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Former Dutch parliamentarian Boris Dittrich (pictured) has been treating several media outlets to the story of his visit to the Vatican and his conversation with Archbishop Müller. There are some serious problems with his comments, which I will try to address by fisking this article, which was written by Frans Wijnands and was published today on “meeting place for Christians” Het Goede Leven (all bold text in between square brackets are my comments):
The Pope does not decide the doctrine of the Church, says Archbishop Müller
Under the current Pope Francis there is no relaxation imaginable in the Church’s strictly dismissive opinion on homosexuality. So states the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is not the Pope who decides the doctrine, the dogmas of the Church [well, in the case of dogmas, it is]. Concerning doctrine, that is a matter for the Curia. That is the response that Dutch former (Liberal Democrat] politician Boris Dittrich received from Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when Dittrich suggested out loud that the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards homosexuals could change in a positive way under Pope Francis.
Dittrich was in Rome and the Vatican these past days on behalf of Human Rights Watch, a worldwide human rights organisation which, among others, strives for equal rights for homosexuals [including the right to change truth, it would seem]. Dittrich is its director for ‘rights of sexual minorities’.
Earlier he had explained the position of Human Rights Watch in a more or less open letter of twelve pages [talk about losing the point in words, perhaps?] With the letter, Human Rights Watch encouraged Pope Francis last month to denounce violence towards and discrimination against homosexuals and transsexuals, and to stand up to priests and other workers in the Church who support violence against and discrimination of sexual minorities [Because no Pope has done that before. I'll just share this link again; in it I quote some sources which state exactly what Dittrich wants].
Dittrich travelled to Rome to personally explain the letter, but did not get to speak with the Pope [Did he think of making an appointment, or did he just assume the Holy Father would make time for him on the spot?]. The former D66 member of parliament was at the weekly audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and was able to hand the letter to an assistant when Francis’ car stopped near him.
He did get to speak with Msgr. Müller (pictured), the head of the most important Vatican Congregation, that of the Doctrine of the Faith. Dittrich told Müller that he attended an opening of a campaign for more rights for homosexuals in Rio de Janeiro in 2008 and there spoke extensively with the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires: Msgr. Bergoglio, the current Pope. He told Dittrich that he was or is [odd and suggestive use of words] opposed to gay marriage, but could imagine that an alternative was possible, for example the legal recognition of homosexual relations. [Where did we hear that before? Oh, right: here.] A sort of cohabitation contract [as it exists in the Netherlands for both same-sex and separate-sex couples].
Cold and Stiff
To Dittrich’s suggestion that under the current Pope a relaxation of the Church’s strictly dismissive position was imaginable, Müller’s reply was that the Pope does not make policy, but that that was a task for the Curia.
“The entire conversation was cold and stiff. Very detached. Not a single sign of thinking along or sympathy, “says Dittrich. “I senses a tension, a sort of self defense.” [Probably because some research will show that the teaching of the Church is not subject to the personal opinions of whoever, and that Pope Francis is indeed a son of the Church, as he said himself].
In Rome and among Vatican watchers it is known that the public actions of Francis are not received well be everyone in the highest governing body. The Pope has repeatedly shown that he makes his own decisions and does not rely too much on the Curia. [On the other hand, Archbishop Müller and other Curial prelates have been confirmed in their jobs after careful consideration, a sure sign that Pope Francis supports them in their work].
He recently appointed Msgr. Pietro Parolin as new Secretary of State, as successor of Cardinal Bertone. Dittrich assumes that this new Secretary of State will loyally execute the Pope’s policies [Of course he will]. “That obviously creates tensions with the Curia [really?] Because it could lead to the influence and power of that Curia decreasing”, Dittrich assumes. [Dittrich should do a little less assuming and some more researching. Pope Francis was given a specific mandate to reform the Curia by the cardinals who elected him. Among them many Curial cardinals. Pope Francis' intentions to reform the Curia are hardly secret].
Shortly before resigning, Pope Benedict XVI appointed his former student, friend and confidant, Msgr. Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [well, shortly... nine months, and it was a decision most likely far longer in the making], an office that Pope Benedict held himself for years before being elected Pope.
In the conversation [which took place where and how, I wonder? Did Dittrich meet the archbishop by chance or did he have an appointment?] with Boris Dittrich, Msgr. Müller also strongly attacked the role of the media. According to him, these are, in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, continuously out to hit the Vatican. [Well, many media outlets are, that's a fact. Whether it's wise to accuse all media of that, if the archbishop did, is the question]
I can’t help but consider Dittrich’s comments somewhat untrustworthy. He displays a lack of understanding about how the Church works and what she teaches, and a lack of preparation for his attempts to share a letter with the Pope. Add to that his clear liberal agenda, and we get an artificial image of a Curia opposed to their Pope, and image which simply is not supported by reality. It’s like what Archbishop Gänswein said when it was assumed that he and Pope Francis did not get along because he was Benedict’s man: ”All nonsense”.
