Disgraced second Bishop of Trondheim passes away

georg müllerAlmost a week ago, on Sunday 25 October, the second bishop of the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, in Norway, passed away. Bishop Georg Müller was 64 and retired since 2009. He had lived in the community of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Picpus Fathers, in Münster since 2012. He had entered that order in 1971 and was ordained for it in 1978, while studying at their college in Simpelveld, the Netherlands.

It was his own choice to serve the Church in Norway, where he arrived following the completion of his studies at the University of Münster in 1981. He was given immediate responsibility in 1983, when Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer was transferred to Oslo but stayed on as Apostolic Administrator of Trondheim until 1988. Fr. Muller became vicar general in 1984, cathedral administrator in 1986 and in 1988 he took over as Apostolic Administrator. In 1989 he was the host of Pope Saint John Paul II as the pontiff visited the Nordic countries. It took until 1997 for Msgr. Müller to be appointed as Bishop of Trondheim, an office he held until his retirement in 2009. Like most other Nordic dioceses, Trondheim experienced a period of growth at that time, mainly because of immigration, a trend that still continues. In his time as ordinary, Bishop Müller invited a number of religious orders to come to his prelature: Birgittine sisters in Trondheim, Cistercian sisters in Tautra, Missionary Servants of the Holy Trinity, a Filipine community, in Molde, and Cistercians monks from France in Munkeby.

Bishop Müller retired for unspecified reasons in 2009. A year later it became clear that he had resigned because of accusations of sexual abuse of a minor, about which Bishop Müller admitted his guilt when confronted about the matter by Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm. The victim, at the time of the bishop’s retirement a man in his 30s, received the compensation he wished from the Church, and Bishop Müller was removed from all official duties in the Church. Prosecution in a court of law was not possible because of the statute of limitations on the crime. The year-long silence after Bishop Müller’s retirement was per the wish of the victim.

Bishop Müller underwent  therapy in Germany, and subsequently lived in his order’s general government in Rome. He moved to Münster in 2012. He suffered from unspecified health issues until his death.

Bishop Müller led the Church in Norway in the place where it once begun. It was once the Archdiocese of Nidaros, before the Reformation struck and the Church in Norway did not return in the public eye until 1843 and the once great archdiocese was resurrected as the mission “sui juris” of Central Norway. Only shortly before Father Müller’s arrival in the country, in 1979, did Central Norway become the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim. Bishop Müller is, for now at least, the last bishop of Trondheim. Upon his retirement in 2009, the bishop of Oslo, Msgr. Bernt Eidsvig, became Apostolic Administrator, and remains so until this day.

The funeral Mass for Bishop Müller will be offered on 4 November at the parish church in Werne, south of Münster, where he will also be buried. Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen will be the celebrant.

Be a priest and see the world

burasPriests usually go where they are called, but in the case of Father Dariusz Buras that is a bit further than most. The Polish priest of the Diocese of Tarnów was appointed as Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau in Kazakhstan on Friday, but this is just another new home away from home for him.

Most recently working as a priest in Oslo, Norway, Fr. Buras was ordained and worked in the Diocese of Tarnów, but after two years he relocated to Ternopil in Ukraine to work as a missionary priest. In 2006 he headed further east, to Atyrau in western Kazakhstan. In the academic year 2006-2007 he was spiritual counselor for the seminary of the Diocese of Karaganda, also in Kazakhstan. He then returned to Poland to fulfill the same duties in the missionary formation centre in Warsaw, at which time he also earned a licentiate in spiritual theology at Warsaw’s Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. In 2010 he went to Oslo, where he was attached to the cathedral parish and was responsible for the permanent formation of priests from Tarnów working in Norway. Later this month, he returns to Atyrau, to take on the duties of a bishop without actually being one. The mostly Muslim area is home to 2,000 Catholics and seven priests.

Fr. Buras’ missionary work stems from Pope Pius XII’s 1957 Encyclical Fidei Donum, which urged bishops to make priests available to mission territories. These priests remained incardinated in their home dioceses and would often return after several years. A local example of such a priest is Bishop Jan de Brie, retired auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, who did mission work in Brazil in the 1970s.

