In Germany, childish behaviour before the pope comes

Less than two weeks from now, on 22 September, Pope Benedict XVI will begin a three-day state visit to his native Germany. One of the features of the visit is the pope addressing the German parliament in Berlin on the first day of his visit. And, wouldn’t you know, when Church and politicians meet in western Europe, the latter get in a huff. The former communists are already boycotting the pope’s visit to parliament (well, they would, wouldn’t they?), but now the socialists threaten to do the same (well, they also would…). And what do they cite as the reason? The separation of state and Church…

This is getting really old, to be honest. How on earth is a religious leader simply speaking to politicians a case of the Church interfering in affairs of the state? The pope is not coming to enforce Christian teaching, but to inspire and, hopefully, give some people something to think about. The nuncio in Berlin has said as much. And I maintain my claim that if another religious leader, say, the Dalai Lama, were invited to the German parliament, the socialists would be sitting in the front row, so to speak.

In essence, this is childish behaviour of these politicians. I can’t call it anything less. The German parliament is a modern, democratic one, actively supporting human rights and freedom. But when it comes to perceived unpopular truths, some people in that same parliament suddenly think that not all freedoms and rights are applicable to all people. And that’s, I fear, true for most of the sick modern western societies… If it’s difficult, we ban, attack or hide from it. That’s the behaviour of little children. It s also the modus operandi of our society.

The sharp-minded William Oddie has a good piece about the protests which also exist outside the walls of the Bundestag. We’ve seen the true face of these protesters in Madrid and the UK, and there’s little chance that we’ll see anything else in Germany, two weeks from now.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the anti-papal protesters, after the stunning success of World Youth Day and their humiliating failure – after a vicious and hate-filled campaign – to get on to the national radar during the Pope’s visit to England, would have gone out of business, or at least shut up for a bit.

But no: they’re now smacking their chops over the numbers they think, in their dreams, are going to turn up to protest against the Pope in Germany. “The website Der Papst kommt! [the Pope is coming]”, excitedly reports something called The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason [pah!] and Science, “is the home for a coalition of now 59 and growing, organisations united in criticism of the Pope. It is the nerve centre [ooh, how thrilling, a ‘nerve centre’; probably some scruffy little back room] for organising the upcoming protest which expects 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators to protest during the Pope’s speech to the Bundestag [Lower House of German Parliament]”. That kind of estimate was made, of course, about the numbers who were going to turn up to the Protest the Pope main demo: it turned out to be (police figures) more like about a paltry 3,000.

Read the rest of Mr. Oddie’s blog at the Catholic Herald.

A shop front in Freiburg, all ready for the papal visit

Photo credit: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

Reshuffling the bishops’ responsibilities

In the past few years, the Dutch bishops’ conference has gained four new members and lost one, and now those changes are being reflected in the responsibilities that the members have within the conference. Traditionally, each bishop is a so-called ‘referent’ for a specific field of policy. For example, my own bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, is referent for matters of Church and society; he has appeared often in the media about the abuse crisis, for example, an area where Church and society meet.

Now that both the Archdiocese of Utrecht and the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch have each gained two auxiliary bishops, and the previous bishop of Rotterdam has retired, these responsibilities are being reshuffled. The changes and new responsibilities are reflected in the list below:

  • Catechesis: Msgr. Rob Mutsaerts (from Msgr. de Jong)
  • Church and the Elderly: Msgr. Gerard de Korte
  • Church and Society: Msgr. Gerard de Korte
  • Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community: Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom (from Msgr. van Luyn)
  • Communication and Media: Msgr. Frans Wiertz
  • Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe: Msgr. Wim Eijk (from Msgr. van Luyn)
  • Ecumenism: Msgr. Jan van Burgsteden
  • Education: Msgr. Everard de Jong
  • Interreligious Dialogue: Msgr. Hans van den Hende
  • Liturgy: Msgr. Jan Liesen (from Msgr. Hurkmans)
  • Marriage and Family: Msgr. Antoon Hurkmans
  • Medical Ethics: Msgr. Wim Eijk
  • Mission and Development: Msgr. Jos Punt
  • New Movements: Msgr. Jan van Burgsteden
  • Pilgrimages: Msgr. Herman Woorts
  • Relations with Judaism: Msgr. Herman Woorts (from Msgr. van Luyn)
  • Religious and Secular Institutes: Msgr. Jan van Burgsteden
  • Vocation and formation: Msgr. Wim Eijk
  • Women and Church: Msgr. Gerard de Korte
  • Youth: Msgr. Rob Mutsaerts (from Msgr. de Jong)
Bishop de Jong

One of the most striking changes for many will be the handover of the Youth portfolio from Bishop de Jong to Bishop Mutsaerts. For years, Bishop de Jong has been known as the ‘youth bishop’, a popular, enthusiastic and charismatic representative of the bishops to the young Catholics at the annual Catholic Youth Day, the international World Youth Day and other youth events. While he remains in contact with young people through his education portfolio as well as membership in the board of the the Thomas More Foundation, he will be missed by many. But who knows, maybe this will also clear the way for a somewhat more ‘serious’ direction, an appointment as ordinary of a diocese, perhaps?

His successor among the young Catholics, Bishop Mutsaerts, is relatively unknown in this specific field. Of course, he gave a great homily at last November’s Catholic Youth Day, but aside from that, there has not been much contact. I have fairly high hopes that he can be a great force for good in the formation of and engagement with the youth.

Among the other appointments, that of the theologian Bishop Liesen for Liturgy has some promise. He certainly has the international contacts that will allow him to look over the fence at how liturgy is perceived in other countries, something that the Dutch Church could do well with.

And the future? Well, perhaps another reshuffling will come in a few years. We’ll have a new bishop in Breda then, and Msgr. van Burgsteden will hopefully be enjoying his retirement, being over 75 already.