Grumblings in the east

koch berlinFollowing the appointment of Archbishop Heiner Koch (pictured at left with Berlin’s  cathedral chapter) to Berlin, the other bishops of eastern Germany have expressed concern at the trend that seems to be developing, a tendency for bishops in that part of the country to be reassigned within a few years after being made ordinaries there. And they have a point.

  • In 2010, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa left Görlitz after having been the bishop there for three years and three months.
  • In 2014, Cardinal Rainer Woelki left Berlin after having been its archbishop for three years.
  • And on Monday,  Bishop Heiner Koch left Dresden-Meißen after almost 2 and half years.

The dioceses of eastern Germany, or most of the territory of the former communist German Democratic Republic have a fairly short history in their current form. On the 27th of June, 1994, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Görlitz were promoted from Apostolic Administration to full dioceses, Berlin, which had already been a  diocese since the 1930s, became a metropolitan archdiocese, reflecting the new freedom of governance that the Church had now gained in the former communist parts of Germany. The Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, in the north, became part of the newly established Archdiocese of Hamburg in October of that same year. Dresden-Meißen was the odd one out, having existed in its current form, except for a change of name in 1979, since 1921.

The short tenures of Bishops Zdarsa and Koch and Cardinal Woelki in the dioceses mentioned above came in all cases after significantly longer tenures of their predecessors: In Dresden-Meißen, Joachim Reinelt had been bishop for 24 years; in Berlin, Cardinal Sterzinsky was ordinary for 17 years; and in Görlitz, Bishop Rudolf Müller enjoyed 12 years as bishop. The contrast is evident.

feigeIn fact, the eastern German episcopate as a whole is young. Only Magdeburg’s Gerhard Feige (pictured) has a decade as bishop behind him, and the next senior is Görlitz’s Wolfgang Ipolt, ordinary for a mere four years.

In light of all this, Bishop Feige said about the transfer of Archbishop Koch, “Given the particularly difficult situation of Catholics in the new federal states, this is likely to add to a further destabilisation of the situation of the Church […] Unfortunately the impression is being given that the eastern German dioceses are something like ‘railway shunting yards’ or ‘traineeships’ to qualify bishops for ‘higher offices'”. Bishop Ipolt said that he hoped these rapid reassignments would not become habit. “In the future we need active shepherds for the people of God, here in the Diaspora of the east of Germany”. Together with Erfurt’s Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, he does think that Archbishop Koch’s two-year experience in the east will be a boon in Berlin.

A bishop is the visible head of a local Church in matters of doctrine, worship and governance. The priests of a diocese assist him in these tasks. Stability is a great good in these matters, so it should be avoided to move bishops too often. In that sense I can understand the concerns of the bishops outlined above. On the other hand, as Archbishop Koch himself has also said, in the end a bishop goes where he is called, just like the Apostles, whose successors they are, went where they were sent.

The Archdiocese of Berlin has a bishop again, but Dresden-Meißen is vacant again. Should the bishops of the east be worried that another one of their ranks will be asked to move there? Anything is possible of course, but I don’t think that this is likely, especially since the concerns have now been voiced. But if the residing ordinaries are not be moved anymore, there are two auxiliary bishops in the area who could conceivably be tasked with governing a diocese of their own. Erfurt’s Bishop Reinhard Hauke has already done so during the two-year vacancy of the see there, before Bishop Neymeyr arrived last year. Berlin’s Bishop Matthias Heinrich is 60 and has been an auxiliary for six years.

Hamburg falls vacant as Archbishop Thissen retires

thissen-HA-Hamburg-HamburgIn Hamburg, Archbishop Werner Thissen entered retirement accepted today, making Germany’s largest diocese the fifth to become vacant, after Passau, Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau and Cologne. Archbishop Thissen came to Hamburg in 2002 and turned 75 in December.

The Archdiocese of Hamburg in its current form is very young, being restored in 1994 out of territories formerly belonging to the Dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück and the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which was completely absorbed by the new circumscription. Hamburg is the only diocese to cover parts of both former West and East Germany. But although it didn’t exist for the major part of the 20th century (from 1930 to 1994), Hamburg does have a long history.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgIt was first established in the ninth century from the Diocese of Bremen and was already a metropolitan archdiocese then. It not only included parts of modern Germany, but also most of modern Denmark. In 1972 it was unified with Bremen, becoming the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, which covered also parts of modern Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states. In the 16th century the Reformation hit, and Hamburg-Bremen was suppressed. Almost a century later the Church in northern Germany reached a new semi-stability as the Apostolic Vicariate of the Nordic Mission, which included roughly the northern half of Germany, parts of modern Poland, the Nordic countries including Iceland. After much of that territory was split off into various new dioceses and administrations, the rump of the Nordic Missions vanished again, becoming part of the Diocese of Osnabrück in 1930. Schwerin, the part of Osnabrück that was in East Germany, became its own administration in 1973. In 1994, the new Archdiocese of Hamburg was restored as outlined in the image above, taking the bishop of Osnabrück, Ludwig Averkamp, with it as its first archbishop.

A short video on the Archdiocesan website serves as a small note of thanks to the retired archbishop, highlighting, among other things, the funeral of Archbishop Averkamp and Archbishop Thissen’s efforts that lead to the beatification of the martyrs of Lübeck, three priests and a Lutheran pastor who were murdered by the Nazi regime.

Archbishop Thissen hails from the Diocese of Münster, having been born in the city of Kleve near the Dutch border. After his ordination in 1966 he was a parish priest, spiritual councillor and subregent of the diocesan seminary. Following his promotion in 1974 he worked in the diocesan offices in the sections for general pastoral care and pastoral care for clergy and employees of the diocese. He became a resident cathedral chapter member of Münster in 1984 and vicar general in 1986. In 1999, Msgr. Thissen was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Münster and titular bishop of Scampa. In 2003 followed his appointment as archbishop of Hamburg.

And a second video, showing Archbishop Thissen’s love for music as he says goodbye to a number of faithful at the chapel of St. Ansgar in Hamburg:

The process of selecting a new archbishop is not unlike the one I outlined earlier, when discussing how a new archbishop of Cologne is chosen. A diocesan administrator is to be chosen within eight days, and in the meantime the senior auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Norbert Werbs, runs the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter, the nuncio and the bishops of the Province of Hamburg (which also includes Osnabrück and Hildesheim), as well as those of the Provinces of Cologne and Paderborn, the Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Erfurt and Görlitz are all to present candidates. The Pope will then draft a list of three names from all of these proposals, from which the cathedral chapter is to choose a new archbishop. The expectation is that this entire process can take as long as a year.

“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

Görlitz’s first bishop dies

bishop rudolf müllerToday the German Diocese of Görlitz bade farewell to its first bishop, Rudolf Müller, who had passed away on Christmas Day at the age of 81. A priest since 1955. Bishop Müller was appointed to head the Apostolic Administration of Görlitz in 1987. He became the first ordinary when Görlitz became a diocese in 1994. In 2006 he retired.

The Requiem Mass at the cathedral of St. James was offered by Rainer Cardinal Woelki, archbishop of Berlin, together with Görlitz’s current ordinary, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt. Bishop Leopold Nowak, emeritus of Magdeburg, gave the homily, while the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, Bishop Norbert Trelle of Hildesheim, representing the German Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Stefan Cichy of Legnica, Poland, also attended.

müller funeral

Bishop Müller’s death was sudden, despite his advanced age. Bishop Cichy said of the deceased: “Bishop Rudolf remains in my memory as a joyful man who liked to sing, a good neighbour and a true friend.”

Photo credit: www.bistum-goerlitz.de/

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

Looking behind

As the year of Our Lord 2011 draws to a close, I happily join the ranks of the countless media channels creating overviews of the years past. And both for this blog, as well as the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and abroad, it has been a tumultuous year, both positive and negative. Taking this blog as the goggles we use to look back, blog, Church and wider world become unavoidably intertwined, but, in a way, that is how it should be.

In January, we saw the announcement of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the resignation of Rotterdam’s Bishop Ad van Luyn being accepted, and the launch of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s Twitter adventure.

February was the month of interesting considerations by Bishop Schneider about Vatican II, shocking new developments in the abuse crisis, the announcement of a undeservedly short-lived experiment with the Extraordinary Form in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the first signs that all is not well in Belgium, but also three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, and the vacancy of Berlin.

March brought us disturbing news about Bishop Cor Schilder, an extensive message for Lent from the Dutch bishops, disaster in Japan, the announcement of a great ecumenical media project for Easter, and the annual Stille Omgang in Amsterdam.

April: the month of the consecration of Bishops Kockerols, Lemmens and Hudsyn, the first EF Mass in Groningen’s cathedral, further attempts at repressing religious freedom in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium uniting in shock to further improprieties from Roger Vangheluwe, the pope’s birthday, further personal attacks against Archbishop Eijk and the first preparations for Madrid.

In May we saw and read about the death of Bin Laden, the beatification of John Paul II, the first Vatican blogmeet, the appointment of Bishop van den Hende to Rotterdam, the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, a prayer answered, a papal visit to Venice, enraging comments from the Salesian superior in the Netherlands, and subsequent press releases from the Salesian Order.

June was the month of papal comments about new evangelisation and sacred music, the end of EF Masses in Groningen, the pope visiting Croatia, a new bishop in Görlitz, Bishop van Luyn’s farewell to Rotterdam, advice on financial compensation for abuse victims, Archbishop Eijk taking over as president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, and the death of Cardinal Sterzinsky.

In July, Bishop Rainer Woelki went to Berlin, there was more preparation for Madrid, Bishop van den Hende was installed as bishop of Rotterdam, the pope visited San Marino, Luxembourg received a new archbishop, Bootcamp 2011 took place, Bishop Liesen appeared on EWTN, Blessed Titus Brandsma ended his Twitter adventure, and the crimes of Anders Breivik hit home for Dutch Catholics.

August was a big month because of the World Youth Days in Madrid, but we also learned about Archbishop Dolan’s explanation of the Vatican, freedom of conscience being curtailed, the 100,000th visitor of this blog, and the Liempde affair exploding in the media.

In September, the official website of the Dutch Church got a make-over, Archbishop Eijk wrote a thankyou note to the participants of the WYD, The Dutch bishops’ conference shuffled their responsibilities, and Pope Benedict visited Germany and delivered an important address to the Bundestag.

October, then, saw a successful reunion of the WYD troupe, Bishop Mutsaerts’ intervention in the ultra-liberal San Salvator parish, the bishops declining a proposal to Protestantise the Church, the consecration of Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the publication of Porta Fidei and the announcement of a Year of Faith, the appointment of a new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, the appointment of Msgr. Hendriks as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the first Night of Mary, and Assisi 2011.

In November, Cardinal Burke came to Amsterdam, the bishops accept and put into action a plan for financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse, the Peijnenburg affair made headlines, the pope went to Benin and heartwarmingly spoke to children, priests in Belgium tempted excommunication, Cardinal Simonis turned 80, Bishop Liesen became the new bishop of Breda, and a fifty-year-old letter showed that congregations new about abuse happening in their ranks.

This final month of December, then, saw the first fifty victims of sexual abuse being able to claim financial compensation, the presentation of plans for Metropolis 2012, Nuncio Bacqué’s retirement, the consecration of Bishop Jan Hendriks, pain and horror in Liège, the appointment of Archbishop André Dupuy as new Nuncio, and the publication of the Deetman report unleashing emotional reactions everywhere.

It’s been quite the year, but one with much to be thankful for. The truth sets us free seems especially apt in this final month, but can be applied to the entire year. May 2012 be equally open, honest, but also full of blessings for the Church, the people and everyone of us.

Thank you, readers, for the continued interest. That’s incentive to keep on doing what I do here.

A happy new year, and may God bless you all.

Looking ahead to this year’s big trip

Last year all eyes were on Pope Benedict’s successful visit to the United Kingdom, and now we are at the brink of what I think could be an equally momentous visit: the first official state visit to Germany. And while 100 parliamentarians plan to be somewhere else than the Bundestag tomorrow (and Archbishop Zollitsch optimistically hopes they’ll give the pope’s address a good read afterwards), while protesters claim to be able to muster several tens of thousands to their cause (and the Holy Father is rumoured to have some trepidation because of that – not that it’ll keep him away from his native country), and while even Hans Küng is stirred from his slumbers to make some old-fashioned comments, many thousands of people from Germany and abroad eagerly await to papal shoes setting foot on the concrete of Berlin’s Tegel airport.

A giant reproduction of their April 5, 2005 front page decorates the publisher's headquarters of the Bild newspaper in Berlin.

If the UK visit is anything to go by (and that remains to be seen), this visit certainly has the potential to stir things up and reinvigorate the German faithful and Church, and even those beyond. And what with Germany’s leading position in Europe, this visit is in many ways a visit to Europe as well. What the pope will say and do will have a bearing on Germany, but. I expect, no less on all Europeans, especially those in the secularised west. As the Holy Father said in his televised address three days ago: “[I]n these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.” The hearts and minds of the people of the secularised west must be reopened to God, so that He may become visible again in our lives. The visit will therefore be a missionary visit: like Saints Paul and Peter travelled to strengthen the faith of small Christian communities, so does the Successor of Peter visit the Christian communities, Catholic or not, of Germany this week.

Archbishop Woelki is still getting to know the people of his new diocese, here a group of Roma in Berlin.

For Archbishop Rainer Woelki, installed less than a month ago as Berlin’s ninth bishop (and second archbishop), this will the big event he never had the time to prepare for, and the one his predecessor, Cardinal Sterzinsky, had hoped he would live long enough to see. But Archbishop Woelki, who will welcome the pope upon his arrival in Berlin tomorrow, will be used to the rocky start of his heading the Church of Berlin; one day after his own installation, he was called upon to consecrate new Bishop Ipolt of Görlitz, one of Berlin’s two suffragan dioceses. Having the pope come for a visit will perhaps be something of a matter of course now. Although his joy, his awe and his desire to impress the magnitude of this occasion on the people of Berlin do shine through in a letter which was read in all churches of the archdiocese this weekend.

And it is a momentous occasion. For the pope, certainly, who has few chances to visit the country where he grew up and which he clearly loves. But also for the Church in Germany, for the people of all faiths and also for the political world in and beyond Germany. The pope comes as a head of state, certainly. He was invited as such by the federal president. But the pope can never be just a head of state. He also comes as the Successor of Peter as the visible head under which all Catholic faithful are united, as the man to whom Christ Himself entrusted the care of His Church in these times. We do well to give him our ear and our mind, and pay loving attention to what the Holy Father will teach and express in the coming days.

Because, as the motto of this papal visit says, Where God is, is the Future!

Photo credit: [1] Reuters/Tobias Schwarz , [2] Sean Gallup/Getty Images