Luxembourg archbishop succeeds Cardinal Marx at the helm of COMECE

The COMECE, short-hand for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, has elected their successor to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who presided over the 29-member organisation, which “monitors the political process of the European Union in all areas of interest to the Church”, since 2012.

The seventh president since COMECE’s establishment in 1980 is Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Jesuit archbishop of Luxembourg. Archbishop Hollerich’s mandate runs from 2018 to 2023. He has represented the Luxembourg Church in COMECE since 2011. His view on the role of COMECE in Europe is summarised in a statement he made during last month’s high-level meeting with the European Commission:  “Christians are not an interest group speaking in favor of religions, but European citizens committed to the construction of Europe, our common house”.

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^New COMECE preisdent Archbishop Hollerich with outgoing president, Cardinal Marx, in the background.

Together with the election of a new president, the rest of the highest leadership of COMECE was also renewed. Four new vice-presidents, one less than in the previous iteration, were elected: Bishop Noël Treanor (Down and Connor, Northern Ireland), Bishop Mariano Crociata (Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno, Italy), Bishop Jan Vokál (Hradec Králové, Czech Republic) and Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen, Germany). -imageThe Dutch delegate to COMECE, Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom (at right), auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, was elected as president of the Commission on Legal Affairs. The new presidium was officialy launched at the Mass for Europe, celebrated in Brussels’ church of Notre Dame du Sablon.

Cardinal Marx hereby loses one of his multitude of offices. He still remains archbishop of München und Freising, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, member of the C9 group that assists Pope Francis in reforming the Curia, and the coordinator of the Council for the Economy, a part of the Curia in Rome.

COMECE strives to maintain close contacts with the institutions of the European Union, to monitor the political processes and developments and to communicate and inform both Church and politicians about their concerns and views, with a firm basis in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Photo credit: COMECE

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In Liège, Cardinal Maradiaga hints at a consistory and a red hat for Archbishop De Kesel

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Visiting Liège for a conference on Monday, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (pictured above with Liège’s Bishop Jean-Pierre Delville), archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras and one of the members of the C9, the council of cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the Curia, hinted at a possible consistory for the creation of new cardinals to be either held or announced in November. He also suggested that among the new cardinals could be the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, but chances are that that was just inspired by the fact that Cardinal Maradiaga was speaking in Belgium. And while Archbishop De Kesel could theoretically be made a cardinal – many of his predecessors were (with the notable – and regrettable – exception of Archbishop Léonard) – Pope Francis’ eye is not automatically focussed on the old dioceses of Europe when it comes to handing out red hats…

Between now and the end of the year, seven cardinals will turn 80 and thus become unable to vote in a conclave. The number of electors is now 114 and will be 107 at the end of November. If a consistory is held sometime in February, as the previous two were, at least one and perhaps two more cardinals will have aged out, allowing Pope Francis to create up to 15 new cardinals to bring the number of electors back up to the maximum of 120.

The nine cardinals turning 80 between now and mid-February are:

  • William Levada, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 15 June.
  • Anthony Okogie, Archbishop emeritus of Lagos, on 16 June.
  • Antonio Rouco Varela, Archbishop emeritus of Madrid, on 24 August.
  • Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop emeritus of Havana, on 18 October.
  • Nicolás López Rodríguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo, on 31 October.
  • Ennio Antonelli, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family, on 18 November
  • Théodore-Adrien Sarr, Archbishop emeritus of Dakar, on 28 November.
  • Audrys Bačkis, Archbishop emeritus of Vilnius, on 1 February.
  • Raymundo Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida, on 15 February.

Of these, seven are retired, but it would be altogether too easy to expect their successors to be made cardinals after them ( and Cardinal Levada’s successor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Müller, already is one). Still, it would fit with Pope Francis’ focus on the periphery, the plight of refugees and the importance of families to make Archbishops Alfred Martins in Lagos, Juan García Rodríguez in Havana and Vincenzo Paglia in the Pontifical Council for the Family cardinals.

