Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week

Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Let the House of Israel say, ‘His faithful love endures for ever.’
Open for me the gates of saving justice, I shall go in and thank Yahweh.
This is the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.
I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
This is Yahweh’s doing, and we marvel at it.
This is the day which Yahweh has made, a day for us to rejoice and be glad.
We beg you, Yahweh, save us, we beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!
Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.
Yahweh is God, he gives us light. Link your processions, branches in hand, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, I thank you, all praise to you, my God. I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

“The next day the great crowd of people who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.’
Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it — as scripture says:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; look, your king is approaching, riding on the foal of a donkey.

“At first his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was what had happened to him.
The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead kept bearing witness to it; this was another reason why the crowd came out to receive him: they had heard that he had given this sign.”

Gospel of John, 12: 12-18 

Bishop van Luyn’s big mistake

Bishop van Luyn

A shocking report (to me at least) in the news today. Bishop Ad van Luyn was aware of cases of sexual abuse in the time that he was provincial superior of the Salesian order in the Netherlands. His spokesperson said so today. He also says to have taken taken at the time.

This is part of the official statements from the Dutch bishops’ conference:


Following the media reports about Msgr. van Luyn this afternoon, the Secretariat RC Church feels required to relate the following to you, as a correction.


On 10 March, Mr. Joep Dohmen asked if Msgr. van Luyn was aware of an internal investigation in 1967. The bishop made it know he had no managerial position in 1967 and that these cases were handled by the provincial with his vicar and the superior of the house in question with his vicar. On 24 March the question was asked if Msgr. van Luyn knew in general of cases of abuse within his congregation. That was the first this question was asked in a general context.

Between 1975 and 1981, Msgr. van Luyn, as provincial superior did receive news of several cases and took steps against them. Wereldomroep now suggests that the bishop only reveals this after much pressure and seems to be looking for sensation through suggestive reporting.


In light of the pending independent investigation we will refrain from further comments.


How is this shocking? Not because of the fact that abuse cases were known in the 1970s. Some were bound to have come to light and be dealt with internally. What does amaze me is the apparent naiveté in dealing with the media. Saying that a media outlet was not specific enough, that they should have asked better questions? Seriously? How is that an excuse?

Full openness, not hiding behind words and definitions, that is what is needed now. This is a very serious issue, that could potentially be very damaging to the Church. We – all the faithful, including the bishops – must be as open as possible. The truth will come out, certainly with an independent investigation.

I don’t enjoy pointing these things out, as some bloggers do. We are all in this together, and personally attacking, even slandering bishops serves no purpose at all, except to divide us. But bishops are people too, and they make mistakes. Msgr. van Luyn made a big one.

I am looking forward to being away from the blog this weekend. This has not been a good week.

The purification continues

There is a lot to say about the ongoing abuse crisis and especially the attempts by certain media outlets to implicate the pope in it. Others have written extensively about it already, and I gladly link to their thoughts.

Father Z shares a heartfelt post about it.

Archbishop Nichols of Westminster (pictured) defends the Holy Father in an article in The Times.

Let’s continue to pray for our Holy Church and all her priests, bishops and faithful. May she be purified to act as consolation for all the victims of these horrendous crimes.

The Official Acts of the Holy See, and lots of them

A wealth of historical information has been made digitally available by the Vatican: the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007. That covers the papacies of Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the unification of Italy, two Vatican Councils, the challenge of modernism, the publication of the first Code of Canon Law, two world wars, the creation of the Vatican City State and the cold war. A lot of topics which directly affected the Vatican and the Catholic Church and which resulted in many hundreds of pages of documents.

Browsing is not really useful with this collection, since the PDF files take while to load, due to their size. And it requires a working knowledge of Italian, but all the same: it’s a treasure chest of information.

Now to learn Italian…

A foretaste of Christmas in Lent

The Annunciation by Luca Giordano, 1672

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.’
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’
Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her.
(Luke 1, 2-38)

Today, nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the Annunciation, the announcement to the Virgin mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son. This is how our salvation begins, in the simple faithful ‘yes’ of a young woman in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. Her faith in God Who grants her this great privilege is an example to us all. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the first among the followers of Christ, and the first intercessor for us with Christ.

Thoughts about celibacy

“Remaining unmarried and living celibate for the Kingdom of God is of great merit. It is part of religious life. With our vows of poverty, obedience and chastity we distance ourselves from our desire for possession, for doing things our own way and for a sexual life. These are natural and human desires, but we want to relativise them out of love for Christ, to fully dedicate ourselves to Him. This must however always be a free and personal choice.”

Wise words from Fr. Filip Noël, a Norbertine at Averbode Abbey in Belgium. Celibacy is often seen, both inside and outside the Church as something that is forced upon priests. But I am certain that a celibate life is doomed to failure if it is not the choice of the priest in question. A good formation during the years in seminary is vital, since celibacy is not a magic cure that will prevent the priest from ever falling in love or succumbing to temptation. No, a priest always remains fully human, of course. The key to celibacy is not avoiding these very human desires and urges, but learning how to integrate them in your priestly life. There are no guarantees of success, but it is a vital part of the priestly identity.

