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Although his resignation was generally expected to take place some time in the coming months, it was still a surprise that the Holy See today accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. It did so in accordance with canon 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers the obligation of a diocesan bishop to offer his resignation as he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal O’Brien will reach that age next month and, according to his official statement, his resignation had been accepted ”nunc pro tunc” back in November.
But is that the whole story? Of course, we must treat carefully here, because it is all speculation, but that speculation arises from some recent developments surrounding Cardinal O’Brien. He has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by three priests and one former priest from his diocese, stretching back over the past 30 years. Cardinal O’Brien strongly denies these accusations, but they unavoidable raised questions about what, if anything, really happened. And today, his unexpected resignation as well as his decision not to attend the conclave, has raised even more questions. But any answers will most likely depend on ecclesiastic and secular legal actions, if and when they take place. For now, we have the cardinal’s word and explanation to go on.
Cardinal O’Brien has stated that he will not travel to Rome next month, although his resignation does not prevent him from attending, because “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor.” That means that 115 electors will participate in the conclave. As reported earlier, Ukrainian Cardinal Husar will reach the age of 80 tomorrow, before the sede vacante begins, and Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja will stay at home because of health reasons. Great Britain will have no elector at the conclave, although the United Kingdom will, since the Irish primate, Cardinal Brady, resides within Northern Ireland.
Cardinal O’Brien has been archbishop of Scotland’s primatial see since 1985, and he was created a cardinal in 2003 with the title church of Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Although the full text of the court’s decision has not been published yet, it is clear that Cardinal Adrianus Simonis will not be prosecuted for perjury in the case of the Salesian priest Jan N., who committed sexual abuse under the cardinal’s watch, when the latter was archbishop of Utrecht. During a witness hearing Cardinal Simonis had stated that he was not aware of any sexual abuse committed by clergy. A man who was abused by the priest in question subsequently lodged a formal complaint against this statement with the public prosecutor.
The prosecutor has now stated that their is no evidence that Cardinal Simonis intentionally lied and has declared the complaint unfounded. The cardinal himself was not questioned about the complaint.
As the fallout of the Pussy Riot trial in Russia reaches Germany, the message seems rather lost. Whereas the Russian punk band presented their protest as against the regime of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (while, it must be added, not hesitating to spit in the faces of many Russian faithful), three young sympathisers who interrupted Mass in Cologne’s cathedral on Sunday seem to have missed the boat a bit when it comes to understanding, well, basically a lot.
The Mass, offered by Auxiliary Bishop Heiner Koch of Cologne, was similar to the Divine Liturgy in Moscow’s cathedral in that both are sacramental acts of worship, but that’s where the similarities end. The Catholic Church is not the Orthodox Church and in Germany she is not linked to political parties, as the Orthodox Church is in Russia (Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has an interesting article in that side of the issue). The short protest that interrupted the Mass would have been rather pointless if it were politically motivated. As an act of support for the three jailed members of Pussy Riot it had perhaps symbolical value, but neither the Catholic Church in Germany or the Archdiocese of Cologne is, of course, involved in the actions of Russia’s judiciary.
It almost seems that the German sympathisers looked at the nature of the Pussy Riot protest, and decided to do something outwardly similar – interrupt the liturgy and mock the faithful participating. The reason and motivation, in the meantime, are lost in the kerfuffle.
Feathers decidedly unruffled, Bishop Koch stated he would pray for the concerns of the protesters in Germany and Russia. The police in Cologne, though, said the protesters are accused of trespassing and disturbing the free exercise of religion.
Photo credit: DPA
In certain circles, many people have spoken out against the conviction of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who staged a protest against that country’s President Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They are punished, many on the left side of the political spectrum say, for speaking out against Putin, and therefore their conviction is an example political violence, of curbing free speech.
But, just like the group’s protest was far more than a political protest, the consequences are also. Father Ray Blake, for example, considers the site of the protest and its importance for the Russian nation. He writes (emphasis mine):
“For Russian believers this Cathedral symbolises the very heart of Christian Russia, reborn after the murder of countless of believers and the wholesale destruction of religion in Russia[...]. The demonstration against Putin was one thing but the blasphemy and mockery of religion in the Cathedral was a reminder for believers of the type of thing organised by the persecutors within living memory, it was spitting in the face of the holy Russia.
Can the fatuous western “supporters” of Pussy Riot understand the nature of their demonstration?
