Deetman commission clarifies agreements with Public Prosecutor

Following the resignation of the Adriaenssens commission in Belgium, which may be partly due to a lack of good agreements with the Public Prosecutor (although the commission itself claims otherwise), its Dutch equivalent, the Deetman commission, has issued a clarification of its agreements with the state. Here it is in translation:

In Belgium, on 24 July 2010, the police seized files from a more or less comparable commission which investigates sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in that country. The police acted in this on orders from the investigating judge involved.

This seizure may prompt the question of what agreements the Dutch investigating commission on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church made with the Public Prosecutor. The Public Prosecutor leads investigations into punishable actions and prosecutes when that is reasonable.

In short the agreement is as follows. When the commission is informed of a fact that may be punishable and not subject to the statute of limitations, the commission will present it to the Public Prosecutor for investigation. The commission will do this at the slightest doubt. When the Public Prosecutor decides the fact is punishable, the commission will inform the victim. The Public Prosecutor asks the victim to consider prosecution.

Commission chairman Deetman made this agreement earlier this year with the College of Attorneys-General, the national management of the Public Prosecutor’s office.

Should the victim decide not to press charges, the commission will nonetheless ask the Church authorities to take suitable measures against the offender of sexual abuse. Deetman agreed with Church authorities that they will always take these measures in a possible situation.

These authorities also promised that they will share all the information required with the independent commission and will promote sharing of information by Church organisations not under their  direction.

Read the Dutch text here.

A host of new appointments in the curia

Archbishop Salvatore 'Rino' Fisichella

Pope Benedict appoint a number of people in significant positions in the Roman curia today. Some were expected and predicted correctly in the media, and some are relatively unknown outside the Vatican. Such a significant change, with more appointments rumoured to be coming later this week, is indicative of the future of this pontificate. The people in the curia have worldwide influence in their respective fields of work, so the appointments are not made casually. Pope Benedict XVI does nothing casually, anyway, so the appointments are just as much a seal of approval for the people involved as it is a way sign for the future.

Bishop Kurt Koch

As predicted, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop if Québec, will become the new head of the Congregation for the Bishops, succeeding Giovanni Cardinal Re, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella will head the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation. His position as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life will be taken by Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula. The Lateran University has also gotten a new rector, and a new member has been added to the team of pontifical Masters of Ceremonies, headed by Msgr. Guido Marini. Swiss newspapers, in the meantime, are confirming that Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel will go to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, succeeding Walter Cardinal Kasper.

Men to keep an eye on, especially Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop Fisichella and Bishop Koch.

Something’s rotten in the state of Belgium

As the news concerning Thursday’s police raids in Belgium continues to come in every day, I find myself looking at an uncomfortable picture. I’m not normally one to go for conspiracy theories. I think these are too prevalent in the Catholic blogosphere anyway, but chance dictates that even some of these must sometimes be true.

Here is a very simple time table of events:

Thursday: Police raids, confiscation of documents and computers. Police possibly acts on accusations put forward by retired priest Fr. Rik Devillé. Nothing is found.

Secretary of Justice Stefaan De Clerck

Monday: The Adriaenssens commission disbands after all their case files are confiscated. They return their mandate to the bishops. Justice Secretary De Clerck creates a ‘work group’ of public prosecutors to try and keep the negative results of the commission’s disbanding in check.

Tuesday: Victims call for a parliamentary investigation into sexual abuse in the Church. Fr. Rik Devillé heralds this as the only satisfactory option.

One way to look at the progression of these events is as an orchestrated attempt to take the total anti-abuse effort out of the hands of the Church. While that is only normal for new cases that appear, it is not for the decades-old cases that the Adriaenssens commission was working in. The courts can’t do anything with those cases, since they are subject to a statute of limitations. The fact that they are being investigated show the Church taking the responsibility for the silence of many years. There was now obligation by law to look into these old cases, but there certainly was one towards the victims.

Fr. Rik Devillé

If, by some construction, the courts, or Secretary De Clerck’s ‘work group’, can do something with the 475 old cases taken from the commission, it will do little good. Often punishment if the offenders is not possible: they are either elderly or no longer alive. The prevalent desire among victims is to be heard and acknowledged. The one institution that can do that is the one closest to the offenders: the Church. The courts, the police, parliament or whoever can listen all they want: since they are not even slightly responsible it does not answer the victims’ desire. Also, the much-called-for need for the Church to clean up her past is made impossible. She must now rely on the action or inaction of others to achieve this, whereas before she had the means to do it herself.

