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“The Nuncio told me, and I couldn’t imagine it at first. I had planned on working in a parish again, in pastoral care, but now it was clear that all that, that path, was closed. And that was frightening at first.”
So Msgr. Herwig Gössl describes his first reaction to his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg. The 46-year-old seminary vice rector succeeds Bishop Werner Radspieler, who retired as auxiliary bishop in September last. Archbishop Ludwig Schick, pictured above with the new auxiliary bishop, said of the appointment, “Herwig Gössl will fulfill the duty of auxiliary bishop in good and fraternal cooperation with me.”
Both the bishop and the archbishop noted the appointment coinciding with today’s feast day of Saint Francis de Sales. Bishop-elect Gössl said he saw it as a “beautiful and encouraging sign, and at the same an incentive”, as the saint’s “goodness and faithfulness, humanity and joy, piety and selfishness are qualities befitting an auxiliary bishop”. Archbishop Schick noted, “Francis de Sales was active as a bishop in the time after the Reformation in modern Switzerland. He was a soft spoken man wh overcame resentment against the faith and the Church in his preaching, celebration of the sacrament and charity. That is also an important challenge for our time.”
And while the new bishop was looking forward to returning to the “ground work”, so to speak, of pastoral care in a parish, that is exactly what he is looking forward to in his new position as auxiliary bishop: meeting the people, Confirmations, pastoral visits, which he was less able to do in his time at the seminary.
A short overview of Bishop-elect Gössl’s previous work in the Church:
Born in Munich in 1967, raised in Nürnberg.
- Entered seminary in Bamberg in 1986.
- Studied in Bamberg and Innsbruck, followed by his ordination in 1993.
- 1993-1997: Priest in the parish of St. Hedwig in Bayreuth.
- 1997-2007: Parish priest in Hannberg and Weisendorf, where he became very popular.
- 2007: Appointed as vice regent to the seminary in Bamberg, followed in 2008 by a similar function in Würzburg, where he moved. Since both dioceses work closely together in the formation of their priests, Fr. Gössl combined his duties for both until this year.
- Fr. Gössl has for year been a member of the Feuerstein Konferenz, an ecumenical meeting place for Catholics, Evangelicals and Anglicans.
Bishop-elect Gössl’s consecration date has not yet been decided upon, but will have to take place no less than three months from today. He has been assigned the titular see of Balecium, located in Albania, and held until last November by Bishop (now Archbishop) Franz Lackner of Salzburg.
The comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one - that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.
Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.
But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.
Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:
“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”
The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.
The letter continues:
“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”
The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.
“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of the others Baptism?”
The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.
Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves
Photo credit:  ANP
Cardinal Eijk just can’t win. In an interview for the Reformatorisch Dagblad, which was published yesterday, he explained that the Council of Trent is still current. The statements of that Council, which aimed to put an end to certain practices which had caused the Reformation, but also wanted to emphasise the content of the faith and the consequences thereof in daily life for those who professed it, has not been scrapped in any way in the centuries after. What was said there still goes.
Protestant faith leaders in the Netherlands are none too happy with the cardinal’s clear and open explanation. The chair of the Protestant National Synod claimed that Cardinal Eijk “would give the faithful a burn-out some day”. “The claim that the church is always right is not in line with the Bible”, Gerrit de Fijter said. Well, that’s right, if you have a Protestant understanding of what a church is. The Catholic definition of the Church, the body of Christ which enjoys the promised inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can make certain dogmatic statements (which is not the same as saying she’s always right…). Former head of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Bas Plaisier (who himself is not too concerned with ecumenical respect for other churches) “does not understand what the cardinal is doing”, calling the statements “formal and hard”. Even Catholic professor Marcel Poorthuis had his reservations. While agreeing that Cardinal Eijk is correct in his statements about the Council and the heresies it addresses, he puts Pope emeritus Benedict XVI opposite to the cardinal, referring to the retired Pope’s statement that Martin Luther was a man of the Church. He even goes so far as to say that he expects Luther to be rehabilitated by the Church.
Cardinal Eijk called the Council of Trent a sign of the Catholic Church’s “capacity to purify herself” from errors and sinful practices. Examples of these are “the trade in offices, the unbiblical understanding of the priesthood en the lack of discipline in monasteries. In that regard, Trent has put things in order. The Council has also been very fruitful. When all the decrees had been implemented this led to a restoration of order in the Church.” The Council also delineated certain truths of the faith, which are still unchanged and valid.
