The Lady of All Nations – A diocese celebrates, but serious questions remain

On 12 June a day of prayer in honour of the Lady of All Nations will take place in Amsterdam, under the auspices and with the participation of Bishop Jos Punt of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. Lady of All Nations refers to the Blessed Virgin and specifically the alleged apparitions of her in Amsterdam between 1945 and 1959. These apparitions, like others across the world, caused much debate and also much enthusiasm. The debate still remains, and is fueled by a distinct lack of clarity.

At the root of this lie two things that the Blessed Virgin is alleged to have communicated during these apparitions; the first is a prayer that refers to her as she “who once was Mary”, and the second the wish that a fifth Marian dogma be declared, which would make her coredemptrix, saviour next to Jesus Christ. The image created from the apparitions, pictured to the left, also shows Mary in front of the Cross, taking the place of Christ.

Both these elements, the prayer and the dogma, constitute a rupture with all we know of the Blessed Virgin and her role in salvation history, and all that she has communicated in apparitions and miracles. And that, in short, is why the veneration of the Lady of All Nations is so problematic.

During his pontificate, Venerable Pope Pius XII acted against the title of ‘coredemptrix’, and had it removed from documents. The Second Vatican Council expressed exceeding caution in using the term, and even used the word mediatrix sparingly. A 1997 conference on the subject in Czestochowa also decided against the proposed dogma, citing the rupture with the Mariological beacons set forth by the Council (and, I might add, the whole of salvation history).

Much debate in the world Church, then. But things also developed on the diocesan level. According to canon law, a diocesan bishop has full authority to judge the validity of such supernatural phenomena. It is part of what he received at his consecration to the episcopate. Over the decades, at least two bishops of the Diocese of Haarlem, Msgr. Huibers and Zwartkruis, had investigations into the alleged apparitions conducted which led to the veneration of the Lady of All Nations being forbidden within the diocese. In 1996, only weeks before his death, Bishop Henny Bomers declared that he no longer had any qualms about the cultus that had developed and in 2002 Bishop Jos Punt declared the phenomena that occurred between 1945 and 1959 to be authentic. That meant that, with to the authority vested in a diocesan bishop, the veneration was allowed worldwide.

Here we have an interesting contrast; whereas the higher Church authorities, manifesting their duty and ability of guiding the faith of the Church, expressed caution in the interpretation and consequences of the alleged apparitions and messages, the local curia on the diocesan level came to the conclusion that such caution is not warranted. Some blame that latter development on Bishop Punt with his strong personal devotion to the Lady of All Nations, but the case has kept basically all bishops in Haarlem of the last 60 years busy. Twice a serious investigation was called, and at least two bishops came to the personal conclusion that everything was authentic (Bishop Huibers probably came to the same conclusion in 1955, but abided to the ruling of a committee he had established to investigate the apparitions).

That is the situation as it is now, but what tends to be overlooked are the judgements of Pope Pius XII, the Second Vatican Council and modern prelates such as Cardinal Amato, who all speak against the full authenticity. And I tend to agree with their serious reservations. I am not denying Bishop Punt’s authority, but neither am I (or any Catholic) obliged to believe in whatever apparition, be it Amsterdam, Lourdes, Medjugorje or Fatima.  And if we believe, we must do so with heart and mind. The heart may be there, but the mind has its questions which deserve answers.

And that is why I doubt the wisdom is such large-scale events like the day of prayer on 12 June. The Lady of All Nations, and the contents of the Virgin’s alleged messages, of her as coredemptrix and as something else than the human Mary, are presented as accepted elements of the faith, when they are not.

The Catholicism Project

I’ve been watching some videos of the Catholicism Project, Fr. Robert Barron’s 10-part documentary series on the Catholic faith. In the trailer, he says that the Catholic story is being told, but by the wrong people an in the wrong way. Hence this project, which Fr. Barron wrote and hosts, and which took him across the world to delve into the essential parts of the Catholic faith.

As the video below highlights, the topics that are featured are very diverse, just as the Catholic faith, and it is also a very human story.

It seems to me that this is a great educational tool, for Catholic and non-Catholics alike. Wouldn’t it be great if, for example, Dutch Catholic TV would buy it and broadcast the series? Just a thought…

After the Maronites and the Ukrainians, a new chief shepherd for the Syro-Malabarese

It seems that 2011 is shaping up to be the year in which the eastern churches united to Rome are picking new major archbishops and patriarchs (which, I assume, sounds like bad news for those men who are still in good health or relatively young), for, after the Maronite Church elected Bechara Pierre Raï as their patriarch in March and the Ukrainian Church picked Sviatoslav Shevchuk as major archbishop very shortly after that, it is now the Syro-Malabarese Church of southern India to get a new chief shepherd.

The Syro-Malabarese Church is a church with its own rite and culture in union with Rome. Its heartland is the southern Indian state of Kerala and it traces its origins to the evangelisation efforts of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who, tradition says, travelled to India after the resurrection of the Lord to spread the good news there.

The Syro-Malabarese Church has one major archdiocese (of which more below), four regular archdioceses and twenty-four dioceses (twenty-three in India and one in the United States). There are also four religious orders. The Major Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly has pride of place among these, and on 1 April of this year it lost its major archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil. After his death the bishops of the church came together in conclave to elect a successor and, as is customary for the eastern churches in union with Rome, it is up to the pope to confirm the election. Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate in doing so and yesterday Major Archbishop George Alencherry was confirmed as the new head of the Syro-Malabarese Church.