Pope Francis has been encouraging a more pastoral approach to and treatment of homosexuals (and anyone else on the margins of our lives, for that matter) in the Church, but that is not the same thing as changing the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis has never indicated any willingness to change those. Those teachings are also not the product of policy makers, but have been given to us and continuously explained by the Church. To say that Pope and Curia are, or even can be, opposed to each other as if they were two politicians in parliament is a gross misrepresentation of reality.
Photo credit:  Sebastiaan ter Burg,  Catholic.org
After a few days of rumours, it was confirmed today: Francis’ first class of cardinals is to be created on 22 February 2014, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This places it a year and four days after Pope Benedict XVI next-to-last consistory which saw, among others, the creation of Cardinal Wim Eijk.
As February 2014 dawns, there will be 106 electors in the College of Cardinals, members who can vote in a conclave and also hold seats in the various dicasteries of the Curia. That is 14 below the flexible maximum number of 120, so Pope Francis could create as many as 14 new voting cardinals, which is a pretty standard number for a consistory. Added to that me be a number of non-voting cardinals, as Benedict XVI did in five of his six consistories. Likely candidates seem to be Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family; and of course Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State.
But that’s just in the Curia. As to what diocesan bishops and archbishops may be created cardinals, the field seems to be wide open. Pope Francis most likely does not feel bound by the traditional cardinalatial sees, but much more by the person of a future cardinal. Coupled with his focus on the poor, we should perhaps not be surprised if a fair number of the new cardinals come from South America, Africa and Asia.
In the Low Countries, the eyes are of course on Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the great archbishop of Brussels. If elevated to the College of Cardinals, he would be the eight in a line of cardinals which began with Cardinal Engelbert Sterckx, created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1838.
Regarding other parts of the globe, the great guessing game is once more gearing up, and here is my tentative attempt at participating in it. The Holy Father may wish to focus especially on the aforementioned three continents of South America, Africa and Asia (the latter two notoriously underrepresented in the College of Cardinals which, it must be said, is not intended to be a representative body. For Pope Francis however, representation may be desirable) as part of the continuing reform of both the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia. But, as far as the latter is concerned, the most effective first step is probably found in the field of appointments, and not in new cardinals yet.
Photo credit:  Michael Kappeler/DPA/Abaca Press/MCT
A whole raft of new appointments and assignments in the Curia today. It seems as if Pope Francis is really getting to work with what he has been saying he would since his election: the reform of the Curia. New Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin is already waiting in the wings, ready to take over the office from Cardinal Bertone on 15 October. The Curia that he will be working closely with is starting to change with today’s transfers and appointments, although some prelates had their positions confirmed as well. These confirmations usually take place within the first week after a new Pope has been elected, but Pope Francis is taking his time: six months in, there are still prelates waiting to be confirmed.
I won’t hazard to guess if the appointments are wise or not, although I remain willing to give the Holy Father and the prelates in question every chance at doing their new jobs in the Curia, helping Pope Francis manage the Catholic Church and communicate, defend and confirm the faith that the Lord entrusted to her.
An overview at the changes:
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, until today the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, succeeds Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro as Major Penitentiary. Cardinal Monteiro de Castro is 75 and has therefore retired. Cardinal Piacenza is 69 and has been a member of the Curia since 2000. He has been Undersecretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2000-2003) and President of the Pontifical Commissions for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and for Sacred Archaeology following his consecration as bishop (2003-2007). In 2007 he was elevated to the dignity of archbishop and appointed as Secretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2007-2010) and became its Prefect in 2010. In that same year he was created a cardinal. As head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Piacenza is in charge of the Church tribunal chiefly dealing with excommunications, dispensations and indulgences.
Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, was until today the Vice-President of the Pontifical Council “Ecclesia Dei”. He now returns to the office where he began his Curial career as he is appointed as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is a new position, as the Congregation also has a Secretary and an Undersecretary. Archbishop Di Noia began in the latter function in 2002. In 2009 he became the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which came with a consecration to bishop. In 2012 Archbishop Di Noia was appointed to “Ecclesia Dei”.
Archbishop Beniamino Stella succeeds Cardinal Piacenza as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He is a diplomat who began as Apostolic Delegate, Pro-Nuncio and Nuncio to various countries (Chad, the Central African Republic and Congo (1987-1992), Cuba (1992-1999) and Colombia (1999-2007). He was President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy which trains priests for diplomatic service, from 2007 to today.
