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A conference in Germany, held last week, in which the Catholic bishops of that country participated alongside some 300 experts to discuss reform in the Church, led to some worrying developments. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the bishops’ conference, presented some of this at the conference’s closing.
The first suggestion is to allow women to be ordained as deacons. According to Archbishop Zollitsch, this would be one of the reforms that would allow the Church to regain credibility and strength. But, as Regensburg’s Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (the last German bishop to have been appointed by Benedict XVI) rightly commented, the diaconate is inextricably bound to the priesthood, which is only open to men. Allowing women to be deacons would make them different deacons than men: unable to progress on to priestly ordination, it remains to be seen what their duties in liturgy and parish would and could be. Whatever the case, they will not be deacons like men are deacons.
A second suggestion regards the position of divorced and remarried people in the Church. Their rights to sit on parish councils and the like is certainly open to debate, but their partaking of Communion and the other sacraments is another topic altogether. Archbishop Zollitsch said that he doesn’t intend to undermine the sanctity of marriage, but also wants to take these faithful seriously and make them feel welcome and respected.
Personally, I think that much greater progress may be made by the Church, as far as her credibility is concerned, in presenting her faith seriously and acting on it. But in the end, the Church is not in the business of being credible and liked. She is in the business of saving souls, and that purpose is not served by pandering to majority opinion, especially when that opinion does not gel with the faith of the centuries. In that respect, divorced and remarried faithful will be better served by good teaching and compassionate guidance, and not by pretending that there is no problem. Problems are not solved by ignoring them.
Throwing the diaconate open to women, even if this were possible, also will not solve any problem, assuming there even is a problem. Instead, it will only confuse people as to what is true and real; it will be a pretense.
Conferences on reform in the Church are actually bound to fail if they limit themselves to one country. The German bishops, for example, are not able to change the faith and teachings of the world Church. At most, they can create a rift between themselves and the rest of the Church. So what if a conference finds that there is a widespread desire for one thing or another? The standard response of the Church to that should not automatically be to agree and go along. Rather, she should consider it in the light of the faith and then decide of that desire is something she can work towards making reality. If she finds she can’t, her task is to teach, always motivated by love, and present the faith that Christ has given her to protect and communicate.
Twice today did unexpected statements from Church leaders make headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner was deceived into stating that the morning after pill would be allowable in some cases, or so a leading physician claimed. And the Pontifical Council for the Family’s Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) spoke against discrimination of homosexuals and the rights of those who live together in other ways that marriage, which was picked up by some as if it was some major change in Church teaching. Archbishop Paglia also stated that his words were manipulated.
While many media undoubtedly have an agenda in reporting on the Church and what she teaches, I think this also points towards a problem that still exists in Church communication, both on the global and the local levels: We simply are not clear enough.
Archbishop Paglia’s situation certainly points in that direction, while Cardinal Meisner’s is more a case of acting on incorrect information. In both cases, however, we may speak of communication gone wrong. Whether the miscommunication is based on misinformation or a lack of clarity is secondary.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the cardinal and the archbishop for their efforts to clarify Catholic teaching. I simply that more care is in order when such efforts are undertaken. Ours is a message that is quite specific and not always easily grasped in a headline or quote. If we want to share the Good News, we must not only take it into account, but also our audience, and that audience is one used to short sound bytes and catchy headlines. Careful academic expositions about some sensitive subject (such as contraception, sexuality or marriage) have their place and audience, but do not always, or rather rarely, translate well into the media
Instead of limiting ourselves to lamenting the state of modern media, we must make use of it. It is a tool that we too can, and should, use. And that use includes guarding ourselves against possible misinterpretation, having ways to efficiently correct media and audience if necessary, and having the knowledge available to communicate what is true.
Although it had long been expected, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands today announced that she intends to abdicate in favour of her son, who will become King William Alexander, on 30 April. Her Majesty announced so herself in a prerecorded television broadcast. And with the new king, we will also get a new queen, and she is Catholic.
Princess Máxima hails from Catholic Argentina and still seems to be practising her faith. Although she will not be head of state, she will be the first Catholic monarch in the Netherlands, member of a royal house which rose to prominence in the fight against Spanish Catholic rulers.
In reality this will not mean a whole lot. As consort of the king, Queen Máxima has no political power, nor will there be any measures that need to be taken to satisfy constitutional demands. Those that did exist were tackled when the royal couple married in 2002.
The one question that remains is whether there will be a Catholic contribution to the investiture. Although Protestant, the royal family has for years had close personal contacts with former Catholic priest Huub Oosterhuis, who still sometimes pretends to be Catholic. But what religious form the investiture will take remains to be seen. We can, however, be sure that there will be protests at the mentioning of God in the oath that the king (“by the grace of God”) will be taking…
Photo credit: Erwin Olaf
In an address to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum“on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI again referred to his Christmas address to the Curia – which caused such a stir in the Netherlands especially, as local media totally failed to report it correctly - and to the sensitive topic of marriage.
The main topic of the address was the Christian anthropology, or idea of what man is in his deepest nature, and how this should be used in works of charity, which is what “Cor Unum” is engaged in. Quoting the following passage from his earlier address to the Curia, “Man calls his nature into question … From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be”, he warned against an anthropology that is the result of a “materialistic vision of man”. Identifying such an vision as a “shadow that obscures God’s plan”, the pope warned that “[t]his is a radical negation of man’s creatureliness and filial condition, which leads to a tragic solitude.”
Christian anthropology, the Holy Father explained, is based on the idea of “man in his integral dignity, with respect for his twofold vertical and horizontal dimension”. And that is also the direction that the Church’s development programs, many of which under the auspices of “Cor Unum”, are oriented in.
“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great “yes” to the dignity of the person called to intimate communion with God, a filial communion, humble and confident. The human being is neither an individual subsisting in himself nor an anonymous element of the collective. He is rather a singular and unrepeatable person intrinsically ordered to relationship and sociality. For this reason the Church stresses her great “yes” to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of a faithful and fecund alliance between man and woman, and says “no” to such philosophies as the philosophy of gender. The Church is guided by the fact that the reciprocity between man and woman is the expression of the beauty of the nature willed by the Creator.”
Those last lines, referring to both marriage and gender theory, are linked to the Christmas message, in which Pope Benedict spoke about gender and human nature as created by God (and not, as some would have us believe, about homosexuality and same-sex marriage).
Because of its importance, remaining at the top of the blog for now: what the pope really said in his Christmas address to the Curia.
In the Dutch media today, the first reports came in that the pope didn’t actually say anything about homosexuals or gay marriage. This after gay rights association COC asked the government to take steps against the Holy See, a number of Catholics quite loudly announced they were now ‘de-baptised’ and some even suggested we should stop sending flowers to the Vatican for Easter…
Much damage has been done, not least in the hearts of people, faithful and others, who assumed they could take media reports seriously… Sadly this was not so, as preconceptions and agendas took precedence over factual reporting. As the issue remains current (strikingly enough, mostly in the Netherlands), this post will remain at the top of my blog, in order to easily access the text of Pope Benedict’s address.
Edit [3 January]: Although most of the initial debate and outrage has died down, it is clear that much ignorance about what the pope actually said, coupled with unawareness of the meaning of what he did say, still exists. In part, this is due to people, unavoidably, forming opinions which they have no reason to change, but a significant cause is also the failure of the Church herself to be clear or to clarify, or, if necessary, to protest strongly. I don’t think the Holy See should have come out with any fo the kind since the outrage is quite exclusive to the Netherlands. But the authorities within the Netherlands should have done more than a single five-line statement with links to the English text and the Dutch translation available at rkdocumenten.nl. While availability of the texts is important (hence my own translation linked above), it is not enough to explain and clarify the lies and faulty assumptions in media reports.
I found that many people still act surprised when informed that the media reports were, in fact, completely incorrect. A sure sign that not only we, as Catholic faithful, must enter into debate and conversation about these topics, but that the institutional Church as a whole should do likewise. I think the latter dropped the ball here.
Bold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.
What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. ”Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.
A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.
Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.
This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.
It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.
More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.
