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.

Msgr. De Kesel to Bruges? Wow

Bishop Jozef De Kesel
Bishop Jozef De Kesel

He’s been moved around a bit within the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, but now the news breaks that Bishop Jozef De Kesel will be the new Bishop of Bruges. Only in March did Archbishop Léonard name him vicar general for the vicariate Flemish Brabant and Malines. With this appointment, Léonard is left with no auxiliaries, despite his express desire to have a third one appointed. But then Bishop Vancottem was sent to Namur and now Bishop De Kesel goes to Bruges.

Seen from the archdiocese, it looks like stages in a new start. First the most orthodox bishop in the Church province is sent there and now the former auxiliaries are sent off to head their own dioceses. That certainly leaves Archbishop Léonard free to suggest his own candidates for the episcopate.

As for Bruges, it went unexpectedly fast. The previous bishop, Msgr. Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April and the expectation was then that it would take at least a year before a new bishop was appointed. In the end it took almost exactly two months. Bruges has been left in shock by the unexpected news of Vangheluwe’s abuse history, so I can imagine the diocese will benefit greatly with having a new bishop so soon. After all, a clear head of the diocese provides a sense of stability.

Msgr. De Kesel, then, was quite popular in his time in Malines-Brussels. He has been auxiliary bishop there since 2002. His recent appointments, first to a new vicariate and now to Bruges, may also show some measure of confidence in him from Brussels and Rome.

Some facts about the bishop-elect: Msgr. De Kesel is 63, born in Ghand, where he was also ordained a priest in 1972. His uncle was Bishop Leo De Kesel, auxiliary bishop of Ghand from 1961 to 1990. Between 1980 and 1996, Msgr. De Kesel was rector of the seminary in Ghand, where he also taught dogmatic and fundamental theology. He also taught at the Diocesan Religious Institute in that city, and taught Christology at the Catholic University of Louvain. An educated man, it would seem, with his theological roots firmly in the very basis of theology.

Despite all the bad news from Belgium today and yesterday, this is a reason to be glad, especially for Bruges.

A reasonable overhaul

Yesterday’s police intervention in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels now looks to have been excessively forceful. Not only didn’t the police find any ‘held back paedophilia files’, but in order to do that, they detained all Belgian bishops for nine hours. The bishops had gathered for their monthly meeting. Together with the personnel they were held in one room, forced to surrender their mobile phones and other communication equipment. Although the bishops have stated to have full confidence in the Justice Department, which is why they cooperated fully, to me this sounds as if the bishops are already considered criminals. The only thing lacking is evidence. A very worrying development.

But this, together with the disruptions in the German Diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Mixa has now accepted his resignation and promised not to challenge it again, is what we can expect more of in the near future. The abuse crisis can lead to nothing else but a full overhaul of everything that helped in covering up the crimes. And that will mean resignations, police investigations and the like. But, as in all things, these need good reason and agreements between all parties to have full effect. If one party does not agree with a bishop’s resignation, we get an Augsburgian situation. If the Justice department ignores agreements made and decides to investigate cases which are many years old and thus subject to the statute of limitations, we get Belgian situations.

A major overhaul, with all the discomfort and chaos it entails, is a simple necessity. But it must be done right to have full effect. And that’s still not happening everywhere.

Translation of the press statement from the bishops, which I linked to above:

“The bishops of Belgium were present in the Archbishop’s house around 10:15 this morning, Thursday 24 June 2010, for the monthly meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. A short while later, around 10:30, members of the Justice department and police officers arrived with a search warrant. At the basis of this are said to have been complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. More explanation was not given to those present, but immediately all documents and mobile phones were confiscated. No one was allowed to leave the building. Only at 19:30 was that lifted.

Everyone, both the members of the Bishops’ Conference and the personnel of the archdiocese, was interrogated. That was not automatically a pleasant experience, but everything was handled correctly. The bishops have always said that they have full confidence in the courts and their work. They underwent the search of this morning with the same confidence and that is also the reason why they will refrain from any comment at this time.

On the other hand, with Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the ‘Committee for the investigation of sexual abuse in the framework of a pastoral relation’, they regret that all the files of the committee were seized during another search. This goes against the right on confidentiality which the victims who have contacted the committee have. An action like this seriously affects the necessary and exemplary work of the committee.”

Abuse committee in Belgium now obsolete?

That’s a serious question being asked by chairman Peter Adriaenssens, following police raids in the offices of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, the cathedral of St. Rombout, the home of Cardinal Danneels and also the offices of the committee which is investigating abuse cases in the Church in Belgium. That committee, Adriaenssens explained, deals with old cases, some 450 of them, which fall under the statute of limitations. Current cases, which may still be investigated by the police and handled by the courts, are subject of an agreement between the committee and the Justice Department, and will be handled by the latter. Why the police then saw it fit to seize the 450 files of cases they can’t do anything about, is a question.

It certainly seems to make Addriaensens’ work obsolete. His committee will meet on Monday to decide of they’ll dissolve.

The chairman says he fears for the privacy of victims and offenders, many of whom have expressly requested protection of their report and data.

All this seems like a serious stab in the back. Justice and the Church in Belgium had agreements that said that current cases be dealt with Justice, while older cases which fall under the statute of limitations will be investigated by Addriaenssens and colleagues. That way the Church took her responsibility in clearing up the crimes committed in the past and bringing offenders to justice. That has now become impossible. All the work that the committee has done has been taken from them, and much related information has similarly been seized from the archdiocese and Cardinal Danneels’ personal effects.

Justice has merely declared they are looking for evidence that will fit into a recently opened case file which was opened after ‘a declaration of old facts’. Whatever that may mean, exactly.