A short reflection on the critics of the four cardinals

Bishop Papamanolis, President of the Greek Bishops’ Conference, says they are guilty of apostasy, sacrilege and heresy and their actions will lead to schism. Msgr. Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, suggested that the Pope should take their titles away. What have the targets of such strong accusations done, and who are they?

They are the four cardinals who, earlier this month, published a letter to Pope Francis, asking for clarification on several points from his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, which I wrote about two weeks ago. Apparently, sincere and honest questions deserve such mindless reactions.

Cardinal Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner went out of their way to prevent contributions like this to the debate. They acknowledged not just their own duty as cardinals, but also the authority and respect due to the Holy Father, and hoped “to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect”. Well, Bishop Papamanolis, Msgr. Pinto, and more than a few others, your contributions are about as far removed from calmness and respect as possible.

Any scandal in this affair does not come from the four cardinals. Their letter flows from their duty as cardinals and reflects Pope Francis’ clear and frequent request for an open and honest debate. That other prelates (and not only prelates) resort to namecalling and unfounded claims of heresy and threats of punishment is a scandalous denial of their own pastoral and fraternal obligations, and can only detract from what the Church needs and the Pope so clearly desires.

Four cardinals to the Pope – An honest contribution to the debate

Four cardinals – in some ways, four usual suspects – have written to the Pope about Amoris laetitia, asking for clarification about certain issues which have given many writers a lot to write about already. And while some – although fewer than I initially expected – have chosen to see this as a challenge against Pope Francis, it is an attempt to insert some clarity into a sensitive and difficult issue.

4cardinalsCardinals Walter Brandmüller (President emeritus of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences), Raymond Burke (Patron of the Order of Malta), Carlo Caffarra (Archbishop emeritus of Bologna) and Joachim Meisner (Archbishop emeritus of Cologne) published their September letter to Pope Francis today, after having received no papal reply. In the foreword to the letter, which can be read in full here, they express an awareness of the risk they run of being disregarded “as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy”. This is a real risk, as too often any sense of apparent disagreement with Pope Francis, or even, as here, a request for more clarity, is seen as an adversarial attack on the Holy Father. What many forget is that Pope Francis has frequently asked for such debate, not least during the Synod of Bishops, but certainly also in its aftermath across the world.

The fact that this letter has received no response seems perhaps a bit at odds with this request for open and honest debate, but perhaps it is wisest to see this, as the four cardinals do, “as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

The format of the letter is interesting, as it does not invite for a long explanatory answer, but a simple yes or no. This reflects the fact that underneath our pastoral action, there is a solid basis of doctrine, which does not change with the situation. This basis does not exist for itself, but for us, as it shows the way towards the objective truth that is Christ and His teaching.

There is more at stake than being nice in the discussion about marriage and divorce, and sin and mercy. The letter reflects that, as it raises important questions that need asking. It is not a matter of using the writings of one Pope against that of another, but taking the writings of both seriously.

The letter of the four cardinals deserves to be taken seriously, even though it is not something that can be directly applied in pastoral practice. Rather, it concerns itself with what comes before, what dictates the forms our pastoral practice can take. Hopefully, it will one day receive an answer from either Pope Francis or Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to whose attention the letter was also addressed.

An archbishop speaks, but some had rather he wouldn’t

erzbischof_stephan_burger_qArchbishop Stephan Burger, of Freiburg im Breisgau, has been crisitised for an upcoming speaking engagement. Not for what he is going to say, but for the fact that he is speaking.

The Forum Deutscher Katholiken identifies itself as uniting Catholics who are loyal to Pope and Church, and is therefore more traditionally-bent group than some others in Germany. At the end of April they are meeting in the town of Aschaffenburg, and Archbishop Burger has been invited to be one of the speakers. Other prelates attending include Cardinal Joachim Meisner, emeritus archbishop of Cologne, Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, in whose Diocese of Würzburg the meeting takes place, and Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the former bishop of Limburg who is making his first high profile return to Germany since resigning amid the financial scandal there.

Some have taken issue with Archbishop Burger’s presence at this meeting of an orthodox group, and even one where a perceived persona non grata such as Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is also present. The archbishop has defended himself and wonders at the fears displayed by some. He does not automatically share any of the opinions of other guests and sees it as a chance to share his own. Speaking about aid to refugees, he explains, “From a Christian point of view, nothing goes too far when it comes to helping people in need.”

It’s hard to fathom why a bishop attending a meeting of a group of Catholics who express loyalty to the Church is reason for concern or even criticism. Such concepts as tolerance, openness to differing opinions and looking toweards the future (the latter especially when Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is concerned) come to mind.

Cardinal Eijk joins ten other cardinals in a new book on marriage and family

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkUsually rather tight-lipped about the proceedings at and his own contributions to the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Wim Eijk is now said to be contributing to a book about marriage and family in the runup to the Synod assembly of October. He is joined by ten other prelates, cardinals all, and as such this new book can be compared to the five-cardinals book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Eijk’s contribution will be based on his work at the previous Synod assembly last year.

Like the earlier book, this will take a position which underlines the role of doctrine in addition to mercy, contrary to some who consider the latter overruling the former. In truth, both are needed and can’t survive without the other.

In addition to Cardinal Eijk, the other contributing cardinals are:

  • Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of of Bologna
  • Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankar Church
  • Paul Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
  • Dominik Duka, Archbishop of Prague
  • Joachim Meisner, Archbishop emeritus of Cologne
  • John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja
  • Antonio Rouco Varela, Archbishop emeritus of Madrid
  • Camillo Ruini, Vicar General emeritus of Rome
  • Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
  • Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas

The book is said to be criticising the “protestantisation” of the Church. What that means will remain to be seen, but we may expect a focus on the desire to adapt teaching to the wishes of interest groups and individual faithful under the guise of mercy, as we continuously see in the debates surrounding the Synod and its topics.

Immediate local reactions to the news (which for now is mostly hearsay, it has to be said) of Eijk’s involvement were not overly positive. Some see this as proof that the cardinal is in direct opposition to Pope Francis. If that’s true, the same must be said of the other contributors, some of whom were appointed by the Pope (Cardinal Sarah) or are known to enjoy his appreciation and esteem (Cardinal Caffarra), while others are not directly known for overly orthodox attitudes (Cardinal Duka). Pope Francis has asked for discussion, which includes opposing points of view. This is that discussion, and the Pope knows that full well. If his attitude towards the Curia is anything to go by, he is happy to let it do the work it exists for, and that includes defending the unpopular elements of the faith.

I am happy to see a high-profile contribution from a Dutch prelate on this topic, which has already made so many headlines in the blogosphere and Catholic media. We need more of that.

The book, titled Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint, can be pre-ordered from Igantius Press here.

End of an era as Melzer steps back

20111011_Stadtpatronefest_Weihbischof_Melzer_MG_7194_printbHe was the most senior bishop in the Archdiocese of Cologne, having served for almost twenty years. But now it is enough, as his health can no longer support the work he does, and Bishop Manfred Melzer , 71, is now taking the first steps towards retirement. Granted, Pope Francis did ask him to keep working until a successor has been named, but with today’s  announcement we could be looking at the end of the Meisner era (well, were it not for the fact that Cardinal Rainer Woelki can be safely considered as executing a smooth continuation of that era, which started in 1988).

Bishop Manfred Melzer was appointed in 1995, becoming part of the traditional group of auxiliary bishops of Cologne, one for each pastoral area (four before 2005, three since). His fellow bishops under Cardinal Meisner were Klaus Dick, who was succeeded in 2003 by then-Bishop Woelki; Norbert Trelle, who was appointed to Hildesheim in 2005 and was succeeded by Heiner Koch the next year; and Friedhelm Hofmann, who was appointed to Würzburg in 2004. Bishops Woelki and Koch also left the archdiocese, for Berlin and Dresden-Meißen respectively, although the former returned in 2014. The current group of auxiliary bishops consists of Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff, and can be considered a generation younger than Bishop Melzer.

As auxiliary bishop of Cologne (and titular bishop of Carinola), Bishop Melzer was appointed for the pastoral area Mitte, which includes Cologne itself, as well as the city of Leverkusen and surrounding areas. He was also the episcopal vicar for the female religious orders, the hermits and consecrated virgins in the archdiocese. In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Melzer was a member of the pastoral commission and the commission for questions of the world Church, as well as chairman of the subcommission for the mission. He made headlines most recently when he led the archdiocese for a few hours, between the retirement of Cardinal Meisner and the election of then-Msgr. Stefan Heße as Diocesan Administrator.

According to the statement on the website of the archdiocese, Bishop Melzer has been suffering from unspecified health complaints for some years now.

From big to big – Msgr. Heße comes to Hamburg

HeßeApparently he did a good job in managing the transition from Meisner to Woelki, good enough to be entrusted with shepherding the flock in the nation’s largest pasture. Msgr. Stefan Heße (pronounced as “Hese”) succeeds Archbishop Werner Thissen as ordinary of Hamburg.

Shortly after Friday’s announcement that Hamburg’s cathedral chapter would name the new archbishop on Monday, the name of Msgr. Heße appeared in rumours, first in the Bild newspaper and later also in various Catholic media. In the past, these rumours have proven to be accurate more often than not, and so in this case. They point to a serious leak in the otherwise secret and complex process of electing a bishop in most of Germany.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgThe Archdiocese of Hamburg is the largest diocese of the country, covering the states of Hamburg, Schleswigh-Holstein and the western part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In number of Catholics it is, however, among the smallest of dioceses. Its 400,000 faithful are a sharp contrast with the 2 million Catholics in Msgr. Heße’s native Cologne.

Hamburg fell vacant upon the retirement of Archbishop Thissen in March of last year. His successor will be the third archbishop of the see as it was reestablished in 1994.

Msgr. Heße was born in 1966 in a suburb of Cologne. Aged 48, he will be the youngest ordinary of a German diocese, and by far the youngest archbishop. He studied philosophy and theology in Bonn and Regensburg and was ordained a priest in 1993, by Cardinal Joachim Meisner. From 1993 to 1997 he worked in the parish in Bergheim, just west of Cologne, and from 1997 to 2003 he was a tutor at the archdiocesan seminary in Bonn, which was headed at the time by Msgr. Rainer Maria Woelki, the current archbishop of Cologne. In 2001 he became a doctor of theology. He led the pastoral care office of the archdiocese from 2003 to 2005 and was diocesan representative for radio and television until 2012. Msgr. Heße received the honorary titles of Chaplain of His Holiness and 2005 and Honorary Prelate in 2010. He subsequently became substitute to the vicar general and head of the personnel department of the archdiocese in 2006. In 2011 he joined the cathedral chapter. When Dominik Schwaderlapp became an auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Msgr. Heße succeeded him as vicar general. He was confirmed in that office after Cardinal Woelki became the new archbishop of Cologne in 2014.

Reputation, as fickle as that can be, indicates that Msgr. Heße is somewhat liberal, if such a qualification has any merit, and he has been generally praised for his work towards financial transparency of the Archdiocese of Cologne, an example that has since been followed by several other dioceses in Germany. In Hamburg he inherits a diaspora Church where ecumenical contacts are much valued. This is also visible in Hamburg’s best-known sainthood cause: that of the Martyrs of Lübeck, three Catholics priests and one Lutheran pastor, who were beheaded in 1943 for listening to enemy broadcasts, treason and demoralisation. Eyewitness reports state that there blood ran together on  the floor, which has since been seen as a potent symbol of ecumenism, not least by Pope Francis.

Msgr. Heße became known to the wider world when he was elected as diocesan administrator following the retirement of Cardinal Meisner, and it is said that his was one of the names on the final list from which the cathedral chapter elected the new archbishop. An archbishop he eventually becomes, if a bit farther from home than originally intended.

The consecration and installation of the new archbishop will be on 14 March.

As an aside, this is the third Stefan to be appointed as a bishop in Germany in less than a year, following Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg.

schwaderlapp hesse

^Msgr. Stefan Heße with Cologne auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp, whom he succeeded as vicar general, during the German Bishops’ Conference spring plenary of 2014.

Looking ahead to some future appointments

With the start of the new year, we can look ahead to some changes that may come up over the course of it. There will undoubtedly be plenty of surprises, but when it comes to bishops’ appointments, we can expect a few, and again most of them in Germany, although an important one will take place in Belgium.

lehmannThere are two active prelates in Germany who are over the age of 75. One of them is Cardinal Karl Lehmann (pictured), the bishop of Mainz, who will turn 79 on 16 May. He may retire this year, but it is also entirely possible that he will stay on until his 80th birthday, much like Cardinal Meisner in Cologne. We can’t judge if there is any recent tradition of late retirements in Mainz, as five of Cardinal Lehmann’s six immediate predecessors died in office, well before retirement age. The only exception is Cardinal Hermann Volk, who retired on his 79th birthday in 1982.

The other active prelate is Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of Paderborn and Apostolic Administrator of Limburg. He will be 76 on 4 April. As a new bishop for Limburg is expected sometime this year, it is very likely that Bishop Grothe will retire from both his offices.

werbsTwo other German bishops will reach the age of 75 this year, and thus tender their resignation. Bishop Norbert Werbs (at right), auxiliary bishop of Hamburg, will reach the retirement age on 20 May, and Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen will do so on 29 October. For Hamburg, the retirement of Bishop Werbs will be the second step in the full changeover of the archdiocese’s bishops. Archbishop Thissen already retired last year, and the last auxiliary bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke, will follow late next year. A new archbishop and one or more new auxiliaries appear to be on the books this year.

The final, and perhaps biggest change this year, will be retirement of Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels (pictured below). Even for this blog this will be a landmark, as his appointment back in 2010 marked one of the first major blog posts here, one that was copied and read by thousands of people.

léonardWho will succeed Archbishop Léonard is anyone’s guess, but if the tradition in Belgium is an indication, he will be from Flanders. Since 1832, the office of archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels has been alternately held by a Flemish and a Walloon prelate, and Archbishop Léonard hails from Namur. The bishops of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Hasselt are possibilities, as are one of the three auxiliaries bishops of Mechelen-Brussels. If the successor already is a bishop, that is, and the whole idea of tradition may be ignored and another Walloon priest of bishop may be appointed. Whoever it will be, it will certainly be interesting.

And then, lastly, there will be new appointments. Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg are extremely likely, but we have seen that sometimes the waiting period is long. Still, Berlin and Hamburg are important and large sees, and for Limburg a new bishop will be a good step forwards towards permanency and a new beginning.