Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen celebrated his 70th birthday on Friday. Birthday celebrated. The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, and his predecessor, Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz, paid special tribute to Mussinghoff's commitment to Jewish-Christian reconciliation.
The church law expert, who comes from the Munsterland town of Osterwick near Coesfeld, was ordained a bishop in 1995 and has since been in charge of the Aachen diocese. He has been deputy chairman of the bishops' conference since 1999. He also heads their subcommission on religious relations with Judaism, newly established in 2006.
Since 1995, he has been a member of the church's highest court, the Apostolic Signature in Rome. In 1996 he took over the chairmanship of the Science Commission of the Bishops' Conference. Since 1999 he has been a member of the Roman Congregation for the Clergy.
Commitment to the Bishops' Conference and the Vatican
Lehmann and Zollitsch thanked Mussinghoff for his commitment to the Bishops' Conference and the Vatican. Zollitsch emphasized Mussinghoff's closeness to Judaism; it was evident in his excellent knowledge of Hebrew and his love of the Holy Land. With his friend, the former bishop of Munster Reinhard Lettmann, he had spent many weeks in dusty excavations in Israel and Palestine.
As vice-chairman of the conference, Mussinghoff has been an important supporter in legal and diplomatic contexts. Confreres in the conference appreciated his attentive listening and profound interjections.
In his keynote address, Lehmann warned against interpreting the Second Vatican Council in a one-sided way. From the "conservative" or "progressive" side, he often quoted only fragments of texts that are "merely the springboard for thoughts that one already has.".
Diocese with about 1.15 million Catholics
Mussinghoff presides over a diocese with about 1.15 million Catholics. Due to declining financial and human resources, he merged the 540 parishes into 71 "communities of parishes" at the beginning of his tenure. In 2003, the diocese slipped into a financial crisis that was overcome two years later.
In the abuse scandal, he asked the victims and their families for forgiveness and promised them help. He expressed regret about Pope John Paul II's "sexual morality". ordered German dioceses to withdraw from state pregnancy counseling services.