The priesthood is not a nine-to-five job which you can step out of at the end of the working day. No, during ordination, the very identity of the priest is changed. No longer is he just a man among other people: he is now a priest for them, while at the same a Christian with them, to paraphrase St. Augustine. He is called to act in persona Christi during the liturgy and the ministering of the sacraments. It is something that changes every element of his life. Besides a sacrifice given freely and willingly to God, celibacy can be an aid in living that life, confirming the priestly identity as being different from that of other men.

The above quote by Father Noël comes from an article in Belgian weekly Tertio, which looks at the question of how sensible celibacy is. Fr. Noël speaks partly against it, taking a somewhat double position: he doesn’t deny the value of celibacy, but suggests it should be subject to the demands of daily life. “In eastern Christianity the choice between a celibate and non-celibate priesthood remained. And that seems to function quite well,” he says. And, “There are also married priests within the Roman Catholic Church, namely in the eastern rites. Why should all the benefits of celibacy not count for them?”

In my opinion, Fr. Noël reduces celibacy to a simplistic balance between advantages and disadvantages. There is no doubt that, in theory, married priests can function just as well as priests who are celibate. Does that mean that celibacy has lost its value? Of course not. Celibacy is not a dogma, it is not a deciding factor of the Catholic faith. Over the centuries it has grown out of necessity, only then revealing its nature as a sacrifice and a means to show a priest’s dedication to the Church of Christ. Simply saying that non-celibate priests also function well is a negative comparison; it looks at the characteristics that celibacy does not have to say something about what it is. It would be better to do the same comparison based on the characteristics that celibacy does have: not saying what celibacy deprives priests of, but what it adds.

Luckily, Fr. Noël is aware of the downsides of the non-celibate life: “The Protestant tradition has done away with all forms of religious life. But when the clergy consists almost totally out of married men, like in the Anglican church, there is a risk of ‘standardisation’. The radicality expressed in celibate life, may work as a correction of the standardisation of the Church.” The Church does not belong to the world, after all (cf. John 17, 16).

Father Noël further talks about the problems of celibacy for seminarians. He say that he has seen many seminarians and young priests leave because of the problems they had with celibacy. I wonder if that is truly due to the nature of celibacy or to the formation and education they receive?

Celibacy is a free choice, but in order to make that free choice, a future priest must be fully aware of what he chooses. A thorough formation and education is vital for that. And then, if a man decides that celibacy is not for him, we can’t say that celibacy is intrinsically flawed. The only conclusion we can draw from that is that the person in question is not called to a celibate life. We can’t even say that the priesthood is not for him.


“A loaded statement, but true”

In a TV interview on the abuse crisis last night, Adrianus Cardinal Simonis used the well-known but very painful statement “Wir haben es nicht gewußt” – We did not know of it – to refer to the bishops at the time. Cardinal Simonis has been a bishop for 39 years, first in Rotterdam and then in Utrecht. His consecration in 1971 coincided with the tail end of the era which spawned most of the abuse reports that are only now coming to light.

The cardinal followed his statement by saying that “it is a loaded term. But it is true.”

I’m not going to ponder the question of whether or not the bishops knew anything about what crimes some priests and religious committed. That’s not a very interesting question to me right now, and one that may be answered by the bishops and people close to them alone, really.

In stating the lack of knowledge of the bishops in these words – used as an excuse for the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust –  Cardinal Simonis puts himself and his brother bishops in a very vulnerable position. Certainly politically it is not a wise thing to say. It will rightly lead to questions of why the bishops did not know and if they should have known. But from a Christian standpoint it may have been the best thing to say.

In his letter to the Irish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI emphasis the vital importance of honesty, openness and clarity. That is what the cardinal is doing here. Instead of finding excuses and explanations for why they did not know – reasons which of course did come to the fore in the course of the interview – he starts with this simple statement: we did not know. No excuses, just the sad and painful fact which is then virtually impossible to deny or go back on. And it shouldn’t be denied, of course.

But why the choice for such a loaded expression which is unavoidably connected to atrocities and often used in the past by people who did know? In my opinion, it may simply be shock value. Not in a negative way, but the cardinal must have consciously decided to use the German phrase, knowing full well that no one would forget or ignore it. That places the bishops’ lack of knowledge in the forefront of the discussion, at least for a little while. Perhaps that refers back to the honesty that the pope emphasises: “Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal” (Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, 11).

Complete honesty, effectively impressed upon the common conscience of the people, is only the first step on repairing the damage done. Painful, certainly. Inappropriate, perhaps. Laudable in its honesty, absolutely.