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“Church slammed by UN, grilled about sexual abuse, heavily criticised…”
Just a sample of some of the headlines I came across yesterday and today. All because of the regular report that the Holy See has to make to the United Nations because it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990. The Holy See joined such countries as Germany, the Congo and Yemen in reporting yesterday, but was the single signatory singled out in the media. In a way that is understandable. After all, no country or international body has been so heavily scrutinised for its sexual abuse record in recent years, and no country or international body has been so open about it or active in fighting this horrible crime and sin. Not even the United Nations itself can boast about that.
As Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (pictured above at left), the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, explained in his opening statement yesterday, recent years have seen a major effort on the part of the Holy See to fight the scourge of sexual abuse. This has happened in sharpening laws, but also in continuous reminders by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (the latter did so as recently as yesterday). Local Churches have also been called to strengthen their efforts and create extensive programs to root out the evil of sexual abuse and to assist the victims. A good example mentioned by Archbishop Tomasi is the one of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (this week, the Diocese of Stockton became the tenth American diocese to file for bankruptcy because of financial compensation to victims of abuse – an example of how far they are going to aid the victims). Other bishops’ conferences, among them the Dutch, are also undertaking unprecedented efforts to address the problem. This indicates where the fight is taking place: not in the higher echelons of the Vatican, but primarily on the ground, in the local communities, where the victims and perpetrators may be found. And also the place, as Bishop Charles J. Scicluna (pictured above at right), also present at the meeting yesterday, says, where the laws of specific countries must be enacted and followed.
The question of the efficiency of these measures, as John L. Allen Jr. explains, is a matter of debate. It will take time to find that out. But the fact that steps are being taken is a clear sign that the Holy See is taking its obligations seriously.
What we see in the criticism, however, is that it generally wants to change the past. Time and again we hear about serious mistakes that the Holy See made in dealing with past abuse cases, mistakes the Holy See fully acknowledges and regrets. We see little to no recognition or understanding of the current efforts, in which the Holy See is leading the way for many other countries and international institutions. The past can’t be changed, but how we relate to people today and in the future can.
Sexual abuse of minors by clergy and members of the Church is an enormously painful and shameful affair for all Catholics. Pope Francis has rightly said we should be ashamed as a Church. We owe it to the victims to recognise their pain and to do our utmost to prevent it from ever happening again. I think that that is now being undertaken on the various levels of the Church. But in considering pain and attempting prevention we must always adhere to the truth. The truth that the past can’t be changed, that for a good number of years already the Church is taking her responsibility and taking effective steps in rooting out the evil of sexual abuse.
A cardinal who is the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, a member of the College of Cardinals, a member of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, a member of the Congregation for Clergy, a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and President of the Commission for Advocates, is clearly one on the way out. Or so certain media would have us believe.
The cardinal in question is Raymond Leo Burke, and the reason is his removal from the Congregation for Bishops. That congregation is undoubtedly an important one, and Cardinal Burke no longer being a member will certainly have its reasons. But are those reasons the cardinal’s disagreement with Pope Francis on how much emphasis to place on certain pro-life topics? Or is it the Pope’s widely known intention to slim down the Curia?
Cardinal Burke’s recent interview, in which he voiced his careful disagreement with Pope Francis’ statements, was rather unfortunate, in my opinion. I can’t agree with the cardinal’s assessments of what the Pope said or meant. But, that said, a cardinal’s removal or reassignment does not happen in a day’s notice. It will have been planned beforehand, most likely in consultation with Cardinal Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Burke himself. The interview, which was published a mere day before the removal can’t be the reason for it.
In short, unlike too many media would have us think, this is really not a demotion for Cardinal Burke, certainly not when he retains the positions I listed above (thanks to Thomas Peters). John L. Allen, Jr. best describes the changes at the Congregation for Bishops and what they mean here.
“Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates. It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”
Timothy Cardinal Dolan,
from A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation With John L. Allen Jr.
It’s strange and sad that we find it so hard to be faithful Catholics – faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church – without descending into arguments and disagreements. Apparently, it is often easier to pillory a person that we disagree with, be there a good reason or not, instead of communicating our disagreements in accordance with the joy that our faith calls for. But that’s also understandable: it is, after all, something very personal. Faith is, by definition. If someone then says or writes something that we think is in error, we feel the natural urge to correct them.
But what would be the Catholic approach to this correcting and the debate that will follow? I think the answer to that question is ‘affirmative orthodoxy’. True to Our Lord and the Church, but in a positive way. John L. Allen Jr., in a 2009 column, defines it as follows: “No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.”