Yesterday and today we learnt of some revelation that Jesus Christ was married. This despite any Biblical proof or the overwhelming body of authoritative teaching that He never married. Or did we?
It all started with the conclusions of Dr. Karen King about a small piece of 4th century papyrus which seems to feature a text in which Jesus speaks of His wife. Various media outlets have grabbed on to this to announce that Dr. King had presented evidence that Jesus was married. But the fact is that she did no such thing.
A reading of the outline of her work shows that she limits her conclusions to the existence of some debate in the fourth century about the marital status of Christ:
“Does this fragment constitute evidence that Jesus was married? In our opinion, the late date of the Coptic papyrus (c. fourth century), and even of the possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus.”
The fact that there was debate and that differing opinions and belief existed, even in the first centuries of the Church, should be no surprise. But debate does not validate certain ideas, it doesn’t make them somehow true. And this research does not come out in favour for or against a single idea; it merely describes the contents of the shred of papyrus and draws conclusions from it. Not conclusions about Jesus, but about what certain people wrote about Him several centuries after His death and resurrection.
But would it matter if Jesus was married? The validity of His teachings would certainly not change, but our sense of His historical presence among us would. It would also raise questions. For example, who was His wife, and where did she go? We still venerate His mother and His twelve closest Apostles are rightly considered saints, as are many of His other contemporaries, not least His foster father. Why would His theoretical wife be missing among these?
Christ was not hostile to marriage. He would have had no reason to hide a marriage. The fact that He, and His contemporaries as well, have never claimed that Christ was married would indicate that He wasn’t. We know where and how Christ was born and died, we know where He lived, we know about His social interactions and His reputation among the people, but His marriage would have remained a closely kept secret? That doesn’t make much sense.
And, returning to Dr. King’s work, it seems that debates about this supposed marriage of Christ and some unknown woman flow forth from ideas about the ideal way of life (celibacy or marriage), and not from any lost knowledge.
7,252 views last month show that April’s peak was indeed a fluke, if a welcome one. May was also a slower news month, at that. But there were still some well-read blog posts with a nice variety of topics. Here’s the top 10:
1: Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference 612
2: Why am I Catholic? 136
3: After 66 years, a new bishop 87
4: Het Probleem Medjugorje 77
5: Cardinal confusion – Woelki comes around? 62
6: Affirmative orthodoxy – faithful with a smile 61
7: Strong words for clarification 55
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 54
9: Why am I Catholic? – a new tab at the top 51
10: A new definition of offensive in Britain 45
I much enjoy blogging and am continuously encouraged to keep on writing, but sadly the bills don’t pay themselves. Certainly not as I am currently without a job. A voluntary donation is ever welcome via the Paypal donation below or in the sidebar. Financial supporters will be remembered in my prayers.
Did Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki endorse same-sex relationships in a recent speech? Judging from some blogs’ jubilant reporting it would seem so. Translated, the cardinal seems to have said this:
“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationship.”
Little else to infer from that than that he indeed endorse gay relationships, or at least called them equal to heterosexual relationships. It’s a major turnaround for the archbishop who, upon his appointment to the German capital, was considered far too orthodox for the tastes of Berlin’s citizenry. But quotes without context are almost always worthless, especially when they seem to be so out of character for the speaker.
Rod Dreher, at The American Conservative, is one of the few to provide that context, in the form of a statement from Cardinal Woelki’s press secretary. He explained that the cardinal was arguing against the discrimination of homosexuals:
“Cardinal Woelki set long-term homosexual relationships in which two people have already made a life-long commitment to one another in relation to [certain] heterosexual relationships which indeed are not in any case “in [proper] Catholic order” (the unmarried, those lacking commitment, etc.). A comparison with sacramental marriage between man and wife was absolutely not the theme. [...] Sacramental marriage between man and woman retains its special role. I see no cause for confusion.”
The only cause for confusion comes in the way the cardinal’s words were reported by certain media. Here lies a task for all Catholics, clergy or laity, to be as clear and unequivocal as possible, exactly to avoid such confusion. On the other hand, even crystal clear explanations won’t stop certain writers from drawing the exactly opposite conclusion from what the speaker intended to say.
Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images