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The Dutch bishops have not yet spoken much in public about the upcoming Synod, but today Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch, does. And he makes a point that has been emphasised before by both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke: the Synod is not about divorce, remarriage and admission to the Eucharist. The question is a bigger one, as Bishop Mutsaerts explains:

Bisschop Rob Mutsaerts“With the extraordinary Synod of the Family which opens on 5 October, Pope Francis mostly aims for a greater appreciation of the Christian marriage as a sacrament. It is clear that in today’s culture the Biblical vision on marriage and family is considered to be virtually unattainable, and is seen more as a burden than as good news. Perhaps that is the reason for Pope Francis to have scheduled the beatification of Paul VI at the end of the Synod, as a closing statement.

Paul VI was a staunch defender of Christian marriage. His famed and infamous encyclical Humanae Vitae, however, achieved the opposite according to public opinion. The Biblical ideal was almost completely forgotten. It is to be hoped that October’s  Synod will not result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. Expectations, after all, are high. Some fervently hope that the Pope will change the Church’s teaching about divorced and remarried people; others fear he will. That would result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. And that is exactly what Pope Francis is afraid of: “I have not been happy that so many people – even church people, priests – have said: “Ah, the Synod will be about giving communion to the divorced”, and went straight to that point”, the Pope told reporters on the return flight from Israel.

The questions is much broader. The family is in crisis. Young people rarely choose marriage. They choose others ways of living together. The family is in crisis because marriage is in crisis, according to the firm opinion of Francis.

I hope that the Pope will get the Synod he has in mind, and not the Synod which is mainly concerned with the single question of divorced and remarried faithful. That is certainly a genuine problem, but a far more complex problem lies at its root: few understand marriage as a Christian vocation, strengthened by sacramental mercy. Not without reason did the Pope give  it “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelisation” as title, and he placed it as such emphatically within the context of evangelisation. Evangelisation is without meaning if we consider it without the Gospel. The words of Jesus to both the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery was hard to accept for those who heard it then and those who hear it now. Don’t forget that the Apostles thought that Jesus’ teachings about marriage were so difficult that it would be better not to marry. If the Synod is true to the Gospel – can she be otherwise? – she can expect the same response, and it will be her duty to inspire confidence that the Christian marriage is still recommendable.

Pope Francis is keen to emphasise that Christian marriage is a sacrament. Much of the confusion surrounding marriage and divorce arises when we lose sight of the fact that marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is not indissoluble because two people make a promise for life. The Church can dispense people from their promises. That is een true for the vows of religious. But the Church can’t undo a sacrament. Marriage is indissoluble for the same reason that we have tabernacles: a consecrated host can’t be ‘deconsecrated’, just like Baptism or the ordination of a priest can’t be undone. Even a priest who has ben laicised remains a priest, even though he can’t exercise the office of priest (although he can hear confessions in emergencies). Nobody, no Synod and also no Pope, can undo a valid sacrament. That’s simply how it is. We shouldn’t therefore expect a relaxation of rules regarding divorced and remarried people in regard to their receiving Holy Communion. Those who do expect this will be disappointed from the outset.

Most Catholics are unaware of the sacramental character of their marriage. Marriage, by the way, is the only of the seven sacrament which is not administered by a priest or deacon, but by lay people, by husband and wife when they say yes to each other. This is the sacrament that gives strength and mercy to be able to keep promises. That is what it is about for the Pope.”

kasperCardinal Walter Kasper has come increasingly under fire from fellow cardinals and others in the Church for his comments about marriage, divorce and Communion. While some are concerned by these visible disagreements, and Cardinal Kasper himself having even suggested that his critics are personally attacking him and Pope Francis, this really is simply what Pope Francis has said he wanted: open and free discussion about the topics that the Synod will devote its time to next month. And while I usually don’t want to commit myself to stark distinctions between left and right, orthodox and liberal, in this discussion it really does seem that those who want the Church to change or loosen up her teachings are honestly insulted by those who disagree.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper commented on the situation. I have translated some of his answer which I think are most interesting in this context.

“Of course everyone has the right to publicly state their opinion. Nothing can be brought against that. But I wonder if the entire Synod is not being reduced to a single point. It is about the pastoral challenges in the context of the new evangelisation. That is far broader field. An insider problem is being place at the centre here. What matters is to be able to speak again and discuss the beauty and the Christian understanding of the family, which many today no longer know – it is about far more fundamental problems than simply this one. And secondly: what sort of understanding of the Gospel is this? It is the Good News. One can’t turn it into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not. The Pope wants an open discussion, and that should be held. Then, in the Synod, to listen quietly to one another, in an atmosphere of prayer, and the in the end make a decision for the good of the faithful. I will not enter into polemics.”

“Without doubt the family is the cell of society and the cell of the life of the Church. In the family, in marriage and family, life and faith come closest together. It is an essential reality of life which has been raised to the glory of a sacrament. In that way it is a very vital and central issue for the Church to stand for marriage and family and offer solutions for the crisis that exists today. It is about these pastoral challenges, which is the theme of the Synod, not a war of doctrine. Of course, pastoral care is impossible without being oriented on the truth. But the truth is not an abstract system, but in the  end it is Jesus Christ in person, and we need to bring the people close to Christ. In that sense the Synod must be oriented on the truth and understand  Tradition as a living and bubbling spring and not as a rigid system.”

“I have posed a question, not simply suggested a solution. And I posed that question in agreement with the Pope. That’s very important for me. I asked, “When a marriage has failed one should do everything to repair it. But when there is no way back, when someone has entered into a new relationship which is, humanly speaking, a happy one, lived in a Christian fashion, when there are children, one can’t give up this new relationship without serious consequence. And we must also see how God offers new chances – and God does. That is His mercy, that He does not let go of anyone of good will. And everyone does what he can in their situation. And I think that this should be pastorally clarified in every individual case, after a period of orientation. That is called the ‘Via poenitentialis’ – but those involved suffer enough already without it. They do not need to perform great acts of penance. But a new orientation is necessary. That should be the sacrament of penance – that is why we have it – and the sacrament of penance also means re-admission to the Eucharist. But as I said, that is not the solution for all cases, presumably for a minority of all people who live in our communities, who suffer from it and have an honest desire for the sacraments, who urgently need the sacraments to deal with their difficult situations.”

In general it is hard to disagree with much of what the cardinal says. He is very right that the entire Synod is indeed being reduced this single topic (and his perceived opponent Cardinal Burke recently said the exact same thing). His words about the importance of family and the Church’s  defense of and communication about it are also very important, as are his concerns for those who are involved in a good, Christian, loving second relationship while their first marriage is still canonically valid. There is a problem there, but  not with the quality of the second relationship.

And that’s were the problem of the discussion lies. Too many people shift the focus to those second relationships and how the mean Church wants to destroy them and the happiness of those involved. That is a clear untruth. The fact remains that a marriage is a sacrament, and therefore something that can’t be broken by human hands (we simply need to listen to Christ’s words: “What God has joined, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9)). So when a marriage exists (we’re looking at pure existence here, not quality), there can’t be a second marriage next to it. This is, in essence the basis of the argument. All discussion and, indeed, pastoral care needs to be built on it. And at the latter the Synod will look in detail.

Cardinal Kasper’s mistake, in my opinion, is that he sweeps aside this basis when he says, “One can’t turn [the Gospel] into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not.” There must be discussion, certainly, for the good of the faithful. But there are also parameters, which are set by Christ. If we want to follow Him, we must accept and work within His parameters. The Codex of Canon Law is the result of centuries of understanding these parameters and translating them for a host of situations, places and times. There must always be such development, and in that sense the law can change. But it can not be overwritten, swept aside or corrected as if what was once true no longer is. In the end it reflects the Truth that is its founder, Jesus Christ.

The Synod will certainly look at the law, but not in order to change it. No, it will concern itself with translation and communication. How can the pastoral care that the Church now offers be improved, so that what she asks the faithful is also possible for them to achieve. In a recent interview Cardinal Burke said, “It simply makes no sense to talk about mercy which doesn’t respect truth. How can that be merciful?” He’s right. Truth and mercy are not separate. How is it merciful to encourage someone to move further away from the truth that he or she wants to follow? And how are we true to what Christ’s asks of us if we show false mercy?

synod of bishopsYesterday the Holy See published the list of participants in the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family. Of course, there are the usual suspects: the heads of the Roman Curia departments, the standing members of the Synod and the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, with the latter being default participants in an Extraordinary General Synod, which this one is. Pope Francis has had a personal touch in the selection of several participants; noteable among those are Cardinal Kasper, to all appearances a theologian much appreciated by the Holy Father, but also the vast majority of cardinals he created in his first consistory of last February.

A breakdown per country also shows Pope Francis’ fairly strong focus on both the southern half of the globe and the Middle East. When looking at the members personally appointed by the Pope, as well as the lay and professional participants and auditors, we see that, while 35 participants come from Europe (19 of whom are based in Rome or other parts of Italy), 15 participants come from Asia (5 of them from the Middle East), 12 from Central and South America, 9 from Africa, 4 from Oceania and 4 from North America. Add to those the bishops’ conference presidents and not least the fact that two of the three President Delegates come from outside Europe, and you get a distinct non-western picture.

danneelsFrom a local point of view it is interesting to see that no less than four participants come from Belgium, while there is only a single one from the Netherlands and a mere two from Germany. Belgium sends Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard,which was expected as he is the president of the Belgian bishops’ conference, but also his predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels (pictured), as well as Father George Henri Ruyssen of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Additionaly, Metropolitan Athenagoras, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belgium, attends as a “fraternal delegate”.

From the Netherlands comes the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk, as the president of our bishops’ conference, and Germany sends Cardinal Reinhard Marx, not a stranger in Rome, and Berlin’s Professor Ute Eberl.

And of course the list has been criticised, not least today by Fr. Thomas Reese. His argument that the presence of heads of the Curia is a bad thing, and an indication that Pope Francis’ intentions of overhauling and streamlining the workings of the Curia is doomed to fail, is plainly ludicrous. He argues that the prefects and presidents of the Curia are merely staff members and not policy makers, and should therefore be merely attending, not speaking or voting in the Synod, which is an extreme oversimplification. By that reasoning the presidents of the bishops’ conferences should not be there as participants either. The members of the Roman Curia are the closest collaborators of the Pope. They meet with him on a weekly basis and he is generally kept up to date on whatever is going on in the various department. But the Pope is one man, so the prefects and presidents not only have the leeway to make their own decisions, that is also their mandate. They are also not random clerics appointed on a whim, but experienced in their own field of work. They are far more than staff. Their experience, knowledge and mandate are enough to give them not only the right and duty to attend the Synod, but also to contribute and decide. Cricitism like that of Fr. Reese seems mostly motivated by a deeply ingrained fear and mistrust of the Curia, which has created an artifical opposition between individual faithful and the institutional Church.

Anyway, the Synod is still a couple of weeks away. Let’s give it the chance it deserves and not let it die a quiet death once the delegates have returned home.

Below is the full list of participants, as published yesterday:

PRESIDENT

  • Pope Francis

GENERAL SECRETARY

  • Lorenzo Cardinal Baldiserri

PRESIDENT DELEGATES

  • André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, France
  • Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines
  • Raymunda Damasceno Cardinal Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil

RELATOR GENERAL

  • Péter Cardinal Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Hungary, President of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae (CCEE).

SPECIAL SECRETARY

  • Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy

PRESIDENT OF THE COMMISSION FOR THE MESSAGE

  • Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COMMISSION FOR THE MESSAGE

  • Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina

SYNOD FATHERS FROM THE ORIENTAL CHURCHES

  • Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, President of the Synod of the Catholic Coptic Church
  • Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek-Melkites, President of the Synod the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church
  • Patrirach Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patrirach of Antioch of the Syrians, President of the Syriac Catholic Church
  • Patriarch Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï, Patrirach of Antioch of the Maronites, President of the Synod of the Maronite Church
  • Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, President of the Synod of the Chaldean Church
  • Patriarch Nersos Bedros XIX  Tarmouni, Patrirach of Cilicia of the Armenians, President of the Synod of the Armenian Catholic Church
  • Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc, President of the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church
  • Major Archbishop George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, President of the Syro-Malabar Church
  • Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Cardinal Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum, President of the Synod of the Syro-Malankarese Church
  • Major Archbishop Lucian Cardinal Muresan, Major Archbishop of Făgăras şi Alba Iulia, President of the Synod of the Romanian Church
  • Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Abeba of the Ethiopics, President of the Council of the Ethiopian Church, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea
  • Archbishop William Charles Skurla, Archbishop of Pittsburgh of the Ruthenians, President of the Council of the Ruthenian Church in the United States of America
  • Archbishop Ján Babjak, Archbishop of Presov of the Slovaks, President of the Council of the Slovak Church

PRESIDENT OF THE BISHOPS’ CONFERENCES

  • Bishop Benoît Comlan Messan Alowonou, Bishop of Kpalimé, Togo
  • Bishop Oscar Omar Aparicio Céspedes, Military Ordinary of Bolivia
  • Archbishop José María Arancedo, Archbishop of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, Argentina
  • Bishop Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden
  • Raymundo Damasceno Cardinal Assis, Archbishop of Aparecido, Brazil (see also above)
  • Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genova, Italy
  • Bishop Gervaise Banshimiyubusa, Bishop of Ngozi, Burundi
  • Bishop Michael Dixon Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo, Zimbabwe
  • Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Archbishop of Valladolid, Spain
  • Bishop Anthony Fallah Borwah, Bishop of Gbarnga, Liberia
  • Bishop Jean-Claude Bouchard, Bishop of Pala, Chad
  • Josip Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia
  • Archbishop Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Bishop Markus Büchel, Bishop of Sankt Gallen, Switzerland
  • Archbishop Paul Bùi Van Doc, Archbishop of Thành-Phô Hô Chí Minh, Vietnam
  • Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, Archbishop of Tunja, Colombia
  • Archbishop Ignatius Chama, Archbishop of Kasama, Zambia
  • Archbishop Louis Chamniern Santisukniran, Archbishop of Thare and Nonseng, Thailand
  • Archbishop Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan
  • Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Archbishop John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola, Bishop of Tshumbe, Congo-Kinshasa
  • Bishop Basílio do Nascimento, Bishop of Baucau, Timor-Leste
  • Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau, Canada
  • Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Péter Cardinal Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary (see also above)
  • Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador
  • Ricardo Cardinal Ezzati Andrello, Archbishop of Santiago, Chile
  • Bishop Emmanuel Félémou, Bishop of Kankan, Guinea
  • Bishop Oscar Gerardo Fernández Guillén, Bishop of Puntarenas, Costa Rica
  • Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini, Archbishop of Izmir, Turkey
  • Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, Archbishop of Poznan, Poland
  • Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
  • Archbishop Zef Gashi, Archbishop of Bar, Montenegro
  • Bishop Catalino Claudio Giménez Medina, Bishop of Caacupé, Paraguay
  • Bishop Andrej Glavan, Bishop of Novo Mesto, Slovenia
  • Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves, Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
  • Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India
  • Archbishop Jan Graubner, Archbishop of Olomouc, Czech Republic
  • Bishop Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo, Malta
  • Archbishop John Ha Tiong Hock, Archbishop of Kuching, Malaysia
  • Archbishop Denis James Hart, Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia
  • Bishop Eugène Cyrille Houndékon, Bishop of Abomey, Benin
  • Archbishop John Hung Shan-Chuan, Archbishop of Taipei, Taiwan
  • Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria
  • Bishop Peter Kang U-Il, Bishop of Cheju, South Korea
  • Archbishop Samuel Kleda, Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon
  • Bishop Franjo Komarica, Bishop of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Archbisop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus
  • Bishop Patrick Daniel Koroma, Bishop of Kenema, Sierra Leone
  • Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, United States of America
  • Archbishop Vincent Landèl, Archbishop of Rabat, Morocco
  • Chibly Cardinal Langlois, Bishop of Les Cayes, Haiti
  • Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, Bishop of Mouila, Gabon
  • Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
  • Archbishop Gerard Tlali Lerotholi, Archbishop of Maseru, Lesotho
  • Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang, Bishop of Kalay, Myanmar
  • Patriarch José Macário do Nascimento Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal
  • Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Bishop of Tonga, Tonga
  • Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Vicar Apostolic of Paksé, Laos
  • Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland
  • Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising, Germany
  • Archbishop Angelo Massafra, Archbishop of Shkodrë-Pult, Albania
  • Bishop Juan Matogo Oyana, Bishop of Bata, Equatorial Guinea
  • Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi, Arcbishop of Lubango, Angola
  • Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, Bishop of Kabgayi, Rwanda
  • Archbishop Thomas Meram, Archbishop of Urmya, Iran
  • Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine
  • Bishop Lúcio Andrice Muandula, Bishop of Xai-Xai, Mozambique
  • Archbishop Liborius Ndumbukuti Nashenda, Archbishop of Windhoek, Namibia
  • Bishop Benjamin Ndiaye, Bishop of Kaolack, Senegal
  • Bishop Tarcisius J.M. Ngalalekumtwa, Bishop of Iringa, Tanzania
  • Vincent Gerard Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom
  • John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, Kenya
  • Bishop Rimantas Norvila, Bishop of Vilkaviskis, Lithuania
  • Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui, Central African Republic
  • Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Archbishop of Gulu, Uganda
  • Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada, Archbishop of Tokyo, Japan
  • Bishop Arnold Orowae, Bishop of Wabag, Papua New Guinea
  • Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, Ghana
  • Archbishop Paul Yembuado Ouédraogo, Archbishop of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
  • Archbishop Diego R. Padrón Sánchez, Archbishop of Cumaná, Venezuela
  • Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis, Bishop of Syros and Santorini, Greece
  • Albert Malcolm Ranjith Cardinal Patabendige Don, Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Bishop Gregorio Nicanor Peña Rodríguez, Bishop of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia en Higüey, Dominican Republic
  • Archbishop Tomasz Peta, Archbishop of Mary Most Holy in Astana, Kazakhstan
  • Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of Mother of God at Moscow, Russia
  • Bishop Maurice Piat, Bishop of Port-Louis, Seychelles
  • Archbishop Patrick Christopher Pinder, Archbishop of Nassau, Bahamas
  • Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, Archbishop of Ayacucho, Peru
  • Archbishop Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseille, France
  • Bishop Louis Portella Mbuyu, Bishop of Kinkala, Congo-Brazzaville
  • Bishop Christo Proykov, Apostolic Exarch of Sofia of the Bulgarians, Bulgaria
  • Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico
  • Archbishop Ioan Robu, Archbishop of Bucharest, Romania
  • Óscar Andrés Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
  • Bishop Sócrates René Sándigo Jirón, Bishop of Juigalpa, Nicaragua
  • Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Wien, Austria
  • Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Abeba of the Ethiopics, Ethiopia (see also above)
  • Archbishop Zbignev Stankevics, Archbishop of Riga, Latvia
  • Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • Bishop Jean-Baptiste Tiama, Bishop of Sikasso, Mali
  • Archbishop Alexis Touabli Youlo, Archbishop of Agboville, Côte d’Ivoire
  • Archbishop Fausto Gabriel Trávez Trávez, Archbishop of Quito, Ecuador
  • Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana, Archbishop of Taomasina, Madagascar
  • Patriarch Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem
  • Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, Archbishop of Panamá, Panama
  • Bishop Rodolfo Valenzuela Núñez, Bishop of Vera Paz, Guatemala
  • Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, Philippines
  • Bishop Rodolfo Pedro Wirz Kraemer, Bishop of Maldonado-Punta del Este, Uruguay
  • Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum, Sudan
  • Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza, Bishop of Mzuzu, Malawi
  • Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský, Archbishop of Bratislava, Slovakia

ELECTED BY THE UNION OF SUPERIORS GENERAL

  • Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, Superior General of the Society of Jesus
  • Father Mauro Jöhri, Minister General of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor
  • Father Mario Alegani, Superior General of the Congregation of Saint Joseph

HEADS OF THE DEPARTMENTS OF THE ROMAN CURIA

  • Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State
  • Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
  • Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
  • Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
  • Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
  • Beniamino Cardinal Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
  • João Cardinal Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Major Penitentiary
  • Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
  • Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
  • Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
  • Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
  • Robert Cardinal Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
  • Antonio Maria Cardinal Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
  • Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
  • Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
  • Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
  • Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture (see also above)
  • Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications
  • Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation
  • Domenico Cardinal Calcagno, President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See
  • Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, President of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See

MEMBERS OF THE ORDINARY COUNCIL

  • Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, United States of America
  • Péter Cardinal Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary (see also above)
  • Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy (see also above)
  • Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India (see also above)
  • Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo-Kinshasa
  • Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa
  • George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy
  • Odilo Pedro Cardinal Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil
  • Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Wien, Austria (see above)
  • Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc, Ukraine (see also above)
  • Bishop Santiago Jaime Silva Retamalas, Auxiliary Bishop of Valparaíso, Chile, Secretary General of the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM)
  • Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines (see also above)
  • Donald William Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, United States of America
  • Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (see also above)
  • Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation (see also above)

MEMBERS APPOINTED BY THE POPE

  • Angelo Cardinal Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals
  • Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
  • Walter Cardinal Kasper, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
  • Angelo Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan, Italy
  • Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy
  • Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain
  • André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, France (see also above)
  • Jonh Cardinal Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong, China
  • Orani João Cardinal Tempesta, Archbishop of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Adrew Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea
  • Philippe Nakellentuba Cardinal Ouédraogo, Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
  • Fernando Cardinal Sebastián Aguilar, Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain
  • Elio Cardinal Sgreccia, President emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life
  • Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
  • Archbishop Giovanni Tonucci, Archbishop of Loreto, Italy
  • Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli, Archbishop Anciona-Osimo, Italy
  • Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepatla, Mexico, President of the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM)
  • Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, Archbishop of Delhi, India
  • Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (see also above)
  • Bishop Alonso Gerardo Garza Treviño, Bishop of Piedras Negras, Mexico
  • Bishop Edgard Amine Madi, Bishop of Nossa Senhora do Líbano em São Paulo of the Maronites, Brazil
  • Bishop Enrico Solmi, Bishop of Parma, Italy, President of the Commission for Life and Family in the Italian Bishops’ Conference
  • Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota
  • Father Francois-Xavier Dumortier, Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical University Gregoriana
  • Father Antonio Spadaro, Editor of the magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica”
  • Father Manuel Jesús Arroba Conde, Professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University

UNDERSECRETARY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS

  • Bishop Fabio Fabene

LIST OF OTHER PARTICIPANTS ACCORDING TO THEIR TITLES

  • Fr. Tony Anatrella, psycho-analist. Specialist in social psychiatry. Consultor to the Pontifical Councils for the Family and for Health Care Workers. France.
  • Fr. Gérard Berliet, professor of Sacred Scripture at the provincial seminary in Lyon. Head of pastoral care for divorced and remarried faithful in the Archdiocese of Lyon, France.
  • Fr. Bruno Esposito, professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical University St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome.
  • Fr. Alfonso Fernández Benito, professor of Moral Theology and the Sacrament of Marriage at the Hugher Institute of Theological Studies “San Ildefonso”, director of the Institute for Religious Sciences Santa Maria di Toledo, Spain.
  • Fr. Arul Raj Gali, National Director of “Holy Cross Family Ministries in India”.
  • Dr. Jeffrey Goh, professor of Systematic Theology at the archdiocesan seminary and judge of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Kuching, Malaysia.
  • Fr. Maurizio Gronchi, professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical University Urbaniana in Rome, consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • Dr. Rodrigo Guerra López, general director of the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Mexico.
  • Dr. Jocelyne Khoueiry, member of the Episcopal Commission for the Family of the APECL, Lebanon.
  • Dr. Helen Kyung Soo Kwon, member of the executive committee of the “Helen Kim Scholarship Foundation at Ewha Womans University”, South Korea.
  • Fr. Sabatino Majorano, professor of Systemic Moral Theology at the Alphonsianum, Italy.
  • Mr. Christopher Laurence Meney, director of the Center for life, marriage and family of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia.
  • Professor Giuseppina de Simone, extraordinary professor of philosophy at the Theological Faculty of Southern Italy in Naples. Married to ∨
  • Professor Francesco Miano, professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, president of Catholic Action, Italy. Married to ^
  • Professor Carmen Peña García, director of Especialista en Causas Matrimoniales, professor at the Faculty of Canon Law of the Comillas Pontifical University, Defender of the Bond and Promotor of Justice at the Metropolitan Court of Madrid, Spain.
  • Fr. George Henri Ruyssen, professor at the Faculty of Oriental Canon Law of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Belgium.

AUDITORS

  •  Mr. Arturo and Mrs. Hermelinda As Zamberline, officials of the ‘Equipe Notre Dame” in Brazil.
  • Mr. Riyadh Albeer Naoom Azzo and Mrs. Sanaa Namir Ibrahim Habeeb, witnessing of Christian family life in a Muslim environment, Iraq.
  • Mr. León Botolo and Mrs. Marie Valentine Kisanga Sosawe, founders of Communauté Famille Chrétienne, Congo-Kinshasa.
  • Professor Zelmira María Bottini de Rey, director of the Institute for Couples and Family of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, president of the Latin-America Network of the Institute of the Family of the Catholic Universities, Argentina.
  • Mr. George Campos, director of Couples for Christ, Philippines. Married to ∨
  • Mrs. Cynthia Campos, member of Couples for Christ, Philippines. Married to ^
  • Mr. Inácio Amândio Chaúque, educator of young couples, Mozambique.
  • Mrs. Joan Clements, director of the executive committe of the World Organisation Ovulation Method Billings (WOOMB), Australia.
  • Mr. Stephen and Mrs. Sandra Conway, regional officers for Africa of Retrouvailles, South Africa.
  • Dr. Ute Eberl, responsible for pastoral care for marriage and family in the Archdiocese of Berlin, Germany.
  • Mrs. Pilar Escudero de Jensen, member of the vicariate general of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile, member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, member of the Family Institute of Schönstatt, Chile. Married to ∨
  • Mr. Luis Jensen Acuña, member of the Bioethics Centre of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, member of the Family Institute of Schönstatt, Chile. Married to ^
  • Dr. Jean Dieudonné Gatsinga and Mrs. Emerthe Gatsinga Tumuhayimpundu, repsonsible for young families of the Focolare movement in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.
  • Mr. Jeffrey Heinzen, director of Natural Family Planing of the Diocese of La Crosse, United States of America. Married to ∨
  • Mrs. Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the Diocese of La Crosse, United States of America. Married to ^
  • Dr. Ilva Myriam Hoyos Castañeda, prosecutor delegate for the defense of the rights of children, youth and family, Colombia.
  • Mr. Sélim and Mrs. Rita Khoury, leading the Office for Pastoral Care for Families of the Patriarchal Curia of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon.
  • Mrs. María Lacalle Noriega, director of the Centre of the Study of the family (Inst. Investigaciones económicas y sociales Francisco de Vitoria), secretary general of the Sociedad Española de bioética y biojurídica, Spain.
  • Fr. Cajetan Menezes, director of the Family Apostolate in Bombay, India.
  • Mr. Giuseppe Petracca Ciavarella and Mrs. Lucia Miglionico, medical doctors, members of the National Council for Pastoral Care of Families, Italy.
  • Sister Margaret Muldoon, Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, Ireland.
  • Mr. Francisco Padilla, officer of the Couples for Christ Foundation for family and life movement, Philippines.
  • Mr. Algirdas Petronis, vice president of the International Federation of Catholic Families, director of the Centre for the Family of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuania.
  • Mr. Romano and Mrs. Mavis Pirola, directors of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council.
  • Mr Olivier and Mrs. Xristilla Roussy, responsible for the apostolic branch of Amour et Vérité, France.
  • Mr. Steve and Mrs. Claudia Schultz, members of the International Catholic Engaged Encounter, United States of America.
  • Mrs. Michèle Taupin, preident of the movement Espérance et Vie, France.
  • Mrs. Jeannette Touré, National president of the Association of Catholic Women in Côte d’Ivoire.

FRATERNAL DELEGATES

  •  Archbishop Athenagoras, Metropolitan of Belgium. Ecumenic patriarchate.
  • Archbishop Hilarion, President of Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
  • Metropolitan Bishoy, Metropolitan of Damietta, Kafr Elsheikh and Elbarari, Egypt. Coptic Orthodox Church.
  • Mar Yostinos, Archbishop of Zhale and Bekau, Lebanon. Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.
  • Bishop Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, England. Anglican Communion.
  • Dr. Ndanganeni Petrus Phaswaha, Bishop-President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa. World Lutheran Federation.
  • Dr. Benebo Fubara-Manuel, President of the Nigeria Communion of Reformed Churches. World Communion of Reformed Churches.
  • Dr. Valérie Duval-Poujol, professor of Biblical Exegesis at the Catholic Institute of Paris, France. World Baptist Alliance.

johan-bonnyBishop Johan Bonny has been making headlines in Catholic media, first in Germany but today also in his native Belgium. In an extensive note the bishop of Antwerp outlines his thoughts and expectations for this autumn’s Synod of Bishops. Various media have presented this as an attack on Popes Paul VI and St. John Paul II and their documents on difficult subjects related to marriage, family and morality. But reality is somewhat different. Bishop Bonny does not exclusively discuss the contents of various magisterial pronouncements, but does offer strong criticism on how they came about, and how they are put it into practice.

In this post, I will summarise the text and offer my opinion here and there. As it is a fairly long text, this post is a work in progress. Expect updates over the coming days.

In the first part of his document, the bishops explains that he sees the development of an ecclesiastical question within the discussion about marriage and family, which he traces back to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on  contraception and sexuality, Humanae vitae. The way in which the Pope developed this text, apparently ignoring the advice of experts he had appointed himself, stands in stark contrast with how the Second Vatican Council went about matters: in strong collegiality which led to a virtually unanimous passing of documents.

This lack of collegiality in such an important matter has led, so the bishop explains, to a gap between the Church’s moral teaching and the moral understanding of the faithful. And we do see this happening: statements, decrees, encyclicals and the like do not play much of a role in the lives of the faithful, even though they can be important for properly living as Catholic faithful. Of course, a perceived lack of collegiality can not be the only explanation for this, as Bishop Bonny admits. I would even go so far as wondering if many faithful are even aware of how documents are developed, at least not in our time.

Among bishops, Curia and Pope, more collegiality can have positive results (and also negative), since we should not be afraid of talking about such important matters. But the Church is no democracy. The very nature of the papacy, of the body of apostles and disciples that Christ established, is at odds with that. The Pope has magisterial primacy, and he must be free to exercise it. But of course it is good to do everything to avoid needless division and even opposition, although that can probably never be rooted out completely.

According to EWTN, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri has confirmed what I have been saying since an interview two weeks ago caused some fear and confusion about the goals and focus of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.

In the earlier interview the cardinal seemed to be hinting at possible changes in the Church doctrine on marriage. While I did not share that conclusion, many others did. I already wrote that Cardinal Baldisseri’s comments did, in my opinion, not so much deal with doctrine but with pastoral practice, which, I still think, will also be the focus of the Synod. In the EWTN interview, the cardinal emphasised the following:

baldisseri“Regarding the possibility for the synod of bishops of changing the doctrine of the Church, I underscore that the First Vatican Council’s document Dei Filius affirmed that “understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.”

And I also remind you that John XXIII said in the inaugural speech of the Second Vatican Council that “authentic doctrine … should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.””

Whether these comments come in response to the fears mentioned above, are a form of “backtracking”, or are simply a timely reminder about the nature of doctrine in the Church, they should go some way in clearing up misconceptions about the upcoming Synod. The Church will not be changing the truth. That is the same in the past, now and the future. What she can – and should – look at it how that truth can be communicated, shared, explained and lived most effectively. So no, divorce will not suddenly become an option for validly married couples, and the very nature of marriage will also not change. The sacraments will not be devalued, and we should still be properly disposed to encounter the Lord in them. Objective obstacles will remain so. The Synod will not change the ‘what’, but will look at the ‘how’.

As 185 cardinals are planning to attend the consistory for the creation of new cardinals on 22 February and, more importantly, the preceding days in which the College of Cardinals will be employed for it most significant use: to function as an advisory body for the Pope on, in this case, topics related to the reform of the Curia and the upcoming Synod on the family, 14 archbishops and one bishop are planning to travel to the Eternal City for their inclusion into the College.

An impression.

archbishop nichols
Archbishop Vincent Nichols poses in the purple of a bishop for the last time, shortly before flying to Rome for the consistory.

Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solórzano, clad in jeans and a sports jacket, says his goodbyes at the airport of Managua.

