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Because of its importance, remaining at the top of the blog for now: what the pope really said in his Christmas address to the Curia.
In the Dutch media today, the first reports came in that the pope didn’t actually say anything about homosexuals or gay marriage. This after gay rights association COC asked the government to take steps against the Holy See, a number of Catholics quite loudly announced they were now ‘de-baptised’ and some even suggested we should stop sending flowers to the Vatican for Easter…
Much damage has been done, not least in the hearts of people, faithful and others, who assumed they could take media reports seriously… Sadly this was not so, as preconceptions and agendas took precedence over factual reporting. As the issue remains current (strikingly enough, mostly in the Netherlands), this post will remain at the top of my blog, in order to easily access the text of Pope Benedict’s address.
Edit [3 January]: Although most of the initial debate and outrage has died down, it is clear that much ignorance about what the pope actually said, coupled with unawareness of the meaning of what he did say, still exists. In part, this is due to people, unavoidably, forming opinions which they have no reason to change, but a significant cause is also the failure of the Church herself to be clear or to clarify, or, if necessary, to protest strongly. I don’t think the Holy See should have come out with any fo the kind since the outrage is quite exclusive to the Netherlands. But the authorities within the Netherlands should have done more than a single five-line statement with links to the English text and the Dutch translation available at rkdocumenten.nl. While availability of the texts is important (hence my own translation linked above), it is not enough to explain and clarify the lies and faulty assumptions in media reports.
I found that many people still act surprised when informed that the media reports were, in fact, completely incorrect. A sure sign that not only we, as Catholic faithful, must enter into debate and conversation about these topics, but that the institutional Church as a whole should do likewise. I think the latter dropped the ball here.
Three civil servants in the city of Groningen, the city on whose edge I live and where I go to Church, have been in the news lately for their refusal to marry same-sex couples. The city council has decided that all civil servants who are able to perform civilian weddings should do so for both same-sex and different-sex couples. The three aforementioned people are unable to do so in good conscience. The city will now allow them to continue until the end of their contract in 2014, but then they will not be retaining them.
In essence this story is pretty straightforward. If an employee in any job does not perform as expected, they most likely will not be kept on. But in this case there is more to it.
The news story breaks about a month after Groningen hosted Pink Saturday, a gay pride event, and mere days before Amsterdam’s big Gay pride event. COC, a gay interest club, has been protesting via posters against government policy to not immediately fire civil servants who refuse to marry same-sex couples. There is therefore a strong lobby against the legal and human rights of people to act according to their conscience.
A matter of contracts and job performance has now become a much larger issue of freedom of conscience.
My personal opinion about the case may be quite clear. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman (including the civilian one, since that flows directly from true sacramental marriage), so I agree with the three civil servants who will have to find other work in three years time. That is not an expression of hate or intolerance, but mere fact. Just as I will never be able to fly by flapping my arms up and down, two people of the same sex can not marry. It is an impossibility.
But that’s as may be… Even if you don’t agree with the above statement, this case should still be worrying. We live in a society which prides itself on freedom and liberty, and that includes freedom of conscience, religion and speech. Increasingly, various lobby groups, of which the pro-gay lifestyle lobby group is one of the strongest, are willing to deny these freedoms for anyone who does not agree with their own freedoms*. This, I believe is an example of that.
The opinion that same-sex marriage is supported by everyone, and that therefore these three civil servants are the exception, is not true, I believe. But it is used as a reason to suppress any and all contrary opinion. Our free and liberal society should be open to all opinions, except those that are politically incorrect. That is something we see more and more, and that should worry us.
In Groningen, there is now no choice between who will be marrying you. Everyone believes in all things, and so essentially, no one believes in anything anymore.
* And that’s not a strictly Dutch problem, either. In Brazil, a proposed Hetero Pride parade has been attacked by pro-gay groups as ‘discriminatory’… I too think it’s nonsense, but I also think that of all pride parades. We don’t pick our own sexual orientation, so where’s the achievement to be proud of?
