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The Diocese of Trier has come with some sort of explanation for Bishop Stephan Ackermann’s confusing comments on the Church’s moral teaching, which I wrote about before. The response comes in a response to a long letter by Austrian student Victoria Fender (pictured). In it, she expresses her concern for Bishop Ackermann’s reasoning, stating that while reality is one thing, a bishop has a duty to share and promote the Church’s ideal of Christian marriage and sexuality, not give in to what society thinks it is today (and maybe something else altogether tomorrow). And, she adds, there is a very real desire among young people for this countercultural teaching, if only they heard about it.
Part of the response to Ms. Fender’s letter goes as follows:
As Ms. Fender writes, she is personally very enthused by the message of the Gospel and is generally respected for her witness of faith and life by her fellow students. One can only rejoice about that. The responses to the Synod survey have also clearly indicated that the great majority of Catholics shares the basic values of what the Church teaches about marriage and sexuality: lifelong fidelity, openness to the transmission of life, respect for one’s partner… But it also an undeniable truth that every person’s life needs a very personal development to come nearer and nearer to the goal of Christian truth. This way is not always linear.
All nice and true, but the fact that different people come to the truth in different ways does of course not mean that the truth is different for everyone. Marriage is still marriage. Human sexuality still has the same nature and purpose. The letter continues…
In his service a bishop is both teacher and pastor. In her letter, Ms. Fender herself referred to the words of Jesus about the Good Shepherd. For a bishop that means that he is also responsible for those who do not particularly live up to the ideals of Christian morality. Should he, like the Good Shepherd, also not go after the sheep that got lost, to show it, in the mercy of Christ, the way to full community? In his words, Pope Francis reminds us time and again not to discourage people, but to help them to discover the beauty of the faith, so that they can grow in that faith. Bishop Ackermann is committed to this task. In more than a few responses that have come to us in the last few days, this is perceived gratefully.
To me, this sounds like a classic mistake. Of course, bishops and priests (and all faithful) should do their best to find the lost sheep and bring them back to the herd. But we can’t do so by telling those sheep that they were right to get lost or purposely leaving the herd. We can’t change the truth in order to bring them back. Rather, we should show them ever more clearly the beauty of that truth, of the faith, not adapt it to what some think it should be. A bishop has the duty to shepherd and teach, but also to communicate the faith and make sure it is represented truthfully. By saying, as Bishop Ackermann did, that homosexuality is not intrinsically disordered, that contraception is not a problem because it is hard to understand, or that the indissolubility of marriage is no longer valid, he basically admits that the truth that the Church has been teaching for centuries is not set, that it can be changed according to the wishes of the people. That is not good shepherding, that is confirming people in their error, that is telling sheep to get lost and stay away because they think it is best for them.
A bishop should teach the truth, lead people to that truth and show the fullness and beauty of that truth. Even when it is difficult or when people need time to understand and achieve it. That last part is only human, and we should give people all the time and support they need. Telling them that it takes too long, so it must be wrong, is the road to disaster.
Someone pointed out to me that bishops are teachers, so we must let them teach. But what if we find problems with their teaching? Should we not ask for clarification, or even share our concerns. Ms. Fender did the best thing anyone can do. She sent a letter to the bishop, pointing out what she found hard to understand about what he taught. It is a shame that the response is quite unsatisfactory.
As 185 cardinals are planning to attend the consistory for the creation of new cardinals on 22 February and, more importantly, the preceding days in which the College of Cardinals will be employed for it most significant use: to function as an advisory body for the Pope on, in this case, topics related to the reform of the Curia and the upcoming Synod on the family, 14 archbishops and one bishop are planning to travel to the Eternal City for their inclusion into the College.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols poses in the purple of a bishop for the last time, shortly before flying to Rome for the consistory.
Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solórzano, clad in jeans and a sports jacket, says his goodbyes at the airport of Managua.
Archbishop Loris Capovilla, who, at 98, will be the oldest cardinal ever, has asked Pope Francis to allow him not to come to Rome for the consistory. Stating that his strength is greatly diminished and feeling uncomfortable at meeting so many people, the former personal secretary of Blessed Pope John XXIII will receive the red hat at the church of Sotto il Monte, birthplace of John XXIII, a few days after the consistory. The last time a cardinal was not present at the consistory in which he was created was in 1998, when Cardinal Alberto Bovone, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, received the red hat at the Gemelli hospital. He would succumb to the illness which had confined him there a few months later. Blessed Pope John XXIII, by the way, also wasn’t in Rome when he was made a cardinal in 1953. Then the Papal Nuncio to France, he received the regalia from the French head of state, a privilege no longer in use.
Per the Vatican website, the rite for the creation of the new cardinals will be unchanged from those of Pope Benedict XVI’s last two consisteries. It all starts with a greeting, prayer and a reading of the following text from the Gospel of Mark:
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him, ‘We want you to do us a favour.’
He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’
They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’
But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?’
They replied, ‘We can.’
Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I shall be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’
When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (10:32-45).
The first of the new cardinals, in this case Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin will address the Pope on behalf of all, after which the Pope officially names the new cardinals. From that point onwards, they are officially created as cardinals. The new cardinals will then speak the profession of faith and oath of fidelity.
Each new cardinal then approaches the Pope to receive the biretta, the ring and the bull of his creation which also names his deaconry or title church. The kiss of peace follows, and the rite ends with the Our Father.
Photo credit:  The Papal Visit on Facebook,  ANSA/PAOLO MAGNI/DRN
In the countries around us the results of the Synod of Bishops questionnaire have been published and they show a worrying image. While the data differs slightly per country, the general trend seems to be that Catholic faithful in general do not agree with Catholic teaching about sexuality and gender. In Germany the bishops have said that the faithful considering same-sex marriage a matter of justice and equality. Celibacy for priests is equally considered outdated and should be abolished.
This points to a serious problem: the Church in these countries has not succeeded in communicating her teachings very well, and where it has, it has done so according to the stereotype of the Church who forbids everything. Catholic teaching about sexuality is rooted in a profound understanding of human nature, according to his being created by God who has created man with a purpose.
This teaching, founded in that of Jesus Christ and unchanged (if developed) since then, is one that often exists at direct angles with society. Society in the west teaches something radically different than the Church: sexuality is a commodity, gender is self made, free choice trumps all. In essence, it says that the human being is the sole interpreter of who he or she is or can be. The Church, on the other hand, teaches that the human being is called to something greater in all aspects of his being. God calls him to Himself and shows us the way in His Son. That means that we are not limited by what we think, feel or know ourselves, but also that we should take our nature seriously. And that latter part is where we struggle. With those around us who tell us something different, but also with ourselves.
It is certainly easy to go along with what society tells us about sexuality. It is easy, comforting, uplifting even to fight for the happiness of others in love and marriage. It is a measure of control and seeming self-knowledge to decide on our own sexuality and practices. But God tells us something different. He says that we are called to look beyond ourselves, to listen to what He tells us and how He created us.
And that is something that must be communicated well. Until now, it hasn’t. The keyword in this communication is love. We must communicate, teach, inform with love. The love of the Father for us, but also our love for our neighbours and for ourselves. That love can’t be withdrawn when we or others stumble or decide to go another path. We are, after all, people with free will. That is how God created us and that is what we must respect.
What sort of love must we show to others and ourselves? In essence it is the love of the Father, and the best analogy I can think of is the love of parents for their children. Parents want what is best for their children, even when the children disagree. The children know that their parents love them, even when they sometimes forbid them things or correct them. We must emulate that love when we share the teachings of the Church on these very personal and sensitive matters.
Don’t turn anyone away.
Be honest and open. People deserve no less.
Love the person, not their actions.
Condemn actions, not persons.
Lead by example.
People will still disagree when we do, of course. But we are called to share and spread the faith, and to do so fully. Faith without love is nothing.
It is about five weeks before the consistory, so the announcement was expected any day, but Pope Francis managed to surprise again. At the end of today’s Angelus he announced his first batch of cardinals, 16 in all. The list is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who’s who.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin (58), Secretary of State. No surprise here. The Secretary of State has traditionally always been a cardinal, and although the position looks to undergo some changes in Pope Francis’ curial reforms, but the title and rank of the occupant is not among them. In contrast to his important function in the Curia, Cardinal-designate is quite young. Only three current members of the entire College (Woelki, Tagle and Thottunkal) are younger.
- Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (73), Secetary General of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. Also no surprise, but for different reasons. The important role given to him early on in Francis’ pontificate, organising the two upcoming Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and already wearing the red skullcap that Pope Francis himself wore until his election to the papacy, indicated that he would be among the Pope’s first cardinals. Cardinal-designate Baldisseri will be the third Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to be made a cardinal. The previous one was Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte.
- Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (66), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Head of the first among equals of Curial dicasteries, Archbishop Müller was also quite certain to be among the new cardinals. Ever since the Popes were no longer heads of the Doctrinal office, all Prefects were cardinals. Some have made assumptions that Cardinal-designate Müller was not going to be made a cardinal, because the ‘orthodox’ prelate seemed to be at odds with the ‘liberal’ Pope, but those are evidently mere rumours. The Prefect and the Pope work closely and well together, and Müller has even hosted the Holy Father for dinner.
- Archbishop Beniamino Stella (72), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Another sure candidate because of his function. The diplomat-prelate has made a rapid rise in the Curia last year, but that does not make his appointment surprising. Since as far back as the 16th century, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has been a cardinal.
- Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols (68), Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom. Somewhat of a surprise, although the UK is now without any active cardinal electors, with Scottish Cardinal O’Brien in effective retirement. For some he is considered too liberal, but the fact remains that Cardinal-designate Nichols has been an archbishop for almost 14 years (first of Birmingham, now of Westminster), and in his current see he is the 11th cardinal. In fact, since its establishment in 1850, all ordinaries of Westminster were made cardinals.
- Archbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano (64), Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua. Now we are getting into the more interesting and unexpected choices for red hats. Cardinal-designate Brenes Solórzano is only the second archbishop of Managua to be made a cardinal. He is also the second elector in all of Central America (not counting Mexico).
- Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (56), Archbishop of Québec, Canada. The successor of Cardinal Ouellet in the French-Canadian capital, Cardinal-designate Lacroix could have been expected to be made a cardinal some day, but he did not feature on many lists. Québec has been a cardinal see before, but rarely automatically. At 56, he will also be the second-youngest member of the College.
- Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa (68), Archbishop of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. From the start of speculations a likely candidate in traditionally cardinal-deprived Africa, Cardinal-designate Kutwa is the third archbishop of Abidjan in a row to be made a cardinal, with his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Agré, still alive. Before being appointed to Abidjan in 2006, Archbishop Kutwa had been Archbishop of Gagnoa since 2001.
- Archbishop Orani João Tempesta (63), Archbishop of São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Host of the most recent World Youth Days and head of one of global Catholicism’s largest communities, Cardinal-designate Tempesta follows in the footsteps of his predecessors since the late 19th century.
- Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti (71), Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy. The only Italian ordinary on the list, Cardinal-designate Bassetti is a bit of a surprise. Perugia has rarely supplied a cardinal. His appointment comes in lieu of other, more likely, sees such as Turin or Venice. Th vice-president of the Italian bishops’ conference was recently also appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
- Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli (66), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis’ own successor in the Argentinean capital and in fact the second ordinary appointed in his papacy, Cardinal-designate Poli need not have been a surprise choice. Five of his six predecessors in Buenos Aires also became cardinals.
- Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung (70), Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea. As South Korea is one of the fastest growing Catholic countries in the world, and certainly in Asia, it is certainly fitting for its capital’s archbishop to be made a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Yeom Soo-Jung is the third of Seoul’s archbishops to be made a cardinal. In addition to the Archdiocese of Seoul, the cardinal-designate is theoretically also pastorally responsible for the Catholics of North Korea.
- Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (71), Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Chile. A main-stay on the lists, Cardinal-designate Ezzati Andrello heads a traditional cardinalatial see. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals. The Salesian cardinal-designate was previously archbishop of Concepción, also in Chile, before being appointed to that nation’s capital.
- Archbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo (68), Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Only the second cardinal to hail from this western African country, he is a bit of a surprise. Cardinal-designate Ouédraogo is president of the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso, and a welcome addition to the College, considering his nationality and heritage.
- Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (74), Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines. A second elector from the Philippines was very welcome, but it being the archbishop of Cotabato is quite surprising. No cardinal has come from there before. Cardinal-designate Quevedo, however, has been archbishop of Nueva Segovia, and president of both the Philippine bishops’ conference and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
- Bishop Chibly Langlois (55), Archbishop of Les Cayes, Haiti. Another young cardinal, and the first from Les Cayes. Cardinal-designate Langlois is even more noticeable for not being an archbishop and the first Haitian cardinal. The Haitian hierarchy, then, looks rather unique, with the bishop of a regular diocese wearing the red, while the nation’s two archbishop do not. Bishop Langlois has been the president of the bishops’ conference of Haiti since the end of 2011.
- Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla (98), Archbishop-prelate of Loreto, Italy. The oldest cardinal, Cardinal-designate Capovilla is a remarkable choice. He was Blessed Pope John XXIII secretary during the latter’s entire papacy, and we can therefore see his elevation in light of the Blessed Pope’s upcoming canonisation and the Second Vatican Council he convened. He will be the oldest cardinal of the College, and also the oldest to be created in the Church’s history.
- Archbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar (84), Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain. A retired ordinary of a see which has supplied only one other cardinal in the past, the creation of Cardinal-designate Aguilar must be seen as Pope Francis personal choice as well as, perhaps, the importance he attaches to the mission. Cardinal-designate Aguilar is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- Archbishop Kelvin Edward Felix (80), Archbishop emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia. Another first as no cardinals have ever come from the smaller Caribbean nations. Cardinal-designate Felix’s elevation is another step in creating a more representative College of Cardinals.
All in all, the biglietto fits well with the priorities of Pope Francis, as the new cardinals come from all corners of the world, from the Curia and (in larger part) from the world’s dioceses, and are not limited to the standard traditional cardinalatial sees. But it also tells us that Pope Francis is not willing to let go of tradition altogether. For the proper functioning of the Curia and the College of Cardinals, it seems, he recognises that he needs the Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Clergy to be cardinals. But he also wants the important Synod of Bishops to be represented well, hence that body’s Secretary General’s presence on the list. He understands the importance of major sees like Westminster, Québec, Abidjan, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Seoul, but also Managua and Ouagadougou, all on equal footing. And lastly, it seems, there are cardinals who warrant the red for their personal qualities – Bassetti, Quevedo and Langlois, as well as the new impulse their elevation would give to their local faith communities.
And then, even the elevation of three non-electors tells us something. Archbishop Capovilla’s presence is especially poignant, as it connects the current pontificate with that of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council he convened. Pope Francis is very clearly a child of the Council. Some have noted his physical likeness to Good Pope John, but here we see a hint that that likeness may well run deeper.
Of the 19 new cardinals, 16 will be electors, being under the age of 80. Only four of the new cardinals (Parolin, Baldisseri, Müller and Stella) will be Cardinal Deacons, as the are members of the Curia. The remaining 12 will be Cardinal Priests, being current or retired ordinaries.
In an interview with Die Welt, published yesterday, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, retired ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, spoke, among other things, about the proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. His answers are somewhat disconcerting.
On the question if the topic is now off the table, after Archbishop Müller’s opposition to the proposal which originated in Archbishop Zollitsch’s Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, the archbishop replied:
“How can this topic be off the table? 35 to 40 percent of marriages end in divorce these days. As Church we ask ourselves: How should we relate to those concerned? This is the question that our pastoral care office’s proposal asks. I feel much strengthened by Pope Francis, who has called his own Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family for October of 2014. There we want to present what we in Freiburg have drafted.”
Archbishop Zollitsch is of course correct when he says that the numbers call for us to be concerned about the large number of marriages, both sacramental and civil, which end prematurely. And in that sense his efforts to draft proposals to put that concern into practice are only to be lauded. But it is good te recall that Archbishop Müller did not nix the proposal. He told the German bishops to withdraw it and revise two points – that faithful can decide for themselves whether or not they should receive Communion, and that a sort of ‘pseudo-marriage rite’ may be celebrated in the church for people who enter into a second civil marriage – but he maintained that the proposal as a whole contains “very correct and important pastoral teachings”. The interviewer’s suggestion that Archbishop Müller wants the topic off the table, and Archbishop Zollitsch’s failure to correct this assessment, suggests a serious misrepresentation of the facts.
