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Sigh… sometimes you have to wonder what people are thinking, not least people who provide a professional service to the Church and the faithful. One such case erupted this afternoon, and was smothered within hours, but not before the damage was done. And the guilty party? Not just the media who should do a lot more fact checking when writing about the Church, but also the publishers of Mass booklets in the Netherlands, the Norbertine abbey of Berne.
We’re no longer allowed to sing Silent Night at Christmas Mass this year, they panicked. When making the Mass booklets they felt so bad about all the songs the bishops wouldn’t allow them to print anymore: the aforementioned Christmas staple, but also the songs by Huub Oosterhuis (a good thing if those were banned). And although the order came from Rome, they said, they Vatican wasn’t to blame, because the ‘fluffiest Pope evur’ surely wouldn’t allow such a nasty thing. No, the Dutch bishops had told Rome to ban the songs. Bad bishops.
Well, reality is a bit different, as Father Cor Mennen (pictured), advisor to the Nationale Raad voor Liturgie (National Liturgy Council), explains. The Mass booklets are printed according to a list of approved songs. As Bishop Jan Liesen, who holds the liturgy portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference, confirms, Silent Night and others songs may be added to the list in the future, but at this time they have not which is why they are not included in the booklets. This is a new process, as in the past every song would have to be individually approved. As Fr. Mennen says:
“With this approach we want to avoid having to discuss every individual song. Silent Night isn’t on the list yet, but the approval is, as far as I know, only a matter of time. The song is uncontroversial. Parishes arent doing anything wrong if they sing it.”
Now why on earth didn’t the publishers know this? Or rather, why did they choose such a panicky reaction, which was eagerly lapped up by the media? They really should have known better. The only thing this achieves is a bad image in the papers. Oh, look at that silly Church and those power-hungry bishops banning everything the people like… And I wouldn’t want to feed the people who now think those songs really are banned.
Pretty irresponsible behaviour, I would say.
Former Dutch parliamentarian Boris Dittrich (pictured) has been treating several media outlets to the story of his visit to the Vatican and his conversation with Archbishop Müller. There are some serious problems with his comments, which I will try to address by fisking this article, which was written by Frans Wijnands and was published today on “meeting place for Christians” Het Goede Leven (all bold text in between square brackets are my comments):
The Pope does not decide the doctrine of the Church, says Archbishop Müller
Under the current Pope Francis there is no relaxation imaginable in the Church’s strictly dismissive opinion on homosexuality. So states the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is not the Pope who decides the doctrine, the dogmas of the Church [well, in the case of dogmas, it is]. Concerning doctrine, that is a matter for the Curia. That is the response that Dutch former (Liberal Democrat] politician Boris Dittrich received from Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when Dittrich suggested out loud that the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards homosexuals could change in a positive way under Pope Francis.
Dittrich was in Rome and the Vatican these past days on behalf of Human Rights Watch, a worldwide human rights organisation which, among others, strives for equal rights for homosexuals [including the right to change truth, it would seem]. Dittrich is its director for ‘rights of sexual minorities’.
Earlier he had explained the position of Human Rights Watch in a more or less open letter of twelve pages [talk about losing the point in words, perhaps?] With the letter, Human Rights Watch encouraged Pope Francis last month to denounce violence towards and discrimination against homosexuals and transsexuals, and to stand up to priests and other workers in the Church who support violence against and discrimination of sexual minorities [Because no Pope has done that before. I'll just share this link again; in it I quote some sources which state exactly what Dittrich wants].
Dittrich travelled to Rome to personally explain the letter, but did not get to speak with the Pope [Did he think of making an appointment, or did he just assume the Holy Father would make time for him on the spot?]. The former D66 member of parliament was at the weekly audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and was able to hand the letter to an assistant when Francis’ car stopped near him.
He did get to speak with Msgr. Müller (pictured), the head of the most important Vatican Congregation, that of the Doctrine of the Faith. Dittrich told Müller that he attended an opening of a campaign for more rights for homosexuals in Rio de Janeiro in 2008 and there spoke extensively with the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires: Msgr. Bergoglio, the current Pope. He told Dittrich that he was or is [odd and suggestive use of words] opposed to gay marriage, but could imagine that an alternative was possible, for example the legal recognition of homosexual relations. [Where did we hear that before? Oh, right: here.] A sort of cohabitation contract [as it exists in the Netherlands for both same-sex and separate-sex couples].
Cold and Stiff
To Dittrich’s suggestion that under the current Pope a relaxation of the Church’s strictly dismissive position was imaginable, Müller’s reply was that the Pope does not make policy, but that that was a task for the Curia.
“The entire conversation was cold and stiff. Very detached. Not a single sign of thinking along or sympathy, “says Dittrich. “I senses a tension, a sort of self defense.” [Probably because some research will show that the teaching of the Church is not subject to the personal opinions of whoever, and that Pope Francis is indeed a son of the Church, as he said himself].
In Rome and among Vatican watchers it is known that the public actions of Francis are not received well be everyone in the highest governing body. The Pope has repeatedly shown that he makes his own decisions and does not rely too much on the Curia. [On the other hand, Archbishop Müller and other Curial prelates have been confirmed in their jobs after careful consideration, a sure sign that Pope Francis supports them in their work].
He recently appointed Msgr. Pietro Parolin as new Secretary of State, as successor of Cardinal Bertone. Dittrich assumes that this new Secretary of State will loyally execute the Pope’s policies [Of course he will]. “That obviously creates tensions with the Curia [really?] Because it could lead to the influence and power of that Curia decreasing”, Dittrich assumes. [Dittrich should do a little less assuming and some more researching. Pope Francis was given a specific mandate to reform the Curia by the cardinals who elected him. Among them many Curial cardinals. Pope Francis' intentions to reform the Curia are hardly secret].
Shortly before resigning, Pope Benedict XVI appointed his former student, friend and confidant, Msgr. Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [well, shortly... nine months, and it was a decision most likely far longer in the making], an office that Pope Benedict held himself for years before being elected Pope.
In the conversation [which took place where and how, I wonder? Did Dittrich meet the archbishop by chance or did he have an appointment?] with Boris Dittrich, Msgr. Müller also strongly attacked the role of the media. According to him, these are, in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, continuously out to hit the Vatican. [Well, many media outlets are, that's a fact. Whether it's wise to accuse all media of that, if the archbishop did, is the question]
I can’t help but consider Dittrich’s comments somewhat untrustworthy. He displays a lack of understanding about how the Church works and what she teaches, and a lack of preparation for his attempts to share a letter with the Pope. Add to that his clear liberal agenda, and we get an artificial image of a Curia opposed to their Pope, and image which simply is not supported by reality. It’s like what Archbishop Gänswein said when it was assumed that he and Pope Francis did not get along because he was Benedict’s man: ”All nonsense”.
Pope Francis has been encouraging a more pastoral approach to and treatment of homosexuals (and anyone else on the margins of our lives, for that matter) in the Church, but that is not the same thing as changing the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis has never indicated any willingness to change those. Those teachings are also not the product of policy makers, but have been given to us and continuously explained by the Church. To say that Pope and Curia are, or even can be, opposed to each other as if they were two politicians in parliament is a gross misrepresentation of reality.
Photo credit:  Sebastiaan ter Burg,  Catholic.org
I just finished answering the questions in the questionnaire sent by the Synod of Bishops to the world’s bishops. Or, at least I tried to. The poll is available in Dutch via this link.
Some questions were not that hard and quite fun to answer, while others were, well… virtually impossible to answer. I suppose that’s the result of compiling questions aimed at a very broad selection of people, ranging from lay unmarried faithful, via celibate priests with a pastoral responsibility to married couples with children. Add to that the great variety of cultural backgrounds and societies that faithful are a part of, and you are bound to come across questions which you can only answer with an honest “I don t know”, or something along the lines of “I’m sure my parish priest knows, but I sure don’t”. Still, I would assume I’m not the only one answering the questions (if you haven’t done so, go, do your bit), so what I missed others will add.
Secular media have presented the questionnaire as being about “homosexuals and contraception”, but, as often, that is a gross misrepresentation. The questions do touch upon those subjects, but their focus is greater: the pastoral care for families, in which marriage and the raising of children are an integral part. The Church’s teachings on sexuality, as well as the conflicting developments in society on these topics are related to that, and so appear in the questions as well.
The Church needs governance from above, but also knowledge of the situation “on the ground”. This poll is a first step to try and achieve that, in conjunction with the contributions of the bishops participating in next year’s Extraordinary General Assembly on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
Following a week in Rome, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis on Monday, and today we learn the result of that meeting, which the bishop called “very encouraging”. Below is my English translation of the official press release, which contains some significant information.
The Holy Father has at all times been informed fully and objectively about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg.
In the diocese a situation has developed in which the bishop, H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst can’t exercise his episcopal service at this time.
After the “fraternal visit” of His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo this past September, the German Bishop’s Conference, pursuant to an agreement between the bishop and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, has established a commission to carry out a thorough investigation into the construction of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of said investigation and the related responsibilities in this matter, the Holy See considers it advisable for H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst to remain for some time outside the diocese.
Upon the decision of the Holy See the appointment of city dean Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, which was planned by the bishop for 1 January 2014, becomes effective today. Vicar General Rösch will manage the affairs of the Diocese of Limburg in absence of the bishop with the authority associated with his office.
First of all, we learnt hat the Holy Father “has at all times been informed fully and objectively”. We may therefore assume that the decision was made on the basis of facts instead of media assumptions. The fact that the Pope not only heard Bishop Tebartz-van Elst on the matter, but also Archbishop Zollitsch and Cardinal Meisner is evidence enough that he got the real story.
Furthermore, we find that the bishop will spend the course of the German Bishop’s Conference investigation into the matter outside the Diocese of Limburg. Other sources inform us that he will be in a monastery somewhere. Some have seen this is evidence that Pope Francis is paving the way for a quick succession when the investigation is over, but in my opinion it would simply be a precaution against stirring up the situation even more. If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be to return to Limburg immediately, many would use that against him, seriously impeding both his own work as bishop and the work of the bishops’ commission into the finances. In essence, it keep things quiet enough for everyone to do their work. And it allows the bishop the time to reflect on any thing he did wrong, to pray and eventually to return home strengthened and refreshed.
Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch (pictured above), in the meantime, sees his upcoming appointment as the new vicar general of the diocese moved forward. Current vicar general, Msgr. Franz Kaspar was to continue in his office until the star of the new year, but has to make way for his successor now.
A short history of Msgr. Rösch:
54-year-old Msgr. Rösch was until now the area dean of Wiesbaden. An engineer by trade, he studied philosophy and theology in Frankfurt and Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Bishop Karl Lehmann (now a cardinal) of Mainz in 1990. After various appointments as parish priest, Fr. Rösch was appointed by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s predecessor, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, to lead the diocesan seminary in 1997. He held that position until 2003, before returning to the parishes in Königstein and Wiesbaden.
The press release above states that Msgr. Rösch (the monsignor title comes with the office, and will be relinquished should the vicar general take on another appointment) will perform his duties “with the authority associated with his office”. What is that authority?
Canons 475 to 481 of the Code of Canon Law describe the function and authority of the vicar general. He assists the bishop in the exercise of his duties and has the same executive power as the bishop, except for those rights and duties which the bishop has reserved for himself or which are solely his by law. This means that the authority of vicar general Rösch is somewhat more limited than that of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. In essence, he will be able to manage the daily affairs of the diocese, but is limited in making changes and introducing new policies.
It is perhaps striking that Limburg’s auxiliary bishop (yes, there is one, who has remained outside the media frenzy quite effectively), Msgr. Thomas Löhr (pictured at right), has not been tasked with managing the diocese in the ordinary’s absence. Then again, while it is usual for an auxiliary bishop to be vicar general, it is not mandatory.
Lastly: despite what too many media outlets have claimed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not been suspended. He remains the bishop of Limburg with all the rights and duties attached to that office. The current ‘time out’ merely means he can’t exercise those duties until the Holy Father, or those speaking for him, decide otherwise. The bishop may at any time be allowed to resume in his episcopal ministry. There are no sanctions undertaken against him.
Photo credit: Bistum Limburg
Especially the German media have found a rich source of articles, opinion pieces and reports in Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the embattled bishop of Limburg. Now that he has travelled to Rome to speak with both Pope Francis and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (as president of the German bishops’ conference responsible for setting up an investigative body to look into the problems keeping both the Diocese of Limburg and its bishop occupied), it would seem prudent to outline what exactly is going on. There are after all, so many words written about the case(s) that it’s hard to keep track of fact and opinion.
In short, there are three problem areas which have either raised the ire of clergy and faithful or caused serious questions being asked:
First there is the bishop’s style of management which is deemed to be authoritarian. Although a bishop has authority over the local Church, the style of this authority is important, and although it is a matter of perception, and Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may certainly not have intended to present himself as such, this is certainly something to be avoided.
Second is the case of the bishop’s flight to India. In a dispute with national newspaper Der Spiegel, the bishop presented official affidavits twice, claiming not to have flown first class. This now seems not to be true, as the court in Hamburg has charged Bishop Tebartz-van Elst for perjury.
