Harvest of bishops continues in Rome’s summer.

It is summer, but you wouldn’t know it from the Congregation for Bishops, which continues churning out new bishops on a daily basis. In recent weeks we saw two appointments and a retirement in Germany:

bentzIn the Diocese of Mainz, Pope Francis has appointed Fr. Udo Bentz as auxiliary bishop. He succeeds Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, who went to Erfurt in September.

Born in Rülzheim in 1967, the new bishop was ordained by Cardinal Lehmann in 1995, after completing his theology studies in Mainz and Innsbruck. He was subsequently subsequently assigned to the parish in Worms, and in 1998 he became Cardinal Lehmann’s personal secretary. In 2002 he began studying for his doctorate in dogmatics in Freiburg, which he combined with parish work. In 2007 he took over as head of the diocesan seminary. After his consecration, he will continue as such until further notice. Until 2017, he also heads the conference of seminary directors in Germany.

Judging from an interview from 2013, Bishop-elect Bentz is a man in the mold of Pope Francis:

“Faith is also and always socially and politically relevant. The Christian is a witness. And he contributes to shape of society, based on the conviction of the Gospel. In this context a priest also has a special responsibility. This aspect should not be denied. Mere ‘piety’ is not enough. One must learn to be aware of the social and political processes, to be able to critically distinguish and evaluate against the background of the Gospel”.

Bishop-elect Bentz’s has been given the titular see of Sita in modern Algeria. His consecration is set for 13 September.

dominicus-meier-osb-webOn the same day, the Archdiocese of Paderborn announced the appointment of Fr. Dominicus Meier as its new auxiliary bishop. He succeeds Bishop Manfred Grothe, whose retirement was also announced on the same day. More on him below.

Bishop-elect Meier has served the archdiocese between 1992 and 2001 as Defender of the Bond, and since 2013 as chief judge of the archdiocese. He is a Benedictine, having made his profession in 1982 at the Abbey of Königsmünster in Meschede. Born Michael, he took the name Dominicus. Between 2001 and 2013 he was the abbot of that community.

The new auxiliary bishop was born in 1959 in Lennestadt-Grevenbrück and after his profession he studied in Würzburg, Münster and Salzburg. In 1991 he became a diocesan judge in the latter archdiocese, frther completing his studies in canon law. Since 2002 he is a professor of canon law at the theological-philosophical Hochschule in Vallendar near Koblenz.

Bishop-elect Meier has been a priest since 1983 and will be consecrated as bishop on 27 September. He has been given the titular see of Castro di Sardegna.

Grothe_webAs mentioned above, Bishop Manfred Grothe retires as auxiliary bishop of Paderborn, but continues in his other office: that of Apostolic Administrator of Limburg. it is likely that that situation will continue until Limburg has a new bishop.

Bishop Grothe was auxiliary bishop of Paderborn from 2004 to 2015, and was presented with the task of putting the Diocese of Limburg back in order after the financial crisis that followed the extreme expenses on the diocesan offices and private residence of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who resigned in 2014. How long he will continue with that job is a guess. His retirement as auxiliary bishop should perhaps not be seen as related to Limburg, as Bishop Grothe turned 76 in April and was therefore due for retirement on the basis of his age.

Currently, there remain two vacant dioceses in Germany: the aforementioned Limburg, and Dresden-Meißen, who’s bishop, Heiner Koch, will be installed as Archbishop of Berlin on 19 September. Close to retirement continue to be Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz (he turned 79 in May) and Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen (he will turn 75 in October).

For Advent, the state of the Diocese – Bishop Grothe considers Limburg

While it’s not really a letter for Advent, the timing of this message from Bishop Manfred Grothe, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Limburg, is not coincidental. In it he looks back on the past year, an eventful one for the diocese, which is still in a sort of transitional period following the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and the financial drama that led to that.

14_03_Grothe“Dear sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Limburg,

After the start of the new liturgical year we are in the time of Advent, in which we prepare for the coming of the Lord. For many people it is a time, both professionally and privately, to look back on the past month and to use the weeks before Christmas to re-orient themselves: Where do I stand? What are my goals for the coming year?

As Christians in the Diocese of Limburg we look back on eventful and challenging months. Much has happened – although not everything has always been visible for everyone – and as Apostolic Administrator I was able to go part of the way with you. For that I thank you from my heart. I have above all used the time to first hear and get to know the diocese, its administration, commissions, consulting bodies and communities.

