Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, Germany, presided over a penance service at the cathedral of St. Peter in that city. The service was held for the victims of sexual abuse by clerics and other Church workers. Bishop Bode’s act of prostrating himself before the altar can’t be taken too highly. The altar, after all, is the table upon which the sacrifice of Christ is made present in every single Mass, and as such it represents the suffering Christ Himself. That is why, for example, the priest kisses the altar at the start of the Mass. When a bishop, or anyone, prostrates himself before the altar, it is a sign of total submission to the judgement of Christ, the ultimate arbiter of us all.
… for bishops to write Advent letters to the faithful in their dioceses. In the Netherlands, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht, Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond have done so today. Let’s take a look at what the monsignori have chosen to write about…
Archbishop Eijk’s letter has the title Looking forward in expectation. His main topic is the loss of faith in so many, and how we can combat that by cultivating a more childlike faith.”It is this unconditional faith,” the archbishop writes, “that Jesus speaks about when people one day bring children to Him to have Him bless them. Jesus’ disciples sternly refuse these people, but Jesus indignantly said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it| (Mark 10, 13-16). And St. Matthew writes: “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18, 3). This ‘becoming children of God’ (St. John even speaks of “being born from above”, John 3, 7) means that we must entrust ourselves to God. It also means that we lovingly acknowledge and accept one another as brothers and sisters, children of our heavenly Father. Seen like this, Advent is a fitting time to reflect on our relationship with God and with our neighbour, and also on the fruits of love, joy, peace and mercy.”
Later on in the letter, Archbishop Eijk urges the reader to take a step, a leap of faith, especially when we have lost faith. “He who loses his faith, never loses it completely. After all, God has traveled with you on your journey for a while and has left mark within you.”
Bishop de Korte’s letter is called The value of defencelessness, and in it he writes about our dependency on God, and also how God has chosen to be dependent on us.
“The God of Scripture, Who has gotten a face over the course of the history of Israel, shows Himself vulnerable, defenceless and dependent in Christ. It is a central topic in Biblical revelation. God,Creator of the visible and the invisible, has come to stand next to us, in Christ, vulnerable. The God of the Bible, who is always greater than we people can imagine, is man among men, in all defencelessness. In Christ, He is servant to the end. Self-giving, reconciliating, bleeding love. But God is not toothless. The way of Cross, after all, has become the way towards life. The Church lives on the mystery of Easter. Christ is the Living One. From the mystery of cross and resurrection we may therefore speak of the defenceless might of our God.”
The bishop closes with emphasising how, in these times of darkness, a recognition of our vulnerability and dependency may be important. Exactly then does Christ support and carry us as a friend.
Bishop Wiertz, then, also writes about times of darkness. He mentions the abuse crisis and the effect it may have on the average believer. The bishop presents the coming of Christ as a new start, and this Advent may especially be a new start for the Church.
“In the Creed we confess the ‘holiness of the Church’. An entitlement that many may find misplaced in the current situation. But do realise: the holiness of the Church never depends on the achievements of us people; it is always a fruit of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. That pure Spirit of faith and love is, thanks be to God, still working in our Church: in people who are united with God in prayer and who help their neighbour in unselfish love.
“But as the Council has said in all clarity: that same holy Church is yet always called to purification (Lumen Gentium, 8).As a Church of people she is always a Church of sinners. Every day again she must confess her guilt: “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6, 12). Saint Paul says with reason: The Church carries the richness of Christ in earthen vessels, so that it is evident that the immensity of power comes from God and not from us (vg. 2 Cor 4, 7).
“Let us not lose our love for the Church, despite all the shortcomings of, especially her servants, but strengthen it. Christ does not abandon His Church. He remains loyal to her. His Spirit keeps working in her often poor figure. Despite her sinful brokenness.”
