A letter of support to the faithful of Bruges

Via Father Andy Penne and the website of his parishes comes the letter that newly appointed diocesan administrator Fr. Koen Vanhoutte has sent to the faithful of the diocese of Bruges. Now that once-highly popular Bishop Vangheluwe has resigned and has taken refuge in a monastery, and now that civilian authorities are looking into the possibility of prosecuting him 25 years after his crimes, the diocese he left behind is still reeling from the shock. I can only imagine what the effect of such a sudden-decapitation is, not simply for the day-to-day running of the diocese, but for your average Churchgoing Catholic.

Let’s see what Administrator Vanhoutte has to say in the letter that will be read out in all parishes in the diocese of Bruges:

Sisters and brothers,

Our faith community is going through a serious crisis. The unimaginable has happened. The shepherd of our diocese has misbehaved. Or trust has been violated. We experience disillusionment and pain, anger and deep sorrow, and are sympathetic with the victims. We are defeated and lost. We can’t find the right words to express what has happened to us.

How do we process this? How do we deal with all of this?

In the first place I invite you to allow one another time and space to process this, each in our own way. It is also good to organise meetings to listen to each other’s stories. To be able to express yourself can be liberating. Words and insights from others help you to control your own attitude. The seriousness of what happened is discussed. The care for the victims of sexual abuse and for all who suffer from it will get the necessary attention. Conversation can purify us to a Church which also recognises the evil in her own ranks.

The readings of the fifth Sunday of Easter also show us a way to be a support for one another in these days. In the young Church’s diary we read the continuing urging of Paul and Barnabas to persevere in the FAITH. The crisis of trust in the Church leads to doubts about the faith for many. Others keep their faith in the Lord. In the grave times we are going through our faith can grow. More than before do we now desire the signs of Christ’s presence. We want to hear His voice and be strengthened by Him at His table. We hope that He will stay with us in good and bad times. I invite you to loyally live your faith even if it comes under pressure now and then.

Amidst our pain and disillusionment we also look forward to people who sing a song of HOPE, people who in difficult times still speak of better days. We are grateful for those we keep their eye on the vision of the Kingdom Of God. The do not give up. They look forward to a Church that renews itself, atuning itself ever more to the Gospel and is open to the questions that many Christians have. We keep the dream alive when we pray, like the Lord, “Make your Church into a house of liberating truth, of righteous justice, of hope that dispels all fair” (based on the Dutch Eucharistic Prayer XI C). I invite you all to not lose courage and remain hopeful Christians.

In the Gospel reading the Lord Jesus invites us Himself to love each other after His example. It is best to keep gathering to remember He who brought God’s grace into the world. He did this with respect, attention and care for every man on his road of life. In every Eucharist we recall how Jesus forgot and gave Himself for that, until the end. He calls us to follow Him. We recoil from that question. We consider ourselves unable to do what He did. This can;t succeed with our own strength. But the Lord assures us that we can love each other with the LOVE that He ahs for us. His Spirit makes us able to love. I invite you to grow in mutual love. That is how the world will recognise that we are Jesus’ disciples.

Sisters and brothers, the current crisis in the Church asks us to be attentive to the three core attitudes of or Christian identity. We pray for the divine gifts of faith, hope and love. Prayer got an important place in the early Church. On the way to Pentecost I invite you to seek out the Upper Room often and eagerly, to pray there in unity with Mary and the saints. Amidst the powerlessness we experience in the current crisis we look forward to the tender power of God’s Spirit and we pray: “Merciful Father, grant us the Spirit of love that was in Jesus, so that Church, encouraged and strengthened, may bloom to new life” (based on the Dutch Eucharistic Prayer XI D). We pray for each other, for all who have pastoral responsibilities: teachers, pastoral workers, parish assistants, religious, deacons, priests and the many volunteers of our faith community. We pray for the Spirit who can renew and strengthen our faith, our hope and our love.

I thank you all for bravely carrying the cross of our church community. I wish for you the light of Easter, a spark of hope, on your way. Dare to trust that the living Lord will not simply abandon us but will work with is. He will give strength to all that we do in His name.

Bruges, 28 April, 2010.

Koen Vanhoutte
Diocesan administrator

Pro-life in secret?

A representative of Cry for Life with a model of an unborn child. 30,000 of these were used to indicate the 30,000 children killed by abortion every year.

One of those things I didn’t come across in any Dutch media (Catholic or otherwise): A demonstration marking the 29th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion in this country, in The Hague last Wednesday. That the secular media devoted little time and space to this is not unexpected. After all, it is a very politically incorrect to be pro-life, and for many people it is, I think, not even an option to think abortion is wrong. Society is so saturated with the contrary opinion. What does surprise me somewhat is that the Christian media (Catholic or Protestant) also generally ignored it. Perhaps also because it is no longer a viable option to be pro-life? I don’t know.

I do know that, compared to other countries, the pro-life movement in the Netherlands is small and has active little support from those who should support it: the churches. When I read in the blogs of English and American priests that they or the colleagues, or even their bishops, spent time in a pro-life vigil or other events, I can’t help but wonder why that does not happen here. The same with many thousands of people marching for life in Spain or the United States.

Is it the fear of antagonising others? I would hope not. After all, if one professes a faith, it should never be just a  private opinion. Certainly the Catholic faith asks that it is visible, with the consequences that entails.