The Berlin auxiliary bishop Matthias Heinrich is facing a new test: After the resignation of the seriously ill Archbishop Sterzinsky, the Metropolitan Chapter of Saint Hedwig elected the 56-year-old on Monday as diocesan administrator. A temporary post, but one that is gaining in importance in view of the Pope's visit to Berlin in September.
A diocesan administrator may not make any decisions of a fundamental nature that would bind the new bishop in the long term. Otherwise, however, he has the rights and duties of a diocesan bishop. And Heinrich needs this authority, too, when the final decisions about the location and duration of the Pope's stay are pending.
The Berlin auxiliary bishop benefits from the fact that he already has good contacts at the top of the Catholic Church. During his years of study in Rome from 1989 to 1993, as vice-rector of the College for Priests at Campo Santo Teutonico, he had breakfast every Thursday with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Heinrich also makes no secret of his close relations with the influential Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne. He was the first priest to be ordained by Meisner in 1981, when he was bishop of Berlin. To this day he is closely associated with Meisner, as the auxiliary bishop emphasizes.
From youth priest to bishop
Heinrich's appointment to the top echelon of the church is certainly not only due to these connections. A native of West Berlin, he proved himself in many pastoral and administrative tasks during the nearly 30 years of his priestly life. The foundation for this was laid by his theological studies in Berlin, Paderborn, Munich and Maynooth in Ireland, where he still likes to spend his vacations.
After ordination and years as a chaplain, Meisner appointed him youth pastor and diocesan director of the Pontifical Work for Spiritual Vocations in 1984. Later, Heinrich directed the archdiocese's seminary, and for a time also the continuing education of priests. Heinrich completed his postgraduate studies in Rome in 1998 with a doctorate in canon law. In the same year, Sterzinsky appointed him diocesan judge, and since 2003 he has also headed the personnel department. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI named Regensburg. Heinrich became auxiliary bishop in Berlin, where he was ordained on 19. He was consecrated bishop in April of the same year.
Heinrich is known to many, at least by his voice, through preaching broadcasts on RBB radio and DeutschlandRadio Kultur. From 1996 to 1998, he was the Catholic commissioner at DeutschlandRadio.
He also regularly speaks out in the column of a Berlin tabloid newspaper on current controversial ies. He recently condemned a move from the German Medical Association to relax the ban on active physician euthanasia. He also criticized the Berlin Senate's Bundesrat initiative to allow same-sex couples to marry. He also called for the admission of more Iraqi refugees persecuted for their faith or belief.
With his episcopal motto, Heinrich had underlined the primary task of the auxiliary bishop to support the diocesan bishop in his official duties. "Illum oportet crescere" it says in Latin after a statement of John the Baptist about Jesus in the Gospel of John. In German: "Er muss wachsen (…, but I must become smaller)."
It is possible that Heinrich himself may soon need such an "auxiliary bishop". Ecclesiastical observers concede him at least outsider chances for the office of Berlin archbishop. The pope will in all likelihood decide this important personnel ie more quickly than usual. If his choice falls on Heinrich, he could be in the running on 22. September an old acquaintance received in the federal capital.