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In a letter published on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of the Clergy, taking place on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 15 June this year, the Congregation for the Clergy writes a letter (translation)to the world’s priests. The letter, signed by the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza (pictured), and secretary Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, focusses on St. Paul’s appeal to all Christians: “This is the will of God: your holiness!” (1 Thess. 4:3).
The authors firmly relate the letter to the upcoming Year of Faith and the anniversaries of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and also the upcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the new evangelisation. These latter three events must be the focus of priests everywhere in the framework of the Year of Faith.
The final paragraph outlines why priests especially need to be holy:
“Today’s world, with its ever more painful and preoccupying lacerations, needs God - The Trinity, and the Church has the task to proclaim Him. In order to fulfil this task, the Church must remain indissolubly embraced with Christ and never part from Him; it needs Saints who dwell “in the heart of Jesus” and are happy witnesses of God’s Trinitarian Love. And in order to serve the Church and the World, Priests need to be Saints!”
I received a letter yesterday, an invitation for the celebrations around the 125th anniversary, on 25 May, of the consecration of my parish church, the cathedral of Saints Joseph and Martin in Groningen . All ‘new Catholics’, people baptised or confirmed in the past ten years, received a similar invitation.
The parish website has the full schedule of events:
- Wednesday 23 May, 8pm: Father Antoine Bodar speaks about the question of the relevancy of the Church: Should we just abolish the Church or take pride in our being Catholic. This talk is specifically aimed at students and young Catholics.
- Friday 25 May, 2:30pm: Anniversary of the consecration of the church. For the elderly parishioners there will be a festive afternoon, and also the opening of a photo exhibit of the cathedral’s history. At 6:30pm the cathedral chapter will offer a Sung Vespers, and at 7pm there will be a High Mass during which Bishop Gerard de Korte will consecrate the new people’s altar.
- Saturday 26 May, 2pm: An afternoon for young families, during which Ms. Carolijn van Voorst tot Voorst will speak about religious education in our time. Children will be able to go on a treasure hunt in the church.
- Sunday 27 May, 11am: High Mass offered by Bishop de Korte and apostolic nuncio Archbishop André Dupuy. Mass will be followed by the official presentation of a memorial book of the church’s history. At 5pm there will be an ecumenical Vespers with the bishop and ministers of the various church communities in the city.
- Friday 1 June, 5 pm: Official reception for all the volunteers of the parish.
I’m especially looking forward to Fr. Bodar’s talk, the photo exhibit, the new altar, the High Mass on Sunday and the book.
A church, especially the church where one was baptised and confirmed and received the other sacraments, is not just a building. It is a home of sorts. The home of Christ, certainly, but therefore also a home for us. With the other parishioners and the clergy attached to the church we form a family. The cathedral in Groningen has been a home for me for more than five years now, which is nothing compared to the 125 years that it has been a home for others, but its celebration is also that of me and the parish I am a part of.
In a fairly unprecedented move, Pope Benedict XVI interfered in the affairs of a local bishops’ conference earlier this month, when he wrote a letter (translation) to the German Bishops’ Conference via Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (and through them also to the other bishops of the entire German speaking area).
Like other conferences, the bishops of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein are working on a new translation of the Roman Missal. Whereas the new English translation was launched last Advent, there are still many other languages awaiting new translations.
The issue that divides the German bishops and that prompted the pope to write a five-page letter, revolves around two words in the Eucharistic Prayer. The Latin, from which all translations are made, has the words “pro multis” to indicate for whom Jesus suffered and died. In the translations of the 1960s and 70s, this was rendered as “for all”, out of a wish to interpret the words in a way that would do most justice to the original. Or so translators thought. The Holy Father now indicates that this line of thought has since fallen out of favour and argues strongly against interpretative translations. Interpreting Scripture is one of the main tasks of the Church, but this should happen in the churches, by the bishops and the priests, not by the translators. Bishops and priests can react quickly and specifically to the needs to their specific faithful, whereas translations usually remain the same for years on end. Translation of Scripture and the canon of the Mass should therefore remain as literal as possible. “Pro multis”, then, should be translated as “for many”.
The letter goes into some detail about the questions that this change may give rise to, and also about the theological backgrounds of each choice. Although specifically directed at the German situation, the same arguments can and will be made in other countries, including the Netherlands, which still await a new translation.
Photo credit: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images
In a short message to the Pontifical Bible Commission (translation), Pope Benedict XVI addresses the topics of inspiration and truth in the Sacred Scriptures, and how both these elements are “constitutive characteristics of [their] nature”. He makes some very interesting points which we should keep in mind when reading the Bible and studying or applying the texts in it.
First, there is the following statement:
“[T]he topic of inspiration is decisive for the appropriate approach to the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, an interpretation of the sacred texts that neglects or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and precious characteristic, that is, their provenance from God.”
Essentially, what the pope seems to be saying here, is that the inspiration of a Biblical text, that is its origin and source, as well as the process by how it came into being, should dictate how we read those texts. Sacred Scripture ultimately finds its source in God. That is not the same as saying that He personally dictated the words to whichever scribe first committed them to paper, but He is behind it, so to speak. His truth is in those words. They are His Word, written down by man. It is not a thesis by which someone tried to defend his position or ideas. It is not a human construct, and neither is it academic. The texts in the Bible are grounded in historical reality, a reality in which God played an important part. The texts, in their nature, are characterised by that reality.
“Because of the charism of inspiration, the books of Sacred Scripture have a direct and concrete force of appeal.”
Their inspiration gives the books of the Bible their living authority. The Holy Father writes that their relevance did not end at the death of the last Apostle, but it continued through the constant proclamation and interpretation through the ages.