Financial woes strike Oslo – Bishop charged

Bernt_EidsvigCatholic news from Norway is a rare thing, but today the Church there makes all the wrong headlines. There has been a run-up of sorts over the past months, when it became clear that the Diocese of Oslo had been providing inaccurate membership numbers. The Norwegian Catholic Church largely consisting of immigrants, the diocese was said to have made the assumptions that people were Catholic because they came from a predominantly Catholic country, thus collecting more financial support from the state.

This morning that came to a head when the Oslo police raided the diocesan offices and charged two people, including Bishop Bernt Ivar Eidsvig, with aggravated fraud, for a total sum of some 50 million Norwegian kroner (6.5 million USD/ 5.8 million euros).

This situation sounds not too different from the one that struck the Diocese of Limburg in Germany, and such financial mismanagement has of course been reason for bishops to be removed by the Pope. It is too early to say if that will happen to Bishop Eidsvig, of course, but his being charged is no trifling matter.

A statement from the diocese talks of “preliminary charges”, and adds that it was never their intention to record people as members against their wishes. The statement also mentions ongoing efforts to clean up their records and expresses hope for a quick clarification.

Bishop Bernt Ivar Eidsvig has been the bishop of Oslo since 2005. He has also been the Apostolic Administrator of Trondheim since 2009. A member of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, the 61-year-old prelate is the fourth bishop of Oslo since it was established as a diocese in 1953.

Synod of Bishops – Day Six

With the Saturday sessions, presided by Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (pictured), the Synod of Bishops wrapped up its first week. As usual, there were interventions, 24 by Synod fathers and one by a fraternal delegate.

The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, made an important point about catechesis and youth:

“[T]he majority of young people, once their Christian initiation is complete, lose their relationship with the Church, the faith, God. There are multiple causes for this: however, I believe that in a not insignificant number of cases the faith is not supported by a catechesis that is friendly towards reason, able to offer a true anthropological instruction and able to legitimize the plausibility of the Christian choice. It is necessary to relaunch the CCC, giving greater space to its content in order to avoid reduction to a “do-it-yourself” faith; the fides quae is often missing from our catechesis.”

Other topics discussed were the personal experiences in the social pastoral field of several countries, but also, once more, the use of mass media in the new evangelisation.

Cardinal George Alencherry had interesting things to say about the lives and ministries of priests in recent decades:

“During the 50 years after Vatican II, the renewal of the Church has been multifaceted and highly productive. At the same time the lives and ministry of priests and men and women of consecrated life have become more functional than spiritual and ecclesial. It would seem that the present-day formation of priests and the religious personnel tends to make them functionaries for different offices in the Church, rather than missionaries inflamed by the love of Christ. Even in places of ad gentes missions of the Church, functioning through institutions have made the priests and the religious lose the impelling force and strength of the Gospel to which they are committed by their vocation. Secularization has impacted the lives of individual Christians and also of ecclesial communities. New Evangelization demands a thorough renewal of the lives of individual Christians and the reevaluation of the structures of the Church to empower them with the dynamism of the Gospel values of truth, justice, love, peace and harmony.”

Bishop António Da Rocha Couto (pictured), of Lamego in Portugal, asked himself, his fellow Synod fathers, and in extension all of us,

“Yes, we need proclaimers of the Gospel who are without gold, silver, copper, bags, two tunics… Yes, it is of conversion that I speak, and I ask myself this question: why did the Saints fight so hard, and with so much joy, to be poor and meek, while we work so hard to be rich and important?”

Bishop Berislav Grgic, prelate of Tromsø in Norway, painted the following picture of the Church in Scandinavia:

“The Catholic Church in the Northern Lands – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – is a very small minority and therefore has neither the advantages nor the disadvantages that the Catholic Church often comes across in traditional and prevalently Catholic regions. Despite its limited relevance, numeric as well as social, our Church is nonetheless a growing Church. New churches are built or bought, new parishes are instituted, non-Latin rites are added, there is a relatively high number of adult conversions and baptisms, there are vocations to priesthood and to religious life, the number of baptisms is much higher than the number of deaths and number of those who abandon the Church, and attendance at Sunday Mass is relatively high.
In certain sectors of society there is great interest for the faith and spirituality, by non-believers who are searching for the truth as well as by Christians committed to other religions who wish to deepen and enrich religious life. It is also interesting to see that during the past years a relatively high number of contemplative orders have opened their own convents.
The transmission of the faith, often however, is made difficult because of the vast distances. Our priests must travel far – sometimes up to 2,000 km per month – to visit our faithful who live in distant places and celebrate Mass. This is very tiring during the winter months.”

