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He led a diocese for less than four hours, but Bishop Manfred Melzer probably won’t lose any sleep over it. It is simply standard procedure in Cologne: as the archbishop retires, leadership of the archdiocese falls automatically to the most senior auxiliary bishop. Until, that is, the cathedral chapter has picked a diocesan administrator, and they didn’t take very long to do that. Vicar General Msgr. Stefan Heβe (pronounced “Hesse”) (pictured at right) runs the ongoing affairs of the archdiocese until Pope Francis confirms the election of a successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who retired today after 25 years, two months and a few days at the head of one of Germany’s oldest sees.
In 1988, Cardinal Meisner came to Cologne from Berlin, 14 months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Höffner. Today he becomes the first archbishop of Cologne in almost 129 years to retire, and he does so at the almost unprecedented age of 80. Cologne now joins three other German dioceses – Erfurt, Passau and Freiburg in Breisgau – which are also still awaiting a new bishop, in the case of the former two since October of 2012.
Cardinal Meisner leaves Cologne in the hands of diocesan administrator Msgr. Heβe, and Auxiliary Bishops Melzer, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The diocesan administrator now had the duty to collect an expansive report on the state of the archdiocese and send that to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In the meantime, the see of Cologne is Sede vacante nihil innovetur, in other words, while there is no new bishop, no changes may be made. In other respects, Msgr. Heβe has the same rights and duties as a diocesan bishop.
The Archdiocese of Cologne, or Köln as it is properly called, is the second oldest in Germany (only Trier is older), dating back to the year 200, and once dominated the western part of modern Germany as well as major parts of the Low Countries. The Dioceses of Roermond (Netherlands), Magdeburg, Aachen and Essen (Germany) and parts of Liège (Belgium) were at one time or another all part of Cologne.
The archbishops of Cologne were powerful men, in that rather German way that they were both spiritual and worldly leaders, being electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, while not the primatial see of Germany, Cologne remains important, being the largest diocese in number of faithful (some 2 million) and covering a significant part of the Industrial Ruhr area and including the major cities of Cologne, Bonn (former capital city of West Germany) and Düsseldorf. Cologne has produced 10 cardinals and 7 ordinaries who were declared saints.
Joachim Meisner was born on Christmas Day 1933, in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, but at the time the city of Breslau in Germany, which was rapidly falling into the clutches of the Nazis. Having lived through the war as a child and young teenager, Joachim Meisner ultimately became a priest of the Diocese of Fulda in 1962, days before his 29th birthday. In 1975, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, which has been established only two years before (tensions between communist East Germany and the Holy See meant that the former had almost no full-fledged dioceses). Bishop Meisner was also given the titular see of Vina. In 1980, he became the bishop of Berlin, which, because of the aforementioned tensions, was not yet an archdiocese. Bishop Meisner stayed there for eight years, being created a cardinal in 1983, before being called to Cologne in 1980 (a poster welcoming his arrival is pictured at left).
Coinciding with his retirement, Cardinal Meisner published his final Lenten letter, which is also a farewell to his archdiocese and the faithful for whom he was pastorally responsible. He concludes the letter as follows:
Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,
I was allowed to serve you as Archbishop of Cologne for a quarter of a century. I have always wanted to testify to the peace of God and bring this across to you, since it is the strength of our hope. I thank you once again from my heart for all the strength which I found in that and beg you all very much for your forgiveness when my service were not a source of strength, but perhaps a source of irritation. The Lord will complete everything which was only fragmentary in my service. I will remain – God willing – among you until the hour of my death and will now have more time to pray for you all, and bring all your concerns and hopes to the heart of God.
The all-powerful God bless you all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”
And now? The Archdiocese of Cologne has already started the process of selecting a new archbishop by appointing a diocesan administrator. Possible candidates will now be chosen by several entities, all according to the Concordat that the Holy See signed in 1929 with Prussia, the state of which Cologne was then a part. Among these entities are Archbishop Eterovic (pictured) as the Papal Nuncio; the bishops of the other dioceses which were part of Prussia: Aachen, Berlin, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Görlitz, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Trier; and the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The Nuncio will then collect all proposed candidates and will create a list of three candidates which he considers the best choices. This so-called terna will be added to the other proposals and sent to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will draft its own terna based on the information provided. The list will then go to the Pope, who will either confirm it, or make some changes of his own. Then, the list goes back to the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from final terna. Voting continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes (at least 8 out of 15). After three voting rounds, only the two candidates who got the most votes continue. If all candidates have five votes after the second round, only the two oldest candidates continue on. For the fourth round of voting a simple majority is sufficient. Do both candidates still have the same amount of votes, the oldest candidate is elected.
