Cardinal watch: Cardinal Martini passes away

Mere minutes ago, after Parkinson’s disease had confined him to a hospital bed, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini passed away, 85 years old. The leader of the Church’s ‘loyal opposition’, a voice for liberalism on many issues, Cardinal Martini was also an erudite scholar of Scripture, papabile in many eyes and a polyglot, said to have been able to speak 11 languages.

Born in Turin as the son of an engineer, young Carlo Martini was educated by the Jesuits and entered that order in 1944, when he was 17, and started studying to become a priest. He was ordained in 1952. He wrapped up his studies in philosophy in Gallarate and theology in Chieri. Fr. Martini was awarded a doctorate in fundamental theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1958. A few years of teaching followed, after which Fr. Martini graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

His scholarly career took off after that. In 1962, Fr. Martini accepted the Chair of Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and became that institute’s rector in 1969. In 1978, he was appointed as chancellor of the Gregorian, of which the Biblical Institute was a part. Almost 18 months later, he was given his first pastoral assignment, and not the smallest: he was appointed as archbishop of Milan.

Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Archbishop Martini himself and created him a cardinal in the consistory of February 1983. Cardinal Martini, then almost 56, became cardinal priest of San Cecilia.

As archbishop of Europe’s largest diocese, Cardinal Martini also served in other functions. He was relator of the 6th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which focussed on ‘Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church’. He was also president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences from 1986 to 1993. The scholar-cardinal became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2000.

In 2002, Cardinal Martini resigned as archbishop of Milan, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. He returned to his life as biblical scholar, moving to Jerusalem to work at the Pontifical Biblical Institute once more. Cardinal Martini was able to participate in the conclave of 2005, and is rumoured to have been a possible future pope.

Cardinal Martini had a reputation of being quite liberal on many topics, which no doubt made enemies in some quarters, but questioning things is what he had learned in his many years as a scholar. On topics such as contraception, euthanasia, and the ordination of women (at least as deacons), Cardinal Martini diverged from the general stance of the Church, but he was never sanctioned or warned in any way. His focus on education, social justice and the collegiality of bishops can only be lauded.

Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini passed away in Gallarate, northwest of Milan, after Parkinson’s disease left him unable to eat and drink normally. He received fluids intravenously, but refused further treatment. He is said to have wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, where he purchased a grave site.

The College of Cardinals now numbers 206, of whom 118 are electors.


‘Catholic’ education – dropping the C

Several dozen primary schools, which cater to pupils from 4 to 12, in Den Bosch and surrounding area have said they intend to drop the ‘Catholic’ moniker from their names in 2013. The chairman of the umbrella organisation of these schools said: “The relationship with the Church is already minimal. We have detached ourselves from the Church years ago.”

Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch said that it is better, in these cases, to indeed drop the name ‘Catholic’, when lesson content and founding principles are no longer compatible with Catholic teaching.

He also said that this opens opportunities to establish true Catholic schools. In the past, the state blocked such attempts, pointing at the existence of plenty of ‘Catholic’ schools.

In past decades, when the Church in the Netherlands was itself quite in turmoil, Catholic education was secularised to a great extent. Although there are of course school where priest or bishop will visit, where there are good relationships with the local parish, and where pupils are prepared for first Communion, the Church itself had no say about what the school should teach or how it should go about its business. The state took that upon itself, and the focus shifted to the individual child and his or her needs and talents, the different cultures and faiths in the school, and, sadly, increasing bureaucracy for teachers and staff alike.

Catholic education in the Netherlands is marginal, and to counter that we need honesty and openness. If you’re not Catholic, don’t pretend you are. That clears the way for schools who do want to be Catholic, as Bishop Mutsaerts indicated. How arge the basis for those truly Catholic schools is, remains to be seen, though.

Credo – our faith confessed, part 2

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible

Continuing from the first lines of the Nicene Creed, we further develop the identification of who God is. He is a creating God and His creation envelops everything we know and also the things we do not know.

God stands at the root of everything, but He is not a part of it. The creator is not part of creation, but nonetheless willed it into being. Creation – everything we see, from lifeless matter to our loved ones  was willed, desired by God. This is also an essential element of our relationship with God. We are not an accident, we have a purpose, a reason for being. That reason is that we are wanted, we are loved even.

This knowledge is, in many ways, far more important than the exact details of how God went about creating everything. We will most certainly never know all the details of the process of creation, although the sciences can surely teach us much about it. But it suffices to know what the reason behind the process is.

God is the maker of all things, reaching far beyond or knowledge and abilities, but He has chosen to want and love us and everything around us.

Art credit: ‘The Ancient of Days’, by William Blake (1794)

The riot that almost was – Baptising children of same-sex couples

A bit of a potential situation recently, in the vein of the euthanasia case in Liempde or the Communion situation in Reusel, and again in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. A lesbian couple wanted to have their child baptised by Father Ad Verest, parish priest of St. Willibrord’s in Waalre. He refused to do so, the couple said, so they were forced to find a priest who would, eventually succeeding in doing so. This, of course, had the potential of exploding all over the media, were it not for the initial intention of all parties to keep the situation private – a laudable decision, I would think.

