Double retirements leave four German dioceses vacant

Pope Benedict XVI today accepted the retirement of Bishop Joachim Wanke of Erfurt and Wilhelm Schraml of Passau. Bishop Wanke, 71, requested retirement in 2010 for reasons of health, but it wasn’t accepted until today.

Bishop Schraml is 77 and therefore two years over the mandatory retirement age.

With these retirements the number of vacant dioceses in Germany stands at four. In addition of Erfurt and Passau they are Regensburg, whose archbishop, Gerhard Müller, was called to Rome to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Dresden-Meiβen, whose bishop, Joachim Reinelt, retired in February.

Today’s double retirements may be an indication that we will soon see four quick episcopal appointments in a row: the long wait that Bishop Wanke and Schraml had before their retirement was accepted could indicate that something was going on behind the scenes, such as the smelling out of good candidates for the four sees.

Bishop Joachim Wanke, pictured above with the Holy Father as the latter visited Erfurt in 2011, started his episcopal career in 1980, when he became Coadjutor Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt-Meiningen, then not yet a full diocese in Communist East Germany. Three months after his appointment he automatically succeeded Bishop Hugo Aufderbeck upon the latter’s death. In 1994, as Germany was now unified, Erfurt-Meiningen became the Diocese of Erfurt and Bishop Wanke became its first bishop.

Bishop Wilhelm Schraml, left, started as auxiliary bishop of his native Archdiocese of Regensburg, and in 2001 he came to Passau as that diocese’s ordinary.

Both bishops hosted Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s visit to Germany in 2011.

Photo credit: [1] Kay Nietfeld dpa/lth (cropped version), [2] dpa

A generational shift near completion

With yesterday’s retirement of Bishop Joachim Reinelt the Berlin Church Province is close to completing a significant generational shift. For the first time since the province, which consists of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen, was established in its modern form in 1994*, a new generation of bishops is set to take over.

In July 2010, the bishop of Görlitz, Konrad Zdarsa, was moved to Augsburg, and he can be considered something of a transitional bishop, having helmed Görlitz for only three years. His predecessor, Bishop Rudolf Müller, had been Görlitz’s chief shepherd for almost 20 years. In June of last year, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt became the new bishop.

In February of last year, Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky retired as Archbishop of Berlin, making way for Rainer Maria Woelki to become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals as of three days ago.

And yesterday, Bishop Joachim Reinelt retired as the bishop of Dresden-Meiβen, a position he had held since 1988. He reached the obligatory retirement age of 75 in October, but, as these things go, the resignation he tendered then was only now accepted. Running the diocese now is 71-year-old vicar general Msgr. Michael Bautz, but the eventual new bishop may well be younger than that. The neighboring bishops, Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki and auxiliary Matthias Heinrich, and Görlitz’s Ipolt, are 55, 57 and 57 respectively.

The Diocese of Dresden-Meiβen covers the major part of Saxony and small parts of eastern Thuringia, and is centered around the cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Dresden and the co-cathedral of Saint Peter in Bautzen.

*On 27 June of that year, Berlin became a metropolitan archdiocese with Görlitz and Dresden-Meiβen as its suffragan dioceses. Before that date, Görlitz had been an apostolic administration ever since it was split off from the Polish Archdiocese of Wroclaw in 1972, and Dresden-Meiβen had been immediately subject to the Holy See. A reflection of the status quo of post-war East Germany.

Photo credit: Lisa Boscheinen / Erzbistum Freiburg

Good priest? Tell Rome about it!

Father Ray Blake has a good suggestion on what to do when we are faced with a vacant diocese. Apart from praying or a good and holy new bishop, he says, we should write “in praise of good and faithful priests”. The powers that be in Rome rely also on the opinions and thoughts of the faithful when faced with the choice of a new bishop, and I somehow think that they don’t hear a whole lot from the Dutch faithful.

In the Netherlands, we are of course still awaiting a new bishop in the Diocese of Breda, but after that appointment there will not be much change in the current lineup of ordinaries and auxiliaries. The oldest of the currently active bishops, Msgr. Frans Wiertz (right) of Roermond, won’t turn 75 until 2017, closely followed by Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 2019 and Bishop Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam in 2021. Only an appointment abroad, illness or, God forbid, an untimely death would change the playing field until then.

That’s at least 6 years in which we can notice and share the actions and words of good priests, and write to the appropriate authorities, who need and want to hear from the faithful here (and something else than complaints alone, please).

In the Netherlands, you can write to:

Z.E. Monseigneur François Bacqué
Apostolische Nuntiatuur
Carnegielaan 5
2517 KH ‘S-Gravenhage

Or directly to the Congregation for Bishops:

Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII
10-00193 Roma

In Germany, things are a bit different, since there four bishops are already over 75 and still in function. They are Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz, Cardinal Meisner of Cologne, Bishop Reinelt of Dresden-Meiβen and Bishop Schraml of Passau. In addition, two auxiliaries are approaching the age of 75: Bishop  Siebler in München und Freising, and Bishop Vorath in Essen.

But of course, the above reasoning works for German readers as well, except that they should direct their writings to another Nuncio, pictured below:

S.E. Jean-Claude Périsset
Apostolische Nuntiatur
Lilienhalstrasse 3A
10965 Berlin
Postfach 610218
10923 Berlin

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Roermond, [2] Kirchensite.de

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.

Appeal for the Cistercian sisters of Marienthal

The flooding in central Europe, which has already cost the lives of 15 people, has also hit the convent of Marienthal in Germany. The sisters who live there have retreated to the higher parts of their buildings, it is said. The Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, under which the convent falls, has appealed for donations. A spokesman has said that these are the worst floods since the convent’s founding in 1234.  In the church, the water has reached a height of two meters. The damage is estimated to amount to several million Euros. Some 100 people depend on the convent for their work and income, and that does not include the sisters living there. It goes without saying that they are dependent on their home.

Kayaking across the convent grounds

Marienthal saw a massive restoration in the early 90s, following the German reunification, all done by volunteers. Now the convent welcomes some 100,000 visitors per year.

For donations for the relief and inevitable restoration of the centuries-old convent complex, the diocese has created a bank account number:

Volksbank Raiffeisenbank Niederschlesien eG
Bank code: 855 91 000
Account number: 457 304 8003
Password: Hilfe für Marienthal

For an impression of the convent in better days, visit their website.