You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.
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…
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.
“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.
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.
I had decided to not spend a lot of time on the work of the two censors who are working to investigate the songs used in the liturgy, but I think that it always helps to give some clarity on an issue which at least keeps certain Dutch Catholics occupied.
It’s always nice to see one’s own opinions confirmed by people in the know. Following Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Auxiliary Bishop Herman Woorts wrote a letter to the parish councils and emeritus priests in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to clarify the work of the censors of liturgical music. And since a bishop’s words rightly carry more weight than those of a random blogger, here is Bishop Woorts’ letter.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
As Church we are a celebrating community. When we celebrate the liturgy there is frequent singing, both by choirs and the entire gathered assembly. A lot of time, care and attention is devoted to the music and songs in our churches, because we worship God with them, it feeds our faith and binds us together as a faith community. We are blessed with a wealth of songs, old and new, in Latin, Dutch or another language.
In service to the celebrations in our parishes and in other places where the faithful meet for the liturgy, publishers Gooi en Sticht and Berne Heeswijk publish booklets. It is the duty of the bishops in whose dioceses these publishers are located to make sure that the contents are in agreement with our Catholic faith and the liturgy of the Church. If the content is approved, they give their ‘imprimatur’ so that the booklets can be printed and distributed.
In order to be able to give their imprimatur, the bishops of Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch (the dioceses in which the aforementioned publishers are located) have both appointed a ‘censor’. For the archdiocese I have been appointed as censor for the booklets from Gooi en Sticht. A censor must examine if the texts come from the altar missal, if the readings from Holy Scripture are printed in the prescribed translation and if songs and texts on the back are in concord with faith and morals.
The content of the songs is considered: are they theologically sound, in agreement with our Catholic faith? The suitability for the liturgy is considered (both in general and specifically for the Sunday in question). And the text os considered to see whether it clearly expresses what we confess and celebrate in our faith, and if it doesn’t cause confusion. All this will lead to the finding that a song is or is not suited for inclusion in aforementioned liturgy booklets. The finding that a song is or not suite for the liturgy is not dictated by personal preferences. The identity of the author also does not play a part.
Sadly, several media have reported that certain songs – from a specific author or not – have been declared forbidden or placed on an index. This is not the case. The censor is not appointed or able to do that. The suitability for the publications is per song the basis for the advice to the bishop to give his imprimatur. Some newspapers list specific songs which are said to have been rejected. These lists also included songs which have been approved for the liturgy or which have been included although they are not preferred. These media also named songs which were not forbidden, but which do await further scrutiny, since they require discussion before a verdict can be done about their suitability.
These media reports cause responses from people who are disappointed because something they hold dear is now said to be forbidden, but also from people who welcome a thorough consideration of the contents of the songs, because certainly not all songs are considered suitable by all.
We know there is or can be disagreement on the choice of what can and can not be included in the liturgy booklets. Convictions, visions, experience and emotions all play their part in that. I hope that this letter will give you some insight in the censor’s tasks and his methods. For every song the question is whether or not it is suitable for the Sundays for which the booklets are considered.
Diocesan vicar for the liturgy and censor for the Archdiocese
It’s not a letter that says much, really, but considering that it was written to comfort people and explain what is actually happening, it does its job. Unlike Father Cor Mennen, the other censor, and somewhat like Bishop Hurkmans, Bishop Woorts simply wants to explain and focusses on the importance of discussion. Of course, if you’re going to change things it is good to have the people who are going to be affected by that change on your side. But I hope that, if the difficult decisions need to be made – if, for example, some popular songs from Huub Oosterhuis are no longer allowed - , the bishops are able and willing to take these decisions. It will cause protests, yes, many people will be unhappy, but more important is the liturgy. It is an organic whole and can’t contain elements that deny part or all of the liturgy or the faith. Also important to realise in that respect is that the liturgy is educational: it teaches us about our faith, especially when our active (and receptive, as Father Z emphasises in his analysis of Bishop Marc Aillet’s talk) participation opens our heart and brings us into the mystery of God. Just as the liturgy is focussed on and about Him, so should the music contained in the liturgy be. Not that a song can’t have texts about the community off faithful or shared celebration, but if, as Father Mennen said, the songs could be just as easily an introduction to a birthday party, it has lost its liturgical focus.
On 11 March this year, Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne spoke at a theological conference at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. The title of his talk was ‘The Wounded Liturgy’, and you may find an English translation here. It’s an interesting topic: Bishop Aillet compares the two main trends in the liturgy after Vatican II and stresses the need for a return, or a repair, of the wounded liturgy that we have now in many places in the world. Naturellement, the talk is also available in Dutch.
Thanks to the New Liturgical Movement for the English text.
Mr. Coen Abbenhuis, general director of the NCRV, has replied to the request of a number of Dutch Catholics to supply a proper answer to our concerns about the televised desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. The answer is or will undoubtedly be available in many other blogs, and I’ll link to one.
First thoughts on reading it: it is an apology. Mr Abbenhuis expressed his regret that the Host was taken outside, and we should welcome that apology. It is sad that he doesn’t agree that the Sacrament was used as a protest against the Church or that the impression was created that the Blessed Sacrament was going to the be thrown into a waste bin. Well, that is our word against his anyway.
The main concern I have has nothing to do with Mr. Abbenhuis and the NCRV, but rather with us Catholics. Mr. Abbenhuis writes that the Man Bijt Hond item wanted to counter the Catholic Church’s practice of excluding homosexual people from the love of Christ. That is an inaccurate assessment. Denying someone Communion because of that person’s state of sin is not simply the same as excluding someone from Christ. Anyone will realise that there are many aspects of the life of the Church in which everyone can participate.
In fact, as others have also said, preventing someone from committing a grave error is an act of mercy, which can ultimately return someone to full communion with Christ and His Church.
The idea of freedom in our society has become distorted into ‘being allowed to do anything I want’. But that is merely a definition of chaos. In His creation, God desires to bring His people to full freedom away from the mire of chaos. That requires development of ourselves, of our relationship with God and, not least, of our conscience. That development, like that of young children, takes time. We don’t throw our kids into society and let them fend for themselves. It is the same with us as Catholics. Denying something has nothing to do with exclusion, but everything with development. When a priest denies someone Communion he is saying: “You are not yet ready to receive this, the full love of Christ can’t do its work in you. Something is still blocking His love.” And that block can always be removed, but in order to do that we must first recognise it as a block. If we can’t see it, we can’t take it away.
We have a duty to always communicate the accurate teachings of the Church. If we don’t, it will result in opinions like those in Mr. Abbenhuis’s letter. If we are unclear, we can’t blame others for not understanding.
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.
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.”