It’s Mad Tuesday at the annual fair in the town of Oss. A day that has been annexed by the homosexualists* to celebrate an excessively sexualised lifestyle, in addition to the other days that have been created for that same purpose. Part of this year’s addition was a demonstration at the Catholic church in the centre of the town, where Father Cor Mennen is parish priest. Some 200 people handed out pink roses and placed more at the church. Fr. Mennen was, as he had said earlier, not in town (he is unavailable for comment at his vacation address in Switzerland), so the demonstrators were prevented from giving roses to him personally. In the end some 500 roses were left at the church.
What was the purpose of this demonstration, which I discussed in this blog earlier? Organiser Cor Strik and COC chief Henk Krol said it was to invite the priest to enter into dialogue with the homosexualists. This after Fr. Mennen had already spoken with Mr. Strik last week, even sending him a bunch of white and yellow roses and the wish that he have an enjoyable Mad Tuesday. That was evidently not the kind of dialogue that Strik and Krol had envisioned, so the demonstration went ahead.
Mr. Strik also revealed he did learn something, when he said that “a host is not something to demand, but respect is.” Sadly, that sentence was preceded by the statement that, “Our action is not aimed at [Fr. Mennen] personally, but against the Catholic Church as a whole.” So that means that it was aimed at Fr. Mennen personally, and against all practicing Catholics. You can’t say, “Oh, we’re going to attack some of your beliefs, but it’s nothing personal”. That’s just naive and condescending.
So what is their purpose? What ‘dialogue’ do they want? Weekly meetings in which Fr. Mennen repeats Catholic teachings about Communion, sin and sexuality? Or could it be that they do not want true dialogue, in which both parties participate, but which does not automatically assume the total acceptance of one opinion over the other, but instead want the Catholic Church to say: “No, you’re right. We were wrong in teaching that the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of our Lord, is too important to be approached with any sort of preparation or received without consequence. Our understanding of sexuality was wrong: it is okay to do whatever anyone wants to, and yes, your sexual preference is the most important part of who you are as a person. In fact, we were wrong to teach anything, to have any rules at all. So we’ll just lie down here and you can walk all over us and everything that we hold dear, okay?”
Sorry, but as along as there are Catholics who take their faith seriously, who understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ, that can never happen. Is that wrongful discrimination? No, that is teaching for the benefit of all who are called (all who are called, so not all who feel like it) to receive their Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament and in their hearts. Just as we understand that the education of our children is important, and that parents act out of the best interest for their children, so we should understand that the Church educates and acts with regards to the faithful she is responsible for.
*A word not coined by me, but which I use here to refer to those people who treat sexual preference as the overriding defining characteristic of a person – as if sexuality solely dictates who I am as a person – and furthermore use it as a political tool.
Photo by Hans van der Poel
Various media have reported on the reactions triggered by a homily from Deacon Edwin Veldman, in which he spoke about homosexual acts being inherently sinful. It caused some people to leave the church before the end of Mass and Fr. Cor Mennen, pastor of the parish in which Deacon Veldman works, to pay attention to it in an article on Catholica.
At the same time, the COC has announced that they want to take their discussion with the parish council in ‘s-Hertogenbosch to a higher level: the bishops. The topic of the discussion is, of course, the question of actively homosexual people receiving Communion. The Church teaches that only people in a state of grace can receive Communion, and with homosexual acts being a sin, those practicing them are not in a state of grace. The Dutch situation is complicated further by the fact that many people apart from homosexuals receive Communion in a state of sin, but the attention is on the latter. A feeling of them being singled out is perhaps understandable in that light. But that, of course, changes nothing about the actual teachings around the reception of Communion.
Judging from the articles I read, the focus of the discussion now revolves around homosexuals ‘feeling welcome’ in parishes and services. That has, of course, never been questioned. The Church welcomes (or should welcome) everyone, but she can not close her eyes to their errors, mistakes and sins. The purpose of the Church is to lead people to God and so also to prepare them for the encounter with Him. Since God transcends us so much (he literally stands outside creation) it is logical to assume that we need to prepare, often even change before we can meet Him. And we meet Him most closely in the Eucharist, when we receive Him at Communion. If we don’t prepare ourselves for Him, by conforming to Him as much as we can (which, admittedly, is not a lot), if we don’t take His commandments and words seriously, Communion is an empty ritual. Worse, since it is the Lord we receive, it becomes a profanation. We place ourselves above Him, consider ourselves more important, better judges of ourselves than He is. In another context, Archbishop Ranjith of Colombo calls this ‘self-idolatry’ (A special circular on the Year of the Eucharist, 2.1*).
