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In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:
“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”
I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.
Every now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.
The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.
And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.
And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.
Headlines in the media today: almost half of all Dutch priests are in favour of abolishing celibacy! “Shoddy work” the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference declares, and he is right.
Let’s look at the numbers. More than 700 priests received a questionnaire from television program Altijd Wat. 135 priests sent their answers to the questions back. That is some 19%. Of these 135, 39% (some 50) are in favour of maintaining the celibacy rule, and a further 21% (some 30) are neutral about it. The remaining 40% (54 priests) said they are in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy.
The conclusion that a significant number of the priests in the Netherlands want to get rid of mandatory celibacy for priests is frankly silly. Out of more than 800 priests working in society, a mere 54 said they are for abolishing celibacy. That is less than 7%. Not even close to a majority.
This opinion poll is invalidated by the small number of replies. In order to get anything approaching a representative estimate, you need a higher response rate than 17%.
On the other hand, this opinion poll is also no evidence that the Dutch priesthood is mostly in favour of celibacy. It proves neither one or the other. But it does trigger headlines, pretending they offer anything similar to the truth, when they quite frankly don’t.
Following the success of last year’s Passion in Gouda, the spectacle moves to Rotterdam this year with an all-new cast to tell the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection through song. Today, the actors playing the roles of Jesus and Mary have been revealed.
They are singer and musical actor Danny de Munk and soul singer Berget Lewis, a change from last year’s actors as far as musical style is concerned. The other cast members of the ecumenical media spectacle will be revealed over the course of the coming weeks. As for these first two actors’ religious background: De Munk has virtually none, while Lewis is a Christian with an Evangelical background.
The Passion will be broadcast live on the evening of Maundy Thursday, 5 April, on the Nederland 1 network and via the Internet. Organisers are Protestant broadcaster EO, Catholic broadcaster RKK, the Protestant Church in the Netherland, the Catholic Church and the Dutch Bible Society.
It is the first year after the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and while a Blessed’s feast day is normally limited to those places where he or she was active (in this case, the city of Rome and the country of Poland), special dispensation has been given for every diocese in the world to organise one celebration in this first year. The Dutch bishops have chosen this weekend, 32 years on the day after Blessed Pope John Paul II called a special Synod on the Church on the Netherlands, for this celebration to take place.
The most high-profile Mass for the Blessed Pope will be the one in the Basilica of Saint Lambert in Hengelo, Archdiocese of Utrecht, which will be televised. Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk is the main celebrant, and most other bishops are to concelebrate.
But in this time, when the clouds of the abuse crisis still hang over us, a potential blemish has appeared. Mr. Frank Oude Geerdink, who was abused by a priest, has called for other victims to gather at the Basilica and stage a ‘silent protest’ in the presence of the bishops. Now, just like previous protests we’ve seen in the past years, this is completely misplaced. Mass is not the place for protest, since it is not primarily about policy or whatever passes between people. In essence, when a protest is staged at a Mass, the chief means by which we receive healing and reconciliation, and which belongs to God, is hijacked to merely make a point. This protest, which has trouble getting of the ground, by the way, is a protest against the lack of response from the bishops to the abuse committed by the Church. Now, the entire premise is wrong (the abuse is not committed by the Church, but by individuals) and the protesters must have missed the Deetman report and the initial reactions to it from the bishops and the religious superiors. While there is still more that needs doing for the victims the premise that the bishops stayed silent simply can not be upheld. Maybe that is the reason why, so far, only six people have signed up to join Mr. Oude Geerdink.
Two hopes, then; that the bishops continue working for the good of all the victims of sexual abuse; and that Sunday’s Mass will not be disrupted. That will simply do not an ounce of good.
Image credit: RKK/Dutch Bishops’ Conference
Three days later, and it’s still difficult to not see anything I try to do here in the light of the abuse crisis, the Deetman report and, especially, the emotional response it, and the reactions from prelates and priests, triggers. All media channels devote many pages and minutes to the topic and for now it seems that the response of the public is primarily emotional. There are positive and negative consequences to that. The most positive one, in my opinion, is that it forces the bishops to acknowledge emotion. Archbishop Eijk acknowledged that the bishops could have shown more empathy from the very start of the crisis, and hopefully they will be able to remedy that in the immediate future. Television appearances by the archbishop and Bishop Gerard de Korte, and the honesty both men display, should go far in building a new basis from which to work through this crisis for the entire Church – laity and clergy, victims and perpetrators of abuse alike – in the Netherlands. But that must necessarily happen after the emotions have stopped raging. And for now, they have not.
Those emotions do not only live in the victims of abuse, although they surely have most right to them, but also in all Catholics in this country, or at least they should. For me, they certainly play their part in thinking about topics to blog about. It all falls a bit flat compared to the upheaval we are in today. Hence the relative lack of new posts. But in a way that is also suitable for this final week of Advent. In the end, there is only One who can repair the damage we have done to ourselves, and He will arrive in glory once more in a little over five days.
The Light of the World will rise again over the people, even through the dust clouds we have caused. For our part, we keep on hoping, praying and working for the healing of far too many damaged people.
Looking back at yesterday’s events, I can’t help but feeling somewhat relieved. Not at the contents of the Deetman report – the events and the errors it describes are terrible – but at the way the report has been received and the bishops responded. Hours after the press conference in which the report was released, Archbishop Eijk held a press conference as well – the fact that it was the archbishop speaking is an indication of how serious this is being taken by the bishops. Later, he appeared on national television, with Mr. Deetman and several victims of abuse. His words of regret and apology were once again well-received, I gathered.
The bishops also published an official statement in both Dutch and English. I link here to the English text. This also shows an openness of what the bishops plan to do to prevent such horrific crimes happening again.
With this start, I think we, clergy and laity alike, must work decisively together, not with our eyes to the past, but firmly ahead of us. We have a great chance to show that we can make a new start, that the mistakes of the past, however serious, need not dictate what we are today and in the future. But I think that some gesture from the Church, ideally from the top down, of sorrow, regret and repentance is very much welcome. I don’t pretend to know what form that should take, but there is more than appearing in television shows and holding press conferences to show our intentions. We Catholics must step out into the world, show our heartfelt regret for the crimes that were committed and our serious intention to prevent them in the future. The basis for that has been laid yesterday. Let’s move forward in unity with one another.
Perhaps fittingly in this time of the year, as the penitential season of Advent draws to a close, we start this day with trepidation and expectation. Two hours from now, the final report from the Deetman committee will be released with an accompanying press conference, which will be televised live. To indicate the importance of today’s events, rumour has it that not Bishop Gerard de Korte, who has been face and voice of the Church in this crisis, will lead a later press conference in the afternoon, but the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Wim Eijk. Here, the bishops will react to the Deetman report. The Conference of Dutch Religious, meanwhile, announces the publication of an open letter to the victims, expected online at the end of the afternoon.
Whatever the report’s conclusions, many rightfully expect them to be damning. Not just about how the Church dealt with the horrific crimes of its clergy and laity in the past, but certainly also with how things are being handled now. There is no doubt that the improvement made is enormous, but it has also been very Dutch: practical to the end, with a focus on monetary compensation and efficient handling. There is much to say for that, and legally there is virtually nothing wrong with it. But many still miss a pastoral solution, among them Mr. Wim Deetman himself. The Church, first and foremost, still needs to learn to listen. More than efficient solutions and financial compensation, an attentive ear opens the way to healing for so many victims, not just of sexual abuse. I think we all know that from experience.
That subject may be mentioned at the press conference, but there have already been signs that the bishops are still divided on it. Will a pastoral gesture of regret and penitence be welcomed or seen as empty theatrics? A good question, and I fear the chance of the latter is quite great, but I don’t think the bishops should lose sight of the fact that any act of penitence, public or not, must come from within. If it doesn’t, it will be empty theatrics.
In the meantime, this morning we await the conclusions and the numbers, and not least the aftermath. I, and as I’ve already seen here and there, others too ask for prayer for the victims and also for the Church in this country.
St. Willibrord and St. Boniface, pray for us.
Photo credit: Reformatorisch Dagblad