- Archbishop-elect Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, was until today the Bishop of Paplanta in Mexico. He has no Curial experience yet. From 2009 to 2012 he was Coadjutor Bishop of Paplanta, and last year he became the ordinary. He will be the Secretary for the Seminaries in the Congregation for the Clergy. This is a fairly new position, as the Congregation only received responsibility for the formation of priests in January of this year.
- Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, for more than nine years the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the advisory body for the Pope which meets every couple of years for an intense series of discussions on specific topics. Before the task, Archbishop Eterovic served as the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, and he will now return to such a diplomatic posting, except this time in Germany. He succeeds Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, who is some six months shy of his 75th birthday and will therefore retire.
- Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, will retain one is his two offices, that of Secretary of the College of Cardinals. His other office, of Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops will be exchanged for that vacated by Archbishop Eterovic: Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri’s appointment may safely be considered in light of Pope Francis’ intent to move the Synod of Bishops to an instrument of an increased and more effective collegiality among the world’s bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri is also a diplomat, having served as Apostolic Nuncio to Haïti (1992-1995), Paraguay (1995-1999), India and Nepal (1999-2002) and Brazil (2002-2012).
- Archbishop-elect Giampiero Gloder is an official of the Secretariat of State who will succeed Archbishop Stella as President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Fernando Cardinal Filoni as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Archbishop Protase Rugambwa as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta as secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Back in April, so several sources claim, Pope Francis put at least a temporary stop to the granting of the honorary title of Monsignor or, more accurately, the titles of Honorary Prelate of His Holiness and Chaplain of His Holiness. Both titles grant the use of the title ‘monsignor’ to whom it is bestowed. It is a honorific, granted upon the request of a priest’s bishop or by papal initiative to priests who have done some extraordinary service that would merit this recognition. In practice, and in some areas, the titles have also een given almost automatically to priests who reached a certain age or number of years in one position or function.
Bishops also use the title of monsignor, but this comes with their consecration as bishops and is therefore not an honorary title.
It is said that Pope Francis wants to await the first meeting of the college of eight cardinals that he has appointed to advise him in reforming the Curia, before possibly restoring the practice. Or not, as the case may be. The cardinals Bertello, Errázuriz Ossa, Monsengwo Pasinya, Gracias, O’Malley, Marx, Pell and Rodríguez Maradiaga will meet next month.
Six months into this pontificate, it should come as no surprise that Pope Francis’ priorities do not lie with the granting of honours and titles. Of course, he has appointed bishops and archbishops, but that is quite different, flowing from the need of a diocese for a shepherd. What this means for Francis’ first consistory seems clear: don’t hold your breath. While there are a number of clear candidates to be created cardinal – among them the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, to name but one – they will be kept waiting a while longer, I would think.
And why not, after all? With 111 electors there is no shortage of cardinals who can participate in a conclave, and we have no reason to assume one is forthcoming (then again, this time last year we thought much the same…). Metropolitan archbishops can do their jobs just as well without being cardinals, and the same would go for prefects and presidents of the offices of the Curia. However, the College of Cardinals can be a valuable aid in running the Church, and Pope Francis will very likely be using it as such. In fact, with the title of cardinals comes the responsibility to function as such. The Pope can call consistories to assemble the entire college to deliberate, advise and decide about any given topic. And before long, I would think, Pope Francis may want to have the Secretary of State, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, to name three Curial officials who are not yet cardinals, in that College.
Making the rounds in the rumour mill for a while now, it has been announced today: succeeding 78-year-old Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State is 58-year-old Archbishop Pietro Parolin. Who is this new number two in the Vatican?
Pietro Parolin has been working in Rome for the better part of his priesthood, although his ‘official’ diplomatic career is relatively short. From 2002 to 2009 he was Undersecretary for the relations with States in the Secretariat of State, and since 2009 he has been the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. With that function came the title of archbishop, and Parolin was consecrated as such by Pope Benedict XVI. He holds the titular see of Acquapendente.
The summary given here gives an indication of Parolin’s role and influence behind the scenes, even before he was named to the Secretariat in 2002. Pope Francis clearly chooses for experience, but whether the position of the Secretary of State will continue in much the same lines as it did under the last two papacies remains to be seen. The Franciscan reforms are still to gain their momentum, but whatever they will constitute, Archbishop Pietro Parolin will play his part in them.
The Secretary of State runs the entire apparatus of the political and diplomatic duties of the Holy See. He is Always a cardinal, and as Archbishop Parolin is not, he will officially be the Pro-Secretary of State until he is made a cardinal in Pope Francis’ first consistory.
Archbishop Parolin is the youngest Secretary of State since Eugenio Pacelli, the later Pope Pius XII, was appointed at the age of 53 in 1930.
Archbishop Parolin will officially take on his new duties on 15 October.
