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.

Questions and answers

In the list of search terms that have led people to my blog I have been noticing a number of specific questions. I thought it might be interesting and useful to address some of them, and try and provide an answer. I have looked back over the past week and selected questions that are not too general, and have a clear answer.

nwachukwu1: Who is Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu? He is the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua since 12 November 2012. 52 years old, the native Nigerian was consecrated as a bishop in 6 January. Before his current position as the Holy See’s ambassador to the government and Church of Nicaragua, he was Head of Protocol at the Secretariat of State, and before that a priest of the Diocese of Aba in Nigeria. As an archbishop without a diocese of his own, he has been given the titular archdiocese of Aquaviva, which is located south of Bari in Italy.

Rotterdam_rel2: How many Catholic Churches are under Diocese of Rotterdam? Encompassing virtually the entire Dutch province of Zuid-Holland, the Diocese of Rotterdam is the most densely populated of the Dutch dioceses. It is home to more than half a million Catholics, of whom about 8.6% are regular Churchgoers. Bishop Hans van den Hende has been the ordinary since 10 May 2011. The diocesan website states that there are 78 parishes and 7 parish federations in the diocese. As for the number of churches, we may assume that each parish has use of several churches.

berlin3: How come Berlin’s cathedral chapter gets to elect its own bishop? Like all dioceses, the cathedral chapter of the Archdiocese of Berlin took over the day-to-day affairs of running the diocese after the previous archbishop, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, retired. They had the obligation to choose an Apostolic Administrator until a new archbishop was appointed.  They also were to create a so-called terna, a list of three names which they sent to the Apostolic Nuncio. This list, with any additions and notes that the Nuncio added, was sent to Rome. Another terna came from the German Bishops’ Conference. These lists, and any other pertinent information, was then used by the Congregation for Bishops to supply a final list to the Pope, who then made his final choice. In that choice, the Pope had no obligation to actually select one of the names on the list. He could theoretically have chosen another priest to become archbishop of Berlin. Whether Cardinal Rainer Woelki, who was appointed on 2 July 2011, was on any of the ternae remains anyone’s  guess.

The cathedral chapter, then, does not elect a bishop by itself, but it does have a say in the matter, and an important role in providing the necessary information by which a bishop is selected.

Three questions, hopefully with informative answers, to start with. More to come as they appear among the search terms.

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

Predicting the title churches of the new cardinals

A week from now, the Catholic Church will gain 21 or 22* new cardinals, and they in turn will each get a cardinal title or a cardinal deaconry. In an earlier blog I explained that cardinals who are ordinaries of a diocese will usually be made cardinal priests with a title church, while cardinals in the curia will be cardinal deacons with a deaconry. But we won’t know which cardinal will receive which title or deaconry until the actual consistory, when they’ll receive them together with the ring and the red biretta.

But all of the above certainly does not mean we can’t guess, of course…

San Giacchino ai Prati di Castello, future title church of Cardinal Eijk?

Ten of the new cardinals will be cardinal priests. They are the heads of major (arch)dioceses and, in one case, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Cardinals-designate Santos Abril y Castelló, George Alencherry, Thomas Collins, Dominik Duka, Wim Eijk, Giuseppe Betori, Timothy Dolan, Rainer Woelki, John Tong Hon and Lucian Muresan will receive one of the following 13 title churches, listed in the order in which they became vacant.

  • Sant’ Atanasio. Entrusted since 1872 to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, a fact that may well be reflected in the choice of cardinal-protector. Cardinals-designates Alencherry and Muresan seem likely, as they are both archbishop in a non-Roman rite Church. Saint’ Atanasio has been vacant since 1984.
  • San Callisto. Vacant since 2003, but with a long history as a titular church. Past cardinal-protectors came mainly from Italy, but also included cardinals from other European countries.
  • Nostra Signora di Guadalupe a Monte Mario has been vacant since 2008. Named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the Americas, a future cardinal-protector may come from either North or South America. Likely, then, are Archbishops Collins or Dolan.
  • San Felice da Cantalice e Centocello was only held as a title once before, by South Korean Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, who died in early 2009.
  • San Patrizio. A national church of Ireland, a future cardinal-protector will very likely come from that island. It will remain vacant for a while longer, then.
  • San Giacchino ai Prati di Castello. Previously held by Cardinal Alfrink, one of the mere two previous cardinal-protectors, will this title be given to Archbishop Eijk?
  • San Bernardo alle Terme. Another title church with a long history as such. Its edifice and annexed monastery are maintained by the Cistercians, which is no clue to the identity of a future cardinal-protector, since there are no Cistercians in next week’s consistory. The previous cardinal-protector was Cardinal Vithayatil, so his successor as Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabarese Church, Mar George Alencherry, could conceivably be given this title as well. But then again, he may just as likely not.
  • San Marcello. A long history of 63 previous cardinal-protectors from all over the world reveals nothing about the identity of its future cardinal-protector.
  • San Giuseppe all’ Aurelio is a fairly recently created title church, held by only one cardinal-protector,. He was Berlin’s Cardinal Sterzinsky, so Archbishop Woelki has a decent shot at this.
  • San Gerardo Maiella was the title church held only by Cardinal Swiatek, so perhaps another Slavic cardinal will succeed him, in the person of Archbishop Duka.
  • “Regina Apostolorum” has been vacant since last July. It’s three past cardinal-protectors have all been Italians, but most of the older title churches have a strong Italian history when it comes to cardinals assigned them.
  • Santi Marcellino e Pietro is yet another ancient title church with cardinal-protectors from various nations. It has been vacant since August.
  • Santissimo Redentore e Sant’ Alfonso in Via Merulana, vacant since the death of Cardinal Bevilacqua a few weeks ago, has a New World history, having been held by two Americans and a Bolivian cardinal. Collins and Dolan again come into view.

So we can make some educated guesses, but nothing is certain when it comes to the assignment of title churches. The Holy Father is also free to create new titles churches.

Interior of the Basilica of Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio

The same really goes for cardinal deaconries, to be assigned to cardinal deacons. Of these, there are  11 or 12* on the list of the consistory: Fernando Filoni, Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Antonio Vegliò, Giuseppe Bertello, Francesco Coccopalmerio, João Bráz de Aviz, Edwin O’Brien, Domenico Calcagno, Giuseppe Versaldi, Julien Ries, Prosper Grech ( and possibly Karl Becker). Currently, there are 11 vacant cardinal deaconries, so if the list of names in the previous line is correct, all will be assigned (and a new one may even be created). We must also not forget that the Holy Father will decide to create one or more of the assumed cardinal deacons as cardinal priests instead, or vice versa. Anyway, whatever may happen, let’s take a look at the vacant deaconries:

  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin. An ancient basilica that has been vacant since 1967. It has had no less than 64 cardinal deacons that we know of.
  • San Giovanni Battista Decollato was ever only the deaconry of one Italian cardinal and has been vacant since 1988.
  • San Teodoro is an ancient church which is also used, by papal permission, by the Greek Orthodox community of Rome. Maybe its future cardinal deacon, its first since 2000, will have some link with the Orthodox?
  • Santissima Annunciazione della Beata Vergine Maria a Via Ardeatina vacant since 2006, has had a single Italian cardinal deacon.
  • Nostra Signora di Coromoto in San Giovanni di Dio has had a single Venezuelan cardinal deacon and has been vacant since 2007.
  • Sant’ Elena fuori Porta Prenestina, vacant since 200, has had two cardinal deacons, one from Ghana and one from Canada.
  • Santi Vito, Modesto e Crescenzia has been a titular church since 1011, switching several times between a deaconry and a title church. Vacant since 2009, it has been assigned to 35 cardinals.
  • San Ponziano is another deaconry which has had a single cardinal deacon. It has been vacant since November of 2010.
  • Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio is held by the Salesians and is connected to a boarding school for the arts and industries. One of its two past cardinal deacons was Belgian, so maybe Archbishop Ries will get this title.
  • San Cesareo in Palatio, once the title of the future Pope John Paul II. It has been vacant since September.
  • San Sebastiano al Palatino has been awaiting a new deacon since the death of Cardinal Foley in December.

The cardinal deaconries are much harder to predict than the title churches of cardinal priests. But the title churches together form a living memory of the rich history of the Church in Rome. As titular priests and deacons of these churches, the new cardinals are part of this history, which is also a history of the Church’s unity with the pope as the visible sign.

* We’ll probably have to wait and see if Fr. Karl Becker is among the new cardinals on the 18th, as reports about his health are conflicting, as is his attendance at the consistory.

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.

Stats for October 2011

It’s been a good month here at the blog. Evidently, there have been several topics which drew much interest, since, numbers-wise, this his been the second-best month since I began. There have been 6,343 views, breaking the record of May and June of this year, when the numbers came close to 6,000. Still, this last month saw only a quarter of the views of that crazy July of 2010.

The top 10 of best viewed posts contains many local topics: the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop and the San Salvator soap opera which came to a conclusion this month. Older topics also remained of interest, with the previous archbishop of Berlin, the late Cardinal Sterzinsky, seeing some renewed interest. Let’s have a look.

1: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 85
2: Bishop Mutsaerts vs San Salvator 67
3: A long expected appointment 58
4: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 53
5: Twittering Cardinal Ravasi now turns to blogging 51
6: Het probleem Medjugorje 49
7: Assisi 2011, the official announcement, Bishop decline Mariënburg proposal to Protestantise Dutch Church 46
8: The artificial opposition of faith and dogma 45
9: Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 44
10 All Saints Day 42

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