The cardinal relates the anathemas that the Council issued to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, which says, “Anyone who preaches to you a gospel other than the one you were first given is to be under God’s curse” (1:9). “If someone does not share the faith of the Church in the Eucharist,” the cardinal explained, “he can’t receive it either. This curse or anathema essentially means you are blocked from receiving the sacraments, and in that sense it is still applicable.” But, the cardinal continues, these anathemas apply to people who refuse the truths of the Church “in full knowledge, aware of the truth and with free will”. “In a way that is a theoretical question. There are many people who have an incorrect image of the Catholic Church because they were raised that way, or they have another idea of God. You can not directly blame someone for that. You can therefore not understand the anathemas of Trent as being eternally damning for someone. God is the judge; you can and may not make that judgement as a human being.”
A clear explanation of what the Council taught about those who do not adhere to what they know to be the truth of the faith. Does this mean, as the critics I mentioned and quoted above assume, that modern Protestants are damned by the Catholic Church? No, it does not, because to be damned you must know and be aware that the Catholic Church teaches the truth and decide freely to not follow that truth. Clearly, that is not what most Protestants do: they do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches truth. If they did, why remain Protestant? Are they damned by the Council? No. Can they receive all the sacraments? Also no, but for different reason: the sacraments are also a profession of faith and an expression of the desire to belong to the community of faithful that is Christ’s Body. If you don’t share that faith, well…
Yes, all this may not be nice to hear, but it is certainly worthy of being taken seriously and read carefully before being commented on. But, seeing the cardinal as the big bully is perhaps the easier and more comfortable way…
In ecumenical relations with other church communities there is one thing that must always be at the centre: the truth. The truth that the Church, or any other community, claims, must not be hidden for the sake of “being nice to each other”. Cardinal Eijk’s explanation is not a nice one, but it is true. It is what the Catholic Church continues to profess and uphold as truth. Ecumenism is a good thing, but it can never be a reason to ignore who we are and what we hod to be true.
There has been little change in the composition of the College of Cardinals lately, but then suddenly one change follows another. One day after the 80th birthday of Belgian Cardinal Danneels (more on that later), the Church mourns the passing of Stanisław Kazimierz Cardinal Nagy.
The half-Polish half-Hungarian theologian was born in 1921 in the southern Polish town of Bieruń Stary, which had been German until earlier that year.
In 1937, young Stanisław answered his religious calling and joined the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, better known as the Dehonians, named after their 19th-century founder, Fr. Léon Dehon. As a member, he was sent to study Catholic theology and philosophy at the renowned universities of Kraków and Lublin.
In 1945, Nagy was ordained as a priest of the Dehonian Congregation, and was appointed as seminary rector in Kraków and Tarnów. He continued his studies at Lublin and in 1952, Fr. Nagy received a promotion in moral theology. He remained at the university as a professor in the same subject.
Over the course of the years, Fr. Nagy’s theological career saw him as a member of the International Theological Commission, the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commission and the editorial staff of the Catholic Encyclopedia, all in the early 1970s.
He also authored several books on topics such as ecumenism and his countryman, Blessed Pope John Paul II. In recognition of his contributions to the field of theology, John Paul II chose to include Fr. Nagy in the College of Cardinals. He did so in the consistory of October 2003. Prior to this, Fr. Nagy was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Hólar.
Cardinal Nagy, already 82 at the time of his creation, became cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria della Scala. He never participated in a conclave, due to his age.
With the passing of Cardinal Nagy, and the 80th birthday of Cardinal Danneels, there are now 203 cardinals in the Church, of whom 112 are electors.
With Pope Francis residing in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and Coptic Pope Tawadros II visiting from Egypt, the Vatican is temporarily home to no less than three Popes. But that’s not the only remarkable thing about this week. Tawadros and Francis are repeating a visit that took place exactly forty years ago between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III.
In 1973, the Catholic and Coptic delegates came together on an important confession of faith in Jesus Christ, in many ways the essential unity to achieve before any further steps in ecumenism can be taken. In the next days, we should look with hope to the meetings between Pope Tawadros II and his associates with the various dicasteries of the Holy See.
As Pope Francis said in his address to Pope Tawadros II today:
“Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of communion, among which I am pleased to recall the meeting in February 2000 in Cairo between Pope Shenouda III and Blessed John Paul II, who went as a pilgrim, during the Great Jubilee, to the places of origin of our faith. I am convinced that – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity.”
Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano