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More than a year after the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis is still slowly confirming the heads of Curia departments in their offices. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned, they also did and it was up to the new Pope to either confirm them again or select others to take over their duties. Usually, confirmation is a matter of days after a new Pope is installed, but Francis took his time.

ravasiToday he confirmed the staff of three departments: the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz as Prefect), the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran as President and Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot as Secretary) and the Pontifical Council for Culture (Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (pictured above) as President, Bishop Carlos Alberto de Pinho Moreira Azevedo as Delegate and Bishop Barthélemy Adoukonou as Secretary). Interestingly enough is that these are not all officials of these departments. None of the undersecretaries - Father Sebastiano Paciolla and Sister Nicoletta Spezzati of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, Msgr. Indunil Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage of Interreligious Dialogue and Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda of Culture – are mentioned. Perhaps this is intentional and an indication of Pope Francis’ efforts to slim down the Curia.

van looyThe Holy Father also appointed a whole raft of new members of these departments – cardinals, bishops, priests, but also religious superiors and lay persons. Among the new members of the Congregation for Consecrated Life are Bishops Lucas Van Looy (right) and Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt. Bishop van Looy (72) is a Salesian of Don Bosco and bishop of Ghent since 2003, while Bishop Hanke (59) is a member of the Order of Saint Benedict and became bishop of Eichstätt in 2006. Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, lastly, was appointed as a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

101020marx250In five rounds, the German bishops this morning elected Reinhard Cardinal Marx to succeed Archbishop Robert Zollitsch as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. He is the sixth chairman since the conference came into being in 1966, and with his election it is once more led by a cardinal, as was the case pre-Zollitsch.

One of the first questions that come to mind is how the cardinal will balance this new duty with the many responsibilities he already has. In chronological order, Cardinal Marx is:

  • Archbishop of München und Freising
  • President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences
  • Member of the Council of Cardinals that assist Pope Francis in reforming the Curia
  • Coordinator of the new Council for the Economy

In addition, he is, like other cardinals, also a member of various dicasteries in the Curia. In Cardinal Marx’s case these are:

  • the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
  • the Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

During the presentation to the media, this morning, Cardinal Marx already addressed this question, saying he might have to consider resigning from some of these functions. As chairman of the bishops’ conference, he logically can’t resign as archbishop of Munich. Likewise, it is probably not wise that he resign from the Council of Cardinals or the Council for the Economy, considering their importance and the fact that both are still in their infancy. His presidency of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences is probably fairly easy to retire from, as is the membership of one or more dicasteries in the Curia.

In any case, the question if his coordinatorship of the Council for the Economy would require permanent residency in Rome (as it does for Cardinal George Pell in his new role as president of the related Secretariat for the Economy) is now answered.

Several months ago, Raymond Cardinal Burke gave an interview in which he was critical about Pope Francis. He made some assumptions there about thew wisdom of the Pope’s giving so many interviews, assumptions and comments which I think were ill-advised, and more than a few people connected this to the perceived ‘demotion’ of the cardinal when Pope Francis re-shuffled some departments of the Curia and some of their members.

Cardinal-BurkeA few days ago, Cardinal Burke had an article published in L’Osservatore Romano in which he sheds a light on the priorities of Pope Francis. This article goes a long way in repairing the damage done by the earlier interview and is an interesting study on how the controversial topics of abortion, euthanasia and marriage fit in Pope Francis’ approach of pastoral love.

“It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia, or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman. Rather he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced. The understanding and living of these truths are, so to speak, the outer manifestation of the inner communion with God the Father in Christ, His only-begotten Son, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s a good read which puts the words and actions of Pope Francis in the context of Scripture and on what some of his predecessors have said and done. I translated the article into Dutch here.

Almost a year after his election, Pope Francis is still slowly but surely confirming the heads of the Curia departments. Yesterday it was the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s turn, a dicastery which Pope Francis is said to want to give a higher profile, maybe even raise it to full Congregation status. The Council is headed by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko and has German Bishop Josef Clemens as Secretary and Spanish Msgr. Miguel Delgado Galindo as Undersecretary. The former two have been at the head of the Council for almost ten years.

kardinaal-EijkPope Francis also selected a fair number of new members and consultors for the Laity Council. And among these is our own Cardinal Wim Eijk. His seat on the Council is his fourth appointment in the Curia. He is also a board member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a member of the Congregation for the Clergy and  of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

In the media, the persons of Cardinal Eijk and Pope Francis are often placed opposite each other: the cardinal as the strict, emotionless ruler; and the Pope as the friendly, concerned father. Reality is quite different. Of course, both have different characters, but they are much closer in their vision than many would have us believe. There are those who are continuously waiting until Pope Francis removes Cardinal Eijk from his appointments in the Curia or even from his Archdiocese of Utrecht. In reality, the Pope has just confirmed his confidence in the cardinal.

Other new members include Reinhard Cardinal Marx of Munich, and among the consultors we find Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Bishop Christoph Hegge, auxiliary of Münster, and Dr. Marguerite Peeters of the Institute for Intercultural Dialogue Dynamics in Belgium.

I added the official correction from the bishops’ conference to how Trouw represented the facts below:

eijkAccording to Trouw, preparations for a hypothetical papal visit to the Netherlands was already well-advanced when Cardinal Wim Eijk, as president of the Bishops’ Conference, vetoed the visit, doing so, he explained, after discussing the plans with the Pope on 10 January.

It seems amazing that the preparation was already so well underway: security was planned, money was available and there was even a script for the visit. While the idea was floated by Bishop Jos Punt several months ago, rumours did not become serious until the ad limina visit two months ago, and plans weren’t even officially discussed until the January meeting of the conference. For there to be a script ready this soon seems incredible. The article in Trouw states that Bishop Punt presented a full schedule for a one-day papal visit to Amsterdam during the plenary meeting in autumn. By the looks of it, this seems more like the trademark enthusiasm of Bishop Punt. A papal visit to his diocese would have been unlikely without the involvement of the rest of the conference. It would have been a national event anyway.

francisAs president of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Eijk is fully within his right to veto such plans, of course. And while the Trouw article suggests that “inside sources” confimr that no papal visit was discussed during Cardinal Eijk’s meeting with Pope Francis, the bishops’ spokeswoman rightly states that such meetings are confidential: we never get to hear what the Pope discusses with those he meets, especially not when they’re cardinals. Pope and cardinals can decide for themselves what they want to share of their conversation, and Cardinal Eijk has decided to keep it at this.

In general, the sources who say that a visit would have been possible or even desired by the Pope, are unnamed sources in the Vatican. I don’t think there’s much credibility we can attach to those…

Is it a shame that Pope Francis isn’t visiting? Of course. It would have been wonderful. It would also have been expensive, and I can understand that that would have kept the Pope at home, even though the Netherlands is, in some sense, a peripheral area in the Catholic world. And I don’t think that the bishops are ready to manage this… Pope Francis’ visit to the Netherlands, even if it were for just one day, would be making headlines for weeks. Considering the media’s opinion and track record of reporting on Catholic affairs, there would have been an enormous amount of misrepresentation of the Church and the faith, which would have to be corrected by the bishops and the faithful (who need to do this much more often, anyway). In that sense, I am glad that the Pope is not coming over.

And then there is the financial side. The bishops’ conference is cutting costs on all sides, and a papal visit is not going to be financed completely by the Holy See. While housing Pope Francis, with his sober tastes, would not be a problem, using the Amsterdam Arena football stadium for a prayer service, the logistics, the security, and all sorts of additional costs would be irresponsibly high at this moment.

Would the visit attract enough people? I think so. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1985 was disastrous, but times have changed. The media haven’t turned on Pope Francis yet (which they will when they find out he is not going to change Church teaching on sexuality, marriage, family and such). So in that sense a visit would be desirable now, more so than in the future. But in what sense it would be for the perceived persona of the Pope instead of a pastoral visit to strengthen the faithful can be debated…

Logistics, finances and communication skills would prohibit this visit, in my opinion. While Pope Francis would be enthusiastically received by all layers of society (imagine the circus when politicians all want to be involved…), I fear the effects of the visit would not last very long.

It’s a sad decision, but a good one, I think. Enthusiasm for a visit is simply not enough to make it happen.

EDIT: While my general comments above stand, it seems that the facts of the decision are somewhat different than represented by Trouw. The decision to not have a papal visit was not the cardinal’s, but the Pope’s. Read below my translation of the official statement from the bishops’ conference:

 On 10 January last, Cardinal Eijk met with Pope Francis in a private audience. The newspaper Trouw today misrepresents what both discussed during the meeting. Trouw states that the Pope and Cardinal Eijk decided jointly that a visit to the Netherlands would not take place. Cardinal Eijk is said to have also stated that in the plenary meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. That is completely besides the truth.

During the ad limina visit Cardinal Eijk replied to reporters’ questions that Pope Francis is welcome in the Netherlands. On 10 January he probed Pope Francis about the possibility of a papal visit to our country. The Pope himself indicated that he did not see a chance to do so in the foreseeable future. He is already planning to visit the Holy Land and several other countries. There is therefore no opportunity to visit the Netherlands soon.

Added to that are the Pope’s plans to reorganise the Roman Curia. As is known he has established a commission of eight cardinals from all continents who regularly meet in Rome to advise him in that matter. In the coming years this reorganisation will require much time and attention from the Pope. Therefore he has little opportunity to conduct travels abroad.

Trouw claims that the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference has said that Cardinal Eijk informed the Bishops’ Conference that the Holy Father and he had decided that the visit would not take place. In her e-mail to Trouw reporter Emiel Hakkenes, of Friday 31 January last, the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference made it known that the Pope decided himself not to visit the Netherlands (for now).

It is about five weeks before the consistory, so the announcement was expected any day, but Pope Francis managed to surprise again. At the end of today’s Angelus he announced his first batch of cardinals, 16 in all. The list is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who’s who.

  • 220px-Pietro_parolinArchbishop Pietro Parolin (58), Secretary of State. No surprise here. The Secretary of State has traditionally always been a cardinal, and although the position looks to undergo some changes in Pope Francis’ curial reforms, but the title and rank of the occupant is not among them. In contrast to his important function in the Curia, Cardinal-designate is quite young. Only three current members of the entire College (Woelki, Tagle and Thottunkal) are younger.
  • baldisseriArchbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (73), Secetary General of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. Also no surprise, but for different reasons. The important role given to him early on in Francis’ pontificate, organising the two upcoming Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and already wearing the red skullcap that Pope Francis himself wore until his election to the papacy, indicated that he would be among the Pope’s first cardinals. Cardinal-designate Baldisseri will be the third Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to be made a cardinal. The previous one was Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte.
  • müllerArchbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (66), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Head of the first among equals of Curial dicasteries, Archbishop Müller was also quite certain to be among the new cardinals. Ever since the Popes were no longer heads of the Doctrinal office, all Prefects were cardinals. Some have made assumptions that Cardinal-designate Müller was not going to be made a cardinal, because the ‘orthodox’ prelate seemed to be at odds with the ‘liberal’ Pope, but those are evidently mere rumours. The Prefect and the Pope work closely and well together, and Müller has even hosted the Holy Father for dinner.
  • Mons_-Beniamino-StellaArchbishop Beniamino Stella (72), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Another sure candidate because of his function. The diplomat-prelate has made a rapid rise in the Curia last year, but that does not make his appointment surprising. Since as far back as the 16th century, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has been a cardinal.
  • nicholsArchbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols (68), Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom. Somewhat of a surprise, although the UK is now without any active cardinal electors, with Scottish Cardinal O’Brien in effective retirement. For some he is considered too liberal, but the fact remains that Cardinal-designate Nichols has been an archbishop for almost 14 years (first of Birmingham, now of Westminster), and in his current see he is the 11th cardinal. In fact, since its establishment in 1850, all ordinaries of Westminster were made cardinals.
  • monsleopoldobrenesArchbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano (64), Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua. Now we are getting into the more interesting and unexpected choices for red hats. Cardinal-designate Brenes Solórzano is only the second archbishop of Managua to be made a cardinal. He is also the second elector in all of Central America (not counting Mexico).
  • lacroixArchbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (56), Archbishop of Québec, Canada. The successor of Cardinal Ouellet in the French-Canadian capital, Cardinal-designate Lacroix could have been expected to be made a cardinal some day, but he did not feature on many lists. Québec has been a cardinal see before, but rarely automatically. At 56, he will also be the second-youngest member of the College.
  • KutwaArchbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa (68), Archbishop of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. From the start of speculations a likely candidate in traditionally cardinal-deprived Africa, Cardinal-designate Kutwa is the third archbishop of Abidjan in a row to be made a cardinal, with his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Agré, still alive. Before being appointed to Abidjan in 2006, Archbishop Kutwa had been Archbishop of Gagnoa since 2001.
  • tempestaArchbishop Orani João Tempesta (63), Archbishop of São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Host of the most recent World Youth Days and head of one of global Catholicism’s largest communities, Cardinal-designate Tempesta follows in the footsteps of his predecessors since the late 19th century.