Anyway, back to the COC’s plan to take their issues to the bishops. Obviously, they, like everyone else, have a right to contact the bishops about anything they wish, and I think this specific issue deserves an official response from the bishops. That won’t just benefit the Church, but also the faithful, the COC and other parties involved. What we need, everyone who has something at stake here, is clarity. An explanation about Church teachings and the reasons why some things are possible and some are not. And, most importantly, we deserve clear, expansive and thorough education about the Eucharist and Communion.
* I will pay attention to this letter at a later time.
It’s probably a good time to think about going to bed, but I just came across a piece of text which simply begs for a fisking. The text was published at Rorate, a Catholic (this is important) news collection site which has the annoying habit of not citing sources or even authors. One can only assume that they either approve or are indifferent about the text in question.
Rorate is a Dutch website, so I’ll use an translation of the text.
Pink roses for Father Cor Mennen
OSS (RKnieuws.net) – During the traditional Mad Tuesday fair in Oss, which will be held this year on the 24th of August, five hundred pink roses will be offered to Father Cor Mennen, the Gay Krant reports this week.
Cor Mennen became known nationally as the censor of songs sung in the Roman Catholic Church. He banned many of the songs by Huub Oosterhuis, very popular among the faithful. [No, he did not. As a censor, Fr. Mennen advises. It is the bishops who act upon that advice as they please. So far they have not banned anything. Also: this is completely unrelated to the rest of the article.]
Mennen was also in the news because he went back on his own bishop, who, in Mennen’s opinion, was far too yielding during the so-called host-riot in Reusel and Den Bosch [That again? I thought that storm had abated after media-hungry protester had had their day in the sun]. Mennen called the faithful gays and their supporters [read 'irreverent protesters'], who had come to the episcopal St. John [we call that a cathedral] with an appeal [a disgraceful and loudmouthed protest], the ‘Amsterdam gay mafia’ [with reason. It was a by-the-book setup, organised by the Gay Krant and certain politicans, abusing grievances they do not understand, or even wish to understand].
Cor Strik, organiser of Mad Tuesday, will have five hundred visitors of this fair deliver pink roses to the Grote Kerk, where Mennen is the shepherd [what's with the stupid terms? He's the parish priest]. Strik hopes that many people will also bring roses and pink toy animals themselves [Is this a trend? Why do the organisers of such 'protests' always use others to do their dirty work for them? Can't they find enough people who really have grievances? It's just an excuse to have a media circus. Then again, the man does organise fairs...].
“You should see this as a gesture of love [Ha!] and an invitation to Mennen to enter into dialogue with homosexuals.” [A dialogue about what? Father Mennen specifically has been very clear about what the Church believes and teaches regarding homosexuality. That won't be changing].
In a press release, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch [Fr. Mennen is not the diocese, or even the bishop] itself expressed the desire for such a dialogue, but despite several attempts from the Gay Krant and the COC it remains quite in the bishop’s palace. “We choose compassion [or intimidation], not an argument”, Strik tells the Gay Krant.
During the floral tribute [Oh, it's suddenly not an attempt at enforcing 'dialogue'?] an aubade will also be delivered to Mennen and other Church leaders [An aubade, Wikipedia tells us, is a song or poem about lovers separating at dawn, or generally involving daybreak... what?]
Perhaps Fr. Mennen can start running a flower stand. You know, as a source of extra income. I’m sure he can find a use for some extra cash in his parish.
The ‘gay mafia’ to use but a phrase, gets clarity about the Church’s teachings, as a foundation for further dialogue. Said dialogue is supposed to be with the diocese. Despite silence from said diocese, the reasons of which are unknown to me, they return to the man who was one of their opponents in the initial media debate. And they offer him pink roses. What will this accomplish. Media attention, of course. The Church in a bad light, unless Father Mennen comes up with a cunning plan (or hardly anyone shows up to do Strik’s work for him…). What it won’t do is further the dialogue. On the contrary.
In Lyon, France, young Catholic faithful successfully prevented a protest by homosexual activists. It’s probably wishful thinking that the same will happen in Oss, but one can hope…
Once more a post in Dutch, sharing the follow-up to the wholly unsatisfactory reply from the NCRV following the open letter that was sent to the TV network on behalf of Catholics and several Protestants on the sacrilege committed in tv show Man Bijt Hond. The new letter wonders on whose behalf the reply was sent, and also asks if the author even understood the reason of our concern. We now ask for clarity and a reply to those concerns instead of an explanation of things that are, at best, peripheral.
NCRV-directeur Coen Abbenhuis reageerde op maandag 15 maart met een e-mail op een Open Brief die eerder die dag namens de katholieke blog-community naar de NCRV was gestuurd om bezwaar te maken tegen heiligschennis in het tv-programma Man Bijt Hond. Abbenhuis’ antwoord is ook te vinden op de NCRV-site als officiële verklaring:
Dit antwoord is onzes inziens beneden alle peil en daarom gaat de het protest tegen deze actie van de NCRV door. De Open Brief met een actuele lijst van mensen die haar onderschrijven vindt u hier:
Al bijna tweehonderd namen staan onder de brief. Onder hen een twintigtal katholieke priesters en diakens. Ook komt er veel steun uit protestantse hoek en heeft een volledige parochie zich achter de Open Brief geschaard. U kunt nog steeds uw steun betuigen!
De actie wordt vanaf nu aangetrokken door blogster Observatrix (www.observatrix.nl). Onder haar naam is er, in overleg met katholieke bloggers, een antwoord verstuurd naar de NCRV. Als bijlage bij dat antwoord is de Open Brief met een actuele lijst van ondertekenaars meegestuurd. Dit is ons antwoord:
Geachte heer Abbenhuis,
Hoewel het ons nog steeds onduidelijk is of u namens het NCRV-bestuur schreef of op persoonlijke titel, nemen wij de vrijheid om toch te reageren op uw e-mailbericht van 15 maart j.l. Uw antwoord stelt teleur in twee opzichten. Ten eerste omdat u in veel woorden weinig nieuws zegt en de excuses die door de redactie van het programma “Man Bijt Hond” nog wel waren gemaakt, niet eens herhaalt. Ten tweede omdat u in uw antwoord geen blijk geeft te hebben begrepen waar de kern van ons bezwaar ligt.
In uw antwoord verwijst u naar de ‘licht-satirische’ opzet van het programma “Man Bijt Hond”. Blogger Anton de Wit benadrukte dat hij geen man met lange tenen is en satire zeer kan waarderen. Dit zal voor de meeste ondertekenaars van de Open Brief gelden. Echter wat De Wit ook aantoont is dat de heiligschennis uit “Man Bijt Hond” met geen mogelijkheid satire kan worden genoemd. Zoals het op het blog van ondergetekende Erica Schruer treffend werd geformuleerd, luidde uw antwoord in feite: jammer dat u van heiligschennis de humor niet kunt inzien. Ook christenen doen regelmatig aan satire, maar in de vorm waarin de NCRV het goot was er geen sprake van christelijke, maar juist van anti-katholieke en daarmee dus ook anti-christelijke satire. Daarmee heeft u als omroep in feite uw identiteit geloochend.
U verwijst in uw brief ook naar het protest tegen de katholieke Kerk in de St. Jan in Den Bosch, dat georganiseerd was door het COC en de Gaykrant en werd gesteund door de PvdA en de SP. Dit was de aanleiding voor het “Man Bijt Hond”-item. Voor de Kerk was ook deze gebeurtenis méér dan pijnlijk. Ten eerste omdat er een eredienst werd verstoord en het risico van een moderne ‘beeldenstorm’ nadrukkelijk in de lucht hing. Ten tweede omdat niemand behalve de SGP het opnam voor de vrijheid van eredienst, terwijl het verstoren van religieuze bijeenkomsten bij wet verboden is, en de Kerk en de gelovigen daarin bescherming en respect mogen verwachten.
