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If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice.
Here is my schedule:
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time.
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service.
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic.
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage.
11:00: Serving at High Mass.
For the 25th year in a row the Archbishop of Utrecht blessed the flowers and floral arrangements, as well as the arrangers, truck driver and truck, destined for the Easter celebrations in the Vatican. Holy water and a blessing sped them on their way to Rome, where the truck carrying 22,000 flowers is expected to arrive tomorrow.
The Dutch contribution to the Easter Mass on St. Peter’s Square has given risen to a popular image of the previous pope, John Paul II, and his characteristic pronunciation of the Dutch “Bedank vor die bloemen” (“Thank you for the flowers”).
Possibly following the example of the open letter to the NCRV, two Dutch Catholics, Eric van den Berg (information scientist) and Frank Bosman (theologian) have published a press release in which they express their concern about the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Their initiative is called ’Wij blijven katholiek’ (‘We remain Catholic’) and stresses the importance of trying to resolve the crisis by not leaving the Church, as a fair number of people have done in recent weeks.
Read the (Dutch) letter here, and sign it.
I signed it because I think it’s a good way of balancing the very skewed media reporting, and the vocal minority that uses their leaving the Church* as a way to protest. I also really appreciate the express desire to remain loyal to the Church, and await the conclusions of the independent investigation proposed by the bishops.
*Leaving the Church is not as easy as it sounds. Sure, the administrative side is quite normal – just a matter of removing one’s information from the books. But the sacraments can’t be removed. Once baptised or confirmed, always baptised or confirmed. And that is something many people forget.
A few weeks ago, Michael Cook of MercatorNet wrote an article about the abuse crisis in the Church and the skewed media coverage of it. Eric Masseus has a Dutch translation at his blog. It’s a good article that looks at things from an angle often ignored by the mainstream media.
The scandal of sexual abuse by priests in Europe is distracting us from an even bigger scandal in the future, one which the media helped to create.
Media coverage of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Europe is being formatted according to the Watergate template: sensational crimes, decades-long cover-ups, dogged reporters, denials from official hacks, half-apologies from quivering bureaucrats, threads leading to the dark lair of lies and obstruction. Only Deep Throat is missing.
“Abuse Scandal in Germany Edges Closer to Pope” was the headline in the New York Times a week ago. The Times has even set up a special blog to track and interpret the unfolding story.
Day by day, the drumbeat grows louder. Earlier this week the media’s favourite atheist, Christopher Hitchens, bundled together a handful of yellowing newspaper clippings and packaged it as a sulphurous attack in the on-line magazine Slate: “The pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it.”
Tomorrow Benedict XVI is to publish a letter to the Irish Catholic bishops about the horrendous scandal there. No doubt this will prompt more speculation about whether sexual abuse in Germany will be the Pope’s Watergate, about whether he will be forced to resign, about whether the Catholic Church will have to abandon its tradition of clerical celibacy [a seemingly endless discussion. Celibacy in itself is not the cause of abuse. Faulty formation and preparation for a celibate life may be.].
The scandal of clergy who sexually abused children is diabolically real. It has to be confronted humbly and courageously by the bishops who run the Catholic Church. Clergy who are found guilty should be punished. Higher-ups who shielded them should resign.
There is no doubt that Pope Benedict is ready to take a tough line on this. After all – contrary to what Hitchens claims – it was he who established clear guidelines and he has enforced them sternly. On several occasions he has spoken of the “deep shame” he feels at revelations that some priests had betrayed their calling and preyed upon innocent children. When he addressed American bishops in 2008 he spoke with a hint of sarcasm, quoting their own words to say that the crisis had been “sometimes very badly handled”.
But it’s important to remember that these scandals relate to priests who offended decades ago. Wannabee Woodwards and Bernsteins are deflecting attention from the crisis that is happening right now, a crisis from which the media is averting its eyes, just as the bishops did 30 years ago, a crisis in which they play an active role.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel got it right this week. She denounced sexual abuse of minors as “a despicable crime” but refused to single out the Catholic Church for special criticism. “Let’s not oversimplify things,” she said. “We need to speak about [changing] the statute of limitations, we can address the idea of compensation, but the main issue is that this is a major challenge for our society.”
