The acting diocesan administrator of Augsburg, Prelate Bertram Meier, becomes the new bishop of the diocese. This was announced simultaneously in Augsburg and Rome at noon on Wednesday. Meier is considered a man of balance and ecumenism.
This has not happened in Bavaria for decades – a priest becomes a bishop in his home diocese. With the appointment of Bertram Meier (59) in Augsburg, Pope Francis is responding to a frequently expressed wish of the local church. What is also unusual about this step is that his choice fell on the one who had already been leading the diocese on a provisional basis since the vacancy of the bishop's chair due to the resignation of Konrad Zdarsa last July.
In this role, the dean of Augsburg Cathedral has distinguished himself as an accessible and humorous interlocutor who strives for balance. He can do it with anyone, they say about him. In a diocese that is often characterized by polarization, this should be an advantage.
When the invitation to the cathedral was ied shortly before noon on this Wednesday, a somewhat curious situation arose: the current diocesan administrator, Meier, first led a prayer and then handed over to his deputy as "diocesan transitional leader," Cathedral Chaplain Harald Heinrich. The latter then read out the certificate of appointment with the name of the new bishop – which at the same time meant the promotion of his previous boss.
"From a stable"
"Shepherd and flock are now from the same stable in Augsburg," Meier said to long applause, adding, "I think that's also a good thing."Since the departure of Josef Stimpfle in 1992, no member of the diocesan clergy has been elected to the bishop's chair in Augsburg – and in other Bavarian dioceses, too, one has to go far back into the past to find one. This is also connected with the rules that apply to the election of the seven diocesan bishops in the Free State. The local church's say is limited to proposals; in principle, the pope has complete freedom in appointments.
The native of Buchloer is no stranger to Rome. From 1996 to 2002, Meier headed the German department in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Secretary of the Curia Pietro Parolin knows him from that time, he was at that time undersecretary of this important Curia authority. This should not have been a disadvantage for Meier's promotion to bishop. Internally, it is said that Meier's connections to Rome, which have continued to be cultivated since then, could still be of use to him in his new task and beyond that in the German Bishops' Conference.
A lively type
Unlike his closed and media-shy predecessor Zdarsa, Meier is an affable guy, who sometimes appears shirt-sleeved and can laugh uproariously. In terms of church politics, Meier cannot be assigned to any of the usual camps. Nevertheless, he cannot deny his strong Roman imprint, even if he repeatedly sets cautious milestones in the direction of modernization and, like Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, speaks out in favor of looking forward and not backward.
During Advent, for example, he preached a series of sermons entitled "Encouraged – Empowered: Women Renew Church and World". The Synodal Way, the reform debate of the Catholic Church in Germany, the cathedral dean called – despite all critical inquiries – without alternative and a "workshop of the Holy Spirit". On New Year's Eve, he challenged his audience in the cathedral: "Let us be Christians with bite, but not doggedly."
Strong ecumenical commitment
His strong ecumenical commitment as head of department in the Augsburg ordinariate and also in a leading position in the Association of Christian Churches (ACK) in Bavaria has a biographical background that he likes to refer to. Meier comes from a mixed-denominational marriage.
To be ordained bishop on 21. March in Augsburg Cathedral, probably at 10 a.m. The time without a bishop in Bavarian Swabia will then not have lasted ten months. For a Sedisvakanz in Bavaria this is relatively brisk in the long-term average.