  • bassettiArchbishop Gualtiero Bassetti (71), Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy. The only Italian ordinary on the list, Cardinal-designate Bassetti is a bit of a surprise. Perugia has rarely supplied a cardinal. His appointment comes in lieu of other, more likely, sees such as Turin or Venice.  Th vice-president of the Italian bishops’ conference was recently also appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
  • poli mitraArchbishop Mario Aurelio Poli (66), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis’ own successor in the Argentinean capital and in fact the second ordinary appointed in his papacy, Cardinal-designate Poli need not have been a surprise choice. Five of his six predecessors in Buenos Aires also became cardinals.
  • yeom soo-jungArchbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung (70), Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea. As South Korea is one of the fastest growing Catholic countries in the world, and certainly in Asia, it is certainly fitting for its capital’s archbishop to be made a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Yeom Soo-Jung is the third of Seoul’s archbishops to be made a cardinal. In addition to the Archdiocese of Seoul, the cardinal-designate is theoretically also pastorally responsible for the Catholics of North Korea.
  • ezzati andrelloArchbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (71), Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Chile. A main-stay on the lists, Cardinal-designate Ezzati Andrello heads a traditional cardinalatial see. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals. The Salesian cardinal-designate was previously archbishop of Concepción, also in Chile, before being appointed to that nation’s capital.
  • ouédraogoArchbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo (68), Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Only the second cardinal to hail from this western African country, he is a bit of a surprise. Cardinal-designate Ouédraogo is president of the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso, and a welcome addition to the College, considering his nationality and heritage.
  • quevedoArchbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (74), Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines. A second elector from the Philippines was very welcome, but it being the archbishop of Cotabato is quite surprising. No cardinal has come from there before. Cardinal-designate Quevedo, however, has been archbishop of Nueva Segovia, and president of both the Philippine bishops’ conference and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
  • chibly_langloisBishop Chibly Langlois (55), Archbishop of Les Cayes, Haiti. Another young cardinal, and the first from Les Cayes. Cardinal-designate Langlois is even more noticeable for not being an archbishop and the first Haitian cardinal. The Haitian hierarchy, then, looks rather unique, with the bishop of a regular diocese wearing the red, while the nation’s two archbishop do not. Bishop Langlois has been the president of the bishops’ conference of Haiti since the end of 2011.
  • capovillaArchbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla (98), Archbishop-prelate of Loreto, Italy. The oldest cardinal, Cardinal-designate Capovilla is a remarkable choice. He was Blessed Pope John XXIII secretary during the latter’s entire papacy, and we can therefore see his elevation in light of the Blessed Pope’s upcoming canonisation and the Second Vatican Council he convened. He will be the oldest cardinal of the College, and also the oldest to be created in the Church’s history.
  • aguilarArchbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar (84), Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain. A retired ordinary of a see which has supplied only one other cardinal in the past, the creation of Cardinal-designate Aguilar must be seen as Pope Francis personal choice as well as, perhaps, the importance he attaches to the mission. Cardinal-designate Aguilar is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  • felixArchbishop Kelvin Edward Felix (80), Archbishop emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia. Another first as no cardinals have ever come from the smaller Caribbean nations. Cardinal-designate Felix’s elevation is another step in creating a more representative College of Cardinals.

All in all, the biglietto fits well with the priorities of Pope Francis, as the new cardinals come from all corners of the world, from the Curia and (in larger part) from the world’s dioceses, and are not limited to the standard traditional cardinalatial sees. But it also tells us that Pope Francis is not willing to let go of tradition altogether. For the proper functioning of the Curia and the College of Cardinals, it seems, he recognises that he needs the Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Clergy to be cardinals. But he also wants the important Synod of Bishops to be represented well, hence that body’s Secretary General’s presence on the list. He understands the importance of major sees like Westminster, Québec, Abidjan, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Seoul, but also Managua and Ouagadougou, all on equal footing. And lastly, it seems, there are cardinals who warrant the red for their personal qualities – Bassetti, Quevedo and Langlois, as well as the new impulse their elevation would give to their local faith communities.

And then, even the elevation of three non-electors tells us something. Archbishop Capovilla’s presence is especially poignant, as it connects the current pontificate with that of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council he convened. Pope Francis is very clearly a child of the Council. Some have noted his physical likeness to Good Pope John, but here we see a hint that that likeness may well run deeper.

