This diocese, directly subject to the Holy See, comprises, in the Prussian Province of Hanover, the civil districts of Osnabrück and Aurich (excepting Wilhelmshaven) and that part of Hanover situated on the west of the Weser. In 1910 it numbered 12 deaneries, 108 parishes, 153 pastoral stations, 271 secular and 12 regular priests, 204,500 Catholics. As Apostolic administrator, the bishop is Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Missions of Germany and Prefect-Apostolic of Schleswig-Holstein (see GERMANY, VICARIATE APOSTOLIC OF NORTHERN). According to the Bull "Impensa Romanorum" (26 March, 1824), he is elected by the chapter of the cathedral, composed of a dean, six canons, and four vicars, elected in turn by the bishop and by the chapter. Among the higher educational institutions of the diocese is the Gymnasium Carolinum, founded by Charlemagne ; similar schools are at Meppen, Papenburg, and Osnabrück. The only religious communities of men are the Capuchin convent at Klemenswerth and the Apostolic School of the Marists at Meppen. The religious orders of women include Benedictines, Borromeans, Franciscans, Ursulines, and others.
The Romanesque cathedral of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian was built at the beginning of the twelfth century, and replaced the wooden church erected by Charlemagne. Later it took on Gothic embellishments, and in time became a treasury of precious objects of medieval art. Other fine churches are St. John's, Osnabrück, with three naves, Transition style (1256-1592), the Sacred Heart church (1897-1901), and the churches in Iburg, Lingen, Meppen, Kloster-Oesede, Bissendorf, Norden, Salzbergen, and others.
The foundation of the diocese is veiled in obscurity, for lack of authentic documents. Osnabrück is certainly the oldest see founded by Charlemagne in Saxony. The first bishop was St. Wiho (785-804); the second bishop, Meginhard, or Meingoz (804-33), was the real organizer of the see. The temporal possessions of the see, originally quite limited, grew in time, and its bishops exercised an extensive civil jurisdiction within the territory covered by their rights of immunity. The temporal protectorate (Advocatia, Vogtei) exercised over so many medieval dioceses by laymen became after the twelfth century hereditary in the Amelung family, from whom it passed to Henry the Lion. After Henry's overthrow it fell to Count Simon of Tecklenburg and to his descendants, though the source of many conflicts with the bishops. In 1236 the Count of Tecklenburg was forced to renounce all jurisdiction over the town of Osnabrück, and the lands of the see, the chapter, and the parish churches. On the other hand, the bishop and chapter, from the thirteenth century on, spread their jurisdiction over many convents, churches, and hamlets. Scarcely any other German see freed itself so thoroughly from civil jurisdiction within its territory. The royal prerogatives were transferred little by little to the bishop, e.g., the holding of fairs and markets, rights of toll and coinage, forest and hunting rights, mining royalties, fortresses, etc., so that the bishop by the early part of the thirteenth century was the real governor of the civil territory of Osnabrück.
Among the prominent medieval bishops are Drogo (952-68); Conrad of Veltberg (1002); the learned Thietmar or Detmar (1003-22); Benno II (1067-88); Johann I (1001-10), who built the actual cathedral in place of the wooden one destroyed by fire in the time of his predecessor; Diethard I (1119-37) was the first bishop elected by the free choice of the cathedral clergy ; Philip II (1141-73) ended the conflicts between his see and the Abbeys of Corvey and Hersfeld ; Arnold (1137-1191) died a crusader before Akkon. In the time of Engelbert of Isenburg (1239-50), Bruno of Isenburg, and Conrad II of Rietberg (1269-97) the new orders of Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians were received with favour. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the power of the bishops waned before the increasing influence of the chapter, of the military servants (or knights ) of the diocese, and of the town of Osnabrück. The latter sought to free itself from the bishop's sovereignty, but never became a free city of the empire. The see was almost continually engaged in warlike troubles and difficulties and had also to defend itself against the Bishops of Minden and Münster. From the fourteenth century on we meet many auxiliary bishops of Osnabrück, made necessary by the civil duties that absorbed the attention of the ordinary.