A day after the news broke (or rather, was regurgitated) that former bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Msgr. Jan Ter Schure, had been one of seven Salesians who abused a boy in the late 1940s, serious questions about the truth behind the matter appear. Current provincial Herman Spronck gave a radio interview today in which he claimed that, during the time of the abuse, then-seminarian Ter Schure had been in Italy for his education:
“We have concluded that Jan Ter Schure was not yet a priest between 1947 and 1951. He was studying theology in Italy at that time. After his ordination in 1951 he was immediately put to work in The Hague. He was therefore not a regular brother at Ugchelen. He would have visited from time to time, but under what circumstances is not known.”
Spronck also raised another important issue regarding this case. He claims that the whole affair had been settled out of court in 2003, and that everything was kept quiet on the express request of the victim.
“That is very odd to me. For seven years he has said that he did not want [the story to become public]. In 2003 everything had been peacefully settled. There would be no more talk about it. We were convinced that we settled matters just fine, in a human and humane way.”
About the 16,000-guilder compensation paid to the victim, Fr. Spronck says: “That was a reparation to the victim, together with apologies. He granted us a final remission, which means that he would not undertake any further actions, neither to the press, nor to others.”
Whatever the truth, perhaps the above goes to show that keeping things quiet, something that is time and again claimed of the Church, is rarely the right solution. The truth will come out eventually, but what the truth is, remains to be seen in this case.
If Jan Ter Schure spent his seminary years in Italy he could hardly have been one of seven regular abusers at the boarding school Don Rua at Ugchelen. But what does the reparation paid in 2003 mean? Did the Salesians conclude that something untoward involving the future bishop had indeed happened? Was there an investigation, were people named?
Many questions remain, including some about the conduct of media and victim. After all, in our legal system, no one can be punished twice for the same crime, so why regurgitate something that had seemingly been settled, albeit out of court?
The pope’s homily at the vigil for all nascent human life, held last Saturday, is now available online. NCR has the Engish translation, and I have a Dutch one. Particularly timely in the light of a small resurgence in pro-life debate in the Netherlands (in the wake of Bishop de Jong’s letter to all Dutch MPs, the initiative was then enthusiastically taken up by Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán), the homily is workmanlike, as Father Z put it; the pope makes his points clearly and unashamedly.
Again paraphrasing Msgr. Chaput, the good Archbishop of Denver: Forget the media headlines, just read the pope.
Sadly I was unable to attend the vigil offered in the cathedral of my diocese. Instead I was two dioceses over, in Oldenburg in the diocese of Münster. The local church, St. Peter’s in the city centre, sadly offered nothing in the way of prayer or celebration, at least not when I was there. I’d be interested to find how well (or poorly) attended the vigils across the Netherlands were. All cathedrals held them, and a number of parishes, seminaries and rectorates did the same.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
“Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning brings a special grace, because it is blessed by the Lord. In this Advent period we will once again experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and cared for us to the point of becoming a man. This great and fascinating mystery of God with us, moreover of God who becomes one of us, is what we celebrate in the coming weeks journeying towards holy Christmas. During the season of Advent we feel the Church that takes us by the hand and – in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary – expresses her motherhood allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Vigil for Nascent Human Life, St. Peter’s Basilica, 27 November 2010
After the (now seemingly debunked) accusations against Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of Roermond and Reykjavik, there are now new accusations of sexual abuse against another bishop. They centre around seven religious of the order of the Salesians of Don Bosco, one of whom would later become bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch: Msgr. Joannes Ter Schure (ordinary from 1985 to 1998).
The victim of the abuse wrote two letters to Bishop Ad van Luyn of Rotterdam, chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and, between 1975 to 1981, provincial of the Salesians in the Netherlands, in 2008. The abuse case dates back to the late 1940s.
A spokesperson for Bishop van Luyn says:”The bishop of Rotterdam replied to the victim with the advice to contact the congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco. The bishop later also contacted the provincial of the Salesians himself, with the request to contact the victim.”
The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch issued the following press release:
“Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s-Hertogenbosch responds with shock to the news of the involvement of Msgr. J. Ter Schure in a case of sexual abuse. The bishop informed the Holy See in Rome via de Pontifical Nuncio in The Hague this afternoon. Until now, the diocese of Den Bosch was not aware of the case. Ter Schure was bishop of Den Bosch from 1985 to 1998.