Things have quieted down in the Diocese of Limburg, and the headlines of the media have gone. Together we have started on a path of reorganisation and we have already taken important steps. Various bodies have had the courage for self-reflection and correction. Much has become clearer and more visible, but much also still needs time. I am confident that we can make a new start together, that trust will be renewed. In that context I especially think of the men and women who have withdrawn from recent confrontations and also risked an open debate. I wish that our diocese draws ever more together and regains a healthy self-awareness and self-confidence. From the joy of faith we can draw the strength to witness to the people of the loving closeness of the living God.

In the new year we will continue the reorganisation of the diocese’s financial management. With an eye on canon law the diocesan financial council will be installed with a new staff. The goal in this is a clear and unambiguous division of responsibility in the administration of the diocesan council and its authority and control. By employing external personnel a greater independence will be achieved while maintaining the duties of the financial council.

In addition the statute of the see will be revised, in cooperation with the relevant bodies, and the organisation’s management will be reorganised. Greater differentiation of assets and the path of transparency will be consistently continued. Already in July of 2014 the diocese published the assets and financial commitments of the Diocese of Limburg, the cathedral chapter and the school organisation.

In the coming months the thoughts and opinions of volunteer and paid staff, which was collected between September and the end of November, will also be evaluated. This evaluation will be an great additional help for me to process what happened and to learn from it. Today I can already thank all who made use of the option of making a phone call. There have been more than 100 calls. These reports have made it possible for me to get an idea of your thoughts and feelings and to understand better how you have experienced the past year. It is encouraging to me that the majority of callers have reported by name.

Nine new parishes will be established on 1 January 2015. Together with the 14 ‘new type parishes’ already existing half of the 45 new parishes has then been established.

The ‘new type parishes’ are past the stadium of planning and prognosis and already in many ways a concrete reality and a first answer to the changes and challenges of Church life. Together with the diocese, its curia and synod, I want to continue in this way. The process as a whole should not be reversed and stopped.  But the questions from the people in the parishes and communities are heard and easily understood. That is why we will continue with the visits to the communities. I can understand the concerns related to such a process of change and I also see many hurdles which must be overcome in dialogue and together. We must develop the steps to allow faith and community life to be lived strongly and with new impulses, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. That will certainly be a challenge since Church and lived faith will get a new face and will also be realised in a different shape and form. In addition to the geographical reorganisation of the diocese, perspectives must also be developed in the coming year that demonstrate how pastoral care in the ‘new type parishes’ may be realised and succeed.

A special working group with representatives from several departments of the diocese has worked intensively to find a use for the building complex on the Domberg in Limburg. The complex was built as a house for the bishop of Limburg and will in principle also be used as such. We want to use the coming months to open up and de-mythologise the house. There will therefore be guided tours for employees as well as for groups from the Diocese of Limburg. The buildings are planned to be used for conferences and meetings of various organisations. In addition, it can host exhibitions, theological and other events. In this way we want to include the bishop’s house in the plans for the Diocese of Limburg. The private areas will be excluded from the opening, with respect for their private use.

In September Bishop emeritus Dr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst left the Diocese of Limburg and moved into a private house in Regensburg. Until now there has not been a new assignment connected to this. I would have much preferred an official farewell, in whatever form. This has not been possible to date, for various reasons, but remains an option for the diocese. In the weeks until Christmas and the end of the year I invite all to accompany the bishop emeritus in prayer and ask God’s blessing for his future, which remains uncertain. Equally uncertain for now is when the election of a new bishop will be initiated by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. The Holy Father wants me to remain as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Limburg for a while longer and prepare for a new beginning while the see remains vacant. In the first half of the year I am allowed to fill the two empty places in the cathedral chapter and so complete the chapter for the election.

Dear sisters and brothers, the tasks that lie before us are complex and yet I see with gratitude that we have taken many steps in the past months. That gives me confidence. I invite everyone to continue on this path with magnanimity and mutual respect for the other. Not only our diocese, but also our society is faced with great challenges in the new year. We are discussing assisted dying and as Christians we have the duty to always and ever anew make the dignity of people in all phases of life visible. We provide a vital service to society. We also can’t lose sight of people at the edge of society and those who have fled to our country and look for help in their often indescribable need. That was made clear to me during a brief visit to the Burbach refugee centre. As Church of Limburg we will therefore continue to commit ourselves to a “culture of hospitality for refugees” and use our financial and human resources to give our neighbours not just a home, but also a piece of homeland.

I wish you a blessed time of Advent and a Christmas rich in mercy, and a blessed new year. God has become man. Let’s celebrate that with confidence and faith in God and show the people around us what that means for us.

Limburg, on the third Sunday of Advent

+Auxiliary Bishop Manred Grothe

Apostolic Administrator “

Learning how to bishop – Bishop Oster in Rome

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau shares the photo below on his Facebook page. Germany’s youngest ordinary met Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Archbishop Georg Gänswein over lunch yesterday and brings back the retired pontiff’s heartfelt greetings and promises of prayer to Passau, the diocese in which Benedict was born in 1927.
oster benedict gänswein

Bishop Oster is in Rome as part of the annual “training course” for new bishops who were appointed in the past year. With him from Germany are Archbishop Stephan Burger and Bishop Michael Gerber from Freiburg, Bishop Ansgar Puff from Cologne, and Bishop Herwig Gössl from Bamberg (pictured below while attending one of the seminars earlier this week).

gerber, burger, oster, puff, gössl

The training week is organised by Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s  Congregation for Bishops, and is attended by some 130 bishops from across the globe. Various cardinals and other Curia members offered seminars on such topics as the Church’s social teaching (Cardinal Turkson), the spirituality of bishops (Cardinal Amato) and the workings of the Synod of Bishops (Cardinal Baldisseri), the reforms of the Curia (Cardinal Ouellet), and finances (Cardinal Pell), but they also heard the sobering stories of bishops from Iraq and Syria. The ten days of the training is, as Bishop Oster says, also a time of reflection, prayer and community and will be closed tomorrow with an audience with Pope Francis.

No return for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst

franz-peter tebartz-van elstReports that the Vatican would make a statement regarding Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst started breaking this morning, to the effect that he will not be returning to his diocese.

Awaiting the official statement, which Domradio has announced to be commenting on at noon, we can only guess at the details. We can, however safely assume that the heart of the decision will be either that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has indeed mismanaged the funds of the Diocese of Limburg, especially those related to the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts of the diocesan complex, which includes his own apartment (and it is likely that his lies under oath about his traveling to India will also play a part in it), or that the atmosphere in Limburg and Germany as a whole is such that his return is unwise. With the amount of hostility against his person, warranted or not, his work as ordinary of a diocese would have been almost impossibly difficult.

There are also reports that the bishop’s mental health has suffered in the past months, which can also be a determining factor in this decision.

If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will indeed not return, the Diocese of Limburg is the sixth diocese in Germany to fall vacant.

This is the text of the decision as released by the Holy See today, in my translation:

Regarding the administration of the Diocese of Limburg, in Germany, the Congregation for Bishops has studied in detail the report of the Commission, that was established according to the desires of the bishop and the cathedral chapter, to investigate in detail the responsibilities regarding the construction of the Diocesan Centre “St. Nicholas”.

Given that a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Holy See has accepted the resignation as offered by the bishop on 20 october 2013 and has appointed an Apostolic Administrator in the person of Monsignor Manfred Grothe.

The outgoing bishop, Msgr. Tebartz-van Elst, will be given other duties in due time.

The Holy Father asks the clergy and the faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to accept the decision of the Holy See willingly, and strive for a return to a climate of compassion and reconciliation.

The full report of the German bishops on this matter is set for publication at 3:30 this afternoon.

Grothe_webThe new Apostolic Administrator of Limburg, who will work in conjunction with Bishop Thomas Löhr, auxiliary bishop of the diocese, and Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch, the vicar general appointed as Bishop Tebartz-van Elst began his leave of absence, is Bishop Manfred Grothe (pictured). He is the senior auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Paderborn, which borders Limburg to the north. He led the bishops’ investigation into the whole affair.

Paderborn’s Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker sees the appointment of Bishop Grothe as a “great sign of confidence” from Pope Francis. He said, “I am certain that Auxiliary Bishop Grothe will be a good companion for the Church of Limburg on the road they start today. His decades-long experience, his great knowledge and above his factual nature, which is yet directed towards the people, make him ideal for the task before him.”

It is interesting to note that the Holy See does not expound much on the reasons for accepting Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation. But what it does say is interesting. The communique does refer to the investigation conducted by the German Bishops’ Conference and studied by the Congregation for Bishops, but merely notes that “a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst”. These are very factual statements. Regardless of whether or not the bishops concluded that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has made grave mistakes, it is by now virtually impossible to be a diocesan ordinary. This is as much due to the situation created by himself (of which only the lying under oath is proven and admitted, which is serious enough), as to how he has been portrayed in the media. In many cases this portrayal has been objetive and necessary, but in a fair number of cases it has not. The words of support from, for example, Cardinal Lehmann, but also those of Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Gänswein, should therefore not automatically be construed as an error of judgement on their part, but, together with the Holy See statement, as an acknowledgement of the fact that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation will not be solely due to what he did or did not do wrong.