Our message is a very joyful one. How can we not present it with a smile? When we engage other people, we do so out of love: Christ teaches us to work towards what’s best for others. His salvation is the best thing that has ever, and could ever happen to us. While our presentation should not be of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind, it should reflect the content of what we try to communicate.
Faith in God also entails faith in the people He created, and that faith should not be crushed underneath relentless attacks, insinuations and arguments, but should flourish as we are open, honest and loving. Does that mean we can’t disagree? Of course it doesn’t. Errors are there to be corrected, and we have a framework by which to determine what is error and what is not: the teachings that the Church communicates.
In the Gospel of Matthew we find what to do if someone does something wrong:
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector” [Matt. 18:15-17].
Our first recourse should never be to publicly pillory a person for the mistake he made. Instead, we must discuss it one-on-one with that person, and if need be with one or two others. Only then does the community of faithful come into view. This is the honest approach, and it fits in well with affirmative orthodoxy, for some errors are serious indeed, and should be treated as such, but they are never reason to disavow the person making them. Even gentiles and tax collectors are able to mend their ways. We are all evidence of that.
And, lastly, let’s not forget that we are equally prone to mistakes. What we consider I mistake may not turn out to be one upon closer consideration, just as our own understanding of what is correct must also be properly considered and understood.
It’s been a big month, and that’s mainly due to the consistory of the 18th. In that weekend, the average daily number of visitors was three times as high as normal, and that played its part in making this past month the highest scoring month with awfully close to 8,000 visitors: 7,959. That’s pretty encouraging.
The top 10, as I said above is dominated by posts about the new cardinals, but a few other topics creep in there as well.
1: We have ourselves a new cardinal 91
2: Predicting the title churches of the new cardinals 88
3: One future cardinal stays at home 84
4: Want to congratulate a new cardinal? Here’s where you’ll find them & Seventh Station: Jesus Falls for the Second Time 64
5: Cardinals according to John Allen & The actual title churches, or, how guessing gets you nowhere 59
6: “Loyal and Faithful” – Flanders’ bishops comment on ill-informed manifest 52
7: An archbishop for a week, at 91 49
8: The Stations of the Cross 47
9: Het Probleem Medjugorje 38
10: Pope announces Year of Faith, issues Apostolic Letter “Porta Fidei” 36
To properly start the new year, the visitors of this blog must’ve thought it a good idea to break the record of last October and grace the blog with no less than 6,870 visits. But there were events and topics to match such a score: the upcoming consistory, the continuing abuse crisis, the Year of Faith and the installation of Bishop Liesen all drew much attention. And so did some older posts (including one dating back to January of 2010). Without much further ado, here’s the top 10:
1: Stilte en Woord: Weg van Evangelisatie: 276
2: With apologies for being late, Pope Benedict announces 22 new cardinals: 73
3: Just because everyone does it, does not make it right – Dominican provincial writes to the archbishop: 65
4: Het Probleem Medjugorje: 52
5: Not a representative of the people – Abp. Léonard can’t catch a break: 46
6: “The Belgian Church has been too passive”: 40
7: The added value of bishops resigning: 39
8: Father Bodar returns to ‘s Hertogenbosch & Pope announces Year of Faith, issues Apostolic Letter “Porta Fidei”: 36
9: Cardinals according to John Allen: 34
10: Red Dawn Epiphany?: 33
With 5,496 views in December, 2011 closed off quite well when it comes to the traffic this blog received. For the third month in a row, it’s been well over 5,000. In the top 10 we find various topics, both positive and negative. Since the month’s been quite a ride, I am actually glad that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look:
1: The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?” 76
2: Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory 73
3: Het probleem Medjugorje & Communication problems, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say 50
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests & “By popular demand”, Bishop Punt’s excellent homily 47
5: The Dutch Church’s emotional storm 45
6: Homily at the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Jan Hendriks 44
7: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 37
8: The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg 34
9: O Adonai! 31
10: The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet 30
Naturally, when we look back at the whole of 2011, the numbers are higher, if a little lower than those for 2010. But that may be explained by the unusual peak of July 2010, which led to some 4,000 more visitors than 2011’s final tally of 59,496. The 2011 top 10 is nicely varied and includes a number of posts from the previous year. Here it is:
1: The Stations of the Cross 592
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 572
3: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 421
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests 406
5: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 292
6: Under the Roman Sky 273
7: Cardinals according to John Allen 268
8: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 258
9: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 254
10: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 233
In August of last year we welcomed the 100,000th visitor. The number now stands at 123,945. Who knows, maybe we’ll reach 200,000 in this year?
Last month did not see many stand-out posts, at least not when it comes to the number of visitors. Some old posts continue to be popular, but there are also some current topics visible. The consistory, the prayer vigil for all nascent life, Archbishop Léonard, Bishop Ter Schure… as well as some lighter topics, such as the Catholic Youth Day and the re-consacration of the cathedral in Paramaribo.