Jan Ter Schure was born on 21 June 1922 in Steenwijkerwold (Overijssel) and entered the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco on 16 August 1843. He was ordained a priest on 1 July 1951. After his ordination he worked as economist for his congregation and from 1961 to 1965 as provincial of the Dutch Church province. In 1965 he went to Turin in 1972 to Rome as member of the general provincialate of his order. In 178 he returned to the Netherlands and was consecrated to bishop on 1 December 1984 by Bishop Gijsen of Roermond. On 2 February 1985 Romer appointed him bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. That appointment lasted until 1998.”
(picture courtesy of Father John Boyle’s blog Caritas in Veritate)
As misleading headlines continue to appear left, right and centre (even in Christian newspapers such as the Nederlands Dagblad), the best source to find out anything sensible is still the pope himself. Numerous Catholic news sites offer full texts and quotations to counter the damage done by L’Osservatore Romano, who broke the embargo that was supposed to have stayed in place until tomorrow.
In a previous post I already linked to Jimmy Akin’s post about the subject, and I also have a Dutch translation of the same available here.
In closing I quote Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver:
In the context of the book’s later discussion of contraception and Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Pope’s comments are morally insightful. But taken out of context, they can easily be inferred as approving condoms under certain circumstances. One might reasonably expect the Holy Father’s assistants to have an advance communications plan in place, and to involve bishops and Catholic media in a timely way to explain and defend the Holy Father’s remarks.
Instead, the Vatican’s own semi-official newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, violated the book’s publication embargo and released excerpts of the content early. Not surprisingly, news media instantly zeroed in on the issue of condoms, and the rest of this marvelous book already seems like an afterthought.
Don’t let that happen. Don’t let confusion in the secular press deter you from buying, reading for yourself, and then sharing this extraordinary text. It’s an astonishing portrait of an astonishing man.
Despite everything, normal Catholic life happily continues, and a high point in my parish was the first International Share Meal organised by the student parish of St. Augustine. Some 40 people from all corners of the world attended and brought delicious dishes to share with everyone else. From Dutch pancakes to Nigerian plantains and from French pineapple pie to Polish pierogi, it provided an excellent excuse to bring the world Church to the confines of the parish hall next to the cathedral of St. Joseph.
Sometimes other people write about things far better than I could ever hope, so in this post I gladly limit myself to linking to Jimmy Akin’s excellent analysis on a massive mess-up by l’Osservatore Romano: The Pope Said WHAT about Condoms???.
I heard people talking about this at church today, with many nodding in agreement about the sensibility of what they thought the pope said. Of course, the pope said something different – and actually sensible – altogether.
I may whip up a Dutch translation of Akin’s article later. I’m getting a bit sick of how even Catholic media continue to fail at proper reporting.
Driven by curiosity, I perused the websites of the Dutch dioceses, as well as the social media at my disposal, to see how Pope Benedict XVI’s request that the bishops of the world hold a prayer vigil for “all nascent life” on the 27th of November is received in the Netherlands. The result is pretty meagre, to be honest.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht and the dioceses of Breda and Roermond present scheduled prayer vigils, as well as the FSSP-run church of St. Agnes. Individual parishes here and there are also organising, but it’s not as much as could have been.
EDIT 2: Frederick reports that the St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch is also organising a vigil.
EDIT 3: Happy news during the announcements at Mass in my parish today: all Dutch cathedrals will host prayer vigils on the 27th, even those who have yet failed to advertise it.
So, bishops, priest, laity (yes, every Catholic is called by the pope to pray for life): get to it! There is still time to organise something.
Father Z muses about the meaning of the word ‘nascent’ in the pope’s call:
“I like the use of the word “nascent”. The very form, from the Latin deponent verb “nascor… to be born” suggests ongoing action. The -sc- element is inchoative: ongoing, beginning, not yet complete. That is to say, from the moment of conception the newly conceived person begins the process of being born. Sure, we identify different stages of development and birth. But from this other point of view, which I hear in “nascent human life”, every abortion would be a partial birth abortion.”