Lastly, the St. Nicholas Centre near the cathedral of Limburg. A complex including the bishop’s private appartment, a chapel, meeting rooms, the diocesan museum and rooms for other functions, it exceeded projected costs by a factor of six. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, consequently, is accused of leading a life of excessive luxury, and this claim seems not to be wholly unsubstantiated. On the other hand, other bishops’ housings in Germany are no less luxurious or costly, it seems.
All this plays on the background of the initial steps taken by the Holy See to work towards a solution: the visit of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, former Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. The purpose of that visit was not to arrive at textbook solutions, but to listen to all sides of the conflict and try and achieve some form of reconciliation or, at the very least, the intention of all involved to work towards reconciliation. The joint declaration from Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, which I wrote about here, certainly reflects a desire for clarity and a joint effort towards a solution.
What the future will bring remains to be seen. There is little doubt that the meeting between Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and Pope Francis will be a deeply personal one. Regardless of the personae created by the media of both men, I suspect it will be a private and deeply pastoral conversation. Will the Pope dress down the bishop for his perceived life of luxury? That is what many who have an almost allergic reaction to anything and anyone perceived as orthodox think and hope. But that’s because they have an image of Pope Francis as, as Father Z is fond of putting it, “the very bestest and most wonderfulest ehvur”, who fires all nasty rule-loving clerics everywhere, in between kissing babies and blessing puppies.
In the meantime, let’s pray that all involved can maintain a semblance of openness, honesty and clarity as the conclusion (whatever it may be) of this crisis comes closer.
Photo credit: Uwe Anspach/DPA
Yesterday, I wrote about Cardinal Wim Eijk sanctioning a Dominican priest for celebrating a Maundy Thursday Mass that was invalid because of the liberal approach to liturgy. Whereas the Archdiocese of Utrecht has remained silent after announcing the sanctions and the reasons for them, Fr. Huisintveld has not been idle, and the media have been eager to give him a stage.
Father Harry Huisintveld (pictured) has been rather unavoidable in Dutch Catholic (and some generally Christian and secular) media today, sharing the pain of the sanctions imposed upon him, as well as a seeming lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest. He showcases a highly Protestant view of liturgy and church: not the magisterium, but the individual is the deciding factor in form and content of worship. In an interview today he stated that he felt free to adapt the Maundy Thursday Mass to the perceived needs to the faithful.
By his own words, he has received much support, and that is not surprising. After all, he is curtailed in his freedom to do what he wants and that freedom is, in the eyes of modern man, the highest right of all people, one that trumps all others. By curtailing the exercise of this right, Cardinal Eijk is the legalistic bogey man wielding those mortal enemies of personal freedom: rules and regulations.
This attitude, especially when it is the attitude of an ordained Catholic priest, is a much greater affront than the strict sanctions imposed by the cardinal. Fr. Huisintveld has made himself the arbiter of what can and can not be done in and with the liturgy, thus removing all loyalty to, and even recognition of, the Magisterium of the Church. In essence, he is saying that he is under no obligation to maintain the Mass as it has been handed down for generations, and which has developed like that for good theological and pastoral reasons, when and if he perceives it is not necessary. He knows better.
If that is your attitude, that is bad enough. But to be surprised, even indignant, if the Church you belong to, but whose rules you disregard, calls you out on it (and not for the first time), is a whole other kettle of fish. That is nothing more than pandering to the superficial feelings of people who see a man’s freedom being curtailed. “Help, I’m being repressed, because I only want to be Catholic when it suits me.”
Fr. Huisintveld may be good with people, he may be a beloved priest and have many other skills which are not relevant here (although both he and the Dominican Order in the Netherlands disagree with that – “he is such a nice man, how can you do that to a nice fellow who means no harm?”), but he is a bad liturgist and a worse priest for it.
Priests are not priests for themselves. They are God’s priests for the people. They don’t get to decide what God should and should not desire in the worship that is His due.
As it was revealed today that the liturgy for Fr. Huisintveld’s Mass was drafted by a liturgy committee, I am reminded of a comment made years ago by my own parish priest: “”The first thing you should do as a priest is to get rid of the liturgy committee.” We already have a liturgy committee. It’s called the Roman Missal.
Photo credit: Fr. Harry Huisintveld
Cardinal Eijk is the media’s bad guy again. He sanctioned a priest for ‘forgetting’ a few words at Mass. Well, as it often is when secular media try to report on Church business, reality is a bit different.
It is true that the priest, a Dominican who assists at a parish northwest of Utrecht, has been forbidden to publicly offer Mass for a year. It is also true that he forgot some words. And then some more.
A Mass in which the Kyrie, Gloria, all three prescribed readings, the preface and the entire Eucharistic Prayer were either skipped or replaced is, quite frankly, not a Mass. The bread and wine do not become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the faithful do not partake of Communion with God and Church, and the priest flouted his oath and duty. A previous “misstep”, as the Archdiocese calls it, in the same parish, prompted the cardinal to re-emphasise the liturgical rules in force in the Church.
Is this reason for the sanctions as described above? That can be debated, of course, but the fact is that this is exactly why Cardinal Eijk wanted to focus more and how the liturgy is celebrated in his archdiocese. It is also fact that the liturgy of the Church is not just a collection of rules for their own sake.
In the words of the archdiocese’s own explanation of events (which is altogether more reliable than the reports of secular media):
“[Replacing or skipping the Eucharistic Prayer'] is most serious, since this invalidates the celebration of the Eucharist. It means that faithful came to the celebration, to receive the Body of Christ, in vain. The Eucharist (which refers to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ) is the most important sacrament, in which the faithful celebrate their unity with God and each other. All the more painful in this context is the fact that, on Maundy Thursday, the Catholic Church celebrates the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. Cardinal Eijk thinks that faithful should be able to rely on valid Masses being offered in the churches of the archdiocese. Not without reason the Vatican instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum states that the complete omission of the Eucharistic prayer is “objectively to be considered among grave matters [...] that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist”.
Priests have considerable freedom in the pastoral care they perform for the faithful under their care, in the way they teach and proclaim the faith. They do not, however, have the freedom to change or ignore what God, through His Church, instituted. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the single most precious treasure we have been given: it is Christ Himself. By changing what He wants to give us every single day, we place ourselves above Him. True, we are very important, also to the Lord. But we are not Him.
The priesthood is the channel through which Gods grace, in the sacraments, comes to His people. The channel can not change what it is given to safeguard and pass on.
So, yes, Cardinal Eijk is very correct in taking steps to correct this abuse. No one with a basic understanding of Catholic theology and understanding of the sacraments has any excuse not to realise that. Sadly, none of these people work at newspapers and television stations.
Photo credit: afp
So, the obligatory Pope Francis interview blog post… I’m not going to analyse it very much. Others have done so much better than I ever could, but, as ever, the warning for everyone wanting to know what the Pope said stands: read his words, not those reported in most mainstream media. The interview can be read in English here and in Dutch here.
There are a few things I can and will say about it, though. First of all, the way that this interview was published, simultaneously in several languages, is worth noting. On Twitter, Father James Martin SJ joked:
To achieve the surprise release of the interview with Pope Francis, 16 Jesuit journals had to keep a secret. Pope Francis’s first miracle?
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) September 20, 2013
But in all seriousness, prepping several translations and publishing them in various journals and magazines at the same time deserves to be noted, not least in the Vatican. It prevents the rise of rumours, misunderstanding and avoids the risk of not being noticed (as many documents on the Vatican website, which are published in several languages, still are for many faithful).
Personally, I found the interview a bit dense to read, but refreshing. In all honesty, I a still getting used to Pope Francis. He is so different from Pope Benedict XVI, who was the Pope for all of my Catholic life (all of five years…), until last March. A serious reading of the interview shows that Francis and Benedict are not that different after all, although their personalities and priorities certainly are. Shocking as some oneliners may seem for too many, they, not even the Holy Father’s comments about topics such as abortion and same-sex marriage, really are not at odds with what the Church has been teaching for centuries. Pope Francis simply emphasises other things than his predecessors wanted or succeeded to do. And in doing so, he may well succeed in explaining these teachings, this faith of ages, anew. And in that light, how painful, how shameful it is that too many media outlets simply take the chance to put Pope against Pope – as if Benedict was the old meanie whose policies are now being reverted by good Pope Francis. Rubbish.
This interview is exciting. It allows us to get to know Pope Francis on a far more personal level than before. From his preferences in music and films to his prayer habits and his certainties (and doubts) in the faith. Our faith, our Church, is built on a relationship, of course: the relationship between man and God. Relationships also play an important role on other levels of the Church. And how we relate to our Pope is one of those levels. If we know him, we can form a relationship with him, even if it is a one-sided one since he can impossibly know all of us.
So, thanks, Holy Father, for sharing a glimpse of your life and personality. It’s so easy to be critical of an anonymous man in white, but we can follow a person, with wishes, hopes, dreams, doubts, fears and faith.