First native son to lead modern Catholic Finland retires

DSC_0033x-kopioFollowing a period of ill health, Finland’s first native-born bishop of the modern era retired early today.. Marking his 72nd birthday, Bishop Teemu Sippo announced the news in a letter to the faithful. Bishop Sippo headed the Diocese of Helsinki, which covers all of Finland, since 2009. He cites his ailing health, worsened by a fall at Christmas time, as the reason for his retirement

The previous sede vacante of Helsinki lasted almost a year, so the appointment of a new bishop of one of the northernmost dioceses in the world could still be some time in the future.

The Diocese of Helsinki was established as the Apostolic Vicariate of Finland in 1920, from territory belonging to the Archdiocese of Mohilev, which then included large parts of Russia. Finland had only just gained its independence from Russia, which was in the midst of post-Revolution civil war.

In the first three years of its existence, an Apostolic Administrator would lead the new circumscription: the Dutch priest, Fr. Michiel Buckx, a priest of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, or Dehonians. Fr. Buckx would be appointed as the first vicar apostolic in 1923, and was made a bishop as well. He would be suceeded in 1933 be another Dutchman, Bishop Gulielmus Cobben, another Dehonian. When the apostolic vicariate was promoted to the Diocese of Helsinki in 1955, Bishop Cobben continued as bishop of Helsinki. In 1964 he recieved a coadjutor bishop, again a Dutch Dehonian, Bishop Paul Verschuren. He succeeded Bishop Cobben in 1967 and remained in office until 1998, during which period he served four terms as president of the Scandinavian bishops’ conference, the first from 1973 to 1978, and the other three from 1986 to 1998. Bishop Verschuren was succeeded by another Dehonian, but one from Poland this time. Bishop Józef Wróbel served from 2000 to 2008, after which he returned to Poland to become an auxiliary bishop of Lublin. In 2009, Fr. Teemu Sippo, who had served as apostolic administrator following the reassignment of Bishop Wróbel, was appointed as the first Finnish bishop of Helsinki. He was consecrated in the Lutheran cathedral of Helsinki by Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Bishop Wróbel and Copenhagen’s Bishop Czeslaw Kozon. Cardinal Lehmann had been Bishop Sippo’s thesis advisor when he studied in Freiburg in the 1970s.

Of the 5.5 million inhabitants of Finland, only some 14,00 are Catholic. These are spread over some 340,000 square kilometers and are served by some 30 priests. The Diocese of Helsinki consists of 8 parishes.

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Ordinations, or the lack thereof – an update

Following the discussions triggered by this post about ordinations of new priests and deacons in northwestern Europe, I have gone over the announcements from the various dioceses and created a list of all the ordinations in 2017 in the dioceses of the Netherlands, Flanders, Germany and the Nordic countries. There are more than I listed in my original post (which, it has to be emphasised, never aimed to give a complete picture).

The list, which can be found at the bottom of the sidebar on the right, is a work in progress, as ordinations, in many cases, are announced mere weeks before they take place. It is my intention to give some idea about the numbers of new priests and deacons that the Church in these parts is blessed to receive.

In response to falling numbers, Cardinal Marx calls for lay responsibility

marxCardinal Reinhard Marx is planning to introduce a way of managing parishes  in his Archdiocese of München und Freising which is, out of necessity, already being practiced elsewhere in Europe, La Croix reports.

Whil it is standard that a parish is led by a parish priest, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in his parish (or parishes, federation or parish cluster), Cardinal Marx wants to see if that responsibility could not also be held by lay faithful. This decision stems from the dwindling numbers of priests. While some dioceses, for example in parts of Germany and the Netherlands, cluster and merge parishes to make sure that there is still at least one priest per parish, Cardinal Marx does not believe that is the way forward.

An enlarged parish, created out of a cluster of smaller parishes, would require its sole priest to travel greater distances, and possibly, as financial means are stretched, churches to be closed and active parish communities to be similarly merged. A weekly Sunday Mass in every church in the new parish would no longer be a matter of course. Cardinal Marx believes that this withdrawal of the Church from her territorial roots will lead to increasing local invisibility.

By appointing lay faithful to take on the responsibility for parishes where there is no priest, at least not frequently or regularly, the local church could continue its activities and remain visible. And there is no real reason to not invest lay faithful with such responsibility. It is not as if one needs to be ordained in order to wield it. Some ordained priests, the cardinal says, are not particularly suited to lead parishes, but do wonderful things in other areas, such as pastoral care and liturgy.

There is an element of responsibility that comes with ordination, and that is the responsibility of the shepherd. Priests remain indispensible in the life of the Church, but they are also people, with their limitations. None can be in two places at the same time (barring those holy priests given the grace of bilocation) and there are practical limits to the size of a parish that one man can be responsible for in the way expected of a parish priest. Cardinal Marx’s plan includes an active role for his three auxiliary bishops and himself in selecting teams of lay leaders and reflecting on parish structures and organisation.

Cardinal Marx’ proposal is a response to a problem that many bishops in Northwestern Europe face: dwindling numbers of faithful, and subsequently diminishing financial means to allow for the upkeep of (sometimes ancient and monumental) buildings and pastoral networks. If it is the right response is for the future to reveal.