The successor of Bishop Conrad IV of Rietberg (1488-1508) was Eric of Brunswick (1508-32), simultaneously Bishop of Münster and Paderborn. He opposed the Reformers strongly and successfully. Franz of Waldeck (1533-53), also Bishop of Minden, acted, on the contrary, a very doubtful part. He offered little resistance to Lutheranism in Münster, though he vigorously opposed the Anabaptists ; after 1543 he allowed in Osnabrück an evangelical service. But the chapter and the Dominicans opposed a German service that dispensed with all the characteristics of the Mass. In 1548 Bishop Franz promised to suppress the Reformation in Osnabrück, and to execute the Augsburg "Interim", but fulfilled his promise very indifferently; on his death-bed he received Lutheran communions. His successor, John IV of Hoya (1553-74), was more Catholic, but was succeeded by three bishops of a Protestant temper: Henry III of Saxony (1574-85), Bernhard of Waldeck (1585-91), and Philip Sigismund (1591-1623). Under them the Reformation overran nearly the whole diocese.
In 1624 Cardinal Eitel Frederick of Hohenzollern became Bishop of Osnabrück, and called in the Jesuits. But he had scarcely begun his work when he died, and left to his successor, Francis of Wartenberg (1625-61), the task of executing the Counter-Reformation. The city-council was purified of anti-Catholic elements, and the former Augustinian convent was turned over to the Jesuits. The Edict of Restitution was executed successfully by him, and in 1631 he founded a university at Osnabrück. But in 1633 Osnabrück was captured by the Swedes, the university was discontinued, Catholic religious exercises suppressed, and the see (1633-51) administered by the conquerors. By the Peace of Westphalia, the bishop succeeded in preventing the secularization of the see, as contemplated by the Swedes. Nevertheless, it was stipulated that henceforth a Catholic and a Protestant bishop (of the Augsburg Confession) would alternately hold the see. During the rule of the Protestant bishop, always chosen from the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the spiritual government of the Catholics was committed to the Archbishop of Cologne. Wartenberg was made cardinal in 1660, and was succeeded by the Protestant married " bishop ", Ernest Augustus (1661-98), who transferred the residence to Hanover. He was succeeded by the Catholic bishop, Prince Charles Joseph of Lorraine, Bishop of Olmütz, later Archbishop of Trier (1698-1715). The Protestant Bishop Ernest Augustus (1715-21) was succeeded by Clemens August of Bavaria, Elector of Cologne (1721-61). The last bishop, Prince Frederick of England (1761-1803), later Duke of York, was, until his majority (1783), under the guardianship of his father, George III of England.
In 1803 the see, the chapter, the convents, and the Catholic charitable institutions were finally secularized. The territory of the see passed to Prussia in 1806, to the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1807, to France in 1810, and again to Hanover in 1814. Klemens von Gruben, titular Bishop of Paros, was made vicar Apostolic, and as such cared for the spiritual interests of the Catholic population. Under Leo XII the Bull "Impensa Romanorum Pontificum" (26 March, 1824) re-established the See of Osnabrück as an exempt see, i.e., immediately subject to Rome. This Bull, recognized by the civil authority, promised that, for the present, the Bishop of Hildesheim would be also Bishop of Osnabrück, but had to be represented at Osnabrück by a vicar-general and an auxiliary bishop, and this lasted for thirty years. Klemens von Gruben was succeeded by the auxiliary bishop Karl Anton von Lüpke, also administrator of the North German Missions. After his death new negotiations led to the endowment of an independent see. Pius IX, with the consent of King George V of Hanover, appointed Paulus Melchers of Münster, bishop, 3 August, 1857. In 1866 the territory of the diocese passed, with Hanover, to Prussia ; Melchers became Archbishop of Cologne, and was succeeded in 1866 by Johannes Heinrich Beckmann (1866-78), who was succeeded by Bernard Höting (1882-98) after a vacancy of four years owing to the Kulturkampf. The present bishop (1911), Hubert Voss, was appointed 12 April, 1899.
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