A German Diocese gets wacky: Ed Peters comments

Ed Peters has an important post at his place.

A German bishop essentially declared himself the Church’s lawgiver (read: Pope) and dispensed with the universal law.

From In The Light Of The Law:

This is why we have Canon 428

October 10, 2013

The Archdiocese of Freiburg in Germany became canonically “vacant” on 17 Sep 2013 when the resignation of its archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, was accepted promptly upon his reaching age 75 (1983 CIC 401 § 1). Now, Canon 428 § 1, a law with roots back at least to the 12th century, states When a see is vacant, nothing is to be altered.” The Archdiocese of Freiburg is not exempt from this law.

The prohibition against divorced but civilly remarried Catholics taking Communion is regarded as an application of Canon 915 and reflects a Eucharistic discipline going back many, many centuries. From a cornucopia of sources, a quote from the International Theological Commission 1977 statement on Christian marriage sums up this discipline:

In English:

“The incompatibility of the state of remarried divorced persons with the precept and mystery of the Paschal love of the Lord makes it impossible for these people to receive, in the Eucharist, the sign of unity with Christ. Access to eucharistic Communion can only be had through penitence, which implies detestation of the sin committed and the firm purpose of not sinning again.

While this illegitimate situation does not permit a life of full communion with the Church, still Christians who find themselves in this state are not excluded from the action of divine grace and from a link with the Church. They must not, therefore, be deprived of pastoral assistance.”


When, therefore, someone in some office of the archdiocese (reports I’ve seen don’t clearly say which), issued a ‘policy’ whereby divorced but civilly remarried Catholics could, basically upon meeting with a priest, be permitted to take holy Communion, something pretty big was “altered”.

If this novel ‘policy’ of the Archdiocese of Freiburg is not an (attempted) “alteration” of ecclesiastical discipline, what would be? If it is not, therefore, prohibited by operation of, if nothing else, Canon 428, what is?

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  1. dans0622 says:

    Hi Father,

    It’s not that a bishop did this–that would be bad enough. In this case, the see is vacant and somebody in some diocesan office came out with this “policy” with no approval from the bishop (there is none).

  2. Justalurkingfool says:

    I am grateful to Dr. Peters for pointing out the appropriate canon related to this situation, however, I hope few are surprised of this development considering Francis posture with the press. I expect much more fallout. Things should get more “interesting”.

  3. I did a bit of research here and the situation is rather unusual in that the archbishop’s resignation was accepted as soon as he turned 75 but he was immediately appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. Normally, when the resignation of a bishop for “having reached the age limit” is accepted, he really is not in good health and is ready to retire or the Pope wants him out of there– right away. If the Pope and the bishop agree that he is fit to continue to serve, the Pope simply puts the resignation letter in his desk drawer and “forgets” about it and the bishop goes on as before until the bishop really is ready to retire or is no longer fit to serve. It seems a bit strange that the resignation was accepted in this case; the very clear message is that the Pope does not want him to make any further changes, because the application of Canon 428 (“no innovations”) is the main effect of changing the archbishop’s status to that of apostolic administrator.

    What was not made clear is that to all appearances, despite the vacant see, the same archbishop is running the show as before. He ought to know about canon 428, and he should have communicated that to everyone in his chancery. This could also say something about the way the archdiocese has been run until now too; maybe the “someone in some office” was given too long a leash all along and is just doing what he or she has been doing. It might also give a clue as to why this archbishop’s resignation was accepted before a successor was named, when he could have simply been allowed to continue as an archbishop with full authority over his diocese.

  4. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Andrew Saucci,

    Thank you for the additional detail! Ought we to think the matter of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is another indication of “given too long a leash all along” where Apostolic Administrator Zollitsch is concerned?

  5. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Robert Zollitsch has been appointed Administrator of the Archdiocese until his successor is named. Does that alter the situation?

    A German myself, I am quite disturbed by what has been done in Freiburg. People are going “Yay, the Church is changing!” over this. From what I understand, Church teaching is clear and already, canonically and magisterially, taken to the limits of applicability. Principles are clear, that is, and there are solutions available. I see no need for the Freiburg project.

  6. mpolo says:

    The situation with Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is probably a lot more complicated than the media is trying to make it out. At the very least the “Bishop’s House” that supposedly is costing 31 million euros is a whole complex of several buildings, including the diocesan museum.

    And if we let the media force our bishops into resignation at a whim, we are setting a horrible precedent for the future.

    So I’m going with the “judge not” on this case…

  7. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Concerning Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, there is a lot to say. A lot of what is being said is a media campaign, but not an unfounded one. Mistakes have been made, quite large ones at that. However, a lot of oversimplification and biased wording is at work in media reports.

    They love to call him the “swanky Bishop” and refer to the building complex simply as the “Bishop’s residence”, which is oversimplified. It is called the “Diocesan Centre of Saint Nicholas” and houses many different offices: Yes, the Bishop’s flat is among them, but there is also room for Religious Sisters, conference rooms, a museum, guest rooms, offices, a chapel, and a few other things. The media make it sound as though this was a giant palace covered in gold and diamonds, which it isn’t. They fail to make the distinction between the chapel (which is a House of God) and the Bishop’s flat.

    However, the Bishop seems to have altered the plans for building constantly, creating lots of extra expenditure. It is said he had the chapel roof cut open and re-fitted in order to have the Advent wreath hanging from the ceiling rather than stood on a pole. News reports also say that the Bishop has a free-standing bathtub worth €15.000 (ca. $ 20.000). If that is true, there is some serious explaining to be done.

    This is all in addition to the public prosecution for perjury, which was opened just two days ago. The Bishop is accused of lying under quasi-oath about a First Class flight to India to visit the poor. He submitted two signed statements to court to stop “Der SPIEGEL” from publishing this accusation. He had booked Business Class, but upgraded on bonus miles to First Class (plus some personal cash).

    I have been defending the Bishop to family and on the Internet for quite long, since I believe that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, but slowly I begin to doubt. While I don’t count him guilty of most of what he is accused of, I find it hard to justify such a bathtub for a Bishop, if it is true.

  8. RidersOnTheStorm says:

    The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that such matters were more properly dealt with at a Church-wide level, “under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops.”

    “For persons or local offices to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion,” he said. “The Holy Father is placing the pastoral care of the family at the heart of a synod process that will be larger, involving the reflection of the Universal Church.”

    Pope Francis has called for an extraordinary synod in October 2014 to discuss the subject of the family.

    According to the Code of Canon Law, an “extraordinary general session” of the synod is held to “deal with matters which require a speedy solution.”

    Pope Francis had told reporters accompanying him on his plane back from Rio de Janeiro in July that the next synod would explore a “somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage,” including the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

  9. Imrahil says:

    If, as the usual (I’ll explain later) phrase goes, the Archbishop has been appointed Apostolic Administrator “with all the rights of a diocesan bishop”, then I doubt can. 428 would apply.

    Now what is this Apostolic Administrator thing?

    Far from being unusual or unheard of, it is a technical precedure which has been much used in Germany in the last decades. We have to know that “what has hand and foot takes nine months”, as we say in Germany, and sometimes even longer. German dioceses are normally vacant for round-about a year until a bishop is found; there are a lot of procedures to follow, especially with the Chapter sending in a list of seven candidates, the Pope picking three, the Chapter then again picking one [it being the Prussian and Badian procedure; Bavaria has free appointment by the Pope], the responsible states having their say, and the Pope writing his bull and all that. Takes time.

    For this reason, German bishops are – I may say by now regularly – appointed Apostolic Administrators with all the rights of diocesan bishops upon retirement. This allows the choice-of-bishop process to get going, while all the rest remains as it was. (Though in Passau, Bishop Schraml then retired from the post of Administrator after one year, apparently because he now really could not do it any more, without yet a bishop having been found. Now they have to revert back go through the traditional process, diocesan administrators and all.)

    What was the unusual thing was that the President of the German Bishop’s Conference was retired at once on reaching the age, when even his time as President was not served out yet (he has been given a Papal dispense to chair it without being diocesan bishop; election is spring 2014).

    What was a rather strange thing by the way is that his appointment to Apostolic Administrator was somewhat lacking in the Papal bulletin (on http://www.vatican.va that is), where they only said resignation.

  10. Imrahil says:

    Dear @ClavesCoelorum,

    I agree that some serious explaining needs to be done… but I think we have no other choice than to stick behind Bishop TvE, precisely for the reason that there is a media campaign running against him.

    We cannot afford to create the image that the German media can depose bishops.

    What happened to Bishop Mixa was bad enough. It must not be repeated.

  11. ClavesCoelorum says:


    absolutely! I am still with Bishop TvE, although I do believe he made mistakes. Still, you and I agree that we cannot allow the media to do what it seems to be pushing for at the moment. He seems to be subject to intense pressure, I would not like to be in his place. Pressure unfortunately increases risk of mistakes. I gather he is flying to Rome today, so say the media , which might bring some clarity.

    Unfortunately, I am not well informed about Bishop Walter Mixa. I recall the name, and I think there was something about sexual abuse in the case, but I don’t know any more.

    Stay strong! :)

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear ClavesCoelorum and Imrahil,

    Thank you for all the additional detail and discussion. I am probably not the only one who does not find it easy to find his way around German news sources online.

    With respect to the matter of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, I read translated quotations from Apostolic Administrator Zollitsch in non-German newspapers which I find I cannot track down to their sources; in trying to do so, I read German quotations from him which, again, I cannot satisfactorily track down!

    Are there reliable sources you can recommend, either journalistic, or in terms of posting ‘official statements’?

    More immediately on ‘full topic’, is there any parallel between the novel ‘policy’ of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, and the ‘personal’ remarks of Archbishop Bernard Longley?:


    The Chruch of Ireland Gazette site has a relevant editorial, but the interview itself does not see available online:


  13. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Dear Venerator Sti Lot,

    the Bishops’ Conference has one official press release from the Archbishop on their website. (http://www.dbk.de/presse/details/?presseid=2409&cHash=e53384aa46a6ea28637137ca6f0ef90d)

    I can’t recommend “reliable” sources, but generally sites like http://www.heute.de will quote the Archbishop from official statements. The sites are all in German, unfortunately. The English-speaking world doesn’t seem to care much about us here. :)

    Hope that helps a little. Both Bishops are in Rome at the moment, Tebartz-van Elst flew early yesterday morning, Zolltisch flew today.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear ClavesCoelorum,

    Thank you for the helpful links!

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Venerator Sti Lot, you’re welcome.

    As for Archbishop Longley’s remarks, they’ll both can obviously described as “same direction”, viz. laxation of the Eucharistic discipline. And it is true that “Eucharistic hospitality” is also among the things demanded around here, but I see that the demands have somewhat lessened, because they were just not reacted to by the Church. (There also happen good things in the world!) Anyway, we do still know that for the non-Catholic there is a simple thing that allows him to partake the Holy Eucharist: become Catholic. And anyway, the people that demand such things would only be satisfied if Catholics also could “Communicate” at Lutheran Churches (and fulfil their Sunday obligation there, if they remember there is such a thing as Sunday obligation).

    As for the divorced and remarried, the problem is slightly different because few would now have the heart to tell them “leave your partner immediately under pain of Hell, and perhaps go into a different city and do not answer the phone, to avoid temptations”. Becoming a Catholic is at least in theory an easy thing; getting out of the divorced-remarried status, not so much, at least not without acting against one’s moral sense (leaving open whether that be well or badly formed conscience).

    Of late, at any rate, I only see the latter demand (other than the former) be posed, and it is not really a secret that the latter (other than the former) is looked at at the very least with two friendly eyes by the national hierarchy in Germany.

    Dear @ClavesCoelorum,

    sexual abuse was among the accusations against Bp Mixa, but among the incredible accusations from the beginning, and not even really insisted upon by the campaigning media. (It has of course also been proven wrong, but everyone knew that beforehand.)

    The initiator and, as many now say, the real reason, was that Bp Mixa made the statement that “who entices mothers with financial advantages to give their children even shortly after birth into state-run care, degrades them to bearing-machines”. Clear language in support for positions on the political right is not something the Germans love; they were all running wild about Bp Mixa calling women bearing-machines (as if he had not rebelled against tendencies to degrade them to it)… of course they also might have disagreed with the position.

    Then there were loads and loads of accusations, the majority of them even called incredible among the more campaigners themselves. Among the ones presented as “credible”, he was said to have beaten children heavily, while surrounded by nuns cheering him up “hau nei! hau nei!”.

    That was absurd to begin with, if only because the Bavarian term would have been “hau zua” or “schlag zua” (“hau nei” means “go for it”) and because they would certainly not have been thouing him (hence “schlagn Sie zua”). It also has disproven.

    What finally finished Bp Mixa off was that he then vigorously denied all these ghastly accusations, claiming he had never used violence on children, and some days later he said that while saying that he had these ghastly accusations in mind, while he could not with certainty say he had never slapped a child in his face.

    And so it is: maybe he slapped children on rare occasions, and maybe he drank more alcohol than is accounted good in today’s moralitarian society (while being no alcoholic in any sensible medicinal, or a drunkard in sensible moral terminology). That’s it what has remained from the accusations (even among the unfriendly side).

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