The interviewer continues:
Archbishop Müller has written to you that the draft should be “withdrawn and revised”.
“That is the judgement of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Müller’s position corresponds with the Tradition he represents. But the majority of people who have approached us were positive about the proposal. That tells me that we are pursuing an important issue and that it is important to find a viable solution. Pope Francis often speaks of being close to people. I think that that can be a good direction, also in dealing with civilly remarried.”
Here it gets more serious, as facts are more distorted. Yes, Archbishop Müller represents a Tradition, but this is not because of his position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but because of his identity as a Catholic Christian. That means, then, that we all represent that Tradition, which is the Church’s and which we all confess and reaffirm in every Mass. That many people are positive about the proposal means nothing in this case, as faith and Tradition are not decided by majority vote. Of course, the issue is important and a viable solution must be found. Not because many people want it, but because it is good for them.
Is your upcoming retirement or the general euphoria about Pope Francis the reason for being so relaxed about comments from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
“Neither. As President of the Bishops’ Conference I have, in recent years, after our spring and autumn meeting, travelled to Rome to explain our position. If a prefect of one the various Congregations would then oppose this position, I would think to go slowly. A Prefect is not the Pope. I look for dialogue, and for me that is the way of collegiality and the dialogue in the Church.”
So what Archbishop Zollitsch is saying here is that the opinions of Curial officials, who are tasked with specific duties in the Church (in the case of the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith this includes to make sure that the faith is represented completely and properly and shared in all its fullness), duties which come with the necessary amount of authority, do not matter? That it is simply a matter of diplomacy: Oh, if I can’t get my way like this, I’ll just try it like that? Ordinaries, of which Archbishop Zollitsch is one, have the same duty as I mentioned above for Archbishop Müller, but if they fail in performing them, corrections must come from a higher level: the Pope, who delegates some duties to those called to assist him in his. And among those are the members of the Curia. Simply saying, “a Prefect is not the Pope”, is tantamount to ignoring the entire existence, duty, authority and function of the Curia. And in this case, Archbishop Zollitsch also conveniently ignores the fact that Archbishop Müller clearly stated that he composed his article on the issue in L’Osservatore Romano, and the subsequent letter to the German bishops, after consultation with the Pope. It is therefore impossible to say that this Prefect is simply acting for himself. We can safely assume that Pope Francis is fully behind Archbishop Müller in this case.
Hiding behind bland statements like “collegiality” and “dialogue” (which are not meaningless in themselves, but they are as used here), is incredibly naive. Archbishop Müller, speaking after discussing hs beforehand with the Pope, has been very clear. He has the duty and authority to correct the German bishops. That is dialogue. Dialogue is not a collection of niceties without any consequences for anyone. It is the collegial correction of errors, which must be given and received in fraternity. Ignoring and pushing them aside as simple opinions of some Prefect who is just acting for himself is a distortion of facts, faith and duty.
One day before his 80th birthday, and his retirement from Curial functions that comes with it, Cardinal Joachim Meisner makes some bold and critical statements in an interview for Deutschlandfunk. The archbishop of Cologne is known to be in disagreement with most other German bishops about if, when and how divorced and remarried Catholics can be allowed to receive the sacraments. In that respect he is very much in agreement with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He also speaks about being critical of Pope Francis, in a personal conversation no less. He says:
“During my last visit to Pope Francis I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of topics. And I also told him that his proclamation in the form of interviews and short statements leaves many questions unanswered, questions which should be explained further for the uninformed. The Pope looked at me with surprise and asked me to please give him an example. And my reply was that, in his return from Rio to Rome, on the airplane, he was asked about the question of divorced and remarried people. And as the Pope said, divorced people can receive Holy Communion, remarried divorced people can not. In the Orthodox Church it is possible to marry twice. That was his statement. And then he spoke of mercy, which in my experience, which is what I told him, is only understood in this country as a substitute for all human failings. And the Pope very energetically replied that he is a son of the Catholic Church and is not saying anything but the teachings of the Church. And mercy must be identical to truth, or it doesn’t deserve the name mercy. And in addition, he emphasised that when theological questions remain, then there is the important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to formulate and explain the details. And you must always remember that this Congregation, which before the Council was chaired by the Pope himself, is still the first in the Curial order. And you can’t relate to the Prefect as a private person, just because he was once a member of the Bishops’ Conference.”
This is pretty unheard of, that a cardinal so freely discusses his disagreements with the Pope. Pope Francis’ reaction is no less interesting, of course. It shows how he wants the Curia, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the lead, to function. Not as a behemoth controlled by the Pope, but as a body assisting the Pope in his ministry. And I think that also shows us how we should all act as Catholics. We should be willing and able to explain and clarify in love, to proclaim, not just by speaking about Jesus Christ, but also by knowing and living our faith, even in the face of misunderstanding and adversity.
Cardinal Meisner was also asked about demands from certain groups that the Church should adapt to the times. Such sentiments were heard anew in the wake of the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. Although this was never intended as a means to ask the faithful for their opinions on Church teaching, many have used it as a chance to express theirs nonetheless.
“The Church must conform to the Word of God and not to the opinion of people. As Church we must know the opinions of people, to be able to proclaim the Word of God accordingly. But conforming, as they are asking, is not a part of the Gospel. It is amazing that the Evangelical Church has defined, with her position paper on questions of sexuality, a total alignment to the so-called spirit of the times. And what does the state of the Evangelical Church look like? As I understand, the number of people leaving it are even higher than ours. That can’t, ultimately, be because of the question of sexuality.”
Isn’t the cardinal afraid to stand alone, to become isolated, because what he says is not in accordance with what others are saying?
“I am not afraid to stand alone. During my school days in Thuringia I was the only Catholic boy, pupil. And I was always a part of everything and never allowed myself to be isolated. The mission of the ZdK (Central Committee of German Catholics) is to make the Gospel visible and have effect in the secular dimension, as it’s called, in the world. And here this group must seriously ask itself if they have remained true to their mission and vocation? You are asking if, in this context, I have no fear of being isolated? I have real concern for those people who bend their faith to themselves and who make their own faith, and who do not accept in awe what Christ Himself has entrusted to us. There is no solution there.”
During their November meeting, which took place last Tuesday, the Dutch bishops decided what to do with the questionnaire that the Synod of Bishops had sent round in preparation for next year’s Extraordinary Synod on the family. Rather than polling all faithful they will be limiting themselves to the parishes and their pastoral teams. “Those who deal with the various situations regarding relationships, families and family forms in daily pastoral reality, paint the best picture of the situation in the Dutch parishes,” the bishops said in a statement released today. The questions which ask for statistics and percentages will be answered by the Secretariat of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands.
The questionnaire as it was released in Dutch via the website Katholiek.nl will not be sent on to Rome by the bishops.
The reasons to do it like this are easily understood and supported: there is the question of time (the answers need to be back in Rome by the end of January), so efficiency is needed, and the nature of questions requires a level of knowledge that many regular faithful do not have (nor should they, in most cases, be expected to). I also had to pass on some questions because I simply had no way of providing a useful answer.
In most Dutch parishes, as in the dioceses, contact between pastoral teams and faithful is easily achieved and priests will have a good knowledge of the makeup of their parishes. That means that they will be able to answer the questions accurately, and that individual faithful can approach their priest if they have concerns about what he should write in his answers to certain questions.
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”.
A remarkable initiative from the Synod of Bishops – newly tasked to spearhead Pope Francis’ reforms under its new Secretary General, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (right) - will have many wondering (some with much hope, undoubtedly), if the Church has finally discovered democracy.
In a letter (via this link, scroll one age down) to the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, Archbishop Baldisseri asked for an attached poll to be held among the parishes and deaneries, asking the Church’s faithful about many hot-button topics, as a quick review of the questionnaire reveals.
The poll should not be considered as an attempt by the Vatican to find out what the faithful want the Church to teach and believe, but rather how the teachings – especially those about the family, marriage, sexuality, children – take root in the smallest cells of the Catholic world: the parishes and other faith communities. In a way, this is democracy, in that the voice of all faithful is listened to, and in another way it is not, since that voice will not dictate teachings and faith. It can, however, and this may well be the intention the Synod of Bishops has, have influence on how these teachings and faith are communicated, promoted and accepted.
The unique effort is part of the preparation for the upcoming assembly of the Synod, on the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” The bishops are asked to return the answers to the Synod by the end of January.