And the location, as well as the despicable language and behaviour displayed by the group make a difference. This was not merely a matter of political commentary. It was a blasphemous desecration, an insult to many believers and a spitting in the face to all of Russia. Pussy Riot, as many from whom free speech is a holy grail, consider their own perceived rights an opinions to trump the feelings, rights and opinions of everyone else. In fact, it’s individualism gone crazy.
Is two years in prison harsh? Perhaps (the Russian Orthodox Church seems to think so, as it has appealed for mercy and freedom for the group). Was some form of punishment in order? Most certainly. Pussy Riot are not the victims here.
Photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev
It’s a bit late, but I wanted to share it anyway, since I’ve written about the whole affair before. In the Archdiocese of Utrecht, the question of pastoral worker Tejo van der Meulen, who was initially to be let go from the parish of St. John the Baptist for several liturgical transgressions, can now stay on in his functions.
Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop, has agreed to this after Mr. van der Meulen and Father Gerard Griffioen, the parish priest, agreed to publically apologise and state their intentions to strictly adhere to the liturgical prescriptions of the celebration of the Mass. Both men did so via the parish website.
Although the two statements closely follow the wording of the conditions under which the archdiocese would refrain from insisting on the firing of Mr. van der Meulen, and are therefore somewhat overly clinical and stern, they get the message across. Mr. van der Meulen and, because his responsibility as parish priest, Fr Griffioen, “caused scandal and seriously disrupted the liturgical order of the Church”. Both men have now expressed their regrets and intention to avoid doing so in the future.
With these developments, which followed renewed discussion between the archdiocese and the parish, a lawsuit is avoided.
A pleasant surprise was the fact that, in the media, Cardinal Eijk was not consistently depicted as a tyrant in this case. That has been different in the past. A bishop has the duty to oversee the proceedings, including the liturgical ones, in his diocese. Anyway with a pastoral or liturgical mission in that diocese has the duty to make sure that the performance of these duties is in line with the teachings of the Church. When that, for whatever reason, does not happen, the bishop must act. It seems that now, after four years in Utrecht, Cardinal Eijk is about able to focus his attention on the liturgy as it is celebrated in the archdiocese.
In an unprecedented hearing yesterday, Archbishop Wim Eijk spoke to politicians about the abuse crisis and the work that is being done by the Church in the wake of the Deetman report. It seems that even now, there are things we can learn, most specifically from Belgium: there new raids of diocesan offices took place, whereas over here the Church seems to try and work with the state to find solutions. Or the state with the Church, for that matter.
Yesterday’s hearing came after a letter from Justice secretary Ivo Opstelten, which explained that abusers whose crime fall under the state of limitations, since they took place decades ago, can not now be prosecuted after all. Which, as victims’ organisations pointed out, does not mean the Church can’t take steps against these people. The Church, after all, has a readily waived statute of limitations for these crimes.
The Church remains committed to eradicating sexual abuse “root and branch”, the archbishop said. But, it must be acknowledged, she is still finding its feet in these matters. After many years of trying to resolve the situation internally, the Church in the Netherlands and all over the world is learning to work publicly and with other institutions. The Vatican seems to be starting to coordinate and direct how individual bishops’ conferences and religious congregations work for and with victims and against sexual abuse, for example.
Back home, the archbishop revealed that a special contact group between bishops and victims will be created to further communication between the two. We’ve seen the first steps in Archbishop Eijk’s meeting with victims on Sunday. An important role in this group will be played by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende (right), who is a good choice for such sensitive and pastoral work.
Photo credit:  Trouw
In September of last year I wrote about an abuse complaint lodged against Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of Roermond and Reykjavik. The complaint was about the future bishop having spied upon a student at Rolduc seminary while the latter masturbated in bed, sometimes between 1959 and 1961. Msgr. Gijsen continues to deny that anything untoward happened, saying last year, in response to the accusation: “If it is true what is being said, it must be a case of mistaken identity. I could not have been that, because I wasn’t in the situation. That they may know me could be true, because I was a teacher. But I could not have done that.”
The complaints commission of the Catholic Church, working to get to the truth in numerous abuse cases, has now deemed otherwise. It considers the story of the former student “credible and honest”, NRC reports today. But the commission then continues with deciding the complaint inadmissible, since it does not deal with sexual abuse per se. The student did not forced to masturbate, and neither did it happen in a situation where one person was dependent on the other.