Here’s the list:
1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution 69
2: Under the Roman Sky 61
3: Prayer vigil for ‘all nascent life’ – the Dutch response 50
4: I have one or two things to explain to you 44
4: Cardinals according to John Allen 43
5: Impressions from the Catholic Youth Day 39
6: Oh, not again… 35
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 35
8: Let me say once more…, Some personal thoughts about a resignation, “The cathedral has been resurrected” 32
9: A new deacon 29
10: Serious questions about the guilt of Msgr. Ter Schure, The bishop’s other diocese, Pornography or art? 28
All in all, the blog received 3,754 visits this month, which is a contintuation of the slow rise in visits since September.
There has been a small increase in the number of page views compared to last month. There were 3,537 in October, bringing the total number over the entire year up to 57,294.
Surprisingly, the upcoming consistory barely makes it into the top 10, with number 9 and 10 being about that topic. Coptic Pope Shenouda III’s visit to the Netherlands and Belgian Archbishop Léonard’s statements in the press drew much more attention. A couple of translations also rank highly, which is a first, I think. Good to see, nonetheless.
Here is October’s top 10 of popular posts:
1: Pope in the Netherlands: 134
2: Msgr. Léonard’s small mistake?: 93
3: Boodschap voor Wereldmissiezondag 2010: 85
4: Het probleem Medjugorje: 70
5: Msgr. Léonard’s statements in context: 58
6: Brief aan de seminaristen: 55
7: Pope Shenouda III in Haarlem: 54
8: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution: 52
9: Cardinals according to John Allen: 45
10: Red Dawn: 42
September has been one of the slowest months for this blog since its beginning. This despite the pope’s visit to the UK, which was a popular search term. There were 3,341 visits. Only February had a lower number.
The list of popular posts is a mix of national and international. There’s the pope and his visit to the UK, but also news reports on Bishops Gijsen and De Jong. Again, happily, a translation creeps into the top 10 as well.
1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution: 240
2: A mosque in New York: 103
3: Please, God, let it not be true: 79
4: Papal visit to England and Scotland, day one: 65
5: In Rome, the right-hand man: 63
6: Upon watching the papal Mass in Glasgow: 55
7: Pornography or art?: 49
8: Cardinals according to John Allen: 46
9: Bishop de Jong’s painful truths: 44
10: Pope Benedict’s message for the 2011 World Youth Days in Madrid (with Dutch translation): 34
As the news concerning Thursday’s police raids in Belgium continues to come in every day, I find myself looking at an uncomfortable picture. I’m not normally one to go for conspiracy theories. I think these are too prevalent in the Catholic blogosphere anyway, but chance dictates that even some of these must sometimes be true.
Here is a very simple time table of events:
Thursday: Police raids, confiscation of documents and computers. Police possibly acts on accusations put forward by retired priest Fr. Rik Devillé. Nothing is found.
Monday: The Adriaenssens commission disbands after all their case files are confiscated. They return their mandate to the bishops. Justice Secretary De Clerck creates a ‘work group’ of public prosecutors to try and keep the negative results of the commission’s disbanding in check.
Tuesday: Victims call for a parliamentary investigation into sexual abuse in the Church. Fr. Rik Devillé heralds this as the only satisfactory option.
One way to look at the progression of these events is as an orchestrated attempt to take the total anti-abuse effort out of the hands of the Church. While that is only normal for new cases that appear, it is not for the decades-old cases that the Adriaenssens commission was working in. The courts can’t do anything with those cases, since they are subject to a statute of limitations. The fact that they are being investigated show the Church taking the responsibility for the silence of many years. There was now obligation by law to look into these old cases, but there certainly was one towards the victims.
If, by some construction, the courts, or Secretary De Clerck’s ‘work group’, can do something with the 475 old cases taken from the commission, it will do little good. Often punishment if the offenders is not possible: they are either elderly or no longer alive. The prevalent desire among victims is to be heard and acknowledged. The one institution that can do that is the one closest to the offenders: the Church. The courts, the police, parliament or whoever can listen all they want: since they are not even slightly responsible it does not answer the victims’ desire. Also, the much-called-for need for the Church to clean up her past is made impossible. She must now rely on the action or inaction of others to achieve this, whereas before she had the means to do it herself.
And what of Fr. Rik Devillé, who is involved at the begin and the end (for now)? John L. Allen has an interview with him, and while Fr. Devillé’s raises some valid points, it is clear he has a man with an anti-hierarchical agenda, leaning strongly to the liberal left.
Orchestrated set of events or not, it is worrying. Very much so.