Priest attacked… for being Catholic

One of the consequences of the carnival Masses I wrote about earlier, has become clear in the small town of Reusel, in the diocese of Den Bosch. A carnival Mass of some sort was planned there, but the local priest, Father Luc Buyens evidently thought it prudent to make sure the Mass was Catholic. He therefore made a phone call to the town’s carnival prince, a 24-year-old man who leads an openly homosexual lifestyle. Since the Church requires all faithful who present themselves for Communion to be in a state of grace and lead a life in agreement with their faith, Father Buyens could do little else but tell the carnival prince that he would not be able to receive Communion.

This did not go down well. The prince did not understand why he couldn’t receive, stating he was a Catholic, baptised and confirmed and that his grandparents were in shock because of all this. A local member of the town council took it upon himself to defend the poor victim and rallied the national gay newspaper to organise a protest at Fr. Buyen’s church on Sunday.  The paper’s editor promised he’d be there ‘to enter into discussion with the faithful’.

Father Buyens had seemingly anticipated a response like this and said he would clarify his reasons to his parishioners on Sunday.

Now, a lot can be said about this. In the first place, a dressed-up carnival prince, homosexual or not, has no business being a lector during Mass. Maintain some level of dignity and decorum in the presence of the Lord. But that’s another discussion.

The priest could do nothing else but to deny this man Communion. In fact, he should have done so five years ago, when the man is said to have embarked on his openly homosexual way of life. And if the carnival prince was as Catholic as he said, he should have known this.

But I’m not surprised he didn’t. The vast majority of Catholics in this country knows next to nothing about their faith, let alone about such an important element as the Eucharist. Knowing what is required of the faithful before they can receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Surely that’s out of the question.

So here we have a priest who did his job, the only thing he could do. As documents, theologians and other experts emphasise time and again, the liturgy is not ours to do with as we wish, so changing the requirements for Communion is an impossibility, pure and simple.

The skewed perception of this affair will be in favour of the alleged victim. The modern consensus is that the boundless freedom for everyone to do whatever they wish is more important than the freedom of others to follow a set of morals, values and beliefs. Because these are ultimately not to be trusted, because they limit the freedom of others. And that is why they must be opposed, loudly, disproportionately, and they certainly must not be reasoned with.

I really wonder what any demonstration will achieve, apart from more anti-Catholic sentiments in the media. They surely can’t expect that the priest will change his mind?

It is quite maddening, to be honest.

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The bishops respond to the Solidaridad bust-up

Following  the media bust-up by charity Solidaridad – who ended their cooperation with the bishop’s conference (giving a fabricated story as a reason) and then sent a letter to all parishes encouraging them to do the same – the bishops have sent a letter to all parish councils explaining what really happened. 

They are obviously not feeling particularly charitable towards Solidaridad, and rightly so: Solidaridad’s actions were very much out of bounds, and ignorant to boot. 

Anyway, below is the letter as drafted on the authority of Bishop Punt on behalf of all the bishops. 

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Dear council, 

Last week you received a letter from Solidaridad. This has led to indignation, not just with the bishops but with many in the missions. More about that later. First I want to inform you, admittedly prematurely – the discussion is ongoing – about the state of business. From the media alone you can impossibly form a good picture. 

Changes in the missionary field 

For a significant amount of time the missionary field in the Catholic Church has been changing a lot. In the past decades various missionary organisations have gone through important developments: increase in scale, mergers and a greater government participation. This often also led to statutory changes of adaptations of goals, blurring the specific religious identity. By cooperating with new partners church funds now represent but a small part of the total budget of large missionary organisations. In itself this development is understandable. But the missionairy visibility of the Church ahs become somewhat threatened because of it. To protect this and to reformulate the relations with the Church, Msgr. Dr. J. Punt, as referent for Mission and Development, has entered into discussions with a number of missionairy organisations on the following criteria: 

1) Transparency. 

By including Church missionary actions into larger aid and development organisation, many parishes experience their own missionary actions as not transparent enough. In dialogue with the implementing partners, the bishops strive to offer the faithful openness and transparency on projects, the spending of funds, overhead costs and the goals achieved. 

2) Churches help churches. 

This means that we want to use as much as possible our own channels for aid. The Church after all has a unique global network with very short lines through missionaries, dioceses, congregations, Church institutes, partner parishes, etc., making adequate and fast aid possible. Many parishes are already using this to the full. It is about allowing churches in the south to state their own priorities, help the poor themselves and fulfill needs, instead of us deciding it for them. This way of working prevent organisation dictating what the people need from western paternalism or ideology. Churches in developing countries continuously identify projects, not just in church development, but especially in education, health care, agriculture, etc. 

4) Input. 

This is about the question of how to realise these principles in new agreements and a new structure. It after all is about the efforts of faithful and parishes and the funds that have been collected in and by the churches. The new structure includes the establishment of an ‘Episcopal Commission for Mission and Development Cooperation’. This will have the task of guaranteeing a balanced campaign or project lost. It will do in close dialogue with the implementing organisations, but will keep the final say in the matter. Where else would that lie? Where is the logic in Solidaridad’s desire for the board of an independent aid organisation to have full say in how to spend church funds? 

In good consultation 

missionary organisations will surely recognise the principles above. The dialogue about this 0 which is still ongoing – has always taken place in a constructive atmosphere. Solidaridad too understood the need for renewal. For themselves, however, they envisioned a different future and broadening of their identity and they took concrete steps to that end. On 11 November 2009 the board of Solidaridad requested the bishops per letter to be allowed to drop to final regulations that still tied them to the Catholic Church. They also added that the Protestant Church in the Netherlands had already ended their ties with Solidaridad. The letter from the board describes this as a win-win situation: “From our side the return of the mandate of implementing organisation for the Advent Action, and from your side the release of a statement of no objection for passing the new statutes. In our opinion creating a mutual space is the best approach.” It is their clear wish to continue as an independent, not-ecclesiastic organisation. The Church would get the space to give a new missionary structure to the Advent Action. 

Solidaridad quits 

After the bishops had agreed to this proposal, the roles are suddenly reversed in a dramatic press release from Solidaridad on 10 February. Solidaridad suddenly attacks the bishops with allegations and suggestions. The purpose seems clear: One the one hand, Solidaridad wants to completely separate from the bishops and on the other hand they want to take the parishes with them to keep receiving money from them and the faithful. To the bishops this is obviously unacceptable. The commentary in the Trouw newspaper was equally surprised: “It is peculiar that Solidaridad urges the parishes to be disobedient and ignore the new Advent Action of the bishops. For clarity’s sake, let this means of collection go.” 

We will trust in your own wisdom to inform your parishioners in due time about the disappearance of Solidaridad from the collection schedule, without burdening them needlessly with details. As soon as there is news about the new content of the Advent Action we will inform you. 

Wishing you a fruitful Lent,

With Regards,

On behalf of the bishops of the Netherlands,

  

Drs. G.H.A. Kruis, secretary general a.i. 

Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of ecumenical approach

Last Tuesday Bishop Gerard de Korte spoke at a press conference to signal the start of Refo500, a series of activities leading up to 2017 and the celebration of 500 years of Reformation. Msgr. de Korte is a member of the project group of the Catholic Society for Ecumenism that participates in Refo500 on behalf of the Catholic Church.

I shared my thought about the Catholic participation in Refo500 in an earlier post and in his address, Msgr. de Korte raises some similar points concerning the importance of not ignoring the things that still separate us and, at the same time, of working with those things we share. Another interesting point raised below is the ‘smell of home’, of Christianity as a cultural and social mark.

Refo500 and the ecumenism discussed here is sometimes particularly Dutch. The bishop’s references to ‘Gristus’ and ‘Kristus’, for example, refer to the particular pronunciation in Dutch of the name of Christ: most Protestant use the throaty [x] sound, whereas Catholic use the Latin version [k]. They’re minute differences that carry a raft of social and cultural connotations.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past half century a lot has happened in ecumenism. The old walls between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have been increasingly demolished. Yesterday’s papists and heretics have today become brothers and sisters in the one Lord. Personally I see this development as the work of God’s Spirit.

Of course there still are theological differences. Personally I think that many differences are concentrated around the topics of ‘sacramentality’ and especially around the concept of de Church, the sacrament, holy orders and Mary.

Besides theological differences the differences in the ‘smell of home’ are equally important for the average parishioner or the average community member. Our subcultures often still encourage mutual alienation. When a Protestant Christian speaks of ‘Gristus’ instead of ‘Kristus’ a Catholic senses a major distance. Likewise, Catholic usage of ‘Our Lord’ will be difficult for many Protestants.

It is not appropriate to deny or ignore all this. But we realise more and more our calling to search for unity. Only so do we answer the Lord’s desire that all His followers be one (cf. John 17). In th past half century we preferred to emphasise those things that Rome and the Reformation share instead of the things that still divide us. As a common heritage I mention Holy Scripture and the bond with God via the Scriptures; the Ten Commandments; the relationship with Jesus Christ, in Whom God revealed Himself in the fullness of time; the confessions of faith of the early Church; the confession of the Triune God and the theological and spiritual heritage of the first 1,500 years of the Church.

I consider the Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of the ecumenical movement. 500 years ago Roman Catholics and Protestant were often violently and irredeemably opposed. We even both used violence in name of our faith. But luckily we can now look back on the origins of Reformation in a more irenic atmosphere.

Historian and theologians from different traditions try to get a new and less biased  viewed on the time of the Reformation. En route to the Luther year in 2017, I hope to see many new historical and theological publications. In that way we can work on what Pope John Paul called “the purification of memory”.

But hopefully Refo500 won’t be just for historians and theologians. A clear view on the past can help every Christian in furthering ecumenical dialogue. In the Netherlands we live in a secular culture of the majority. Confessional Christians have become a minority. This further increases the importance of the ecumenical meeting between Christian of different backgrounds. Only when we continue to overcome our mutual divisions can we give a believable witness of Christ and His Gospel. We are facing the challenge to show that living in friendship with Christ make a real difference.

Msgr. Dr. G.J.N. De Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

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The above words were spoken at a press conference intended to promote Refo500, so they are naturally rather general and focussed on cooperation. I am personally quite interested to see how the Catholic identity becomes visible in the events. There are plans, it seems, for an exhibition about the Council of Trent, called in response to the Reformation and still very influential in the modern Church. That would be a very good element to include for the sake of creating a complete picture.