And what of Fr. Rik Devillé, who is involved at the begin and the end (for now)? John L. Allen has an interview with him, and while Fr. Devillé’s raises some valid points, it is clear he has a man with an anti-hierarchical agenda, leaning strongly to the liberal left.

Orchestrated set of events or not, it is worrying. Very much so.

Pope announces a new pontifical council

Pope Benedict XVI at the end of Vespers

For the first time in 25 years or so, a new dicastery of the Roman Curia will be created, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation. Pope Benedict XVI did so yesterday at the Vespers for the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, which is today. In his homily, the pope said:

“I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of pontifical council, with the specific task of promoting a renewed evangelisation in countries where the first proclamation of the faith already resounded, and where Churches are present of ancient foundation, but which are going through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of “eclipse of the sense of God,” which constitutes a challenge to find the appropriate means to propose again the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ.”

The new council would then primarily work in Europe and North America, where secularisation runs most rampant. It is yet unknown who will be the head of the dicastery, although most sources seem to agree that Archbishop Rino Fisichella will come from the Pontifical Academy for Life to take on the job. It’ll be one in a number of changes within the curia that will take place in the coming months.

Cucumber time

Apart from the chaos in Belgium not a whole is happening in the Church. It must be summer soon, maybe an early silly season, which we in Dutch call ‘komkommertijd’ (‘cucumber time’), but that’s usually in August.

So in the mean time we’ll have to make do with what’s available. I have refrained from writing much about the Belgian situation, serious though it is. There are many Catholic blogs and news outlets which devote much space to the desecration of the graves of two cardinals, the resignation of Prof. Peter Adriaenssens as head of the abuse commission (citing betrayal of the victims’ trust and agreements between the commission and Justice) and strong words of criticism from both Cardinal Bertone and Pope Benedict XVI at the address of the Belgian magistrate who ordered the search (Cardinal Bertone said that this situation has no precedent, not even in formerly Communist countries). I don’t think that I have much to add to that.

In the Church in the Netherlands there is also not much out of the ordinary going on (at least not much I am at liberty to discuss). Only the appointment of a new chief editor of Katholiek Nieuwsblad has certain bloggers in an uproar, but that’s par of the course for them. Nothing out of the ordinary there either, then.

So, quiet time. Time to enjoy the summer outside (or inside, what with the World Cup going on…).

Cardinal Kasper passes on the torch

A well-known mainstay of the Roman curia is getting ready to enjoy a well-earned retirement. At 77 years, Walter Cardinal Kasper is already past the age at which bishops and cardinals have to offer to resignation, which is 75. Most of the time, unless health issues demand otherwise, the pope will wait a while before accepting that resignation, as he has in the case of Cardinal Kasper.

Cardinal Kasper was especially visible for the past 11 years because he headed the Vatican office which is in charge of ecumenism with other Christian church communities and other faiths, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In that capacity, I’ve seen him once, during an ecumenical service in Utrecht

Yesterday the famously gap-toothed cardinal gave a press conference in which he looked back on the past years. “I leave my office with hope, which is not human optimism, but Christian hope,” he said. Ecumenism is “a constituent of the Church,” he also said. It is part of her very being, which makes sense. The Church has been tasked to spread the news of Jesus Christ, so isolation from others is simply not an option. And much of the truth of the faith is visible in other Christian churches and church communities, and to a lesser extent also in Judaism and Islam. Good relations with these are a first necessary step towards further unity in friendship.

While the cardinal has not officially stepped down yet, and no successor has officially been named,the general consensus is that a change is imminent. The name of Bishop Kurt Koch, currently the bishop of Basel in Switzerland, is being bandied about, though.

Musical cardinal

A funny little aside from The Bitter Pill (apparently good for more than Fr. Tim-bashing):

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has agreed to perform The Hippopotamus Song at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral on 28 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The cardinal, evidently not always the serious man in the photo, will be accompanied by what is called The Really Terrible Orchestra, consisting of “the cream of Edinburgh’s musically disadvantaged”.

The Hippopotamus Song is a gently satirical song written and performed by the musical comedy duo Flanders & Swann in the late 1950s.