It would seem that the investigation of this claim halted at the stadium of deciding its believability. Msgr. Gijsen claims that the facts reported are not true. Since the complaints commission makes no judgement on that, we must be extremely careful in deciding what is and is not true here. But what remains is a serious indictment of the behaviour of a cleric in a time when much of the abuse that services now took place.
Who knows, maybe Bishop Gijsen is right in claiming that the complaint is based on things that never happened or involved someone else altogether. What we do know is that the complains had been deemed believable, and that Bishop Gijsen, if he did it, greatly overstepped the boundaries of propriety, to paraphrase the NRC report.
In September 2010, when the claim first surfaced, the Diocese of Roermond let it be known that it had passed the matter on to the public prosecutor. It is unknown what, if anything, they are doing, or will do, with it.
A second complaint against Bishop Gijsen is still being investigated.
Photo credit: Gerard Klaasen/RKK
As the year draws to a close, and the final report from the Deetman Committee comes ever closer, the abuse crisis reaches a first form of closure, Kerknieuws reports. The first fifty victims of sexual abuse by Catholic religious or clergy are now able to request financial compensation. Their cases have completed the entire process and have been deemed open to financial compensation according to the five categories I discussed here earlier. If a victim decides to apply for the compensation, a board of five lawyers will decide in which category their case falls and the amount of money, ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 euros, they will receive. The victims in questions were abused as minors and have completed the entire legal process established over the course of the past year. Dozens more victims will soon be notified of the completion of their process.
The fact that we have now reached this stage, is due to the focus on swiftness that the Deetman Committee has been pressing for. In their judgement, they deemed that a swift handling of these cases, some of which are about things that happened many decades ago, would be more beneficial to all involved than, say, a focus on the height of the financial compensation. Hence the five-tier structure of compensation, which has caused raised eyebrows in some quarters.
Victims are not obliged to make use of the structure now in place, but they are free to do so. And it seems that many indeed want to. Some people have been leading their lives with this trauma weighing heavily on them, that I can imagine that this recognition and compensation is a tremendous relief and remedy.
It’s been a good month, as the momentum of last month continued well into the first half of November. Some tweaks in the WordPress stats layout show me that search engines are the most important tools by which people find this blog – 1,120 this month alone. But much gratitude must also go to those blogs who link to me, first and foremost Rorate Caeli, who keep a keen eye on the developments in the traditional field in the Netherlands. 388 people came here via them this month. The sum total number of views in November was 5,868, and here are the 10 most popular posts:
- The weak case of the disobedient priests 328
- Celebrating five years at St. Agnes 142
- The elderly priest and the diocese – a simple case of right and wrong? 61
- The change the Church needs & Berlin is vacant – herald of things to come? 40
- An impression of a unique occasion 39
- Revelations trigger revelations- further developments around Bishop Cor Schilder & Het probleem Medjugorje 37
- “I was not I who gave you the breath of life” – death merchants at the door 36
- Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 35
- Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 33
- The first Advent letter of 2011 & Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese 29
Last year, Dutch missionary bishop Cor Schilder, formerly of Kenya’s Diocese of Ngong, was at the heart of the publication of accusations of sexual abuse, leveled against him in 2009. That matter was then settled between the Holy See, the Society of Mill Hill Missionaries, to which Bishop Schilder belongs), and Michael Ole Uka, the victim. Said victims lodged no official complaint with the secular authorities, so no legal process was started.
But Uka’s story, as such stories have the potential to, gave another man, Emmanuel Shikuku, the courage to come forward with his story. The details may be found on various media websites, but come down to Shikuku claiming to have been abused by five clerics, one of whom is said to have been Bishop Schilder, who now resides in a Mill Hill house in the Netherlands, having been removed from his position following the earlier accusations.
The case came to the attention of Interpol via the Irish police, who informed authorities in the UK and the Netherlands. Much detail is still unknown, as the investigation of the case is still in early stages. An Interpol spokesman says that some information may even be kept secret by the Public Prosecutor for ‘tactical reasons’.
And since much is unknown, it is hard to conclude anything about what may or may not have happened. It is certainly not unheard of that victims of sexual abuse take courage from the stories of other victims and then come forward. That is also, I think, evident in the large number of abuse claims that were made in the Netherlands in the past year, although there are also, sadly, many fake claims among them, of course.
Whether Mr. Shikuku’s belongs to the former or the latter category remains to be seen. Things, at the moment, certainly do not look positive for the 70-year-old Bishop Cor Schilder.