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“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.
Tomorrow morning the pope departs for a three-day visit to Cyprus. What’s he going to do there and why is that important?
Before the trip to Portugal, John L. Allen already noted that this year’s papal visits seem to be ”laid out in ascending order of difficulty”. Malta was a home game (although it included an unscheduled meeting with victims of sexual abuse), and Portugal was deemed a general success, nationally and internationally (although the Portuguese government did choose to allow same-sex marriage not even a week after the pope had spoken against it). Cyprus, though, seems of a different order of difficulty. Here, the Catholic Church is very much a minority. The 25,000 faithful in the island nation make up 3.15% of the entire population.
It is the Orthodox Church which dictates the Christian landscape here. And there is protest in their ranks against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI: At least five of the eighteen members of the Holy Synod are opposed, causing Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus to issue a warning to these bishops that they place themselves outside the Church by not welcoming the pope as a visitor to Cyprus.
There is tension aplenty which dates back, in some respects, to the Great Schism of 1054. And while there has been rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the pontificates of Blessed John XXIII and Paul V (and a possible meeting between the pope and Moscow Patriarch Kirill I seemingly just over the horizon), the disagreements go deep, centering on the authority of the bishop of Rome and certain theological teachings, for example about the Trinity.
The visit to Cyprus will obviously have a very strong ecumenical nature, and the things discussed here will, at least on the short term, be quite important for the ongoing relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. For Pope Benedict, the Orthodox Christians, who are closest to us in faith, are natural partners in many matters facing the western world today. Ecumenism with them is therefore of prime importance.
Back to my first question: what’s the pope going to do in Cyprus? Well, there will obviously be the official receptions and meetings with heads of state and Church, as well as meetings with the Catholic community. The liturgical celebrations planned in Paphos and Nicosia are all described as ‘Ecumenical’ and ‘Eucharistic Celebrations’ – not Masses: a sign that representatives from the Orthodox Church will be involved, perhaps?
On Saturday, the pope will visit and have a luncheon with Archbishop Chrysostomos II and on Sunday morning the Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, planned for this autumn, will be published. The fact that that publication will happen in the presence of the pope and in Cyprus, and island that in ecclesiastic history has always had close ties with the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East, is an indication of the importance that Pope Benedict XVI attaches to this special assembly. The Instrumentum laboris (meaning ‘working instrument’), is basically an outline of the topics, with notes and addenda, to be discussed at the assembly).
The two ‘legs’ – ecumenism with the Orthodox and the future of the Church in the Middle East – will both have important repercussions for the near future. This weekend’s papal visit will be one to watch.
Judging from a quick look at the media, I get the impression that Pope Benedict XVI does suffer from the current crisis in the Church. During this morning’s Mass he had to be nudged awake by Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Marini, and his voice was said to sound somewhat hoarse during the homily.
But the people of Malta have welcomed him enthusiastically – children sang ‘happy birthday’ when the pope arrived yesterday, for example - and his words are, as can be expected, but poignant, honest and inspiring.
After the open-air Mass this morning, the Holy Father met privately with a group of men who were abused as children. This had been a request of theirs and the meeting is said to have gone very well. For more about how that meeting went, read John Allen‘s description.
His first stop yesterday was the Grotto of St. Paul, the place where the apostle is said to have lived for three months after a shipwreck en route to Rome. The pope prayed there and then spoke to the people assembled there. His main topic was the new evangelisation. He called on parents and teachers to share their own encounter with the Risen Jesus:
Believe that your moments of faith assure an encounter with God, who in his mighty power touches human hearts. In this way, you will introduce the young to the beauty and richness of the Catholic faith, and offer them a sound catechesis, inviting them to ever more active participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
The world needs this witness! In the face of so many threats to the sacredness of human life, and to the dignity of marriage and the family, do not our contemporaries need to be constantly reminded of the grandeur of our dignity as God’s children and the sublime vocation we have received in Christ? Does not society need to reappropriate and defend those fundamental moral truths which remain the foundation of authentic freedom and genuine progress?
The text of Pope Benedict’s greeting can be read in English and in Dutch. Further translations will have to wait until tomorrow because of two things: the lovely weather here and my Sunday duties in the parish.