Of the 19 new cardinals, 16 will be electors, being under the age of 80. Only four of the new cardinals (Parolin, Baldisseri, Müller and Stella) will be Cardinal Deacons, as the are members of the Curia. The remaining 12 will be Cardinal Priests, being current or retired ordinaries.

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700In an interview with Die Welt, published yesterday,  Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, retired ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, spoke, among other things, about the proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. His answers are somewhat disconcerting.

On the question if the topic is now off the table, after Archbishop Müller’s opposition to the proposal which originated in Archbishop Zollitsch’s Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, the archbishop replied:

“How can this topic be off the table? 35 to 40 percent of marriages end in divorce these days. As Church we ask ourselves: How should we relate to those concerned?  This is the question that our pastoral care office’s proposal asks. I feel much strengthened by Pope Francis, who has called his own Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family for October of 2014. There we want to present what we in Freiburg have drafted.”

Archbishop Zollitsch is of course correct when he says that the numbers call for us to be concerned about the large number of marriages, both sacramental and civil, which end prematurely. And in that sense his efforts to draft proposals to put that concern into practice are only to be lauded. But it is good te recall that Archbishop Müller did not nix the proposal. He told the German bishops to withdraw it and revise two points – that faithful can decide for themselves whether or not they should receive Communion, and that a sort of ‘pseudo-marriage rite’ may be celebrated in the church for people who enter into a second civil marriage – but he maintained that the proposal as a whole contains “very correct and important pastoral teachings”. The interviewer’s suggestion that Archbishop Müller wants the topic off the table, and Archbishop Zollitsch’s failure to correct this assessment, suggests a serious misrepresentation of the facts.

The interviewer continues:

Archbishop Müller has written to you that the draft should be “withdrawn and revised”.

“That is the judgement of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Müller’s position corresponds with the Tradition he represents. But the majority of people who have approached us were positive about the proposal. That tells me that we are pursuing an important issue and that it is important to find a viable solution. Pope Francis often speaks of being close to people. I think that that can be a good direction, also in dealing with civilly remarried.”

Here it gets more serious, as facts are more distorted. Yes, Archbishop Müller represents a Tradition, but this is not because of his position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but because of his identity as a Catholic Christian. That means, then, that we all represent that Tradition, which is the Church’s and which we all confess and reaffirm in every Mass. That many people are positive about the proposal means nothing in this case, as faith and Tradition are not decided by majority vote. Of course, the issue is important and a viable solution must be found. Not because many people want it, but because it is good for them.

Is your upcoming retirement or the general euphoria about Pope Francis the reason for being so relaxed about comments from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

“Neither.  As President of the Bishops’ Conference I have, in recent years, after our spring and autumn meeting, travelled to Rome to explain our position. If a prefect of one the various Congregations would then oppose this position, I would think to go slowly. A Prefect is not the Pope. I look for dialogue, and for me that is the way of collegiality and the dialogue in the Church.”

MüllerSo what Archbishop Zollitsch is saying here is that the opinions of Curial officials, who are tasked with specific duties in the Church (in the case of the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith this includes to make sure that the faith is represented completely and properly and shared in all its fullness), duties which come with the necessary amount of authority, do not matter? That it is simply a matter of diplomacy: Oh, if I can’t get my way like this, I’ll just try it like that? Ordinaries, of which Archbishop Zollitsch is one, have the same duty as I mentioned above for Archbishop Müller, but if they fail in performing them, corrections must come from a higher level: the Pope, who delegates some duties to those called to assist him in his. And among those are the members of the Curia. Simply saying, “a Prefect is not the Pope”, is tantamount to ignoring the entire existence, duty, authority and function of the Curia. And in this case, Archbishop Zollitsch also conveniently ignores the fact that Archbishop Müller clearly stated that he composed his article on the issue in L’Osservatore Romano, and the subsequent letter to the German bishops, after consultation with the Pope. It is therefore impossible to say that this Prefect is simply acting for himself. We can safely assume that Pope Francis is fully behind Archbishop Müller in this case.

Hiding behind bland statements like “collegiality” and “dialogue” (which are not meaningless in themselves, but they are as used here), is incredibly naive. Archbishop Müller, speaking after discussing hs beforehand with the Pope, has been very clear. He has the duty and authority to correct the German bishops. That is dialogue. Dialogue is not a collection of niceties without any consequences for anyone. It is the collegial correction of errors, which must be given and received in fraternity. Ignoring and pushing them aside as simple opinions of some Prefect who is just acting for himself is a distortion of facts, faith and duty.

Christmas is the day on which we reopen our hearts to Christ, to receive Him as He was received more than 2,000 years ago. We find Him also in the people around us, with their questions, curiosity and need for confirmation in and strengthening of their faith.

Hence another round of questions to be answered. I find these questions in the search terms that have lead people to my blog. In some cases their search will have given them an answer, in other cases it won’t. For them, and for other as well, I will try and give short comprehensive answers that may be of help. All questions were asked in the last month.

Will Archbishop Georg Gänswein become a cardinal?

Archbishop-Georg-Ganswein-900x500Archbishop Gänswein is the Prefect of the Papal Household, personal assistant to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and one of the most visible prelates next to the Pope. At general audience and other major events with the Holy Father, he can be seen at his side. Will he be made a cardinal in next February’s consistory? I would expect not. There are a few reasons for this. No Prefect of the Papal Household has been a cardinal since Pietro Gasparri from 1914 to 1918, and he was already a cardinal when appointed to the office. However, the five Prefects between Gasparri and Gänswein were made a cardinal later: Giovanni Tacci Porcelli in 1921, after wrapping up his duties as Prefect of the Holy Apostolic Palaces and before being made Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Mario Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano in 1969, also immediately after completing his work as Prefect; the same goes for Jacques Martin in 1988; Dino Monduzzi in 1998; and James Harvey in 2012, when he was made Archpriest of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. So there is certainly a precedent for Archbishop Gänswein being made a cardinal after being given another position in the Curia or in a diocese somewhere. But will Pope Francis be the one to do it? I have my doubts. I expect that his first consistory may be fairly light on Curial prelates and heavy on diocesan bishops, shepherds in the truest sense. And creating men as cardinals as a form of reward? I don’t see Francis doing that either.

I am a Catholic but have not been to Church in a very long time. How do I get back?

Go. Just go to a Church near you, or further away of you want, and enter. You are always welcome. Christ is there and He will not turn you away. Enter and sit down, open your heart to Christ. Take all the time you need. And if the time is right for you, strike up a conversation. With a volunteer, the sacristan, a Massgoer, the parish priest, even. They can and will welcome you and help you in whatever way you want and need. Don’t think there is a lot you need to do as soon as you walk into the church. God is patient. Once you are ready, the priest can help you take the next steps to return to full communion with Christ and His Church.

Who is Catholic Bishop Lewis Zeigler?

archbishop-zeiglerHe is the Metropolitan Archbishop of Monrovia in Liberia. Archbishop Zeigler is 69 and was appointed as Bishop of Gbarnga in Liberia in 2002. In 2009 he was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Monrovia, ie. auxiliary bishop with right of succession, in 2009. In 2011, he became the archbishop. He has also been the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Liberia since 2005.

Cardinal Burke demoted?

I’ll leave that to Father John Zuhlsdorf to explain and interpret.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk as cardinal?

Archbishop ShevchukThis one is a bit more likely. Major Archbishop Shevchuk is the head of a Church united to Rome, and Pope Francis knows both him and the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Until 2011, Archbishop Shevchuk was auxiliary bishop and apostolic administrator of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires, the Ukrainian Catholic jurisdiction in Argentina, with its see in the same city where Pope Francis was archbishop until this year. Pope Francis has shown sympathy to the eastern churches, and Archbishop Shevchuk has lobbied for his church to be elevated to a Patriarchate. His position and Pope Francis’ familiarity and sympathy make him a very likely future cardinal. And at the age of 43 he would be the youngest cardinal by far.

Four bishops have written their thoughts and feelings about last week’s ad limina visit down and shared the resulting texts on the websites of their respective dioceses. Here, in full, are my translations, reflecting the encouragement that the bishops took home from their encounter with Pope Francis and the offices of the Curia.

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden:

“What did the ad limina visit bring me as bishop of the North? I think in the first place encouragement. Our report included many statistics which cause concern. The Church, after all, continues to shrink. But the Pope and also his coworkers in the various Congregations and Pontifical Council continuously warned the bishops against a sterile pessimism. The message was always: be patient, make contact, try to connect, don’t write anyone off, don’t blow up any bridges. Every bishop should after all be a ‘pontifex’, a bridge builder. I saw these words as a confirmation of my policy. In a recent article on the future of Roman Catholicism I summarised that policy in two words: clear and cordial. The Church of tomorrow can only thrive when she stays close to Jesus. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus for every person and our entire world should be at the heart. God’s mercy should also make us merciful and mild in how we deal with one another.

At the same time that should happen in a heartfelt and inviting way. Not with a pointing finger or a frown, but with an open attitude and a smile. There are many stalls in the modern religious market. For religious searchers the choice for Christ and His Church is not always the obvious one. For many of our contemporaries, faith is a search, a process. Parishes and church communities are called to increasingly initiate people in the treasure of Christian tradition and bring them to Christ, step by step. For ultimately every person is called to live his or her life out of the friendship with the living Christ.

Encouraged by the ad limina visit I continue my work as bishop. In turn, I hope to be able to encourage Catholics and other Christians to live the life of their Baptism. Pope Francis continuously asks us to be brave and to live out of hope. Let us grab the plough, out of the joy of the Gospel!”

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkWim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht:

“The preparations for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops were preceded by numerous speculations. What would the new Pope Francis think of the Dutch bishops? Wouldn’t they be strongly chastised for their policies? In that context, many think of the mergers of parishes and the closing of churches, which the bishops would be deciding upon out of ideological motives and because of a shortage of priests. What was striking was that the approach of sexual abuse by Church workers was now getting less attention.

In my article for the November issue of the diocesan magazine Op Tocht, which was also spread to the parishes as a letter, I discussed in detail the painful necessity of parish mergers and church closings in several locations. The archdiocese does not take the initiative to close a church. That is in the first place the responsibility of the parish councils, which then request the archbishop to remove a church from service. But in the end neither the archbishop nor the parish council make the decision, but the people who decide to no longer take part in worship and no longer support the Church financially.

In the 1950s ninety percent of the Catholics attended Church on Sunday. Today that is five percent and that percentage is still dropping. Anyone can see that church closings then become unavoidable. The same goes for parish mergers. Parishes which can no longer survive alone, can join forces with other parishes and form a new thriving faith community. We must now take our responsibility for the future. Our children who still believe must have the opportunity to celebrate and share the faith. It would be irresponsible to try and maintain everything we have now and use up all available means doing so, leaving future generations empty-handed.

The Pope understands this, and so does the Roman Curia. In other parts of the world, for example in the United States, the need for parish mergers and church closings becomes apparent. Between 2000 and 2011, 121 churches in the Diocese of Essen, Germany, were removed from use and closed.

Many other topics were also discussed. The Pope and his coworkers received, for example, detailed information from the Dutch bishops about the situation around the sexual abuse of minors. In the last months, fruitful cooperation has come into being between the chairmen of the Bishops’ Conference, the KNR (Conference of Dutch religious) and KLOKK, the major umbrella organisation for victims of sexual abuse. They jointly established a final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of claims of sexual abuse concerning deceased perpetrator and cases of sexual abuse that fall under the statute of limitations. Said chairmen also presented a joint report to Secretary Opstelten on 5 November of this year, the so-called base-measurement, in which the implementations of the recommendations of the Deetman Commission of 2011 were investigated. The report includes a number of solid pieces of advice to improve the approach to claims of sexual abuse. The Bishops’ Conference, the KNR, KLOKK, and the management and overview foundation for sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands have enthusiastically begun implementing this advice. The base-measurement was translated into English and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Dutch bishops and the KNR coupled the announcement of the final date with a call to all to supply supportive evidence for claims of sexual abuse where possible. We also called all to – contrary what sadly sometimes occurs elsewhere – not oppose victims in any way when they make a claim, or blame them for it, but support hem as much as possible. They suffered enough under the sexual abuse. We called all to help the Church clean her slate in the interest of the victims. The Pope encouraged us to continue on this road. At the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith we were also told that we chose a “good direction”.

The way in which Pope Francis replied to the Dutch bishops’ policies was heartwarming for them. He was visibly moved by the difficulties we face. His biggest fear was that we would become discouraged because of the problems we are struggling with, and that we would succumb to feelings of sorrow. He impressed upon us not lose hope, hope in the promises of Christ: “This hope never disappoints.” The message which he repeatedly drew our attention too was, “Do not look back, try not to keep what you once had, but look ahead.” A word that he continuously repeated was, “avanti, avanti, sempre avanti.” Keep going forward than do not look back at the past. In the past the Church may have had great buildings and structures, but we live in the present. In the present, you must take your responsibility.

