The Holy See today announced the appointment of Heiner Koch, 61 years old, Bishop of Dresden-Meiβen, as the new Archbishop of Berlin. His appointment comes after his election by the Berlin Cathedral Chapter, which is required under the complex system of concordats that governs Church-State relations in Germany. Nevertheless the final ratification of such elections still lies with the Pope. Berlin is a small diocese by German standards, but due to its immense social and political importance for all of Europe, six of its seven Ordinaries from 1935 to 2014 have been raised to the Cardinalate while in office.
The Archbishop-elect heads the German hierarchy's Commission for Marriage and Family and is one of the three German delegates to the 2015 Synod along with Reinhard Cardinal Marx of Munich and Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop of Osnabruck. Despite some conservative-sounding statements made by the Archbishop-elect during the Benedict years (such as a 2012 statement on the futility of discussing matters already closed by the Magisterium) he is now without question aligned with the "progressivist" camp. All three German delegates to the 2015 Synod have publicly come out in favor of the Kasper "hypothesis" and all three attended the now-infamous "Shadow Synod" held on May 25 at the Gregorianum in Rome.
Archbishop-elect Koch succeeds Rainer Cardinal Woelki, 58, who was Archbishop of Berlin from 2011 until transferred by Pope Francis to Germany's largest and richest Archdiocese, Cologne, in 2014. Cardinal Woelki was largely assumed to be a "conservative" during the Benedict XVI years despite some evidence to the contrary, but has shown his progressivist leanings more openly during the current Pontificate; he is reportedly in favor of Kasper's proposal and more recently was identified as the "leading figure" in the German hierarchy's decision to change its labor laws, opening the way for the almost unlimited employment by the Church of persons who enter into same-sex civil "unions" (known as "registered life partnerships" in German law), and all but ending the possibility of their dismissal.
The Archdiocese of Berlin is in deep crisis, forcing then-Archbishop Cardinal Woelki to announce in January 2013 the reduction of the Archdiocese's 105 parishes to just 30 by 2020. (Only six years before, the late Cardinal Sterzinsky of Berlin had halved the number of parishes in the Archdiocese.) The new appointment does not give much hope for even a modest turnaround.
Despite impressive numbers of faithful and clergy on paper (407,000 Catholics, 421 priests and 668 religious) it would seem from the need to drastically cut down parishes that the great majority of priests on Berlin's clergy roll are very old and are either unable to serve any longer, or will be unable to continue serving for long.