As the new bishop comes to Limburg, two questions answered

His consecration is still two weeks away, but Bishop-elect Georg Bätzing has recently answered two of the most frequently-asked questions regarding his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Limburg. The German diocese was left without a bishop in 2014 when Franz-Peter Tebartz-Van Elst  was forced to resign following a financial scandal surrounding the building complex including the diocesan offices and his personal appartments.

rtemagicc_georg_btzing_3032012_jpgThe new bishop will be using the buildings, which cost an estimated 31 million euros to build and refurbish, for office space, but he will not be living there. The living spaces will be given to the use of the diocesan museum, as well as for meetings, assemblies and other exhibitions. Bishop Bätzing himself will take up residence fifteen minutes away, in a small house built in the 1950s, offered for his use by retired vicar general Franz Kaspar. While the latter had use of the house for the rest of his life, he offered his house to the new bishop on the day that Msgr. Bätzing was appointed. Fr. Kaspar, considered the former right-hand man of Bishop Tebartz-Van Elst, has stated his wish to live outside the diocese. Earlier, the house was the residence of Bishop Walther Kampe, auxiliary bishop of Limburg from 1952 to 1984.

franz-peter-tebartz-van-elstThe other question revolves around Bishop Tebartz-Van Elst’s possible presence at the consecration of his successor. The retired bishop, who now works in the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, has decided for himself that he will not travel to Limburg for the occasion. Bishop Bätzing will be consecrated on 18 September by Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, as archbishop of Cologne the metropolitan of the Church province of which Limburg is a part, with co-consecrators Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of Paderborn and apostolic administrator of Limburg until the installation of the new bishop, and Bishop Stephan Ackermann, bishop of Trier, the diocese where Bishop-elect Bätzing was a priest and vicar general until his appointment to Limburg.

Photo credit: [2] Getty

Archbishop Léonard at 75, time to look back and ahead.

léonardToday Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard marks his 75th birthday, and his letter of resignation will be delivered to the desk of Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, who will forward it to Rome. All this is foreseen in canon law, but the immediate outcome has several options.

The resignation may be accepted immediately, after which a Diocesan Administrator will have to be appointed. The resignation may als be postponed for either a set or undefined period. In any case, the Holy See press office bulletins, which announce retirement and new appointments, will be enthusiastically scrutinised.

In any case, the relatively short period that Archbishop Léonard occupied the seat of Saint Rumbold is coming to an end. It is a time of looking back, as well as looking ahead. Back at the past five years and ahead to whomever the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels may be.

Archbishop Léonard was appointed at roughly the same time that I started this blog, and my translation of an earlier interview with him caused one of the first peaks in visitors here. Ever since his appointment, he was considered a likely candidate to be made a cardinal, which however never happened. But this never caused him grief.

One of the first major obstacles on his path was the revelation that the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had been guilty of sexual abuse. As president of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, all eyes were on Archbishop Léonard. Shortly afterwards, the archbishop went to Rome for the ad limina visit. In an interview he discussed the Vangheluwe case, as well as education and the shortage of priests. Shortly before his own retirement, the archbishop was judged guilty of negligence in a case of sexual abuse.

201104070920-1_andre-leonard-veegt-taart-weg-en-vervolgt-voordracht-About education, he later had to correct misunderstandings about his comments, something that would mark the following years as well. Notable were his comments about AIDS as a form of immanent justice. This seeming difficulty in understanding between archbishop and media even led to the archbishop’s spokesman resigning. Among many clergy and faithful, even politicians, Archbishop Léonard was not popular because of his clear voice and these misrepresentations, although in pastoral contexts he was widely loved, for example when 22 Belgian children died in a coach crash in Switzerland. Adversity, however, sometimes had the upper hand, as the archbishop was the recipient of pies (above right), pizza, slaps and water to his face. These attacks never aroused anger in him, however. On the contrary. Following that final assault, Archbishop Léonard wrote a very kind letter to all who had expressed support for him.

In Brussels, Archbishop Léonard was soon faced with the need for new bishops, as his auxiliaries left to Namur and Bruges. In 2011 he recieved three new auxiliary bishops.

In 2012, Archbishop Léonard led his diocese in a new evangelisation of cities, one of the first porjects of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

Archbishop Léonard took part on two Synod of Bishops assemblies, where he spoke on the reality of evil, as well as the role of women in the Church. In the 2012 Synod he was a member of the Commission for the Message.

Following the election of Pope Francis, Archbishop Léonard offered a Mass of thanksgiving in Brussels.

