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Idle speculations: Who will be the Pope’s next chief ecumenist

Walter Kasper in Oxford in 2008

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the genial Schwabian who leads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, passed the retirement age for Curial department leaders, two years ago. He turns 77 this year. It is interesting to note that the names doing the rounds in Vaticanista gossip are mostly from German-speaking countries.

Senior Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli has mentioned Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller of Regensburg as well as the Bishop of Basel Kurt Koch who had an audience with the Holy Father on Saturday.

+Mueller, from Mainz, is a professional ecumenist and the President of the Commission for Ecumenical Relations of the German Bishops’ Conference. His doctoral thesis was on the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and entitled “The Church and Sacraments in Religionless Christendom. Bonhoeffer’s Contribution to an Ecumenical Sacrament Theology”. He served as professor of Dogmatic Theology at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian University and still holds an honorary professorship there.

In the last two years, Bishop Mueller has had troubled relationship with the Society of St Pius X which has a seminary in his diocese. The infamous interviews with Bishop Richard Williamson aired on Swedish television were filmed in Zaitzkofen, the SSPX seminary in Regensburg diocese. Last summer, the SSPX went ahead with its priestly ordinations, despite Bishop Mueller’s requests for the group to hold off from ordaining priests until discussions with the Vatican and the Society had progressed.

The Bishop of Basel, Kurt Koch is 60 years old and the pastor to roughly a million Swiss Catholics and 744 priests, 66 deacons, 36 Religious who are not priests, 499 lay theologians, and 519 parishes. He is also the President of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference.

He studied theology at the Ludwigs-Maximilian University in Munich where he finished in 1975 and worked as a lay theologian until his ordination to the priesthood in 1982. He worked as a lecturer in dogmatic theology at the Catechetical Institute in Luzern, before finishing his doctorate in 1987 and was made honorary professor for Dogma, Ethic, Liturgy-science and Ecumenical theology at the Theological Faculty of the University of Luzern.In 1996, Pope John Paul II personally ordained him as bishop of Basel. Last January, Bishop Koch wrote an open letter to his flock explaining the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunications hanging over the four Lefebvrist bishops.

Another name that has been bandied about in the blogosphere is that of the media savvy, motorcycle driving, 57-year-old Archbishop of Munich and Freysing, Reinhard Marx . The native Westphalian was appointed to Pope Benedict’s former diocese in 2007 and installed in February 2008. He studied in Muenster and Bochum, and his doctoral dissertation was entited “Is the Church different? Possibilities and limits of a sociological viewpoint”. He became a professor for Christian Social Teaching at the Theological Faculty of Paderborn. He is left-of-centre in matters political and right-of-centre in matters moral. At the beginning of the credit crisis, Marx wrote a critique of Marxism and Capitalism entitled “Das Kapital”.

One thing that speaks against his appointment to lead a Curial office is the shortness of his tenure in Munich, still it has not been unheard of. After all, in 1982 after only four years in the post of Archbishop of Freysing and Munich, Joseph Ratzinger went to Rome to become the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the last two years, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has been overlooked/informed late over major ecumenical decisions coming out of the Vatican. Cardinal Kasper first learned that Pope Benedict had lifted the excommunications hanging over the Lefebvrist bishops last January from a rabbi in Jerusalem who heard it on French radio and was only informed of the papal decree granting the Anglican provision, Anglicanorum coetibus when the process was already well under way.

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  1. [...] confirmed at Pontifical Council for Christian Unity The Swiss Bishop Kurt Koch is going to replace Cardinal Walter Kasper at the head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the Diocese of [...]

  2. [...] Swiss Bishop Kurt Koch is going to replace Cardinal Walter Kasper at the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the [...]


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