But some elements have gone public, of course, and various parties demanded explanations from Fr. Verest. Via the vice-chairman of the parish council, the priest informed the media that he never refused a baptism of the child, but that any meetings and baptism preparation never progressed beyond Fr. Verest’s explanation that the Church requires parents and godparents to fully agree with the Church’s teachings. The mother agreed and preparation would continue after Father returned from a three-month sabbatical in Peru.

But apparently, for some reason, this was understood as refusal from the priest’s part to baptise the child in question. The diocese in the person of auxiliary bishop Rob Mutsaerts stated the following:

Baptism is a sacrament that one receives out of conviction of faith. At the time of Baptism a child can’t comprehend that, so the parents must be behind the faith of the Church, and able to share that faith and live it for their child. The form of cohabitation of the parents responsible is of secondary importance. The interest of the child prevails!

While the Church is very clear about the best form of family in which children can be raised fully and properly, Baptism is first and foremost a sacrament of the child. But parents represent the child in many ways, and must be willing and able to raise the child in the best way they can. This creates responsibilities, not least when it comes to the faith. At Baptism, the parents and godparents accept the responsibility to guide and raise the child as it grows in faith. It is up to the priest to gain some understanding of the parents’ abilities to do so. It could conceivably happen that the priest finds that this ability is lacking, at which point he could say that it is not the right for Baptism if the parents are not prepared fully.

That stage was never reached in this case, of course. Father Verest had merely set up the first meetings to get to know the mother, her partner and ultimately the child. By presenting the situation to the media as if he had refused to perform the sacrament (seemingly because of the homosexuality of the mother and her partner) is awfully cause to slander.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80

The first archbishop of Westminster to have retired, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turned 80 yesterday, bringing the number of cardinal electors down to 118 and leaving England and Wales without a cardinal elector able to participate in a future conclave.

Born of Irish parents in Reading, young Cormac was one of four children. After a school career in Reading and Bath, he went to Rome in 1950 to study for the priesthood at the Venerable English College. He earned a degree in theology there, and went on to earn licentiates in philosophy and sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1956, he was ordained.

As a young priest, Father Murphy-O’Connor worked in Portsmouth and the surrounding area until 196, when he became the private secretary of Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouth. In 1970 followed an appointment as parish priest in Southampton, followed in late 1971 by a return to the Venerable English College, where Fr. Murphy-O’Connor became the new rector. With this appointment came the title of Monsignor in 1972.

In 1977, the aging Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Murphy-O’Connor as bishop of Arundel and Brighton. In his time as chief shepherd of that diocese, he worked much towards unity with the Anglican Church, which lead to him being awarded a Degree in Divinity by then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. He later came under scrutiny regarding the presence of an abusive priest working in his diocese. In early 2000, Bishop Murphy-O’Connor became the tenth archbishop of Westminster, which led, one year later, to him being created a cardinal, with the title church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See and the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for Culture. His most notable recent function was that of secretary of the Vox Clara commission which crafted the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Another high-profile task he was given was to oversee the  recent Apostolic Visitation of the Archdiocese of Armagh and its suffragans in Ireland, in the wake of the abuse crisis breaking in that country.

In 2009, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor retired, the first archbishop of Westminster to live long enough to do so.

Photo credit: The Papal Visit on Facebook.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passes away

After six years battling cancer, Paul Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passed away yesterday. The former archbishop of Kaohsiung’s death leaves 207 members of the College of Cardinals, of whom 119 are electors.

Born in China in December of 1932, Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi entered the Jesuit order, but fled the country when the Communists took over. In 1955 he was ordained to the priesthood in the Philippines, where he worked as director of the Chinese Section of Sacred Heart School in Cebu City. Studying for a doctorate in spiritual theology at Rome’s Gregorian University, Father Shan too a position at the Jesuit novitiate in Thuduc, Vietnam from 1961 to 1963. He went to Taiwan after taking his final vows in 1963, where he was appointment as master of novices and later as rector of a high school. In 1980, he was consecrated and installed as the third bishop of Hwalien, also in Taiwan. During that time, in 1987, he was chosen to chair the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, a position he would until 2006. In th meantime, in 1991, he was elected as bishop of Kaohsiung. He would remain there until his retirement in 2006. In 1998, he became for a while the only Chinese cardinal when Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed him as cardinal-priest of San Crisogono. The cardinal revealed his having lung cancer shortly after his 2006 retirement.

Cardinal Shan was especially committed to interreligious dialogue, perhaps not surprising in a country where less than 5% of the population is Christian. As bishop of Kaohsiung he worked towards formation of the laity and local priests. In the Curia, Cardinal Shan was a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Special Council for Asia of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops

Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi was 88.

Photo credit: ChenHao Yang/Flickr

Credo – our faith confessed, part 1

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty

In the first line of the Creed we find that every word has meaning. It starts of with “I believe”, indicating that this is my confession. It is not merely some statement that applies to all who say it in a general sense; no, it is intensely personal. This implies that, when we say the Creed, we should really try to do so consciously, aware of what we are saying, and, equally important, to whom. Are we telling the people around us what we believe, or do we direct our words, like everything in the liturgy of Mass, towards our Lord God?

Which handily leads us to the rest of that first line. We believe “in one God”. There is a single God, and that God is one. That’s not just some juggling with words, but it tells us something about God. He is unique, there are no others like Him. This has an effect on our relationships with other religions (although this is not the place to delve into the intricacies of ecumenism), but also focusses our worship, our relationship with Him. He is not an option among many, He is the only option, really.

He is also “the Father”. God is a father, which gives a hint about how we relate to Him: like children to a father. Like human fathers (or fathers as they should be, to be fair), God loves us. He also has a responsibility towards us, like a father has to his children. A responsibility to love, raise and educate them. Fathers also usually know better than their children, and we trust them to act for our wellbeing, even if we don’t appreciate their actions or decisions at the time. We know that God is for us, never against us.

Lastly, we state that God is “almighty”. He exceeds all earthly powers and strength, standing, as we will learn in the next line of the Creed, above all creation. All that we see around us, all that we are capable of, finds its source in the almighty God. His might is not something earned or achieved, but something that is innate to His being.

Art credit: God the Father, by Antoniazzo Romano (1489)

From Moscow to Cologne

As the fallout of the Pussy Riot trial in Russia reaches Germany, the message seems rather lost. Whereas the Russian punk band presented their protest as against the regime of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (while, it must be added, not hesitating to spit in the faces of many Russian faithful), three young sympathisers who interrupted Mass in Cologne’s cathedral on Sunday seem to have missed the boat a bit when it comes to understanding, well, basically a lot.

The Mass, offered by Auxiliary Bishop Heiner Koch of Cologne, was similar to the Divine Liturgy in Moscow’s cathedral in that both are sacramental acts of worship, but that’s where the similarities end. The Catholic Church is not the Orthodox Church and in Germany she is not linked to political parties, as the Orthodox Church is in Russia (Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has an interesting article in that side of the issue). The short protest that interrupted the Mass would have been rather pointless if it were politically motivated. As an act of support for the three jailed members of Pussy Riot it had perhaps symbolical value, but neither the Catholic Church in Germany or the Archdiocese of Cologne is, of course, involved in the actions of Russia’s judiciary.

It almost seems that the German sympathisers looked at the nature of the Pussy Riot protest, and decided to do something outwardly similar – interrupt the liturgy and mock the faithful participating. The reason and motivation, in the meantime, are lost in the kerfuffle.

Feathers decidedly unruffled, Bishop Koch stated he would pray for the concerns of the protesters in Germany and Russia. The police in Cologne, though, said the protesters are accused of trespassing and disturbing the free exercise of religion.

Photo credit: DPA

Pussy Riot: free speech or scandal?

In certain circles, many people have spoken out against the conviction of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who staged a protest against that country’s President Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They are punished, many on the left side of the political spectrum say, for speaking out against Putin, and therefore their conviction is an example political violence, of curbing free speech.

But, just like the group’s protest was far more than a political protest, the consequences are also. Father Ray Blake, for example, considers the site of the protest and its importance for the Russian nation. He writes (emphasis mine):

“For Russian believers this Cathedral symbolises the very heart of Christian Russia, reborn after the murder of countless of believers and the wholesale destruction of religion in Russia[…]. The demonstration against Putin was one thing but the blasphemy and mockery of religion in the Cathedral was a reminder for believers of the type of thing organised by the persecutors within living memory, it was spitting in the face of the holy Russia.
Can the fatuous western “supporters” of Pussy Riot understand the nature of their demonstration?

And the location, as well as the despicable language and behaviour displayed by the group make a difference. This was not merely a matter of political commentary. It was a blasphemous desecration, an insult to many believers and a spitting in the face to all of Russia. Pussy Riot, as many from whom free speech is a holy grail, consider their own perceived rights an opinions to trump the feelings, rights and opinions of everyone else. In fact, it’s individualism gone crazy.

Is two years in prison harsh? Perhaps (the Russian Orthodox Church seems to think so, as it has appealed for mercy and freedom for the group). Was some form of punishment in order? Most certainly. Pussy Riot are not the victims here.

Photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev

On the edge of Europe, welcome home

The Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, of the Transalpine Redemptorists blog, were today received back into the fold of the Church, as the impressive Bishop Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B. of Aberdeen established them as a Clerical Institute of Diocesan Right. This ends four years of some limbo for the brothers on their windy monastery island of Papa Stronsay, one of the Orkneys.

Below, some of the brothers are pictured with Bishop Gilbert at an earlier occasion.

Once belonging to the SSPX, the community requested recognition from the Holy See, so as to be fully reunited to the Church, after Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007. The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form exclusively, which the motu proprio regulated.

The community has long had a presence on my blog roll, and their blog is recommended. Heartfelt congratulations to these men of prayer and work! May they long continue their good work for Gods Church and all of us.