed 113,702 visits, some 26,000 more than in 2012. The retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the following conclave and the election of Pope Francis, the Scalfari interview and the corrected English translation I provided, the letter of Archbishop Müller to the German bishops and the upcoming election of the successor of Cardinal Meisner, Evangelii Gaudium and Cardinal Eijk’s sanction against the Dominican priest who was excessively creative are among the topics and events that drew most readers. A good year. Much gratitude and encouragement to continue merrily onwards into 2014.

May your new year be blessed and joyful!

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Episcopal highlights of November 2013

1about_bishops_Ethiopia_Theodoros%20Van%20Ruyven0 November: Bishop Theodorus van Ruyven (pictured) retires as Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte. The Dutch-born bishop of the Congregation of the Mission first became prefect of the Apostolic Prefecture of Jimma-Bingo (since elevated to an Apostolic Vicariate) in Ethiopia in 1998. In 2009 he was appointed is Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte, and with that appointment came an ordination as bishop. His titular see is Utimma. Earlier this year he co-consecrated his eventual successor, Bishop Varghese Thottamkara, as Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic.

11 November: Domenico Cardinal Bartolucci passes away. The highly respected retired director of the Sistine Chapel choir passed away at the age of 96. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2010, because of the work he had done for liturgical music in a career that spans as far back as the late 1940s. In addition to conducting and leading various choirs, Cardinal Bartolucci was also a composer. His funeral Mass was offered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, with Pope Francis offering the final commendation. The Mass may be viewed here. There are now 200 cardinals, with 109 of them being electors

19 November: Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet passes away.

wb_klug_gross60232521 November: Bishop Rainer Klug (pictured) retires as Auxiliary Bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau, a function he held since 2000. His retirement was granted less than a month before his 75th birthday, and comes shortly after the retirement of Freiburg’s Archbishop Zollitsch. He was a member of the commissions for liturgical questions and for discernment and education in the German Bishops’s Conference.

28 November: Bishop Max Georg von Twickel passes away at the age of 87. He was auxiliary bishop of Münster and titular bishop of Lugura. Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers, an auxiliary of the same diocese, remembers him for his sharp analytical mind and his sense of humour. Bishop Felix Genn, the ordinary, also adds his memory competence and highly developed theological knowledge. Bishop Von Twickel had been a priest of Münster from 1952 to 1973, when he was appointed as auxiliary bishop, a function he held until his retirement in 2001.

“Two hands reaching out” – the consecration of Bishop Michael Gerber

“It is God who enters into a relationship with us, who holds out his hand to us, and therefore invites us to open ourselves to Him and enter into the covenant with Him.”

Words from Archbishop Robert Zollitsch’s homily on the occasion of the ‘last Sunday’s consecration of Bishop Michael Gerber, the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. The image of God extending His hand to His people is also illustrated in Bishop Gerber’s staff, as shown below:

gerber

The archbishop further expounded on the covenant of God, which is in essence a partnership.

“Dear sisters and brothers, both partners are needed in a covenant. We are not just the ones who receive God’s kindness and love. We are also in a position to respond to it and pass this love of God further and shine it out in our surroundings and environment! In the Gospel we have heard this promise from the mouth of Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth! […] You are the light of the world!” (Matt. 5:13,14). Yes, we may confidently say that we have something to give to the world! We may share our faith boldly and aggressively with the world! Because we know ourselves to be sustained in God’s covenant, we ourselves can support others who need our support! If we get involved in this covenant and make ourselves part of it, we can give the Church a human face and show the effect of God’s love!”

Bishop Michael Gerber, himself not adverse to physical exercise, drew a picture of two mountaineers, one going ahead , the other following. “Our Church needs both types of mountaineers and at times – as in true climb – the roles may also be reversed. Those who climb ahead and those who stand securely on solid ground.”

Bishop Gerber, who had pilgrimaged on foot from his hometown of Oberkirch to Freiburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady, a distance of some 75 kilometers, was consecrated by Archbishop Zollitsch and Freiburg’s other two auxiliaries, Bishop Rainer Klug and Bernd Joachim Uhl.

Photo credit: Roger Köppe/Erzbistum Freiburg

Erstwhile host of the Pope appointed as bishop in Freiburg

gerberIn the year that two of its current three bishops (the ordinary and of two auxiliaries) will turn 75 and are thus obliged to tender their resignation, the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau in southwestern Germany sees the groundwork being laid for the future of its curia, with the appointment of Msgr. Michael Gerber as auxiliary bishop.

At 43, Bishop-elect Gerber is part of the Church’s youngest generation of bishops: those born in 1970 or later. Another member of that group is his fellow countryman Bishop Florian Wörner, auxiliary of Augsburg, who was consecrated in July of last year.

Until today, Bishop-elect Gerber was the president of the Collegium Borromaeum, the archdiocesan seminary. During that time he was the host of Pope Benedict XVI, who stayed at the Collegium during his visit to Germany in September of 2011.

