‘Tis the season…

… 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.”

Serious questions about the guilt of Msgr. Ter Schure

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.”

Fr. Herman Spronck

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?

Pope’s life vigil homily online and translated

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