Dr. Heiner Koch, Erzbischof von BerlinIn addition to Archbishop De Kesel, there are some more possible candidates for a red hat in northwestern Europe. In Germany, Archbishop Heiner Koch (at right) of Berlin is one. Six of his predeccesors in the German capital were cardinals, and although elected by the cathedral chapter of Berlin, he was included on the list they chose from, which was okayed by Pope Francis. Another option, if a remote one, is Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, appointed by his fellow bishops to oversee the Church’s efforts in the refugee crisis, a topic close to Pope Francis’ heart. It would Hamburg’s  first red hat. I don’t foresee any new cardinals from other countries in the area. That said, anything’s possible, as Pope Francis has previously elevated cardinals from unlikely dioceses.

If Pope Francis creates any cardinals in this part of Europe, it would be a first. In his past two consistories he did make some German cardinals, but they were all either retired or working in Rome.

Photo credit: [1] Diocese of Liège, [2] Walter Wetzler

Some photos…

…beg for a funny caption, but also leave one wondering what on earth is going on in them. This is one such photo.

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Pope Francis in conversation with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, just before the opening session of the four-day consistory which began today. The Holy Father made sure he was present to greet the 165 participating cardinals and arrived early. Only a few dozen cardinals were there before him.

Aside from creating 20 new cardinals on Saturday, the consistory is also an ocassion for updating the cardinals on the work of Council and the reforms they are setting into motion in the Curia. Today the increasing likelihood of merging several dicasteries into two new Congregations, one for Family, Laity and Life, the other for Charity, Justice and Peace (which will include a department for “safeguarding creation”. That’s an environmental office, in essence.

Photo credit: CNS/Paul Haring

Baldisseri’s focus – not dogmatic, but pastoral

baldisseriIn an exclusive interview for Belgian weekly Tertio, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, says it’s time for the Church to change her attitude to marriage and divorce. Or so several media say. Tertio’s website offers two short excerpts from the interview, with the first expressly dealing with the question of remarried divorcees. While it is clear that the answer presented is not the full answer given by Cardinal Baldisseri, it also does not support in any way that he desires a change in Church teaching. Of course, once the full interview is out, this conclusion may prove incorrect, but, as ever, things are likely not as explosive as some would want them to be.

In the West many expect more openness on sexual morality, including the attitude towards remarried divorcees. Do you expect there to be any changes?

“The questionnaire covered many topics. Among them the topic of sexual morality, but also the situation of divorcees and people who have remarried civilly. […] Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio from 1981 was the last major document in the past thirty years about this topic. The Church is not timeless; she exists amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by the people of today. The message must be delivered in the present, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives it. We now face two Synods to discuss this complex topic of the family, and I believe that this dynamic in two movements will allow us to give a more appropriate response to the expectations of the people.”

How can a greater balance be reached in the management of the Church, between the Curia and the world Church, between centralisation and local autonomy?

“That is the great question that Pope Francis knows himself to be confronted with, in the face of renewal and reform. According to him the bishops at the Conclave gave him that task. Synodality would have to guarantee decentralisation and more attention for the local churches, and also greater involvement of all bishops in the world with evangelisation. As head of the college of bishops the Pope must lead that process. The Council of eight cardinals is working towards a reform of the Curia and the central services of the Church.”

As an aside, the above answers are generally what Cardinal Baldisseri said in an interview for Vatican Radio in March. There he also said that what the Synod wants to do is get to know the problems, so solutions may be found. Pastoral care can and must be flexible, if always rooted in the faith of the Church. But pastoral care can only work if those who want to exercise it get to know the people and their situations. Getting to know and understand the questions and problems of people who are divorced and remarried is not the same as condoning their situation, but a first step towards a solution. I expect that is exactly what Cardinal Baldisseri and the Synod of Bishops is trying to do before the Synod starts in autumn.

