As the rumours go, another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst?

franz-peter tebartz-van elstRecently there has been some confusion about Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. The erstwhile bishop of Limburg is rumoured to have been working in Rome since December, keeping the house in Regensburg where he has been living since leaving Limburg. More accurately, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who was forced to resign from Limburg because of financial mismanagementm is said to be working as a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

The way rumours go, this story has been alternating between confirmation and denial of the above. Initially, the Frankfurter Algemeine newspaper quoted Pope Francis, who seemingly said that he wasn’t considering any Curial appointment for the German bishop. The Passauer Neue Presse later reported that “usually well-informed Vatican sources” had stated that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst had recently participated in a three-day meeting of the New Evangelisation Council, in which he spoke about catechesis. This was later also confirmed to German Catholic news outlet Kath.net.

These latest rumours do fit with the narrative as we know it: when Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation was confirmed by the Holy See, the official announcement already spoke of future appointments. But there are also some questions.

Usually, new appointments are announced via the Holy See press office, especially when it is an appointment to a Curial dicastery. And although the appointment is said to have been made on 5 December, no such announcement has yet been made.

A new appointment for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst should be no reason for indignation. Instead of doing nothing in his home in Regensburg, he is once again tasked to be of service to the Church. This is no promotion, but a direct consequence of his being a bishop. As such, he will likely also have been given a titular see, as is standard for bishops in the Curia. But nothing is known about that either.

We known nothing for certain, but we can’t deny the possibility of some truth behind the rumours. And if there is a grain of truth, it would constitute another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.

EDIT 8/2: The latest word, which has an increasing undertone of certainty, is that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will not be a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation (which already has two of those), but a delegate or member with a special focus on catechesis. Such functions are not usually announced in the daily bulletins of the Holy See press office, which would explain the lack of any official word.

Exclusive interview with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI about soon-to-be Saint John Paul II – with English translation

ratzinger john paul iiIn the run-up to the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Kath.net publishes the first part of an interview with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI about his recollections of his predecessor. In it, Benedict speaks about how he first met the future Pope, the latter’s attempts to get him from Munich to Rome, their way of working together, and the challenges he faced in working as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, especially when it comes to the works he did in close cooperation with the Pope. And he also pulls few punches in speaking about liberation theology.

Part 2 of the interview will be published tomorrow, but in the mean time, here is my English translation of the German original.

ratzinger john paul ii

“…there was also always room for humour. The Pope loved to laugh…”

Papal popularity, an opportunity to evangelise

In an interview for Kath.net, Kurt Cardinal Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, raises and interesting and import question with regard to the popularity of Pope Francis in the media and among both faithful and non-faithful. He says:

koch“I wonder if what the Pope is saying is being received. Considering the catechesis at the general audiences, which are, by the way, in fundamental continuity with the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI, and in which he strongly emphasises the Church’s motherhood and the fundamental meaning of the sacraments, especially Confession, I sometimes wonder if it is really being heard or if, in some sense, it is only being noticed how it is being conveyed. This one-sided perception can then give the false impression that the Church is being newly created here.”

The Swiss cardinal also notes that this renewed interest in the Pope and, in extension, the Church must also be an opportunity to us. This is very similar to what Pope Francis himself told the Dutch bishops when he was told how popular he is among people. He said to make use of that popularity to proclaim the Gospel and reach people.

Cardinal Koch says much the same thing, but the above quote raises an issue that we must be aware of. Pope Francis is popular because of his personality and his down-to-earth nature in relating to the faithful. But how many are aware of what he is saying? His interviews are read, but often out of context. But how many will delve into, say, Evangelii Gaudium, or even the texts of his general audiences, as Cardinal Koch wonders?

In making use of Pope Francis’ popularity we must first make sure he is popular for who he is, not who people want him to be. Popularity is a starting point, a good one. Let’s find out more about this guy and what he stands for!

About the basis, Archbishop Müller responds to his critics

MüllerIn a recent interviewer for the Passauer Neuen Presse, to be published on Thursday, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller comments directly on the criticism levelled against him by, among others, Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who claimed that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tried to stop discussion on the topic of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments. Kath.net reports.

Archbishop Müller wrote extensively – and after consulting with Pope Francis – on the subject in November (read my translation of the subsequent letter sent to Germany’s bishops here). Several German dioceses and bishops then expressed the wish and intent to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments (if they hadn’t  done so already). Current Church doctrine teaches that these faithful – if their previous marriage is not nullified – can’t receive the sacraments, although the pastoral implementation, and even the canons of the law itself, may well be changed by the joint teaching authority of bishops and Pope. Such changes, however, have not been made or implemented, so any one-sided decisions on the part of individual bishops are, at the very least, premature, and at worst cause for scandal.

About the claim that he is trying to stop discussion, Archbishop Müller now says that he, “as one can easily see, did not speak of any end to the discussion, but of its basis in the teaching of Christ and the Church, which is not under discussion.” He also adds that the confession of faith “is not to be confused with a party program, which can be adapted in accordance with the wishes of members and voters”. Responsible pastoral teaching, he concluded, is always built “upon sound doctrine”.

It is not unlike what I have been saying: Archbishop Müller simply reminds us of the current situation and the possibilities it offers. And it turns out that there are many who need such a reminder, among them bishops and cardinals.

It quite frankly boggles the mind that anyone who has read the archbishop’s article and letter would conclude that it is simply an attempt to stop all debate. It is not as if the Church has nothing to say about these issues, or that Archbishop Müller simply came up with some reasons why it is not possible, at this moment, for remarried faithful to receive Communion. Sure, in the pastoral reality of every day, these are not enjoyable things to come across, to have to inform anyone that they can’t receive the sacraments. But it is no different for any of us. Every single faithful has to be in the right disposition and in a state of grace before he or she can receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Much can be remedied by the Sacrament of Confession, but some obstacles are a bit harder to remove.

This is the task of any bishop: to safeguard and communicate the faith, including all those bits we may not like. Archbishop Müller is doing his duty, and it is our duty to receive his teaching with an open mind.

Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, but He did promise to guide us, come back for us when we lost our way and never burden us with more than we could carry.

An introduction to Abp. Müller

There has been much talk about the new prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, but we haven’t heard much from him. Hence, as a sort of introduction, my translation of this interview, courtesy of Johannes Schidelko of Kath.net.

KNA: My Lord Archbishop, what do you feel in the face of your appointment?

Müller: Gratitude for the confidence that the pope gives me. It is not an easy task, considering the entirety of the World Church; but it is a beautiful assignment to be able to serve the pope in his teaching. The office has a universal ecclesiastic dimention – and has nothing to do with centralisation.

KNA: When did you know that you would be going to Rome?

Müller: For a while already. But the change of office needs to run its ordered course.

KNA: Do you know why the pope has appointed you? Did he want a German, a theologian, someone he trusted?

Müller: It certainly wasn’t about the nationality, and as Catholics we all belong to the world Church. But the Holy Father knows me and my theological work, not only as an author, but also as an expert of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and in the committees of Ecumenism and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference.

KNA: When do you begin in your office?

Müller: I have already begun, on July 2nd.

KNA: You are now one of the most important people in the Vatican, and one of the closest collaborators of the pope. What are your first steps?

Müller: I have already met with the leaders of the Congregation, to get an overview of the daily procedures and responsibilities. The scope is very broad: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith consists of three departments: the doctrinal, disciplinary and marriage departmentd. The prefect is at also president of the Bible Commission and the International Theological Commission. We have about fifty immediate employees. Then there are the “Feria quarta”, the meetings of cardinals, which takes place every four weeks.

KNA: What are your substantive priorities?

Müller: The Congregation is responsible for the promotion of the doctrine of the faith, and not only for its protection. The 1965 reorganisation of the agency has placed this positive aspect in its heart. It is about the promotion of theology and its basis in Revelation, to ensure its quality, and to consider the important intellectual developments on a global scale. We can’t simply and mechanically repeat the doctrine of the faith. It must always be associated with the intellectual developments of the time, the sociological changes, the thinking of people.

KNA: What do you want to emphasise especially? What do you want to especially deal with in the near future?

Müller: The Congregation has the task of supporting the pope in his Magisterium. We must orient ourselves on the emphases he makes in his proclamations. During his journey to Germany, Benedict XVI put the question of God at the centre. He also spoke of the ‘worldliness’ of the Church – a topic not only intended for Germany. It is about a right understanding of the nature and mission of the Church; about finding the right balance between shutting out the world and adapting to it – so that we can truly serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In particular, we have to counter a widespread apathy in matters of faith. The ‘Year of Faith’, with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council and twenty years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be an essential contribution to this.

KNA: You begin your service in a turbulent time for the Vatican. Or is the Vatican currently back on its feet again?

Müller: I don’t know much about this concretely. It remains to be seen what the investigations reveal. What seems important to me is that the good works of the many hundreds of employees in the Curia are not overlooked. They are unfairly associated with these individual actions; the impression is created that everyone is involved. That is totally out of the question.

KNA: Another major topic in Rome is the anniversary of the Council. What do you expect from looking back?

Müller: We do not need a hermeneutic that is imposed upon the Council from outside. It is important to explore the hermeneutic that is included in the Council itself: the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, as the Holy Father has repeatedly underlined. A Council is the execution of the highest magisterium of the Church in the communion of the bishops with the Pope.

In this sense, the Second Vatican Council was a wonderful event, albeit from a somewhat different type than some previous councils. It was its legitimate intention to respond not only to certain errors and correct them, but to provide an overall view of the Catholic faith. It wanted not many individual elements, but the big picture, the great architecture of the present church with large rooms where you can feel at home and gladly live.

KNA: The Council, however, also created problems, for example for the SSPX.

Müller: Everyone who calls himself Catholic, will also have to keep the principles of the Catholic faith. These are not pre-formulated by the CDF or anyone else, but given to us in the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. One can therefore not simply pick from it what fits in a given structure.

Rather, one must be open to the whole of the Christian faith, the whole profession of faith, the Church’s history and development of her teaching. One must be open to the living Tradition which does not end somewhere – say in 1950 – but goes on. Inasmuch as we appreciate history with her great achievements, we must also see that every era is also directly related to God. Every era has its own challenges. We can not explain a historical era according to the classical pattern, but we walk from one summit to the next.

Photo credit: Armin Weigel dpa/lby

St. Paul’s prophetic words and Peter Seewald on the attack

“The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes” [2 Tim 4:3]

Saint Paul’s writings often turn out to be strikingly prophetical, especially considering the larger developments within the Christian communities. He wrote to the small communities in the Near East, Greece and Rome, but his inspired words are equally applicable to the modern world and Church. The above quote seems fitting today, in the aftermath of a memorandum from 143 German theologians who propose far-reaching changes in the Church, essentially protestantising it. Luckily, a quick glance at the headlines at Kath.Net reveals that the suggestions meet with some serious resistance from , at least, the German laity.

Peter Seewald at the presentation of his book 'Light of the World'

One of the strongest critics is Peter Seewald, the author of ‘Light of the World’, the best-selling book of interviews with the pope released last year. In an extensive commentary, Seewald rips the initiative of the theologians to shreds, calling it a neoliberal action against the very essence of the Church:

“Here we see a concerted action from neoliberal forces who want to force an accelerated  restructuring which will deprive the Church of her essence and so her Spirit and strength. In the end there will be a worldly Church, in which not God, not the Gospel, but the autonomous member of the community will be measure of all things, directed by the high priests of the spirit of the times.”

Seewald continues by identifying the memorandum not as an uprising from the young, but a “rebellion in the nursing home”, identifying the whole general problem as a generation issue.

For those who read German (or have access to someone who can offer a proper translation), go read Seewald’s comments. They are not just applicable to this specific situation, but to so much of the current attitudes and actions of luke-warm Catholics. Just as St. Paul’s words still apply, really.

Artwork: David Myers
Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Fr. Manfred Hauke responds to his critics

Father Manfred Hauke, he of the Medjugorje criticism, has given an interview to answer criticism against his person and his statements about Medjugorje and the so-called apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary there. The original text of the interview is on Kath.net, and Catholic Light offers an English translation. Following my previous post about this, I  offer Fr. Hauke’s comments in Dutch.

In my parish, Medjugorje leaflets are luckily rare. In the past there used to be adverts for pilgrimages to Medjugorje in the parish bulletin, but that seems to be suppressed by either the cathedral administrator or the diocese. In what I can only assume was a freak coincidence, a lady handing out leaflets of Medjugorje appeared in the same week that Fr. Hauke’s interview was published. I politely declined when she wanted to give one to me.

Interview with Cardinal Schönborn

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. In the past weeks his visit to Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje has been the reason for criticism and, rumour has it, a private audience with the pope. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, last Friday, German Catholic news outlet Kath.net had an interview with the cardinal. He talks about his relationship with Christ, the past and future, the media and the Church, the Wagner affair, and indeed Medjugorje.

by Petra Knapp-Biermeier

Kath.net: Lord Cardinal, on 22 January you celebrate your 65th birthday, for which we heartily congratulate you. To start with a  ‘birthday question’, which takes us a bit into the realm of fantasy: it is the year 2020, you are celebrating your 75th birthday, and you are looking back on the past ten years. What is the best of these ten years? What of the things that you have achieved, experienced or overcome, pleases you?

Cardinal Schönborn: I have to be honest and say that I can’t answer that, since I can’t see into the future. Of course, I see tasks in my services to the diocese. I can only say: my wish for the coming years is simply that we will live ever more in faith, hope and love, that we will be connected to Christ, that many people will understand this faith, that many people will be open to the mercy and allow God to affect them. That is really all I can say. But I believe that that is the most important.

KATH.NET: In hard times, what has helped you to go on and look to the future without doubt?

Cardinal Schönborn: Always two things: my relationship with Christ and my friends. I believe that that is the essence. Recourse to Jesus is always truly affirming and supporting, to be  actively connected to Him, concretely in the Gospel, to His person, His words, to His life, particularly in the Eucharist, his presence in the tabernacle. The other thing is the invaluable gift of friendship that Jesus has established between Him and us, because He also wanted to be alive among us.

