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“The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Indeed, “only in adoration can a profound and genuine reception mature. And it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord that then strengthens the social mission contained in the Eucharist, which seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another.” 
”The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). In these words the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman.
Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, N. 66 and 88.
These words about the value of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI open a prayer card issued by the Dutch bishops on the occasion of the Feast of Corpus Christi, this June 2nd. This year the day will be marked with a worldwide Holy Hour of Adoration, as called for by Benedict XVI as he opened the Year of Faith. The power of prayer before the physical Lord should never be underestimated, but a simultaneous effort should be truly significant.
The prayer card continuous with a Gospel passage that reflects this same unified nature of the Church:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples. I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.
Gospel of John 15:1-11
Finally, a short prayer by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, perhaps chosen not entirely by coincidence, as he is the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit Order of which Pope Francis was a member:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
Suscipe, St. Ignatus of Loyola
 Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2005): AAS 98 (2006), 45.
Photo credit:  AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito
“[T]he liturgy is the celebration of the central event of human history, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Thus it bears witness to the love with which God loves humanity, to the fact that human life has a meaning and that it is through their vocation that men and women are called to share in the glorious life of the Trinity. Humanity needs this witness.
People need to perceive, through the liturgical celebrations, that the Church is aware of the lordship of God and of dignity of the human being. She has the right to be able to discern, over and above the limitations that will always mark her rites and ceremonies, that Christ “is present in the sacrifice of Mass and in the person of the minister” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7).”
- Pope Benedict XVI to a group of French bishops on their ad limina visit,
17 November 2012
In the coming weeks I will be writing about the Sacra Liturgia conference that will be held in Rome from 25 to 28 June. The conference ”on liturgical formation, celebration and mission” is the brainchild of Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France and draws its inspiration in part from the teaching and person of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who strongly encouraged Bishop Rey’s initiative.
Why a major conference on the liturgy, and why special attention to it in this blog? Pope Benedict has spoken about it many times, both during his pontificate and as priest, bishop and cardinal. The quote I chose to place at the top is only the most recent I could quickly find, but it does give an indication of the reason. Our faith comes from God; it is His gift to us. In the liturgy, centered around the sacrifice of the Eucharist, God comes very near to us, nearer than we can ever hope to come to Him if left to our own devices. Since God is near to us, we must take care to show that in how we celebrate and participate in the liturgy. And because this is the place where God is tangible for us, the liturgy takes up a central place in our faith and life as Catholics. That means that we can’t take it for granted, but should treat the liturgy as an opportunity to learn and grow, and that is what the conference wants to aid in.
During the conference, various speakers will address a proper selection of liturgy topics. Standing out for me, upon a reading of the list of speakers, are Cardinal Raymond Burke (Liturgical law in the Mission of the Church), Archbishop Alexander Sample (The Bishop: governor, promoter and guardian of liturgical life of the diocese), Monsignor Guido Marini (Ars celebrandi in the Sacred Liturgy), Monsignor Stefan Heid (The Early Christian Altar – Lessons for Today), Father Uwe Michael Lang (Sacred Art and Architecture at the service of the Mission of the Church), Father Paul Gunter (Academic Formation in the Sacred Liturgy), Father Nicola Bux (Liturgical catechesis and the New Evangelisation), Dom Alcuin Reid (Sacrosanctum Concilium and Liturgical Formation) and Mr. Jeffrey Tucker (The Liturgical Apostolate and the Internet), although any choice here is strictly based on the various topic titles. I will be profiling several of the speakers in the coming weeks, with, obviously, a special focus on their thoughts and actions regarding the liturgy.
All the relevant information regarding prices, accommodation and, certainly not least, the speakers and their topics can be found via the link I supplied above. Personally, I would have attended if it was within my means, but I’ll have to make do with a digital presence, via this blog and various social media.