As Dutch bishops we feel very much confirmed and encouraged by the Pope and his coworkers to go “avanti”, that is to say, forward on the path we are on. What we take with us from this very successful ad limina visit is that we should not Always look back nostalgically to a rich past, but that we must go “avanti”, forward, with our task to proclaim Christ and His Gospel. We must now take our responsibility and take the necessary measures, even if they are not always popular, to make sure that there are enough means and opportunities to also in the future proclaim the faith in Dutch society. If we don’t do anything now and maintain everything, we take away from our children the means to share the Gospel and celebrate the faith.

For the bishops it was also a special experience to be together for an entire week in Rome. In addition to unity with the world Church, the ad limina visit has also strengthened our mutual unity. Many concrete questions from the bishops have been answered by workers in the Roman Curia. We will get to work with the advice we received, in courage and enthusiasm.

The ad limina visit was closed with a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Mary Major. Here, at the end of the celebration, we answered Pope Francis’ call to us in the address he gave us in writing at Monday’s audience, to dedicate our Church province to Mary. This we did, and we confirmed it by praying the Hail Mary together. We asked Mary to pray for us to God to make our beautiful ad limina visit fruitful for the proclamation of the Catholic faith in the Netherlands.”

hoogenboomBishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

“What is the homework that Pope Francis gave the Dutch bishops during the ad limina visit?” I was asked in the preliminary conversation before a radio interview… My answer was that an ad limina visit, since its establishment in the 16th century, is first and foremost a pilgrimage of the bishops to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And that is how I look back on it as well: the ad limina visit was a precious week in which we, the Dutch bishops, prayed in the four great basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls), in the Church of the Frisians and in the Santa Maria dell’Anima (where Pope Adrian VI, from Utrecht, lies buried). The fact that, on 2 December, we could first celebrate Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the catacombs and shortly afterwards meet the personal successor of this Apostle on the see of Peter, Pope Francis, was for me without doubt the high point of our ad limina visit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls the Apostle Peter to strengthen his brothers, the other Apostles, in their faith. And that is exactly what Pope Francis did towards us as Dutch bishops. Aware of the situation in which the Dutch Roman Catholic Church finds herself, the Pope directed words of hope and encouragement to the bishops and all Roman Catholics in our country. In the ‘group talk’ with the Pope I could ask him, referring to Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13), how he sees the relation between liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and diakonia. Pope Francis’ answer was that the worship of God and the service to the neighbour, especially the neighbour in need, are inextricably entwined. He also mentioned practical examples from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires where he was archbishop. We can mirror the practical examples from our archdiocese to that; for example the food collection for the Food bank during the Chrism Mass in Apeldoorn.

That we could start the ad limina visit with a fraternal meeting with Pope Francis, despite original plans,  is to me a gift from God’s providence. During our visits to the Congregations and Pontifical Councils we reported on the developments in the Dutch Church province since the last ad limina visit in 2004. But on those occasions we also looked ahead, and time and again we heard words which referred to the joy of the Gospel, to Christian joy and the trust in God about which Pope Francis had earlier spoken with us so warmly and inspirational. A joyful message which I continue to carry with me in my life and works as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht. It was not about getting homework assigned and which you reluctantly start, but about confirmation and encouragement in performing a joyful duty for life.”

woortsBishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

We continue encouraged, with hope and joy, amid the concerns and responsibilities. The Pope and the Curia, people with their inspiration, it has all come much nearer for me. I am grateful for having experienced this and also grateful that we are part of that one world Church, led by the Pope, above all of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Mary, Peter and Paul and all those other saints and blesseds. It has strengthened me, not least the daily Masses and prayer and sympathy of many at home. That does good.

What will also stay with me: when we left the room after the conversation with the Pope, I spoke with him about the contact with rabbis and Jewish organisations. He squeezed my arm and indicated: continue with that. He was happy about it.”

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

21 February: [Dutch] Aartsbisschop Angelo Becciu - Brief aan de Nederlandse studenten.
Namens paus Franciscus reageert de Substituut van het Staatsecretariaat op pausgroet.tk.

20 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Welkomstwoord op het Consistorie.
De paus begroet de kardinalen voor het 11e Buitengewone Consistorie, en vat de doelstellingen kort samen.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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