KATH.NET: Many people are open to God, but reject the Church as an institution. What do you say to them?

Cardinal Schönborn: I often and directly say: I was that you may have the same positive experience in the Church that I had. To that I usually add that I know that I can easily say that when you didn’t have such an experience yourself. But for me the Church has always been a home. I thank the Church for so very much and therefore I wish that others can have the same experience. I also ask them to remove preconceptions. The mistakes of the Church should admitted and be named. Jesus did the same towards His apostles, and the apostles did it in the gospels. They loyally wrote about the mistakes they made themselves. But we should also speak up when the Church has been done an injustice, when false preconceptions exist. We should know the history of the Church better. There are exceedingly false depictions of the crusades, the inquisition or the affairs around Galilei. These typical reproaches against the Church usually come from a very deep ignorance. We have the task to discredit and explain all preconceptions.

KATH.NET: Lord Cardinal, you have contributed to Church history – the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What changes or developments would you still like to see within the Church?

Cardinal Schönborn: The great new mission in Europe! That certainly is a great dream. Europe was initially evangelised in early Christian times, the apostolic times. The apostles travelled far. The Iro-Scottish monks were the second great missionary wave. The waves of evangelisation were also always waves of renewal. The great  monasticism reform of Cluny, followed by the reform of Citeaux with its enormous expansion with monasteries over all of Europe. With the growth of the cities came the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, who evangelised the growing urban population. That was followed by the great renewal of the Counter-Reformation. The 19th century, during the industrialisation, was also a  source of renewal in the Church. I hope we will see something similar in our time. But we don’t really control that – they are forces that come from inside, from the power of Heaven. Renewal must truly come from the power of God. But there are many signs that the Lord is also the Lord of history: if he told Abraham that He could bring the stones to live,  he can spring a new source of fervour for the gospel in Europe, where the faith has grown weak, through special mercies.

KATH.NET: In the last few days you have visited Pope Benedict XVI. Did you tell him about your positive impression of Medjugorje? Did he say anything about that?

Cardinal Schönborn: One usually doesn’t speak about audiences. But of course I can say this much: Medjugorje is a topic in Rome now, because of the publicity surrounding my pilgrimage. I reported about my impressions in Rome. And I trust that the Committee, which the Holy Father established to research the events at Medjugorje, will do god and responsible work, and the result will certainly be very positive. I am certain that they’ll be careful and sensitive about this phenomenon, which by now has attracted 30 million pilgrims and has given much good fruits, as well as many questions.

KATH.NET: Recently, the numbers of Church leavings were presented in Austria. From 40,654 leavings in 2008 to 53,215 in 2009 was a major increase. How do you see this development, what do you think is the reason for it, and how will the Church respond?

Cardinal Schönborn: There are some precise indications: The strong increase in Church leavings in the beginning of the year seems to have to do with the response to the appointment of a bishop and the Williamson affair and the strong reactions to those. But the fact that the leavings remained high throughout the year has, in our opinion, to do with the economic crisis. Many people have worries about their jobs. They simply save money were possible, and that directly affects the Church contributions. Sadly we have not succeeded to explain to contributing Catholics that, when they have financial problems, there are reductions possible. Many people pay their contribution without requesting a reduction or a partial payback – and that;s the end of the story.

KATH.NET: The Church has been confronted with the involvement of the media and lobbyists at the appointment of bishops. What do you think of this development? Should the Church respond to this pressure from outside, and how?

Cardinal Schönborn: That has always been the case. Even when I look at my own family history – I am the eighth bishop in my family -, what manner of tensions and conflict there were, for example on the baroque period. it’s a sign of life, that there is an interest in the bishop. If no one cared who would become a bishop, that would be a bad sign. The fact that many people were concerned about who became bishop is a sign that many people feel that the office of bishop is important in the Church. And of course there are ideological conflict surrounding the appointment of bishops.

If someone is said to be conservative, you may be sure that there will be protests from the media. But the person in question also has some influence. One can’t and shouldn’t avoid all conflicts, but many don’t exists until we cause them ourselves. But here we should look at the individual case. One thing is clear: the Church has long fought for the freedom to appoint her own bishops. She can’t and won’t renounce this freedom. The pope is free to appoint bishops. Of course it’s important that he receives good information so that the institutes that prepare they can work well and thoroughly. And I’m certain that they do this. But the local churches themselves also have responsibility, because Church law dictates that every bishops’ conference must forward a list of possible bishop candidates to Rome every three years. And every single bishop is similarly charged to send well-founded reports for the appointment of bishops to Rome. We have often neglected to do that in Austria.

KATH.NET: Thank you very much for this interview and good wishes and God’s blessing on your birthday!

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