Last year, Archbishop Lëonard started looking ahead to the future, even clearing up some misconceptions about his upcoming retirement.

ordination léonard fraternity of the holy apostlesAfter his retirement, and contrary to his previously expressed wish to leave Brussels, Archbishop Léonard will live with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, a priestly fraternity which he founded in 2013 (at left, Archbishop Léonard is seen ordaining one of the fraternity’s priests in October of 2014). Priests from this fraternity, inspired by Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, are currently entrusted with the pastoral care of two parishes in Brussels. Whether this will be a temporary arrangement or otherwise, remains to be seen.

As for the future for Mechelen-Brussels, we can only guess. But there are some possibilities we may investigate. The metropolitan see of Mechelen has been held in turn by archbishops from the Flemish and Walloon parts of Belgium. While Pope Francis, who makes the final appointment, is probably not one to be bothered overly much by such considerations, preferring to choose the best man for the job, whether he be from Flanders of Wallonia, it is a sensitive issue in Belgium. I expect therefore that the new archbishop will come from one of the Flemish dioceses or that part of the archdiocese which lies in Flanders. Archbishop Léonard, after all, is a Walloon, and his predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, hails from Flanders.

kockerolsThe Holy Father may choose to elevate one of the suffragan bishops of Flanders. These are Bishop Jozef de Kesel of Bruges, Luc van Looy of Ghent, Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt. Bishop Léon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop for the Flemish part of Mechelen-Brussels, and Jean Kockerols, auxiliary for Brussels (pictured at right), may also be added to this group. At 73, Bishop van Looy is too close to his own retirement to be a likely choice. The others are between 56 and 67, so their age is no issue. Three bishops (De Kesel, Lemmens and Kockerols) know the archdiocese well, as they serve or have served as auxiliary bishops in it. There are also bishops who are no strangers to Rome or to the Pope personally. Bishop van Looy accompanied the young people of Verse Vis when they interviewed the Pope last year. Bishop Lemmens worked in Rome before being appointed as auxiliary bishop and Bishop Kockerols is internationally active as one of the vice-presidents of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). Bishop Bonny had made headlines for himself in relation to the Synod of Bishops, so he will also not be unknown in Rome. The only relatively unknown bishop is Patrick Hoogmartens, but he, at least, has a motto that should appeal to the current papacy: “Non ut iudicet, sed ut salvetur” (Not to judge, but to save, John 3:17).

Or the Pope may decide to do something that hasn’t happened since 1925: appoint a priest who has not yet been a bishop anywhere else to become the new archbishop. Whoever he may turn out to be, he will facing a stiff task as a shepherd in an increasingly secular environment. It may be hoped that he will be both pastorally sensitive and doctrinally clear.

léonard coat of armsArchbishop Léonard’s coat of arms

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.

Ad limina Wednesday: general audience, Interreligious Dialogue and St. Paul

hurkmans audienceOn Wednesday, the traditional day of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, all bishops continued with meetings. All, except for Bishop Antoon Hurkmans (pictured at right, seated at centre and discoursing with an unidentified bishop), who attended the audience and once again met the Pope, this time to give him an icon on behalf of the Dutch faithful. The meeting may be briefly seen here, at the 55:30 mark, the very end of the general audience. Afterwards, Pope Francis blessed and venerated the icon of the Year of Faith, that Bishop Hurkmans had also brought and which he will bring with him back home. It will subsequently go on a  tour to various parishes.

The other bishops, in the mean time, were received at the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care to Health Care Workers, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Bishop Jan Hendriks, part of the group visiting the latter two dicasteries, shares some words about the relations with Muslims, that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran shared during the meeting at the Interreligious Dialogue office:

“…we need a strong Christian identity, which is open at the same. The three great starting points of the dialogue are:

  1. You must confess your faith clearly, without hiding anything: Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. Accept the other as being different.
  3. Accept that God is at work in every person.

Christians often have too little conviction, and that is problematic for the dialogue; Because of it Muslims often experience society as Godless and resist it. Conversation is often difficult: a meeting is often good and cordial, and afterwards they retreat anyway.”

20131204_ad_limina_tauran-xl^Bishops Mutsaerts, van den Hende, Hendriks, van Burgsteden, Cardinal Tauran, Bishops de Korte and Woorts

Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden also attended that meeting, and in his daily “diary entry” he writes:

“The Roman Catholic considers positively the true, good and beautiful which is found outside the Christian community. She considers, after all, truth, goodness and beauty to be the work of God’s Spirit. Hence the willingness to enter into dialogue with other religions. Which, by the way, does not lead to relativism. Because in addition to every respect for non-Christian religiousness, the Church continues to proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Mass on Wednesday was offered at the grave of Saint Paul, in the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls. Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam was the main celebrant and also gave the homily. All homilies during the ad limina are available at this page of the Church province’s website, but since Bishop Punt usually speaks from memory (as shown in the photo below), his text is not yet available. It is said he spoke about the topic of mission.

punt homily st. paul-outside-the-walls

Photo credit: [1] RKK – Christian van der Heijden, [2] Bishop Jan Hendriks, [3] Ramon Mangold

An ‘Extraordinary’ start of Francis’ new Synod

synodIt seems that the Synod of Bishops has become the first curial body to undergo Pope Francis’ expected and announced reforms. Following the appointment of its new General Secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri in September, Pope Francis fairly soon afterwards announced the first major assembly of the Synod: an Extraordinary General Assembly titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.

Scheduled to take place from 5 to 19 November of next year, the assembly is styled ‘extraordinary’ to signify the pressing urgency that Pope Francis attaches to the subject. Unlike the general assemblies, there will be no process of selecting participating clergy:  the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Churches, the heads of the Curia offices in Rome and three members of religious institutes are the designated participants by canon law. The participants from continental northwestern Europe will therefore be Wim Cardinal Eijk from the Netherlands, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard from Belgium, Bishop Anders Arborelius from Scandinavia, and whoever the future president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be.

Archbishop-Bruno-ForteToday, Pope Francis selected the Relator General and the Special Secretary for the Extraordinary Assembly, which is only the third such gathering since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965. The Relator General opens the assembly and gathers the conclusions and results for the final message and ultimately the Post-Synodal Exhortation that Pope Francis will write. This task will be performed by Péter Cardinal Erdö, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The Special Secretary, who records the proceedings of the Synod, is Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (pictured) of Chieti-Vasto. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

With the next assembly on the horizon we are still expecting the final act of the previous one. The Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith closed in October of last year and the assumption then was that Pope Benedict XVI would publish its Post-Synodal Exhortation some time in 2014. Now that he has retired, and Pope Francis has begun his papacy, it will be the latter’s task to publish it. In June, he told the General Secretariat of the Synod that he would be writing much of the document in August and that it would be ready for publication before the end of the Year of Faith, on 24 November of this year.

“It is time to throw open wide the doors”- Abp. Fisichella on the new evangelisation

Just before the weekend, Archbishop Salvatore ‘Rino’ Fisichella delivered the closing remarks at Proclaim 2012, a three-day conference hosted by the bishops of Australia in Sydney. The text, which is available in my Dutch translation here, is not only full of enticing sound bytes, but also serves as an excellent primer for the upcoming Year of Faith and the new evangelisation. Not coincidentally, Archbishop Fisichella runs the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

There are several focal points in the talk, but the first, and most important one, is Jesus Christ being at the heart of the new evangelisation. His resurrection, and our proclamation of it, are what the whole thing is about.

“[W]e are called to renew the proclamation of Jesus Christ, of the mystery of his death and resurrection to stimulate people once more to have faith in him by means of conversion of life. If our eyes were still capable of seeing into the depths of the events which mark the lives of our contemporaries, it would be easy to show how much this message still holds a place of special importance. Therefore, we need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people’s existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith.”

Without divulging the entire contents of the text which you should just go and read for yourself, there is one remark which can be a good suggestion for catechesis:

“Central to the Year of Faith will be a focus upon the Profession of Faith. This will serve to return the Profession of Faith to its prominent place as the daily prayer of every Christian. To facilitate this, we have produced an edition of the Nicene Creed, which is the most familiar symbol to Christians due to its frequent usage within the context of Sunday Mass.”

The Creed, or Profession of Faith, is something we profess in every Mass we attend. But, as with all things we hear and say often, there is a risk of it losing its impact and meaning for us. Let’s dive into the Creed and analyse it step by step, line by line, word by word even, if need be. Just a suggestion for the Year of Faith.

The ship of the Church, headed towards new lands

Introducing the logo of the Year of Faith, as presented today by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.


The ship of the Church sets sail using the Cross of Christ for a mast and the sails formed out of the the letters IHC, meaning “In hoc signo” – “In this sign”, the trigram of Christ’s name.  The sun in the background, together with the trigram, refers to the Eucharist.

Together with the logo, a new website was also launched, which promises to offer all sorts of information on the Year of Faith.

Archbishop Fisichella’s address for the occasion is not yet available in English, but as soon as it is, you will find it here.