After a new archbishop is elected, the governments of the States of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz can voice political concerns against the elected. The Nuncio must seek and obtain the permission of the elected for this. Once the governments agree, the Pope officially appoints the new archbishop.
Several months ago, Raymond Cardinal Burke gave an interview in which he was critical about Pope Francis. He made some assumptions there about thew wisdom of the Pope’s giving so many interviews, assumptions and comments which I think were ill-advised, and more than a few people connected this to the perceived ‘demotion’ of the cardinal when Pope Francis re-shuffled some departments of the Curia and some of their members.
A few days ago, Cardinal Burke had an article published in L’Osservatore Romano in which he sheds a light on the priorities of Pope Francis. This article goes a long way in repairing the damage done by the earlier interview and is an interesting study on how the controversial topics of abortion, euthanasia and marriage fit in Pope Francis’ approach of pastoral love.
“It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia, or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman. Rather he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced. The understanding and living of these truths are, so to speak, the outer manifestation of the inner communion with God the Father in Christ, His only-begotten Son, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
It’s a good read which puts the words and actions of Pope Francis in the context of Scripture and on what some of his predecessors have said and done. I translated the article into Dutch here.
Just a short notification that my translation of Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Peace is now available via this link and the ‘Translations into Dutch’ page at the top of the blog.
The original text is, of course, available via the Vatican website, here. It’s a good text, and when I started reading it I couldn’t help but notice that Pope Francis follows very much in the thoughts of his predecessor, especially in the first section and the following exegesis of the story of Cain and Abel. Of course, the text also bears Francis’ stamp, in its topic of fraternity and the almost radical steps we need to take to achieve it.
Francis is not Benedict, but the two are not that different. And that’s a good thing.
In 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.
Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Germany’s largest and most venerable archdiocese of Cologne, looks ahead to his upcoming retirement and other current affairs in the Church in Germany, via an article in the Aachener Zeitung today.
Cardinal Meisner, who turns 80 on Christmas Day, expects his retirement to become effective no later than February. Pope Francis has already indicated to be willing to grant it. He may want to wait, however, on the 25th anniversary of Meisner’s installation as archbishop of Cologne on 9 March.
The cardinal also spoke about the most recent, and quite serious, development in the German Church: the one-sided decision, independent of the world Church’s teaching authority, to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. Prelates in the Curia, among them Synod of Bishops chief Archbishop Baldisseri, have indicated that the topic should be discussed and looked again closely once more, but no chance in Church law or teaching has come about (and likely won’t for the foreseeable future, if ever). Cardinal Meisner says about this:
“I consider that wishful thinking. I think it’s the Church’s teaching. The Pope won’t change anything about that. That’s my firm belief.”
He also speaks about Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, whom he continues to support, although not unconditionally so. He is very critical about the bishop lying about flying first-class to India.
“That is – I should say – a stupidity. [...] He should not have done that.” He has urged Tebartz-van Elst to repay the 20,000 Euro settlement in the legal proceedings against him, saying, “Pay it, and then it’s gone!”
But Cardinal Meisner also reveals that members of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s family in his native Kevelaer at times also felt the attacks against the bishop. Nieces and nephews were sometimes unable to attend school, and other family members were accosted in the street. No matter what happened, the Cardinal says, this is truly unfair to everyone involved.
After retirement, Cardinal Meisner wants to take up residence in the chapter house across from the cathedral, assisting priests and providing pastoral care for as long as time, and the Lord, allows him. And as for his successor? “That’s no longer any of my business.”
Photo credit: dpa
For the Dutch readers of my blog (and those who don’t read it…):
As a way of reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I am making a Dutch translation of it while I am reading. I find that translating requires a concentrated absorbing of the text and its meaning, which is ideal for this long theological (but at times also pastoral and personal) text.
A the time of writing I have completed translating the introduction, so we’re not even at the meat of the text yet… But anyway, it’s a work in progress. That means that there will be errors in there (although not many), and although the text contains footnotes, I have not added them yet.
Pope Francis quotes from many sources, of course. Where possible, I have used existing Dutch translations of those sources. For official documents I referred to the excellent resource that is RKDocumenten.nl, and Bible quotes came from Willibrordbijbel.nl.
Readers of English or other languages may of course find the text here.