The many works of Cardinal Marx

101020marx250In five rounds, the German bishops this morning elected Reinhard Cardinal Marx to succeed Archbishop Robert Zollitsch as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. He is the sixth chairman since the conference came into being in 1966, and with his election it is once more led by a cardinal, as was the case pre-Zollitsch.

One of the first questions that come to mind is how the cardinal will balance this new duty with the many responsibilities he already has. In chronological order, Cardinal Marx is:

  • Archbishop of München und Freising
  • President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences
  • Member of the Council of Cardinals that assist Pope Francis in reforming the Curia
  • Coordinator of the new Council for the Economy

In addition, he is, like other cardinals, also a member of various dicasteries in the Curia. In Cardinal Marx’s case these are:

  • the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
  • the Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

During the presentation to the media, this morning, Cardinal Marx already addressed this question, saying he might have to consider resigning from some of these functions. As chairman of the bishops’ conference, he logically can’t resign as archbishop of Munich. Likewise, it is probably not wise that he resign from the Council of Cardinals or the Council for the Economy, considering their importance and the fact that both are still in their infancy. His presidency of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences is probably fairly easy to retire from, as is the membership of one or more dicasteries in the Curia.

In any case, the question if his coordinatorship of the Council for the Economy would require permanent residency in Rome (as it does for Cardinal George Pell in his new role as president of the related Secretariat for the Economy) is now answered.

Anything is possible – German bishops to elect a new chairman

dbk logoLater today, the German bishops will elect their new chairman. While their spring assembly lasts until tomorrow, this is by far the most eagerly anticipated part of their deliberations. A total of 66 electors will be voting: 63 ordinaries and auxiliary bishops, as well as the administrators of 3 vacant sees. Limburg’s Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is not present; his place is taken by Administrator Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the departing chairman of the conference, also votes for his own successor, as he is the administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau.

zollitsch^Archbishop Zollitsch at the opening Mass for the Bishops’ Conference’s meeting.

There are no clear favourites in this election, but whatever the choice, it will constitute a generational shift. But this shift has been typical for the German Bishops’ Conference since about last year. A fair number of bishops and archbishops are retiring or have already done so. Among them are, for example, the aforementioned Archbishop Zollitsch, Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner and in the near future, Mainz’s Cardinal Lehmann and Hamburg’s Archbishop Thissen.

Despite the lack of favourites, there are a few names which have been mentioned more than others: Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx (who may have to let this one pass, as he has his share of responsibilities already: ordinary of Munich, Coordinator of the Council for the Economy, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals…). Other names are Osnabrück’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Trier’s Bishop Stephan Ackermann.

Whatever the choice, the expectation is that the new chairman will take Pope Francis’ program and run with it, which means a stronger focus on charity and evangelisation and, I fear, a greater risk of bishops getting head of themselves on issues like marriage and Communion (a topic the bishops are also discussing in this meeting), which we’ve already seen happen in Germany.

schwaderlapp hesse

^Two electors with their own choice to make: Cologne’s auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp and Administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße are also set to vote for the new archbishop of Cologne.

The election is set to take place this morning, and per the schedule available at Domradio.de, the presentation of the new chairman is scheduled for 10:30 local time.

The cardinal’s “no” to a papal visit

I added the official correction from the bishops’ conference to how Trouw represented the facts below:

eijkAccording to Trouw, preparations for a hypothetical papal visit to the Netherlands was already well-advanced when Cardinal Wim Eijk, as president of the Bishops’ Conference, vetoed the visit, doing so, he explained, after discussing the plans with the Pope on 10 January.

It seems amazing that the preparation was already so well underway: security was planned, money was available and there was even a script for the visit. While the idea was floated by Bishop Jos Punt several months ago, rumours did not become serious until the ad limina visit two months ago, and plans weren’t even officially discussed until the January meeting of the conference. For there to be a script ready this soon seems incredible. The article in Trouw states that Bishop Punt presented a full schedule for a one-day papal visit to Amsterdam during the plenary meeting in autumn. By the looks of it, this seems more like the trademark enthusiasm of Bishop Punt. A papal visit to his diocese would have been unlikely without the involvement of the rest of the conference. It would have been a national event anyway.

francisAs president of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Eijk is fully within his right to veto such plans, of course. And while the Trouw article suggests that “inside sources” confimr that no papal visit was discussed during Cardinal Eijk’s meeting with Pope Francis, the bishops’ spokeswoman rightly states that such meetings are confidential: we never get to hear what the Pope discusses with those he meets, especially not when they’re cardinals. Pope and cardinals can decide for themselves what they want to share of their conversation, and Cardinal Eijk has decided to keep it at this.

In general, the sources who say that a visit would have been possible or even desired by the Pope, are unnamed sources in the Vatican. I don’t think there’s much credibility we can attach to those…

Is it a shame that Pope Francis isn’t visiting? Of course. It would have been wonderful. It would also have been expensive, and I can understand that that would have kept the Pope at home, even though the Netherlands is, in some sense, a peripheral area in the Catholic world. And I don’t think that the bishops are ready to manage this… Pope Francis’ visit to the Netherlands, even if it were for just one day, would be making headlines for weeks. Considering the media’s opinion and track record of reporting on Catholic affairs, there would have been an enormous amount of misrepresentation of the Church and the faith, which would have to be corrected by the bishops and the faithful (who need to do this much more often, anyway). In that sense, I am glad that the Pope is not coming over.

And then there is the financial side. The bishops’ conference is cutting costs on all sides, and a papal visit is not going to be financed completely by the Holy See. While housing Pope Francis, with his sober tastes, would not be a problem, using the Amsterdam Arena football stadium for a prayer service, the logistics, the security, and all sorts of additional costs would be irresponsibly high at this moment.

Would the visit attract enough people? I think so. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1985 was disastrous, but times have changed. The media haven’t turned on Pope Francis yet (which they will when they find out he is not going to change Church teaching on sexuality, marriage, family and such). So in that sense a visit would be desirable now, more so than in the future. But in what sense it would be for the perceived persona of the Pope instead of a pastoral visit to strengthen the faithful can be debated…

Logistics, finances and communication skills would prohibit this visit, in my opinion. While Pope Francis would be enthusiastically received by all layers of society (imagine the circus when politicians all want to be involved…), I fear the effects of the visit would not last very long.

It’s a sad decision, but a good one, I think. Enthusiasm for a visit is simply not enough to make it happen.

EDIT: While my general comments above stand, it seems that the facts of the decision are somewhat different than represented by Trouw. The decision to not have a papal visit was not the cardinal’s, but the Pope’s. Read below my translation of the official statement from the bishops’ conference:

 On 10 January last, Cardinal Eijk met with Pope Francis in a private audience. The newspaper Trouw today misrepresents what both discussed during the meeting. Trouw states that the Pope and Cardinal Eijk decided jointly that a visit to the Netherlands would not take place. Cardinal Eijk is said to have also stated that in the plenary meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. That is completely besides the truth.

During the ad limina visit Cardinal Eijk replied to reporters’ questions that Pope Francis is welcome in the Netherlands. On 10 January he probed Pope Francis about the possibility of a papal visit to our country. The Pope himself indicated that he did not see a chance to do so in the foreseeable future. He is already planning to visit the Holy Land and several other countries. There is therefore no opportunity to visit the Netherlands soon.

Added to that are the Pope’s plans to reorganise the Roman Curia. As is known he has established a commission of eight cardinals from all continents who regularly meet in Rome to advise him in that matter. In the coming years this reorganisation will require much time and attention from the Pope. Therefore he has little opportunity to conduct travels abroad.

Trouw claims that the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference has said that Cardinal Eijk informed the Bishops’ Conference that the Holy Father and he had decided that the visit would not take place. In her e-mail to Trouw reporter Emiel Hakkenes, of Friday 31 January last, the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference made it known that the Pope decided himself not to visit the Netherlands (for now).