“For this reason the Word of God fixed in the sacred texts is not an inert deposit inside the Church but becomes the supreme rule of her faith and power of life. The Tradition that draws its origin from the Apostles progresses with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and grows with the reflection and study of believers, with personal experience of the spiritual life and the preaching of Bishop.”
This process of interpretation occurred within the framework of the Tradition of the Church which, the Holy Father notes, has progressed with the assistance of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, and grows via four means: reflection, study, experience and preaching. ‘Reading the Bible’, then, engages the entire person, not just the intellect. We read or hear, we feel, think and, certainly not least, we experience.
The reference to “the preaching of the Bishop” is interesting in its own right. Just as the Apostles were the first to proclaim the Word of God in the Tradition that we still enjoy. This work was later performed by their successors: the bishops. Our Tradition is so much more than a collection of old habits and customs: it is a living organism built around the Word of God that we find in the Bible, but also in the Tradition, in its interpretation and truth.
“[I]t is essential and fundamental for the life and mission of the Church that the sacred texts are interpreted in keeping with their nature: Inspiration and Truth are constitutive characteristics of this nature.”
Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
In the abuse crisis that we, for better or worse, have gotten somewhat acclimatised to, one of the most painful chapters is that of the castrations that took place to ‘cure’ men from homosexuality. Although this was, for a while, accepted medical practice, both in Church-run facilities and in secular institutions, the commotion about it is nothing but understandable.
Things seemed to get a bit worse this week, when medical historian Mart van Lieburg announced that he had evidence that an unnamed bishop had ordered the castration of a man sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. And that bishop would have still been alive. That last statement would have narrowed the number of possible names down to two. Of the Dutch bishops in the 1960s, only Bishops Jan Bluyssen (‘s Hertogenbosch, 1966-1983) and Huub Ernst (Breda, 1967-1992) are still alive today.
On Wednesday, during the same set of hearings in which Mr. Bakker of the previous blog post spoke, Professor van Lieburg came back from his initial statement, as Trouw reports today. He explains that a surgeon had been in contact with a bishop about castration: “The discussion with the surgeon took place over the telephone. I first want to hear on tape what he said precisely. But the conclusion that a bishop ordered castration is, as far as I’m concerned, premature. Perhaps, under the pressure of time, I didn’t express myself clearly.”
Contact between medical ethical committees and a bishop is not something that is cause for concern, Professor van Lieburg says.”There were medical ethical committees which discussed sensitive forms of treatment. There were Protestant ministers and also Catholic theologians on those committees. In the south, a surgeon would have likely had contact about that with someone from the Catholic Church.”
If anything, all this goes to show how much public perception has changed in the past 50 years. Although we don’t know the exact details of the contact that a bishop may have had with a surgeon who was to perform a castration, the response to even the possibility of it having happened is wildly different from the response that it would have received in the middle of the last century.
But that is no reason to say that, just because it was somewhat accepted at the time, we should just accept it now. It is in fact a very Catholic attitude to say that there is a morality that is not dependent on public opinion, but which exists because it is an integral part of creation. What was good and right in the past, is still that. The very same goes for what was bad and unjust.
Photo credit: RosaMedia
Two days ago, the parliamentary committee on Safety and Justice heard various representatives of the Catholic Church and the Netherlands and victims of sexual abuse by clergy, among them Mr. John Bakker, accountant of the Diocese of Rotterdam and member of the contact group – the ‘safety net’ led by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende. The main question that Mr. Bakker was asked to answer was this:
“The committee would like the present the question of which next step the ecclesial organisations (bishops’ conference and the orders and congregations) should take to answer the serious concerns in society, and especially those of the victims, considering the commotion surrounding especially the report that, within or under the influence of the Catholic Church or her organisations (including the orders and congregations), castration (and therefore serious physical violence) took place as a remedy against, among others, homosexuality.
You can perhaps explain in which way one assumes to answer to this, and address the criticism of victims about the way the Catholic Church handles complaints.”
While Mr. Bakker explained how the contact group works – as an addition to and watchdog over the regular contacts between victims or their representatives and dioceses, orders and congregations -, repeated the assurance given by Cardinal Eijk and Brother Cees van Dam that the Church is fully willing to cooperate with civil authorities in cases connected to the castration reports, and emphasised the work of the legally independent Foundation of Management and Supervision concerning Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, he included some interesting paragraphs about the role of communication in the abuse crisis.
Communication is all-important, as the Church needs and wants to be fully transparent about the past abuses and the way she works towards compensation and recognition. But, Mr. Bakker (pictured) says:
“We note here that communication with victims needs be established carefully per person or group of victims. The Catholic Church’s aspiration towards public recognition and apology is, in a way, subordinate to that. What matters is what the Catholic Church can specifically do for people who, as minors, were victims of sexual abuse by a representative of the Church. To the degree that public recognition and apology are of service to that, it is sought.
The fact remains that, in many cases, the communication of the Catholic Church is a story of numbers (numbers of reports, complaints, etc.). But numbers never do credit to what sexual abuse has done to the lives of young people. And wherever the Catholic Church, in coordination with victims, has brought matters to a good close, and tires to deliver custom work as such, that is no more than fitting and what may be expected of the Church.”
The victims’ desire and need for recognition, compensation and apology takes a clear precedence over a mere superficial transparency in, say, the media. This is not the easiest road, perhaps, as the meetings between the contact group and the victims, as well as their results, take place behind close doors. Only when there are questions, like now from a parliamentary committee, or when victims want it, are things made public. It seems a proper attitude to have, but it does make the Church vulnerable to her enemies, who still make accusations of secrecy and the Church protecting her own.
But it is good to see that progress is made, especially by this contact group. I think it can play a major role in the process towards reconciliation.
Quotes in this post were taken from the note prepared by Mr. Bakker before the hearing. The full note is available, in Dutch, here.
Photo credit: Diocese of Rotterdam