Basel bishop is now officially the Catholic church unity chief

By Ecumenical News International
July 6, 2010

The Vatican has officially confirmed the appointment of Swiss Bishop Kurt Koch to replace Cardinal Walter Kasper as head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, after widespread speculation that such a move was to take place - writes Luigi Sandri from Rome.

A Vatican announcement on 1 July 2010 said that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of 77-year-old-Kasper and had named in his place Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel, aged 60.

German-born Kasper became president of the pontifical council in 2001, having served two years as its secretary. He took part in the 1999 signing of a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, a major agreement between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church.

"We stood up from our separate tables and embraced - a spontaneous act of celebration," recalled LWF General Secretary the Rev Ishmael Noko in response. "We knew that this was not only a warm personal moment but also the beginning of a new level of reconciliation for our churches."

The Vatican announcement followed media reports the previous day citing a letter by Koch to members of his diocese announcing his imminent move to Rome.

The appointments included that of Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, aged 66, archbishop of Québec, to be president of the Congregation for Bishops, which helps the pontiff select bishops. Another appointment was that of Italian Bishop Salvatore Fisichella to head a new Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.

Pope Benedict said on 28 June that this body had been created to work in Western societies with long-standing Christian traditions but which, are now experiencing "a progressive secularisation of the society and a kind of eclipse of God".

"The new evangelisation will try to speak to countries that still believe, but where indifference, estrangement from the Church and ethical relativism are growing," the Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted Fisichella as saying on 1 July.

Two other issues have been widely discussed in the Italian media. One is a decision of the US Supreme Court that opens a possibility that the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, or the Pope, may be required to appear in courts in the United States in cases of sexual abuse by clergy.

Another issue is the case of the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. In April he had accused the former Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, of attempting to obstruct an investigation into claims of sexual abuse made against the former leader of the Catholic Church in Austria, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër.

Pope Benedict on 28 June received Schönborn in audience, as well as Bertone and Sodano.

An official statement issued after the meeting said that the competence for dealing with accusations against a cardinal rests with a pope.

In a commentary, the Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper noted, "Is it true or not true that Sodano obstructed an inquiry into the Groër case? Why did the Pope not answer this question?" The newspaper suggested "veritable idolatry" of the church in Rome continues to cover up scandals that could reflect badly on the institution.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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