The fraternal delegate who also intervened was Dr. Geoffrey Tunnicliffe, general secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance. He spoke about ‘holistic evangelism,’ evangelisation which lies at the heart of the person and which is radically committed to worl evangelisation.

Following the interventions, the composition of the Commission for Information, supplying media and interested parties with information about the Synod, was announced. The Commission is chaired by Archbishop Claudio Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, with Archbishop Ján Babjak, of Prešov of the Catholics of the Byzantine Rite in Slovakia, serving as vice president. The other regular members of the Commission are:

Archbishop John Onaiyekan, of Abuja, Nigeria
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus
Bishop Manuel Macário do Nascimento Clemente, of Porto, Portugal
Archbishop José Gómez, of Los Angeles, United States
Archbishop Francis Kovithavanij, of Bangkok, Thailand

There are two members ex officio: Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, the Synod’s general secretary, and Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.

Lastly, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, serves as secretary ex officio.

In the afternoon the interventions continued, this time by 15 Synod fathers. Father Heinrich Walter, Superior General of the Schönstatt Fathers, spoke about the role of the family in the renewal of the Church in the west:

“The family remains the foundation for learning the faith. The family means seeing one’s home as the house of God. Children, with their parents, follow the lengthy path in learning the faith. The vitality of a community is connected to these homes. Families are not only the privileged location for evangelization, but inasmuch as they are laity they are also agents of evangelization.”

Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner (pictured), auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, raised an interesting point. He said, “New evangelization should take youths into consideration as ‘new agents’ of evangelization: the young who evangelize the young.” Rather than seeing young people strictly as ‘consumers’ of catechesis and education, it should be possible to turn some of them also into educators themselves. That would mean a different focus on the sort of catechesis presented to young people. Not only would they need to be able to learn, but also to teach by example and certainly also through being catechists themselves.

Country by country – a new nuncio for the north

After almost six months, the Nordic countries are once again supplied with an official ambassador from the Holy See. This new Apostolic Nuncio is Archbishop Henryk Józef Nowacki, until today the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua.

Appointed today to Sweden and Iceland – Denmark, Norway and Finland will almost certainly follow in due course – 65-year-old Archbishop Nowacki is of German descent and was ordained a priest for the Polish Diocese of Tarnów in 1970. In 1983, he began to work in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in Paraguay and Angola, and later at the Secretariat of State in Rome. In 2001, he became the Nuncio to Slovakia and was given the titular see of Blera near Rome. He was consecrated by Blessed Pope John Paul II. In 2007, he was appointed to Nicaragua, and today his third posting followed.

Archbishop Nowacki came under fire in 2007 when he was identified as a Communist collaborator in the 1970s. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Kraków, came strongly to his defence, but nothing more seems to have come from the affair. Both Dziwisz and Blessed John Paul II seemed to consider or have considered Archbishop Nowacki an industrious and loyal collaborator and friend. This latest appointment certainly does not seem to indicate a change in that opinion from the part of Pope Benedict XVI.

Photo credit: Ján Duda

From the north to the south

Lost amid the Christmas celebrations, the onset of the new year and the announcement of a consistory, is the news that, on 5 January, the Holy Father appointed Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig to be the new Papal Nuncio to Argentina. In the past four years, Archbishop Tscherrig was Nuncio to the Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. In Argentina, the Swiss-born prelate succeeds Archbishop Adriano Bernardini, who was called to Italy last November.

The diplomatic mission of the Holy See in Scandinavia dates from 1960, when it was established as an apostolic delegation. In 1966, Finland got a Nunciature, followed ten years later by Iceland. In 1982, the Nunciatures to Norway and Denmark were branched off and the remainder of the Apostolic Delegation to Scandinavia became the Nunciature to Sweden. Although each Nunciature is its own entity with its own diplomatic relations with the state it resides in, a single Nuncio has always been appointed to all of them, a reflection of the fact that the Nordic countries are home to relatively few Catholics.

In Argentina, Archbishop Tscherrig will begin his fifth diplomatic mission, after having represented the Holy See in Burundi, the Antilles, Korea and Mongolia and Scandinavia.

Photo credit: Korea Times

The wide reach of Anders Breivik

Observant readers may have noticed that  I have not yet written about the horrible murders that hit Norway a week ago today. There is a reason for that, and that is that I try to stick to a fairly narrow field of interest in this blog – Catholic news from the Netherlands and the countries around it. But I also don’t want to pretend that Catholic news is segregated from other news. So attention to the gruesome events that left 77 people dead does seem warranted. After all, I did so as well when other types of disasters – natural ones – hit Haiti, Japan and New Zealand. But there is one obstacle with two sides that kept me from writing: the fact that I know not nearly enough about the political leanings of the murderer, which do play a major part in the story, and that other writers have written about it much better than I can.

Flowers on the shore of Utøya, where 68 people where murdered

But one part of the entire story did present itself to me these past few days, and I think that that is well-suited to be discussed here. It’s the effect that the perpetrator of the attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, had on Catholic media and Catholic blogs over here and abroad.

The first example of Breivik’s twisted thoughts and acts affecting a fellow blogger came to me a few days ago. Father Dwight Longenecker discovered that Breivik read his blog, via a link from a Norwegian website that the killer contributed to. The comments that Breivik made about a post by Fr. Longenecker were

“nothing extreme or weird in itself.

Nevertheless, to think that my blog is out there as part of this new global publishing phenomenon and that anybody at all can read it is always amazing. To think that this madman read at least one post on my blog was disturbing at first. Naturally I wondered if I had written anything to prompt such hatred and violence.

I don’t think I have.” [Blog post Creepy and Disturbing]

Fr. Longenecker concludes that all we can do is “be silent and pray”. Which is a bit harder when the link between the murderer and you becomes even more personal, which happened to Catholica editor Tom Zwitser and contributor Erik van Goor. The politically conservative and Catholic orthodox writers both received the 1,600-page manifesto that Breivik had e-mailed to what he assumed were ‘kindred spirits’. Zwitser seemingly shrugged it off, although he does conclude that Breivik consciously tried to harm him and other conservative authors and politicians, since the list of recipients consisted of people Breivik did not know personally, but who are now linked to the criminal acts of 22 July. On 27 July, Zwitser wrote on Twitter:

My email address is public. Breivik, who has never read a word from me, thought that I would have any interest in his twisted ideas. Should I now start tweeting and blogging in Norwegian that I have more in common with a proper Muslim than with a dangerous liberal/neocon like him?

For Erik van Goor, the link between Breivik and him was even more of a surprise, and the consequences go farther. As he writes in an announcement, when the attacks happened, Van Goor was on vacation, and only upon coming home did he hear that his name was among those to whom the manifesto was sent. He writes:

“Even though many people, among them numerous friends, have assured me that I don carry any blame (my email address appeared and appears to be circulating freely on the Internet), this whole affair is to me a continuous stone which does not simply go away. The association between my name and the events in Norway may be reasoned away, but emotionally it makes me sick.”

With the ensuing flood of media attention for him, Van Goor decides to step back for now as contributor to Catholica and focus on his duties as husband and father until this storm abates.

And so, on an unprecedented large scale, Catholic bloggers and writers are hit by the backlash of one man’s gruesome actions. I don’t know why Breivik selected Fr. Longenecker, Tom Zwitser, Erik van Goor and all those others to be inspired by or to drag into his ‘project’ (for it does seem to be a well-planned socio-political endeavour), but it does make them into victims, especially since more than a few people now do exactly what Breivik wanted: linking them recipients of his manifesto to the horrible murders committed by him, as if to show that a certain school of thought automatically leads to murder.

I agree with Fr. Longenecker when he says that all we can do is be silent and pray. But while we, as Catholics, as bloggers, as people who made a small corner of the Internet their own, do that, we can take a lesson from all this. Our writings are out there for the world to read. And sometimes they are read – even commented on and written about – by people who do stupid and terrible things. But as long as we take the following words by Pope Benedict XVI to heart, I don’t think we need to worry about that too much.

It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). [Message for the 45th World Day of Communications].

But all the same, such events do affect us personally. We may be able to reason much of it away, but they are a small cross we nonetheless bear, at least temporarily.

As Norway mourns and buries her dead, and as Anders Breivik goes to meet his earthly judgement, may all those unwillingly linked to horror and death be given the time and chance to process all of this.

Photo credit: [1] Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay