Who decides on the music?

In a radio interview, Father Leo van Ulden OFM, vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, spoke about the censorship of certain songs used in the liturgy. Father Cor Mennen of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and Msgr. Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Utrecht have recommended that at least 29 songs be no longer used in the liturgy. Father van Ulden says that the assumption of the Liturgy Workgroup Heeswijk, who publishes the liturgy sheets for many parishes in the Netherlands, that the censorship is a decision, is incorrect. It is premature to says so, he claims. The final decision on what can and cannot be sung in the liturgy rests with the bishops’ conference, and Father van Ulden says that, were he the publisher of the songs, he would inform the bishops: “we await your judgement and keep on singing.”

I’ve seen Father van Ulden’s comments presented as an attack against the censorship and a sign of disagreement among the bishops, but I don’t think that’s true. Rather, he points out the difference between advice and decision. When it comes to hymn books which are used throughout the Church province, it would be logical that any decision about this is made on a provincial level. On that level, it is the bishops’ conference who have that power.

Of course, in their own dioceses, bishops can take a lot of decisions. Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond, for example, has long since decided to use a different hymn book than the one used in the rest of the country. He doesn’t ask the publisher to change their hymn book, but simply chooses to use something else.

The Liturgy Workgroup Heeswijk and publisher Gooi en Sticht are based in the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the Archdiocese of Utrecht respectively. Upon the request of the bishop’s conference, the bishops of the dioceses where workgroup and publisher reside have appointed censors: Father Mennen and Bishop Woorts. Since the request stems from the conference, it is they, and not the censors, who will make a decision.

Father van Ulden’s words are not strange or out of line. They are a clarification, or even simply an affirmation, of the process. The media coverage is a bit clumsy, though.

In Rome: A rising star

This is the first installment of a series of who’s who in the Vatican, a series that will very likely appear quite irregularly. In it, I take a look at the men – and women – in Rome, who work to guide and shepherd the Church all over the world.

He is considered one of the rising stars in Rome and inevitably plays his part in the guessing game called ‘who will be the first African pope in modern times?’. He is Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, 61 years old, born in Ghana, where he was ordained a priest in 1975. In 1992 he was appointed as Archbishop of Cape Coast and in the consistory of 2003, the last one convened by Pope John Paul II, he received the red cardinal’s hat. He left Ghana last year to become prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which works to promote justice and peace in the world, “in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the Church”(Apostolic Constitution Pastor  Bonus, art. 142). He also has a link to the Netherlands, since in 1994 he was one of the co-consecrators of Bishop Tiny Muskens, the previous bishop of Breda.

Cardinal Turkson’s appointment as prefect came after he had chaired the three-week Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. During the preparation of that assembly he obviously made a good impression in Rome.

Considering both his function and his background, it is no surprise that Cardinal Turkson remains deeply involved with the Church in Africa. Only last week, he travelled to a village in Nigeria, to offer Mass for the victims of bloody clashes between Muslims and Christians earlier this month*.

Like Francis Cardinal Arinze before him, Cardinal Turkson is considered in many circles to be a very good candidate for the first modern African pope. Of course, a pope is not, or at least should not, be chosen simply for his place of origin, but in general it is not illogical to expect a pope with African (or Asian or South American) roots. These are the places where the Church is young and full of growth. As the  faithful increase there and decrease in Europe, the chances of influential Church leaders from those areas grows equally. For now, though, Africa still has the numbers against it. Out of the 182 Cardinals, only 13 hail from Africa. But still, in 1978, the Cardinal elected an outsider to the Chair of St. Peter…

Cardinal Turkson is young (for a cardinal, clearly) and unafraid to live his faith. These are the men the Church needs, and the Holy Spirit provides and inspires them.

*The reason for the clashes, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said, is not religious in nature: “The fact that the Fulani are Muslim, and the villagers are mostly Christians, is an incidental fact. The real motivation for the massacre is the alleged theft of the livestock.”  

“I am concerned about the fact that the large international press continues to present the clashes that take place in Plateau State as a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. This is not so.”