Archbishop_Loris_Capovilla_personnel_secretary_of_Pope_John_XXIII_in_a_recent_photo_in_2013_Credit_ANSA_PAOLO_MAGNI_DRN_CNA_Catholic_News_1_13_14

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, who, at 98, will be the oldest cardinal ever, has asked Pope Francis to allow him not to come to Rome for the consistory. Stating that his strength is greatly diminished and feeling uncomfortable at meeting so many people, the former personal secretary of Blessed Pope John XXIII will receive the red hat at the church of Sotto il Monte, birthplace of John XXIII, a few days after the consistory. The last time a cardinal was not present at the consistory in which he was created was in 1998, when Cardinal Alberto Bovone, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, received the red hat at the Gemelli hospital. He would succumb to the illness which had confined him there a few months later. Blessed Pope John XXIII, by the way, also wasn’t in Rome when he was made a cardinal in 1953. Then the Papal Nuncio to France, he received the regalia from the French head of state, a privilege no longer in use.

Per the Vatican website, the rite for the creation of the new cardinals will be unchanged from those of Pope Benedict XVI’s last two consisteries. It all starts with a greeting, prayer and a reading of the following text from the Gospel of Mark:

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him, ‘We want you to do us a favour.’

He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’

They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’

But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?’

They replied, ‘We can.’

Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I shall be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (10:32-45).

The first of the new cardinals, in this case Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin will address the Pope on behalf of all, after which the Pope officially names the new cardinals. From that point onwards, they are officially created as cardinals. The new cardinals will then speak the profession of faith and oath of fidelity.

Each new cardinal then approaches the Pope to receive the biretta, the ring and the bull of his creation which also names his deaconry or title church. The kiss of peace follows, and the rite ends with the Our Father.

Photo credit: [1] The Papal Visit on Facebook, [2] ANSA/PAOLO MAGNI/DRN

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).

pope francisIn an example of how very general words can lead to the oddest of conclusions, local and international media have taken some of Pope Francis’ comments in a three-hour dialogue with religious superiors (held in November, but published only recently) and used them to suggest that the Pope, and in extension the Church, had changed its teaching on ‘alternative forms of family life’. In other words, they claimed that Pope Francis, or rather the image that many have of how they want him to be, is now in favour of same-sex couples raising children, one-parent families and other unions in which children are raised other than complete families with a father and mother.

Jimmy Akin has a good summary and explanation of what the Pope really said.

What can we conclude from this? That, quite simply, people are not hearing what the Pope is saying. The main reason for this is that his words are not being communicated properly, even wilfully changed or erroneously interpreted, by independent media. And related to that, we can say that people are not aware of what the Church is teaching.

I have read some comments which seemed to indicate that the mere recognition of these alternative forms of family is a new thing, and thus a change in attitude. The Church, many think, considers homosexuality to be disordered and is opposed to same-sex relations because she refuses to acknowledge its existence. In that light, Pope Francis words about suitable pastoral care for children in such situations and about the importance of education can appear to be revolutionary.

But they are pertinently not. They are valuable and they must be heard and taken to heart, but they are not new. The need to provide adequate pastoral care and education to anyone, regardless of their state of life or sexual orientation, is not the same as approving of that state of orientation. The Church is not an ostrich, pretending that all the things she doesn’t like aren’t there. No, she openly acknowledges they exist. And in doing so, she can teach: that desires do no dictate what is good for us, that not everything that can be done should be done and that people are called to an ultimate destination in God. That destination is not reached or even known by allowing everything. The journey does not originate in people, but in God. We are therefore called to strive for what is God’s and make what is man’s suited to the Lord. That is process in which we are first and foremost called to see the world so that we can reach out to it.

Continuing with our translation of the general report that the Dutch bishops will be handing to Pope Francis in the first week of December, we arrive at the second part, in which the various portfolios within the Bishops’ Conference are described, as well as some developments within the fields they cover.

It would seem that each portfolio holder has written a short text. These are sadly not written for easy reading. They are dry texts intended to convey information, and their length prevents the inclusion of much detail.

Below, I will briefly list the main points in each text.

logo TSTVocations and Education to Church Ministry (Wim Cardinal Eijk): Mentions the intended merger between the three Catholic theological faculties in the country. The Faculty of Catholic Theology (logo pictured) of the University of Tilburg, but located in Utrecht, was the result. Two faculties participated, while the third lost the right to dispense ecclesiastical grades. No mention is made of the seminaries.

Liturgy, Church Music, Bible and Christian Art (Bishop Jan Liesen): This department tries to emphasise the fullness of liturgical life through letters and liturgical books. There is special attention for new translations of the Roman Missal and the Bible as used in the liturgy.

Catechesis (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): There are projects about First Communion and Confirmation,  a series of six catechetical magazines on topics like birth, suffering, forgiveness and education, a catechesis method for children and teenagers. New goals are new forms of evangelisation and catechesis and more investing in the volunteer force.

basisschoolEducation (Bishop Jan Hendriks): Government policy and secularisation put pressure on Catholic education. Ways are sought to improve relations between Church and schools and increase religious knowledge of teachers.

Youth (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): Pastoral care is mostly presented in national events (Catholic Youth Day, diocesan events). The number of youth groups is slowly decreasing, but young Catholics are increasingly present on the Internet and in social media.

Communication and Media (Bishop Frans Wiertz): Little interest from secular media in Church and faith, except for the sexual abuse crisis and the election of Pope Francis. Fewer financial means to invest in communication. There seem to be new chances in new media (seriously? Seem to be?)

prisonPastoral care in Justice and Health Care (Bishop Everard de Jong): Pastoral care in prisons takes place in close cooperation with the state. Most hospitals and nursing homes are secularised, making providing pastoral care more difficult. It is being ‘professionalised’ and thus becoming more secular. There are very few priests available in this area, and the challenge is to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and dioceses, and dioceses and institutions.