“Mit dir im Bund” (Latin: tecum in foedere) will be the bishop’s motto, which is an indication of his theological thought and pastoral approach, as the official announcement explains:

“In the Old and New Testament, “Bund” refers to the basic relationship of God with His people. “Mit dir” implies the answer that people have given to this call of God. “Many people feel that the task that we are faced with is actually overwhelming. This experience is also true for a bishop. The trust in God gives us the strength to taker the next step,” Michael Gerber explains about his motto.

Bishop-elect Michael Gerber is a Doctor in Theology and has been involved with the diocesan seminary since 2001. As bishop he will retain his function as president, at least for the time until a successor has been found. Whether he will succeed retired Auxiliary Bishop Paul Wehrle as episcopal vicar for higher education remains to be seen.

The consecration is scheduled for 8 September at Freiburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady. Archbishop Zollitsch will undoubtedly be the main consecrator, and Auxiliary Bishops Rainer Klug and Bernd Uhl will most likely serve as co-consecrators. Archbishop Zollitsch and Bishop Klug will reach the retirement age of 75 in August and December respectively, so the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau can expect its share of episcopal appointments, consecrations, and installations in the near future.

Photo credit: Robert Eberle

2013 – the great German turnaround

2013 will be the year of one of the largest shakeups of the German episcopate, at least for the foreseeable future. No less than four bishops, including two archbishops, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75, while a further three are already 75 or older. Additionally, two dioceses remain without a bishop. There is of course no guarantee that all, or even any, of these bishops will retire this year, or the sees be filled, but the odds are large enough to warrant a look at what the exact changes may be.

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700On 9 August, the first episcopal 75th will be marked by the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (pictured) of Freiburg im Breisgau. He will be followed on 13 December by one of his auxiliaries, Bishop Rainer Klug. In the southern German archdiocese, that will leave only 66 year-old auxiliary Bishop Bernd Joachim Uhl of the current diocesan curia.

In between these two bishops, on 13 August and 3 December respectively, Bishop Werner Radspieler, auxiliary of Bamberg, and Archbishop Werner Thissen, of Hamburg, will mark their 75th birthdays.

Both Freiburg and Hamburg are significant archdioceses, the first by population (some 5 million Catholics) and the second by sheer size, being Germany largest circumscription.

meisnerThese four milestones are in addition to three bishops who are still serving despite being past the age of 75. The first is Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary of Essen, and the other two are both cardinals: Karl Cardinal Lehmann, bishop of Mainz, and Joachim Cardinal Meisner (pictured) of Cologne (who will mark his 80th birthday on Christmas Day, and may then become one of those rarest of cardinals: no longer eligible to vote in a conclave, yet still serving as a diocesan ordinary).

Over the course of this year then, we may see two dioceses (Dresden-Meißen and Passau) being filled and between two and four becoming vacant. If the maximum of four do indeed become vacant, we will witness another fairly unique situation: three of Germany’s seven metropolitan archdioceses and historically significant Mainz, after Trier and Cologne the German diocese with the longest pedigree, and held by cardinals since the 1960s, will be empty.

Photo credit: [1] Hartmut W. Schmidt, [2] Harald Tittel (c) dpa – Bildfunk

In Germany, auxiliaries come and go

Over the past week, there has been something of a changing of the guard in southern Germany, or at least the start of one. As the country’s youngest bishop was consecrated on 27 July, two senior prelates retired on the 30th and the 31st.

Bishop Florian Wörner was consecrated in Augsburg by Bishop Konrad Zdarsa (Wörner pictured at left at the closing of the consecration Mass). He is now one of Augsburg’s two auxiliary bishops. In his homily, Bishop Zdarsa addressed the new bishop:

“Dear brother!

As a direct representative of the bishop you will have the special responsibility to ensure the promotion of the new evangelization in our diocese. The Lord also calls you, like the prophet: Fear not!

God’s word is not only placed in your mouth and heart, but you are similar to the Incarnate Word in Baptism and Confirmation, and in conformity to your ordination as a bishop, you will act and speak in persona Christi.

You are chosen from the people for the people, not to rule for your personal honor, but to serve. Yes, perhaps not even to have appeal and success, but rather to lose them.

However it may be – if this you may be certain: you are chosen by God to help people to get to know God and be saved by the foolishness of preaching the word of the cross.”

Elsewhere in Germany’s south, two veteran auxiliary bishops retired. In Freiburg im Breisgau Bishop Paul Friedrich Wehrle did so after 31 years, and in München und Freising Bishop Engelbert Siebler finished 26 years as auxiliary bishop.

72-year-old Bishop Wehrle retires for health reasons. The archdiocese will be requesting a successor, as it tries to maintain three active auxiliaries in lieu of the dioceses size.  Auxiliary Bishop Rainer Klug and Bernd Uhl remain to assist Archbishop Robert Zollitsch. Both Zollitsch and Klug are 73, so this retirement heralds an almost complete change in diocesan leadership over the coming years.

Bishop Engelbert Siebler retires for reasons of age, having turned 75 in May. He has been active as a teacher, leading the Commission on Schooling and Formation in the bishops’ conference from 2001 to 2006. Upon his retirement, Bishop Siebler receives both the Federal and Bavarian Order of Merit.