A group of professors (retired and otherwise) in the Netherlands have joined forces and written a manifesto to the Dutch bishops to voice their concerns about the ongoing effort of consolidating and merging parishes and faith communities in the Dutch Church province. They warn that mergers, which are ongoing or planned in virtually all dioceses, will destroy the “flourishing, sparkling and adult faith communities, in which lay faithful contribute in modern ways, adapted to local circumstances to faith life and liturgy, in open communication with local authorities” that have sprung up in the second half of the previous century.
Although the professors’ concerns are undoubtedly genuine, there are a number of problems with the manifesto, which I will outline below.
First there is the outline of the problem, which I have summarised above. The existence of such “flourishing communities” is considered ”a great good”: they offer a home to active Catholics, which has g”reat existential value”. But, the professors say, the bishops are intent on destroying that by creating enormous parishes with a single council. And the reason that the bishops are doing this? The shortage of priests.
This is a clear untruth. As many bishops, confronted with similar concerns in their own dioceses, have said time and again: parish mergers are chiefly dictated by financial and demographical concerns: small parishes will, in the future, no longer have the financial means to support themselves, and the number of faithful is expected to drop over the coming years. It has been doing so for years already. And yes, the number of priests is certainly relevant in that context. But it is not the sole reason for consolidating and merging parishes and communities.
What the professors completely miss or ignore in their manifesto is the bishops’ duty to communicate and protect the faith. They say that the mergers are smothering the specific identities and expressions of parishes and communities. Measures imposed from above destroy the unique expressions of faith in these small communities. But what if these expressions are at odds with the teachings of the Church, with the faith that the bishops are tasked to protect? I would dare say that that is the case in too many communities in the Netherlands and Europe as a whole. Imposed measures, of whatever nature, are not so one-dimensional as to merely want to limit identity and expression. They can, and often also do, serve to assure the continued existence of such expressions, but always in union with the Church that Christ established.
Another odd conclusion that the manifesto describes is that the macro level (the Church province) which, the professors say, is characterised by bureaucratic and financial structures and cultures, can’t intrude on the micro level, the local faith communities, which are characterised by communicative action, mutual understanding, agreement and meaningfulness. But neither level exists in isolation, so some level of “intrusion” must occur, since both levels are interdependent. A model by which a group of faith communities continues to exist under one parish council, as is foreseen in virtually all the plans for mergers, will allow the micro level to continue operating as it should, and will prevent the problems that are now looming on the horizon: lack of financial means and a dearth of volunteers as the number of faithful drops.
As I have said, the concerns of the professors are undoubtedly genuine, but their cause is not served by inaccurate projections of reality. All the bishops who are currently facing the prospect of parish mergers have been quite open about the reasons behind it, and in many cases they have emphasised the need for thriving communities on the local level. Placing them under a unified parish council within the larger framework of the diocese does not mean their end. Bishops can’t end that, but neither can they be solely responsible for the communites’ continued existence. That is in the hands of the communities themselves. In many placers, things can’t continue for very long as they are now, but they can if the structures that are needed are in place, and if faithful everywhere work towards it, keeping their communities alive in Christ. Only they, and He, can do that. A bishop can’t, and neither can he prevent it.
Amid all the excitement pertaining to the concave and a new Pope comes a sobering report. The Deetman Commission has issued its second report about abuse in the Catholic Church. Where the first one dealt chiefly with sexual abuse of which mainly boys were victims, this second one dealt with cases of “excessive violence”, both sexual and physical, against girls under the care of Catholic institutions. While the Commission admits that it is not possible to formulate a definition of ”excessive violence” that can be used in all cases, and the number of cases s far smaller than in the first investigation, there are several conclusions to be reached.
Concerning sexual abuse:
There is no quantitative difference with the results of the first investigations. There have been several tens of thousands of victims in the period between 1045 and 2010.
- Older and newer cases show similarities in important elements.
- In more than forty percent of the cases of sexual abuse of underage girls that were investigated there has been serious sexual abuse.
- Abuse of underage girls was more prevalent at home (40%) and in the parish (more than 30%). Sexual abuse of boys took place more often in institutions.
- In cases of “light” sexual abuse there have been male and female perpetrators within the Catholic Church. In “stronger” categories of sexual abuse the perpetrators were mostly male.
- In fifty percent of the cases sexual abuse was coupled with physical and/or psychological violence.
- The question of sexual abuse was discussed within monastic communities, courses, meetings and days of study on several levels, as early as the 1960s. The context then was completely limited to the monastic community itself and the relationships between sisters.
Concerning physical and psychological violence, environment and behaviour:
- Both the new and the older cases generally report a combination of physical and psychological violence, whether coupled with sexual abuse or not. The nature of the violent acts is also generally consistent, as are the duration and the frequency of the violence, which was longer than a year and repeatedly.
- The majority of the female victims was between 6 and 14 years of age when the sexual abuse and/or violence started. Most cases took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Whereas sexual abuse of girls most often occurred at home and in the parish, violence against underage women seems to have mostly taken place in institutions such as boarding school and hospitals.
- In cases of physical and psychological violence (without sexual abuse) both the new and the old reports indicate mostly female perpetrators, especially female religious who worked as teachers and caregivers.
- In roughly half of the cases the abuse and/or the violence was reported before, although often only after many years.
- A detailed investigation of archives, including those of ten sister congregations, offers no direct indications of violence and violent incidents. The commission found no reports of such incidents.
- From the archives investigated an image can be created of relations between sisters and girls and sisters among each other in a cold and cool environment in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
- In the 1960s school conferences under professional guidance paved the way for a change in behaviour. This was more on a level with new insights and by then standard developments in education.
The Commission found no current cases which it could forward to the Public Prosecutor to be investigated and submitted to a court of law. It did forward three older cases because of the serious nature of the abuse, although these too fall under the statute of limitations.
There is no evidence of structural abuse within the congregations, as far as sexual abuse is concerned. There are, however, doubts if the same can be said about physical violence.
A striking difference with the first report is that reports of abuse do not need the proof of evidence to be eligible for compensation, although the complaints do need to be plausible within the framework of the abuse that most likely occurred, as drafted by the Commission.
Although the extent and the nature of the abuse suffered by girls is generally and in important points different from that suffered by boys, it is of course no less serious.
On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Hans van den Hende offered a first comment in an interview for RKK. He agreed that the report was “shocking”, and said that it “is chilling to read, because it is about real, actual people.” Bishop van den Hende frequently speaks with victims and their representatives as chairman of the contact group tasked with solving those cases which have suffered a communications breakdown or came across some other obstacle. He says that, following the publication of this second report, the focus of the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious must be on engaging with the victims in conversation, to hear their stories, recognise them, and reach a satisfactory solution.
Photo credit: ANP
The bishops today sent out a memorandum with the adaptations to the Eucharistic Prayers during the sede vacante. Also included are prayers for the success of the conclave and the new Pope. And in the midst of it all, they have introduced a lasting change to the Roman Missal. From now, the sixth Eucharistic Prayer will include the name of the diocesan bishop, in addition to the name of the Pope and a reference to all the bishops, as is standard in the other Eucharistic Prayers. Explaining the decision is a short sentence: “The diocesan bishop should not be left out of the Eucharistic Prayer (cf. Redemptionis sacramentum, 56).”
The document they refer to was and Instruction released in 2004 by the Congregation for Divine Worship “on certain matter to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist”. Paragraph 56 of that document has this to say:
“The mention of the name of the Supreme Pontiff and the diocesan Bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer is not to be omitted, since this is a most ancient tradition to be maintained, and a manifestation of ecclesial communion. For “the coming together of the eucharistic community is at the same time a joining in union with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff”.”
Considering that, the new decision fits well with the desire expressed several years ago by Blessed Pope John Paul II that the various translations of the Missal be brought into better accordance with the Latin original text. Although there is commission, which includes several Dutch and Flemish bishops, tasked with reviewing and improving the Dutch translation, very little has come out of it as yet. But this is a nice start. Now let’s hope that the change takes effect in practice, and can usher in more progress towards a new translation.
Photo credit: Diocese of Lancaster
On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.
Cardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. [...] I must say I have very good memories of him.
His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”
Bishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.
We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”
Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”
Following the example of many other leaders, Catholic and otherwise, the Dutch bishops also released a statement following Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would resign at the end of this month. Below follows the text in my translation.
Before this official statement, Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, shared his own thoughts about the news. He noted how the Holy Father clearly seemed very fatigued when he last met the Holy Father in September.
“Today we received the news about the resignation, at the end of this month, of Pope Benedict XVI. As for so many others, this news was a surprise to us.
The Holy Father announced that his resignation would take effect on Thursday 28 February at 8pm. His age and health are the decisive reasons for this radical and historical decision.
Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest theologians in the Catholic world of the second half of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. His knowledge is not only limited to dogmatics, which he taught in his younger years, but extends over the entire field of theology. This was also expressed in his encyclicals, other letters and addresses as contributions to the magisterium of the Church. He also showed himself a true shepherd of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, then, has played a role in the Roman Catholic Church which should not be underestimated. We are very grateful for his pontificate.
In his statement, Pope Benedict XVI also announced the conclave in which a new Pope will be elected. Cardinal Eijk will participate in this conclave.
At the age of 78, Cardinal Ratzinger heard the call of the Lord and accepted the highest office in the Church. Now, almost 8 years later, he decided to retire. We pray for Pope Benedict, that he may be richly “blessed” by God, also after his resignation.”
Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam also expressed his surprise at today’s news. He expressed the hope that the Pope would continue to travel with us in prayer, “in the pilgrimage that our life on earth most deeply is”. He asked all faithful in the diocese to pray for Pope Benedict and the Church.
The Dutch bishops yesterday decided to streamline the process by which people can have their names removed from parish records. Other than some media are reporting, it is not being made “easier”, but the bishops intend to have the same regulations applied throughout the Church province.
The plan is that a single letter to the parish in which a person was baptised or received into the Church will suffice to remove someone from the baptismal and other records that exist. In effect, this person will no longer be registered as Catholic and, by distancing himself from the Church, will not be able to receive the sacraments.
In the past, bureaucracy sometimes got in the way, especially when a case involved several parishes or even dioceses. Different regulations in different places meant that the process could sometimes take a long time, even involving lawyers and legal action. By enforcing the same regulations everywhere this problem should be removed.
Related to this is the case of Father Frank Michael As, parish priest in the parish of St. Michael, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. People expressing a desire to leave the Church received the following letter from the priest:
“You can no longer receive any sacrament, in which Christ wants to come to you. You will not be able to have a Catholic funeral. You are denying Christ and His Church.
I am afraid that you do not consider yourself worthy of eternal life and have blocked yourself from the entrance to eternal life and resurrection. That way you will end up in eternal oblivion, where no one will ever miss you.
I can only advice you to convert to Jesus Christ to achieve life.
With regret over the calamity that you have called over yourself, the Church bids you farewell.”
A serious tone which seriously upset people, and that led Fr. As to remove much of this from the letters he sends. The reason for doing so is mainly to avoid a media frenzy. But in the end, Father is right. The Church is in the business of saving souls, and removing oneself from the Church is a serious danger to one’s soul.
Any decision has consequences, and people are better off knowing those. Fr. As’s letter does nothing but informing them of the consequences of them leaving the Church.
But all this does not address the real issue: why do people want to leave the Church, and what can we do to make them decide to stay? True, the number of people leaving is not great (15,000 – less than half a percent - in 2012), but people still do so. The only thing we, as Catholics, can do, is exercise honesty and openness, and a willigness to listen, without denying any of the truths we hold there. These truths of faith and human destiny are what the Church exists for, and they are for all people. If we succeed in communicating that, perhaps some people will see that their issues with the Church, however serious and justified, can be solved and can be seen in a context which is far greater than any of us. It’s hard to do so alone, so let’s try and help people who are struggling with the Church and their own faith.
The Church is not a bogey man or an evil institution, but our means of salvation which Christ has given us. And that is a thing of exceeding beauty.