Voorts spreekt u uit dat de NCRV het doel heeft mensen recht te doen, ‘ongeacht hun seksuele geaardheid’. Dit wekt de suggestie van een zeker eenzijdig respect, waarvan godsdienst geen deel uitmaakt. Als het gaat om het afkeuren van het niet uitreiken van de Communie aan homoseksuelen acht de NCRV blijkbaar elk middel geoorloofd, tot de grootste schoffering en heiligschennis aan toe. Ons protest heeft daarentegen niets te maken met de seksuele geaardheid van Wagemakers, maar met de respectloze manier waarop hij in NCRV-zendtijd met de Hostie omsprong.
De belangrijkste constatering is dat uw brief inhoudelijk niet ingaat op de bezwaren die zijn geuit in de Open Brief, die inmiddels door 150 mensen en een katholieke parochie is onderschreven en ieder uur door meer mensen wordt onderschreven. Daarnaast regent het ook negatieve reacties op de website van “Man Bijt Hond”. Door de heiligschennis die in dat programma is gepleegd, af te doen als uitingen van ‘gelijkwaardigheid en verdraagzaamheid’, toont u aan dat de betekenis die u aan die twee begrippen geeft niets meer met de christelijke visie te maken heeft. Wij kunnen ons niet aan de indruk onttrekken dat de NCRV is opgegaan in de grote massa van seculiere omroepen.
Wij verzoeken u zeer dringend uw standpunt te heroverwegen en daarvan terug te komen. Recent bij een incident in Maleisie pleegden twee medewerkers van een islamitisch tijdschrift heiligschennis door de Hostie te ontvangen en vervolgens uit te spuwen. Daarover ontstond veel commotie. Zij boden uiteindelijk daarvoor hun verontschuldigingen aan met de volgende woorden: “Het is niet de bedoeling van Al Islam om de christelijke godsdienst te beledigen, noch om christelijke bedehuizen te ontheiligen”. Van een nominatum christelijke omroep als de NCRV zou tenminste hetzelfde mogen worden verwacht. In het onverhoopt geval u niet tot betere inzichten komt, zullen wij onze bezorgdheid ook op andere plaatsen aan de orde stellen.
Met vriendelijke groeten,
The list of signatories to the open letter has continued to grow over the past days. Here is the list as it stands now:
R.T. van Mulligen
Parochie HH Michael en Clemens
G. Wilkens, priester
F. As, priester
H.J.P.T. Broers, priester
Ch. van Buijtenen, priester
J. Goris, priester
W.J.J. Grondhuis, priester
R.J.M. Kerssemakers, pastoor-deken
K. Loodts, priester
C. Mennen, priester
Pater J. Nielen MHM
M. Peeters, priester
G. van Rossem, priester
H.C.W. Schilder, priester
C. Stam, priester
G.M.J. van der Vegt, priester
W. Veth, priester
A. van Aarle, diaken
J. Grubben, diaken
A.B.M. van Kempen, diaken
I.W.G. Molenaar, diaken
Broeder Hugo, heremiet
S. Volkers, seminarist
Alina Bonen OFS
Fieke, postulante in de Carmel D.C.J.
P.M. Tassel OCDS
G.E. van Beek
J. van Beek
A. van Berkel
A.J.M. van Berkel
A.M.C. van Berkel
H. de Boer
B. van Dijck
M.E.A. Dommeck – Kuyt
M.B.A. van Elswijk
J.H. de Geest
J. van Gool
E. van Goor
J. van Gorp
T. de Groene
L. de Groene
E. de Groot
N. de Groot
W. de Groot
F. van der Have
M.V. van Heusden
J. van den Heuvel
J.H.P. van Iperen
M. van Iperen
H.A.M. Janssen – Rombouts
F.J. de Jong
J.C.M. de Jong
H. Kaptijn – Verzijlbergh
M.J. van Kleef
A. Koole – Bart
S. Leferink op Reinink
D.P.J. van Lith – Woestenberg
M.J. Marks – Meekel
F. van der Meer
J. Nederlof – Erens
A. van Norde
J.J. van Peperstraten
P.M. Schruer – Zoetmulder
T. Spee – van Heijster
G.A. van der Toorn – Piebenga
C. van der Valk
J. van der Valk
J.G. Verhoeven – den Uijl
M. de Vries
M. de Vries
W.J.M. Webster – van Gool
A.J.A. de Wit
M. de Witt
H.K.M.G. van Zandwijk – Bruin
P. van Zoest
Following a meeting between Father Geertjan van Rossem, cathedral administrator of the cathedral of St. John in ‘s Hertogenbosch, and two representatives of the COC and the Gaykrant, the parish in Den Bosch released a statement which explained that next Sunday, receiving Communion will be left to the individual consciences of the faithful, regardless of their sexual orientation or practices, or any other condition.
While this is canonically sound, pastorally it isn’t. As I’ve explained in an earlier post, one’s conscience is the first and usually only determiner of whether or not one is in a state of grace and can receive Communion. Only in situations where he knows without doubt that that is not the case, can the priest deny Communion to a person. This is understandable very rare.
However, with the deplorable state of Catholic education and catechesis in this country, many people don’t know this. As I’ve also said before, many consider Communion a right, a symbol, something that everyone does.
The parish’s announcement, while understandable in light of last Sunday’s protests, sends out the wrong message. It basically says that sin or grace don’t matter, that Communion is indeed for everyone, and that it comes without strings attached. Indeed, for many it may also be reason to think that it is not really Christ they receive.
A second problem is that the media (secular and Catholic, heterosexual and homosexual) present this as the Church giving in. The Church does not, even though the parish seems to be. The rules have not changed, so there is ‘giving in’. The parish simply chooses not to follow them. And that is a serious problem.
Like I said, pastorally it is understandable; last Sunday’s Mass was traumatic for many parishioners. The protests were simply scandalous. So I can understand that the parish does not want a repeat of that experience. But the choice does damage the Church a lot. Rather than standing for the faith, it shows that protests work, that outsiders can dictate what the Church should do.
A number of well-read Dutch bloggers have written about it, and called for the diocese to restate the teachings of the Church and to implement them: Communion requires a state of grace for all believers. And this should go hand in hand with proper catechesis, to allow people to actually know the faith they profess.
This situation is a chance for the Church to step out of the shadow, to let her voice be heard and allow people to get to know her instead of what they think they know of her. That requires steadfast priests, bishops and faithful, and it will not be easy by any means. But Christ never claimed it would be. We are ‘a sign that is opposed’.
The bishops’ conference is meeting on 9 March. I sincerely hope for at least some statement about this from them.
Bishop Hurkmans emphasised that denying Communion to practicing homosexuals does not exclude from the Church’s life. But since the Communion is also a confirmation of faith, the receiver expresses his agreement with that. That means that the person who receives Communion lives in accordance with the faith and the Church’s teachings.
The bishop also said he shares the pain of those who can’t receive Communion. He emphasised the importance of a person’s own responsibility to receive and so confirm their faith in the Church’s teachings. That is counter to the prevalent attitude that Communion is a right and even a custom – that receiving should be part of every Mass one attends.
Fr. van Rossem acknowledges that things have grown somewhat lax in respect to handing out Communion, and he expects that the faithful will receive more education on the meaning of the Eucharist in the future. Let’s hope that will indeed happen.
There have been no statements yet about how the diocese plans to respond to protests on Sunday at the cathedral. The diocese is still considering that, but Fr. van Rossem did say that there is concern about a possible disruption of the Mass.
I am seriously considering travelling down to ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday, to attend Mass there and offer a counter-balance to the protesters. Mass is not the place or time for protest, and in this case we should perhaps try to maintain the sacrality of the Mass, a sacrality that transcends any protest greatly.