The full report from the bishops’ commission, published this afternoon, is a lengthy tome, and while I am able to make a working translation of short German texts, this, I have to be honest, is a whole different animal. Summaries and analyses of what exactly went wrong are therefore better left to others. The fact remains that things went seriously wrong and while the intentions of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may have been good and honest, the execution of the entire construction project most certainly was not. It is, however, good to remember that he inherited this whole affair to a certain extent, as the initial plans, with a number of inherent financial miscalculations, were drawn up by the cathedral chapter in 2004, a full three years before Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was appointed as ordinary of Limburg. But he did authorise new plans and their execution, and made sure that he was the sole responsible party.

In a very ill-advised move, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has now issued a statement denying a number of conclusions from the commission’s report, stating that he was, from the very start, dedicated to ensure “quality and sustainability”, especially in the context of unfortunate experiences with other construction projects in the diocese. In my opinion, this is a counterproductive and unwise move. For the Diocese of Limburg and its faithful, and also for its former bishop, a period of trial and uncertainty has ended. As Bishop Manfred Grothe indicated, now is a time to look ahead. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may consider his intentions to have been righteous and his efforts to have been all he could do, the fact remains that things went wrong, or so the commission concludes. In denying these conclusions, the bishop is not only fighting the commission and his brother bishops, but also the opinion of the world. And that last one is a difficult opponent, which can not be changed or defeated by full-on assault and denial. It only becomes stronger. The bishop had better chosen another approach, of penance and regret, instead of this. Nothing good will come from it.

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

meisner

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.

meisner

Not an island, or how Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may not be solely to blame for what went wrong

There is a lot going on in the Diocese of Limburg, not least when it comes to the speculation about what Bishop Tebartz-van Elst did and did not do. Whatever the truth of all this may turn out to be (and that is, it would seem, now up to either Pope Francis or Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s Congregation for Bishops – or both), it seems that the bishop is by no means the only one who bears responsibility for the excessive costs of the St. Nicholas centre, which includes the bishop’s private appartments.

Erzbischof Jean-Claude Prisset 2007The most striking name involved is that of Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset (pictured), until about a month ago the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. Not only was he aware of the construction plans for the diocesan centre in Limburg an der Lahn, but he also agreed to the plan of splitting the project into ten smaller ones, thus avoiding seeking Vatican, as is mandatory with plans costing more than 5 million Euros. All this according to internal reports that German press agency KNA got their hands on.

Not only does this indicate that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, in Germany media these days often called the “luxury bishop” or even the “bishop of bling”, is not automatically the sole responsible party (although he carries the major part of the burden out of his responsibility as ordinary), but it may also shed a light on Archbishop Périsset’s retirement eight months before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75…

Oh well, all this may turn out to be mere speculation, but it is striking. One thing is certain: the situation is not as clear-cut as we, and the media, would perhaps like. It seems ever more likely that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, consciously or not, has made some serious errors of judgement. But others who he called in for advice and assistance, certainly aided him in that.

That mysterious ad limina visit

In the past I wrote about the next ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops to Rome. In April of 2012 we heard that it would perhaps be taking place some time in 2013. In January of this year, the Congregation for Bishops proudly announced that all the world’s bishops’ conferences had visited the Pope on their ad limina visits. All, except the Dutch. But, as Archbishop Baldisseri, then still with the Congregation, subsequently assured us, the Dutch ad limina would take place no later than early 2014. Hopefully.

Icoon_fidei_bewerkt_door_impulsar_smallSince then it’s been quiet, but that need not mean that nothing is being prepared. We may know nothing yet, the bishops seem to do, and so does, for example, Church in Need, who recently presented an ‘Icon of Faith’ which Bishop Rob Mutsaerts will present to Pope Francis on behalf of the Dutch faithful… during the ad limina in early December!

Church in Need will not be collecting donations and prayer intentions for nothing, so we assume they know something we don’t. The 12-man strong conference will be among the first to visit Pope Francis on their official ad limina apostolorum visit. As reported earlier, the last time this happened was almost a decade ago, in 2004. About time, I would say.

EDIT: A short conversation on Twitter has removed all doubt, as the Catholic media office promises ample coverage of the visit.