The huge, unreported story is that we are in denial about a widespread, deliberate, systemic encouragement of people not to control their sexuality. [Amen] It’s as if a health department allowed witch doctors and Reiki therapists to edge out surgeons. Or as if a defence department allowed its tanks to rust. Fundamental principles of a civilized society like sexual restraint, fidelity in marriage, and nurturing families, are being undermined. The mind-numbing list of politicians caught with their pants down, the tsunami of pornography, sky-rocketing teen sex – all these are warning bells about the consequences of creating a hyper-sexualised culture.
Just take this week’s announcement by an Australian company that it had sold the licensing rights to a testosterone roll-on underarm deodorant to boost men’s flagging sex drive for US$335 million to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
Or the news that the International Planned Parenthood Federation recently gave girl scouts a glossy pamphlet encouraging them to have “lots of different ways to have sex and lots of different types of sex”.
Or the UK government’s new guidelines for sex education for children as young as five.
If a priest had suggested these ideas, they would have been called grooming. And in fact, they are grooming — for a lifetime of commercial exploitation. What kind of society are we creating if we actively encourage children to treat sex as entertainment and encourage men to remain in a constant state of arousal? Sex is not a toy. Without clear moral standards, it is a natural passion which easily becomes an unnatural addiction. Does anyone seriously believe that in 30 years’ time there will be less sex abuse after giving children classroom lessons in how to masturbate?
Of all our social institutions, it seems that only the Church realizes that a crisis is brewing for which we are going to pay dearly in the years ahead. As Benedict told American bishops:
Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person… What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?
Contrary to the impression conveyed in the media, the Catholic Church has been incredibly successful in teaching its priests how to control and channel their sexuality. There are 400,000 celibate priests in the world. The number who have been accused of sexual misconduct is a minuscule fraction, even though the Pope surely feels that a single failure is too many. True, bishops and priests should rend their garments in shame for the bestial crimes of their associates. But that must not keep them from warning the world about the next abuse crisis.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
Every year in early April, Pope Benedict XVI offers a Mass for the repose of the soul of Venerable John Paul II, who died on 2 April 2005. This year it is therefore the fifth anniversary of his death, but since 2 April coincides with Good Friday, the Holy Father offered the Mass yesterday. His homily is available in English and in Dutch.
I spent my Palm Sunday weekend with the youth platform of my diocese, Groningen-Leeuwarden. For 25 years now, Palm Sunday is also World Youth Day, so the youth platform hosts a weekend of fun and games, but also catechesis, for young people between 16 and 30.
It was not only a chance to be away from the relentless media assault on the Church, but also an opportunity to meet people I hadn’t seen in too long. I was sorry that it only last one and a half days, to be honest.
On Sunday afternoon, Bishop de Korte visited to celebrate Mass together with Fathers Arjen and Victor. I had the honour of serving at that Mass, and almost nothing went wrong…
Before Mass, we processed to the church, carrying buxus branches in lieu of palm fronds.
The church in Wehe Den Hoorn, the small village where we stayed, is small but rather nice. Aspects of the sanctuary, though , are mirrored to what I used to: the credence table is at the other side, which totally turns one’s orientation to the altar around.
The weekend reminded me that the Church and the faith are so much bigger than what the media presents it as. It truly transcends it.
I am thankful for these past two days. Let’s remember the things to be thankful for in this Holy Week. It grounds us in and elevates us to Easter, less than a week away.
Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Let the House of Israel say, ‘His faithful love endures for ever.’
Open for me the gates of saving justice, I shall go in and thank Yahweh.
This is the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.
I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
This is Yahweh’s doing, and we marvel at it.
This is the day which Yahweh has made, a day for us to rejoice and be glad.
We beg you, Yahweh, save us, we beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!
Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.
Yahweh is God, he gives us light. Link your processions, branches in hand, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, I thank you, all praise to you, my God. I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
“The next day the great crowd of people who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.’
Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it — as scripture says:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; look, your king is approaching, riding on the foal of a donkey.
“At first his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was what had happened to him.
The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead kept bearing witness to it; this was another reason why the crowd came out to receive him: they had heard that he had given this sign.”
Gospel of John, 12: 12-18
There is a lot to say about the ongoing abuse crisis and especially the attempts by certain media outlets to implicate the pope in it. Others have written extensively about it already, and I gladly link to their thoughts.
Father Z shares a heartfelt post about it.
Archbishop Nichols of Westminster (pictured) defends the Holy Father in an article in The Times.
Let’s continue to pray for our Holy Church and all her priests, bishops and faithful. May she be purified to act as consolation for all the victims of these horrendous crimes.