The other side of the coin

In a rather surprisingly rapid move, the bishop’s conference have issued a response to the press release of Solidaridad regarding their spat. The press release has appeared on the websites of a number of Dutch dioceses and comes from the pen of Msgr. Jos Punt, bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam and referent for Mission & Development corrects the incorrect and incomplete story from Solidaridad. An excerpt (emphases mine):

Solidarid has been going through a period of ‘generalisation’ for a while now, and has expanded her originally Christian identity. For that reason the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has already statutory distanced herself  from Solidaridad. Solidaridad recently also requested the Dutch bishops’ conference to be allowed to drop the last conditions that still bind her to the Catholic Church. Msgr. Punt, bishop referent for Mission & Development has replied to that by saying that, if Solidaridad keeps managing the Advent charity project, there are two possibilities: either they relinquish the statutory changes and reinforce their identity, or they continue as an ‘implementing organisation’ and accepts that the final responsibility moves to a to-be-established ‘Episcopal Committee for Mission and Development’ (ECMD).
Msgr. Punt: “In service to the parishes and the faithful the bishops must obviously set these conditions to fulfill their duties of supervision and to guarantee total transparency about the utilisation of funds collected by the Advent charity. But Solidaridad chose to continue her development completely separate from the churches. The bishops respect this choice and will find a new realisation for the Advent charity.”
The 10 February press release by Solidaridad, and also their letter to the parishes, incorrectly puts ‘churches help the poor’ opposite the episcopal standpoint of ‘churches help churches’. Of course this means that ecclesiastic channels will be used for charity as much as possible. Goal is the make it possible for the churches in the south to set their own priorities in the care for the poor and their diaconate mission, instead of us deciding it for them. Many parishes already have good experiences with that and sometimes also suggest projects themselves. The Catholic Church has, after all, a unique worldwide network with very short lines – through missionaries, dioceses, congregations, partner parishes, etc. – which makes fast, cheap and reliable relief possible.
There is constructive dialogue with the other missionary organisations to reach good new agreements and procedures. Solidaridad’s public ‘slip-up’, because of premature and one-sided publicity, did cross the scheduled and careful supply of information to the faithful and parishes. More information will follow when the new structure is ready, in cooperation with the missionary organisations.
So, in essence, what Solidaridad wants is basically what the bishops also want: to allow local people to decide what the funds will be used for. But by dragging unrelated issues into it, Solidaridad presented the disagreement as one caused by the bishops, while it was the change in direction from Solidaridad that led the bishops to set terms for continued cooperation. It’s a bit sad, actually, and something that a little more care and objectivity could well have prevented.

Mixing up words, a pet peeve

After a discussion last night (which started with an analysis of Psalm 111 of all things) I got to thinking about a strange and undesirable habit among many Dutch Catholics: the adoption of Protestant terms for Catholic concepts and the urge to hide their Catholic identity, which is a result of that.

In Dutch we have a specific term for a priest who is responsible for one or more parishes: he is a ‘pastoor’. The word clearly derives from pastor, meaning a spiritual shepherd of a congregation. A priest who is not in charge of a parish, but does work in one, used to be called a ‘kapelaan’, or chaplain. In the south of the Netherlands that word is still used without problem. In the north, the area where I live, however, the word ‘kapelaan’ has fallen out of use. Perhaps this is due to the shortage of priests: there is no need to distinguish between two priests in one parish, because there usually only ever is one (if the parish is lucky). In parishes where there is no priest, or he is also responsible for a handful of other parishes, lay people are often appointed to lead prayer services and perform some pastoral duties. These are pastoral workers, not ordained, often married with a family and a job on the side.  They assist the priest in his work and make life just a bit more manageable for him.

But here is the problem. It has become habit for these pastoral workers to refer to themselves as ‘pastor’. A word awfully close to ‘pastoor’, and often the ‘o’ and ‘oo’ sounds are hard to distinguish in speech. Chaplains, too, have taken to this title. The distinction between ‘pastoors’, chaplains and pastoral workers becomes muddled, and not just in their titles, but also in their identity. I would not want to feed the people who claim their pastoral worker is actually a priest who should be allowed to offer the Eucharist, or the people who couldn’t tell you why that is not so.

Making matters worse, certain Protestant ministers have also taken to this title of ‘pastor’.

I often wonder about this apparent need to invent a new term when there is a perfectly clear one available? Is it lack of knowledge or sheer thick-headedness (something which we Dutch excel at)?

In the first paragraph I referred to the adoption of Protestant terms. An example is the use of the name for someone who leads a service, be it a prayer service or Mass: ‘voorganger’, literally someone who leads the congregation. Even in Catholic media this very Protestant word has been used to refer to priests. “Father so-and-so will be the ‘voorganger’ in this service” instead of “Father so-and-so will offer (or celebrate) this Mass.”

It may sound trivial, and seen from a purely practical view it may be. But this is the tip of an iceberg of ignorance. If even the media do not use the terms that directly refer to a person or object’s Catholic identity, how are people going to know this identity, how are they going to be urged to be aware of this identity?

Priest are not lay people, lay people are not ordained, Protestant ministers are not Catholic: these people are not the same, not in their faith, their duties, their vocation, their ordination (or lack thereof)… In the end it comes down to this: the Catholic identity is slowly becoming invisible.

I don’t have any solutions to reverse that trend, but perhaps a good start would be to rediscover our Catholic identity in the words we use. Talk about ‘pastoors’ and ‘kapelaans’, pastoral workers and ‘dominees’, but don’t pretend the one is the other. I’d even be all for introducing the Orthodox and international Catholic tradition of calling our priests ‘Father’.

This little piece of writing is also available in Dutch at Catholica.

Solidaridad, but not with the Church

A sad example today of the Church being blamed for adhering to her identity. Dutch charity Solidaridad, which works primarily for the poor in South America, has broken of all contacts with the Dutch bishops’ conference after the latter requested that their financial aid be used for goals which are in agreement with the faith. To that end, they requested more influence in how their money is used.

Press chief Wim Peeters, speaking on behalf of the bishops’ conference, said that Solidaridad was presented with two options: Have a closer bond with the Church, or become a general charity with collection slots on the roster just like other charities, for those goals that are in agreement with the Church’s teachings. Solidaridad initially chose the latter, according to Peeters. “It now seems that Solidaridad chose a third option. They don’t want any further contact with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Solidaridad director Nico Roozen regrets the increased adherence from the bishops to Catholic teaching: “The Church’s morality creates major problems in areas such as combatting HIV and suitable population politics. High Church opinions on the position of women in church and society and on homosexuality are limiting factors for emancipation. A certain matter of allowing now seems to be history. All the rules are once more strongly enforced.”

Well, that’s the standard complaint which goes far beyond a charity’s prerogative. The debate on women and homosexuality, for example, does not in any way limit charity towards them, as anyone who takes a proper objective look at the Church’s position will readily see. What I regret is the misunderstanding that the local Church (in this case in the Netherlands) must be separate from the ‘high Church’ in Rome. They are very much not separate, but one body. Perhaps it is about time that that ‘certain matter of allowing’ be ended, if it is in disagreement with what the Church actually believes and teaches. In Rome, Amsterdam or an Andean mountain village, the Church is the Church is the Church. Faith and teaching do not vary per region.

And as for Roozen’s comment about emancipation: well, what is Solidaridad? An emancipator or a charity? If the latter, I am certain that the Church will happily aid them where she can, as becomes clear from Peeters’ statement above. What the Church can not do, however, is fund charities which go against her own beliefs.

It’s just sad that it seems to come down to mudslinging and accusations of hunger for power whenever the Church dares stand up for her own identity.