Church and Society (Bishop Gerard de Korte): The bishop meets twice annually with representatives from various areas of society, including political parties and unions. The bishop tries to spread Catholic social thought via the media.

Ecumenism and Contacts with the Eastern Rites (Bishop Hans van den Hende): There are direct ecumenical contacts with the Protestant Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental and Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Alliance and the Pentecostal churches. Expressions of ecumenism include a joint declaration on Baptism and a nationwide Week of Prayer for Unity.

Interreligious Dialogue (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Cooperation exists with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Deus Caritas Est and the Vatican II documents are basis for further contacts.

punt ethiopiëMission and Development (Bishop Jos Punt): There is solidarity and creativity in the parishes, often aimed at local projects. These can be integrated in national actions. There is also a decline in financial contributions to missionary projects. (At left: Bishop Punt on a missionary visit to Ethiopia)

Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) (Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom): The bishop participates in the two meetings per year of the COMECE, and subsequently reports to the bishops’ conference about it. Several COMECE projects are put into practice in the Netherlands.

Marriage and Family (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): Good marriage preparation and family amenities are promoted for the new parishes. Numerous movements assist the Church in these goals.

Handboek-katholieke-medische-ethiekMedical Ethics (Wim Cardinal Eijk): The cardinal lectures on this topic in the Netherlands and abroad, and also teaches the subject at the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and writes articles for various publications. He also maintains political contacts to emphasise the topic, and has published a handbook on medical ethics (pictured), which is currently being translated into English and Italian.

Relations with Judaism (Bishop Herman Woorts): Several meetings between Jewish and Christian communities take place, in relation to the remembrance of the Holocaust and several Jewish feasts. All dioceses should have their own working group for relations with Judaism.

Movements and New Communities (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): These are fourteen movements and communities recognised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Religious and Secular Institutes (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Three to four meetings per year have led to mutual dialogue and confidence and has brought bishops and religious closer together.

Church and the Elderly (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Two elements are important: representation and comfort on the one hand, and questions of life and death, the younger generations and hope on the other. This is achieved through celebrations and speaking engagements.

Church and Women (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Consisting mainly of contacts with the Union of Dutch Catholic Women, in two meetings per year.

Our Lady of Lourdes BasilicaPilgrimages (Bishop Herman Woorts): The bishop takes part in the annual meeting of the three official pilgrimage organisations. Important now is the creation of a new pilgrims’ book related to the publication of an interrim Missal, probably sometime in 2014. The bishop takes part in various pilgrimages and celebrations.

Pastoral Care for Workers in Carnivals, Circuses and Shipping (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): There is a well-ordered nationwide parish for shipping workers, with its own parish priest and group of volunteers. There is an annual meeting with the bishop.

Beatifications and Canonisations (Bishop Frans Wiertz): There have been four canonisations and three beatifications in the Dutch Church province since 1998. There are three Blesseds awaiting canonisation.  There are 13 further cases, of which three have reached the stage of Venerable. Three cases have had their file sent to Rome, and two files have been handed over to dioceses abroad. Three or four more candidates are being considered to have their processes started.

The reports are very factual and while the describe intentions, plans and wishes, there is no indication of how these are to be realised, nor how effective any projects are.

Striking – and disappointing – is the conclusion from Bishop Wiertz as holder of the communications portfolio that “here seem to be new chances in new media”. These chances have been there for years, and many Catholics in the world are exploiting them. There is a world to be won on the Internet for the Church in the Netherlands, a world that is barely being explored at this time.

Logo BisschoppenconferentieDuring their November meeting, which took place last Tuesday, the Dutch bishops decided what to do with the questionnaire that the Synod of Bishops had sent round in preparation for next year’s Extraordinary Synod on the family. Rather than polling all faithful they will be limiting themselves to the parishes and their pastoral teams. “Those who deal with the various situations regarding relationships, families and family  forms in daily pastoral reality, paint the best picture of the situation in the Dutch parishes,” the bishops said in a statement released today. The questions which ask for statistics and percentages will be answered by the Secretariat of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands.

The questionnaire as it was released in Dutch via the website Katholiek.nl will not be sent on to Rome by the bishops.

The reasons to do it like this are easily understood and supported: there is the question of time (the answers need to be back in Rome by the end of January), so efficiency is needed, and the nature of questions requires a level of knowledge that many regular faithful do not have (nor should they, in most cases, be expected to). I also had to pass on some questions because I simply had no way of providing a useful answer.

In most Dutch parishes, as in the dioceses, contact between pastoral teams and faithful is easily achieved and priests will have a good knowledge of the makeup of their parishes. That means that they will be able to answer the questions accurately, and that individual faithful can approach their priest if they have concerns about what he should write in his answers to certain questions.

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?

Copyright

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Netherlands License.

The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

Blog and media

Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

IN PROGRESS

[Dutch] Internationale Theologencommissie - Sensus Fidei in het Leven van de Kerk.

30 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor het Katholieke Jongerenfestival.

19 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Interview in La Vanguardia.

18 May: [English] Pietro Cardinal Parolin - Homily at the consecration of Archbishop van Megen.

15 May: [English] Ane Hähnig - Interview with Michael Triegel.

3 May: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor de Wereldgebedsdag voor Roepingen 2014.

Like this blog? Think of making a donation

This blog is a voluntary and free effort. I don't get paid for it, and money is never the main motivator for me to write the things I write.

But, since time is money, as they say, I am most certainly open to donations from readers who enjoy my writings or who agree with me that it communicating the faith and the news that directly affects us as Catholics, is a good thing.

Via the button you may contribute any amount you see fit to the Paypal account of this blog. The donation swill be used for further development of this blog or other goals associated with communicating the faith and the new of the Church.

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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