With this appointment, Pope Francis has also confirmed other members of the Secretariat of State in their functions. As some will recall, the Pope retained the members of the Curia in their functions for the time being after his election. Earlier, he confirmed the vicar-general of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and now he is joined by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for the Relations with States; Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs; and Msgr. Peter Wells, the Assessor for General Affairs.
Also confirmed was the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. This should lay to rest the persistent rumours that the close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI somehow did not get along with the new pope, a sort of clash between the old and the new. Archbishop Gánswein of course said as much already during a visit to Germany, earlier in August.
From 2:15: “When I am with Pope Francis, I have to read in the Bayernischen Zeitung that the chemistry between him and me does not work, or that I have a culture shock because he is an Argentinean and I am not, because I come from a Benedictine background and he from a Jesuit background… All nonsense.”
More as it comes in.
Photo credit: Reuters
A glance at GCatholic.com‘s list of episcopal appointments revealed something of an anomaly on 31 July last. In one day, both of Slovenia’s metropolitan archbishops, Anton Stres (pictured below at left) of Ljubljana and Marjan Turnšek (below at right) of Maribor, resigned from their sees. Neither had reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 yet (Stres is 70 and Turnšek only 58).
The official statement via the Vatican Information Service merely states the facts and cites canon 401 paragraph 2 of the Code of Canon Law. This paragraph states:
“A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”
So all we know now is that both archbishops have apparently become “less able” to perform their duties because of some “grave cause”.
Statements on the diocesan websites in question, however, shed more light on the matter (Archbishop Stres’s statement, Archbishop Turnšek’s statement). The Archdiocese of Maribor has been in financial dire straits and both the current ordinary (Turnšek) as its former auxiliary bishop and coadjutor archbishop (Stres) have been taken to task about it, although neither is responsible for causing the situation, as both emphasise in their statements. In late April, both archbishops say, Pope Francis had communicated to them the invitation to resign. Difficult as this is for the Church in Slovenia, this double forced resignation can be seen in the same light as the Holy Father’s efforts to clean up the Roman Curia and the financial household of the Vatican bank, for instance.
Bishops have their obligations and responsibilities and with this step Pope Francis shows that he is just as ready as Pope Benedict XVI was in asking them to take these responsibilities.
Archbishop Stres was auxiliary bishop of Maribor from 2000 to 2006, and Coadjutor Archbishop in 2009, before being appointed to Ljubljana. Archbishop Turnšek was Coadjutor Archbishop from 2009 to 2011 and ordinary of Maribor since February of 2011. Slovenia has six dioceses, of which Ljubljana and Maribor are Metropolitan Archdioceses. With the retirements, Pope Francis has appointed apostolic administrators until new archbishops are appointed. For Ljubljana this is Bishop Andrej Glavan of Novo Mesto, and for Maribor Bishop Stanislav Lipovšek of Celje. Both bishops will oversee current affairs in the archdioceses in addition to their duties in their own dioceses.
Photo credit:  Vid Gajšek
Turning 80 on Christmas Day of this year, Joachim Cardinal Meisner is among the oldest diocesan ordinaries. Bishops are required to tender their resignation upon their 75th birthday, although the Pope is free to allow or disregard it as and when he sees fit. Cardinal Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, has six other active ordinaries above him in age, as well as three Curial prelates, one auxiliary bishop and the prelate of Opus Dei. And four of these are clerics of non-Latin Catholic Churches, who may not always have the same rules regarding age and retirement.
When Pope Francis will allow Cardinal Meisner is as yet unknown, but the cardinal has his post-retirement plans ready nonetheless, as he reveals in Polish church magazine Gosc Niedzielny. He intends to be regularly available to hear confessions in Cologne’s Dom Cathedral, to visit sick priests and to be of help “where there is need”. He will be the first archbishop of Cologne to enjoy his retirement since Archbishop Paul Melchers, who left the see in 1885.
In the same interview, Cardinal Meisner also comes to the defense of his fellow countryman, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. “I am almost ashamed as a German, as a Catholic Christian, to see how little this great Pope’s proclamation has been accepted and valued here,” he says. “The Church in Germany does not know what ‘treasure in the field’ they had in this Pope.” And the reason for this, so Cardinal Meisner says, may be a “kind of condescension and arrogance”, and perhaps also the existence of an anti-Catholic attitude in the homeland of the Reformation. Germany, with its society that is often just as anti-Christian as the Marxist regime that once ruled in the eastern part of the country, with the sole exception being the lack of a socialist ideology, is once again mission territory, he claims.
A harsh farewell, perhaps, but not without its grains of truth. Let’s just hope the cardinal, who can look back on 38 years of service as a bishop, and more than 50 as a priest, does not retire with such negative feelings.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa