A new bishop in the east

Görlitz amid the other German dioceses

The east of this blog’s area of interest, that is.

Tucked away in the triangle formed by Germany’s borders with Poland and the Czech Republic is an interesting remnant of a once powerful ecclesiastical jurisdiction – or one of the remnants, one should say. The Diocese of Görlitz was created in 1972 as an apostolic administration to conform with the post-war borders in east and central Europe. Before 1972, this was part of the great Archdiocese of Breslau, stretching across parts of modern Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, and split in separate parts following the Allies’ divisions of the Third Reich.

Now one of the smallest German dioceses with a mere 30,000 Catholic faithful, Görlitz runs the risk of being something of a lost child in the Church of the west. But good things have a tendency to be noticed, as became clear in July 2010, when Görlitz’s bishop, Msgr. Konrad Zdarsa, was sent to Augsburg, where his predecessor, Bishop Mixa, had just left amid much rumours and confusion. Bishop Zdarsa had been occupying the see of Görlitz for only three years when he was reassigned, so evidently  he must have made good in the small diocese. But his departure did leave the good people of eastern Saxony and southern Brandenburg without a bishop.

Bishop-elect Wolfgang Ipolt

Now, almost exactly a year later, a clergyman from Erfurt is sent east  become a shepherd. Msgr. Wolfgang Ipolt is 57 and becomes the fourth bishop of Görlitz, with its 60-some priests, and 80-some religious. Bishop-elect Ipolt was until now the rector of the interdiocesan seminary in Erfurt, which also serves Berlin, Dresden-Meiβen, Magdeburg and Görlitz, as well as students from Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic. As rector of such a seminary, Msgr. Ipolt may be expected to have a similarly international outlook, especially eastward towards the great Catholic nations of Poland and Lithuania, but also to the fledgling Church communities in the former German Democratic Republic – communist East Germany. The new bishop, then, reflects the identity of the diocese: situated between past and present – the strong Catholic history of past Breslau and the future of the new dioceses in eastern Germany.

With this appointment, only Berlin remains vacant in Germany.

The pope’s on the case

It may be the time of year when nothing much seems to be happening – unless you’re a Belgian bishop – and he may be about to leave for his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, but Pope Benedict XVI has shown once again to be on top of things when it comes to appointing bishops in striken dioceses. First Bruges only had to wait a few months before seeing Msgr. De Kesel replace Bishop Vangheluwe, now Augsburg gets a new shepherd to succeed Bishop Walter Mixa, who resigned amid a storm of confusion and accusations to and fro. 66-year-old Bishop Konrad Zdarsa will go from Görlitz, where he was appointed only three years ago, to Augsburg. Let’s hope he gets along will with that diocese’s two auxiliary bishops and staff.

In a bit of random-yet-interesting trivia, Katholiek Nederland reports that the government of Bavaria has the right to veto any episcopal appointments in that state. Bishop Zdarsa passed their scrutiny, though.

Stats for June 2010

A few days late, but here they are nonetheless (mostly for myself, I’ll admit)

June was a slightly better month than May, although the news and the topics I wrote about diminished a bit in the second half of the month. 3,652 page views were registered, bringing the total since the beginning of January to 22,582. As I thought, it did indeed cross the 20,000 somewhere around mid-June.

The ten most popular posts were the following:

1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution (167)
2: St. Boniface Day 2010 (130)
3: Ouellet to the Congregation for Bishops (81)
4: The curious case of Bishop Walter Mixa (68)
5: Cardinal Newman to be beatified by the pope, officially announced (62)
6: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie – onofficiële vertaling (60)
7: Msgr. De Kesel to Bruges? Wow (54)
8: Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Amsterdam (52)
9: A difficult choice in the voting booth (48)
10: Father Cor Mennen had better look out… perhaps (44)

The high ranking of my post about the St. Boniface Day is mainly due to a link from my favourite Dutch blogger (for a giving value of ‘favourite’), who saw fit to use it as one more tool to attack my bishop, albeit not very convincingly (seriously, I’m suddenly an authority on  how many people attend an event?). Anyway, spike in stats – always nice.

Speaking of bishops, they and other curia members were the trend in the search terms. Msgr. Gänswein (yes, still), Bishop Mixa and the Venerable Cardinal Newman were all popular.

And lastly, can I say how very happy I am to see my translation of Msgr. Marini’s address on the liturgy still lingering in the top 10? Oh, I just did.

A reasonable overhaul

Yesterday’s police intervention in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels now looks to have been excessively forceful. Not only didn’t the police find any ‘held back paedophilia files’, but in order to do that, they detained all Belgian bishops for nine hours. The bishops had gathered for their monthly meeting. Together with the personnel they were held in one room, forced to surrender their mobile phones and other communication equipment. Although the bishops have stated to have full confidence in the Justice Department, which is why they cooperated fully, to me this sounds as if the bishops are already considered criminals. The only thing lacking is evidence. A very worrying development.

But this, together with the disruptions in the German Diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Mixa has now accepted his resignation and promised not to challenge it again, is what we can expect more of in the near future. The abuse crisis can lead to nothing else but a full overhaul of everything that helped in covering up the crimes. And that will mean resignations, police investigations and the like. But, as in all things, these need good reason and agreements between all parties to have full effect. If one party does not agree with a bishop’s resignation, we get an Augsburgian situation. If the Justice department ignores agreements made and decides to investigate cases which are many years old and thus subject to the statute of limitations, we get Belgian situations.

A major overhaul, with all the discomfort and chaos it entails, is a simple necessity. But it must be done right to have full effect. And that’s still not happening everywhere.

Translation of the press statement from the bishops, which I linked to above:

“The bishops of Belgium were present in the Archbishop’s house around 10:15 this morning, Thursday 24 June 2010, for the monthly meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. A short while later, around 10:30, members of the Justice department and police officers arrived with a search warrant. At the basis of this are said to have been complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. More explanation was not given to those present, but immediately all documents and mobile phones were confiscated. No one was allowed to leave the building. Only at 19:30 was that lifted.

Everyone, both the members of the Bishops’ Conference and the personnel of the archdiocese, was interrogated. That was not automatically a pleasant experience, but everything was handled correctly. The bishops have always said that they have full confidence in the courts and their work. They underwent the search of this morning with the same confidence and that is also the reason why they will refrain from any comment at this time.

On the other hand, with Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the ‘Committee for the investigation of sexual abuse in the framework of a pastoral relation’, they regret that all the files of the committee were seized during another search. This goes against the right on confidentiality which the victims who have contacted the committee have. An action like this seriously affects the necessary and exemplary work of the committee.”

The curious case of Bishop Walter Mixa

I’ve been thinking what – if anything – to write about the case of Bishop Walter Mixa, the former bishop of Augsburg who stepped down following allegations of sexual abuse which proved to be untrue. There are now questions being raised about the very validity of his resignation. Some say it was a forced resignation, which would make it invalid, and others even see it as proof of a conspiracy within the higher echelons of the Church in Augsburg. Since it is unclear exactly what reasons for the resignation were delivered to Rome, and what the pope discussed with a number of high-ranking German bishops (including Archbishop Reinhard Marx of München und Freising, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg im Breisgau and Bishop Anton Losinger, auxiliary of Augsburg) in several occasions, it’s very hard to figure out who is right and who is wrong. But it does seem that these steps, taken, perhaps, in the eagerness to tackle the abuse issue, had unforeseen consequences. Openness and honesty, it would seem, never come without thoroughness and care.

In the mean time, Welt features an interview (in German of course) with Bishop Mixa, adding a personal dimension to this story of a much-maligned man.

Charges against Mixa dropped, but his resignation already accepted

Shortly before his trip to Portugal*, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg. The reason being, as far as can be reconstructed by someone outside the entire process, the accusation of physical and sexual abuse made against Bishop Mixa, as well as his ‘creative’ use of the truth. Accusations of Mixa having hit children in his time as a priest have been around for longer. I’ve written about it before. And initially the bishop denied ever having laid hands on anyone, something which he later came back on. In my opinion, it is that which led to his resignation: not the slaps he may have handed out in the past (something which was much more socially accepted at the time – teachers and parents would be able to use a slap as a corrective measure without any uproar), but the fact that he lied.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the accusation of sexual abuse. That’s because that accusation was false. Even worse, it was engineered. A man was identified as a victim of Mixa’s, something the man in question then denied.

The above is a very serious risk. If, for whatever reason, someone bears a grudge against a priest or bishop, they can do serious damage by accusing him of sexual abuse. Even if Bishop Mixa had been honest from the very start and the pope would not have accepted his resignation, how could he have continued in his function as bishop? Sexual abuse is such a serious crime that it forever taints him who is guilty of it, or even accused of it. We see it when convicted offenders, after their punishment, return to society: the distrust always remains.

That is why, in the attempts to find out the truth, we must be really careful. There is a risk, I would say, a certainty, that some of the thousands of accusations made against priests and bishops now are false. They could have been engineered by people bearing a grudge, or simply by people who are after the money to be one in a settlement.

Finding out the truth, both of what happened and of the motivation of the claimant, takes time. That is contrary to the wishes of the victims, and understandably so. Many feel they have been waiting too long already. But the only answer that is satisfactory in the long term, for everyone involved, is the full truth, however hidden and buried it may be.

*More about that tomorrow.


Unexpected resignation

As in other countries, the Church in Germany also suffers under the abuse crisis. One of the men in the centre of attention is Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg and the German military. Accusations against him do not deal with sexual abuse, but physical violence. Bishop Mixa has admitted having sometimes slapped pupils under his authority when he was a priest in a childrens’ home in Schrobenhausen between 1975 and 1996. He also said that an occasional slap was not considered abnormal at the time, something which will hold some truth. His accusers, however, talk of serious beatings they received, although Bishop Mixa claims not to know at least one of said accusers.

In a rather unexpected move, Bishop Mixa has now offered his resignation to the pope. Such resignations are usually always accepted. Why do I find this unexpected? Well, I was under the impression that Bishop Mixa was quite adamant about the inaccuracy of the allegations against him. But his resignation is perhaps understandable for the good of the Church in his diocese and in Germany as a whole. He has, rightly or not, become controversial.

But this affair also points to a disturbing trend: judging past events by modern standards. Slapping children in school is nowadays not done, and rightly so. In the past, and a fairly recent past at that, that was different. Of course, regular beatings are always unacceptable, at whatever time they happened. But a clip around the head is surely something different?