Major Archbishop Alencherry is 66 and before his election he was the bishop of the Diocese of Thuckalay on India’s far southern tip, a position he had held since 1996. Mar Alencherry has been a priest since 1972.

The website of the archdiocese, linked above, announces that Mar Alencherry will be installed next Sunday, the 29th. The same website also offers a profile of the new head of the 3.6 million Syro-Malabarese Catholics.

It’s raining statements

In a seeming attempt to put right what went wrong, the Salesians in the Netherlands and abroad are trying to be as open as possible about the process of dealing with the membership of a Dutch Salesian of a pedophilia group and the statements of delegate Fr. Herman Spronck, who came out in favour of pedophilia and defended Fr. van B.’s work for the group ‘Martijn’. Yesterday, two more press releases were published, the first from the Salesian Congregation in Rome, titled Paedophilia: Incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. The heart of that statement is the following paragraph:

“Being a member of such an association is absolutely incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. Therefore we strongly disapprove of this fact and we distance ourselves from this kind of personal behaviour by an individual confrere. We can understand that this news has undoubtedly once again seriously wounded the justified sensitivities of many persons. We can understand their pain and we offer our apologies in the name of the Salesians of Don Bosco.”

But do read the full text.

The second press release concerns Fr. Spronck himself:

In a conversation, Jos Claes, Provincial of the Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Flanders and the Netherlands, has ordered Father Herman Spronck to refrain from giving any interviews or public statements for one year.

Father Herman Spronck has accepted this decision and has promised to keep to it.

Father Herman Spronck acknowledges that his statements represent an incorrect vision and offers his apologies to the many people who felt angered and distraught by the interview.

He disassociates himself from the contents of his interview, which is fully contrary to the teachings of the Church and incompatible with the Christian and Salesian project of education.

Fr. Jos Claes

What was missing in the interview is now finally present in this statement; the fact that, as a Catholic priest, Fr. Spronck made statements that are incompatible with the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church. Better late than never, I would say.

Certain questions and rumours still remain. What, for example, do we make of the claim that Fr. Jos Claes was aware of the membership of Fr. van B. of ‘Martijn’ well before this whole issue broke? I have no sources for that claim apart from rumours being floated here and there. In Rome and the Netherlands, the investigation will continue. I don’t think this is a closed case just yet.

One more time, a press release

I’m getting a bit sick of the whole sordid affair, but for the sake of completeness: one more press release from Salesian Provincial Fr. Jos Claes. Source is the same as in my previous post.

Regarding the most recent revelations from Father van B. and Father Herman Spronck, the Province and the Salesian Congregation completely disassociate themselves from the acts and comments given by both.

Father van B. was officially informed that he has no access to the performance of any pastoral activity whatsoever.

The Provincial of Belgium and the Netherlands, Jos Claes, has suspended Father Herman Spronck from all delegated authority that Father Herman Spronck had regarding the Salesians in the Netherlands.

Compliments to the exceedingly quick response from the responsible authorities. Let’s hope that the committee established will equally soon have a report ready to send on to Rome.

Three press releases from the Salesians

On their website, the Dutch Salesians have released three press statements, two from the hand of Fr. Jos Claes, the order’s provincial for the Netherlands and Flanders, and one from the chairman of Don Bosco Works Netherlands. All regard the membership of one of the Salesian fathers of the pro-pedophilia group ‘Martijn’ as well as the statements made by delegate Fr. Herman Spronck.

Since the interest in the topic is high, judging from my blog’s statistics, I’ll share both press statements in English below.

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Following the news and notification of the comments by Father H. Spronck about Father van B., we distance ourselves completely from the comments by Father H. Spronck.

To our great surprise we were made aware in the past days that Father van B. was a member of the association ‘Martijn’. The membership and visions of such an association are not compatible with our Salesian identity and the educational project of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

We absolutely do not approve of this and we therefore condemn the membership and the opinions of Father van B.

Brussels, 21 May 2011
Jos Claes
Provincial

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Concerning the case of Father van B. the Provincial has established a committee. Starting today, this will be collecting all the information regarding the actions and words of Father van B. which is connected to his condemnable membership of ‘Martijn’.

The committee’s report will be sent to the superiors of the Salesian congregation in Rome.

At this moment the provincial has officially informed Father van B. that he can not undertake any pastoral duty or service anywhere or in whatever way.

Brussels, 23 May 2011
Jos Claes
Provincial

Statement from the Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands

On Friday evening the council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands was surprised by the news from RTL 4 about one of the Salesians of Don Bosco and especially the comments which delegate Mr. German Spronck gave via RTL 4.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands would hereby like to inform you that it expressly distances itself from the comments made by Mr. Herman Spronck in this regard. In the meantime, there has been deliberation with Mr. Jos Claes, Provincial.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands now reflects on the situations and will further inform you.

Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands
Lex Enklaar, chairman
23 May 2011

Three statements which illustrate the shocking nature of the comments made and the effect upon the Salesians and all who work with them. It is good to see that steps are being taken and that Rome will be involved, like a spokesman of the Dutch bishops said a few days ago.

In the meantime, it must be emphasised that Fr. Spronck and Fr. van B. have not committed any crimes according to the law. However, morally their statements and the membership of a club of pedophiles are very seriously wrong.