Radical individualism and clear faith – Cardinal Eijk on the radio

Meeting with bishops from all over Europe in the plenary assembly of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europæ (CCEE), Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht, spoke to Vatican Radio about one of the topics that has determined his work as a bishop: clear faith in the face of radical individualism. I have translated some snippets from the original German. You can find the full recording here.

“Modern radical individualism… the individual sees it as his duty to invent himself, his own religion, his own worldview, his own value… making the individual see himself as the centre of the world, and ‘the other’ merely as spectator… this individual is locked within himself and isn’t open to what others have to say, not to mention to any transcendental reality…. This makes it very difficult to return the faith to the people of Europe.

The Christian faith requires a personal decision, a conscious decision, from us for Christ and His Church… When the individual, who is expressive and locked within himself, when he even makes a choice, it needs to be a choice for something that is clear, that is distinct. And perhaps we have made the mistake of describing the faith to children in seemingly vague terms in the hope that many will remain in the Church. And that hasn’t worked, nor can it when one considers the essence of the Church: we must continue the work of Christ here, in this world. Then we should also proclaim His message, His Gospel, very clearly. And when we do, we are also able to give the faith back to people. We see that the parishes where the sacraments are celebrated according to the liturgy of the Church, where the faith of the Catholic Church are clearly proclaimed, these are the parishes which still have vitality, these can still attract people, also young people. And I believe that we should go that path to proclaim the faith fruitfully, also in western Europe.”

One year since Deetman – the first report

Yesterday saw the publication of the first report on how the recommendations to deal with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church in the Netherlands, as drafted by Mr . Wim Deetman and his committee, have been implemented. This report is the first in a series that will regular track these implementations and offer corrective measures if necessary.

As the report, at 80 pages, is lengthy, I have not yet been able to do anything but skim through it. But since there are several interesting subjects for blog posts to draft from it, I didn’t want to wait too long with writing about it. First u, is an overview of the size of the problem.

Every diocese has been individually requested to present an overview of how many claims they have received and how far along the process of handling them has advanced. The dioceses have als been tasked with answering a questionnaire on such subjects as how sexuality and celibacy are handled in the seminaries for priests, deacons and pastoral workers, how newly ordained priests receive further training, if and how claims are treated outside the standard procedures, the contacts between victims and representatives of the dioceses, including the bishops, how diocesan websites inform and redirect,  and how last year’s final report has been published and made known within the dioceses.

  • The Archdiocese of Utrecht has received 51 claims since May of 2010. Of these, 24 have resulted in a verdict from the complaints committee, and 1 one of these also to a verdict from the compensation committee. There are also several claims which have not yet advanced beyond the announcement that a  claim will be made in the future.
  • The Diocese of Breda has received 16 claims, or announcements of claims, since June of 2010. 7 of these are true claims, and 2 have received a verdict from the complaints committee.
  • The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden received 7 claims since June of 2010. One of these was lodged twice. One has advanced beyond the reception of the claim.
  • The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam received 22 claims since March of 2010.Three have reached a verdict from the complaints committee and one has received financial compensation. Another claim is currently under investigation and may possibly receive financial compensation. The diocese also mentions that in the case that has received compensation, the abuser himself replied to the claim of a victim.
  • The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch received 34 complaints since May of 2010. 26 have been handled by the complaints committee, and in case the victim appealed the verdict. In three cases, the abuser himself replied to the victim’s claim.
  • The Diocese of Roermond has received 22 claims of which 15 have advanced to a verdict from the complaints committee, and a further four from the compensation committee.
  • The Diocese of Rotterdam, lastly, lists 36 claims, of which 16 pertain to other dioceses or religious orders. Six claims have been judged justified and two of these received financial compensation.

The reasons who a fairly low number of claims have led to verdicts or compensation are myriad. Firstly, the processes involved are slow. Secondly, not all victims may have desired anything but recognition of what has been done to them. And then there is also the sad fact that not all claims are justified.

In total, the Dutch dioceses have received 188 claims of sexual abuse by priests or other workers in the Church, many of whom are no longer alive. The religious orders have also received claims, but that’s a topic for another blog posts.

Cardinals on my blog

I have added a new page to the header atop this blog. On it, I present the full list of all members of the College of Cardinals and their specific duties in the Church. This to accompany my regular post in the ‘Cardinal watch’ category. Maybe it’ll be a handy resource for those interested in such matters. Obviously the page will be updated as changes occur, for example when a cardinal turns 80, passes away, gets a new job, or when new cardinals are created.

As a consequences, the page containing my personal story of why I became Catholic has been moved to the ‘About this blog’ blurb in the left sidebar. I did so in order to prevent the top bar from becoming too crowded. There really shouldn’t be more than one line of text there, I think.

Kirchensteuer – sacrament for sale?

Much has already been written about the news from Germany – that people who don’t pay their Church taxes will not be able to receive the sacraments – and by people who are more knowledgeable than I am in these matters. So this will not be a blog post in which I share my opinion, but more of a road sign towards some interesting blog posts by others.

First, there is the blog by my friend Inge, who asks: “Do German bishops deny sacraments to those who don’t pay Church tax?“. She explains that the Kirchensteuer is a federal income tax, established and collected by the state, not the Church.

Father John Boyle also wonders what the German bishops can do, and delves into Canon Law to try and find an answer. Jimmy Akin then does something similar.

The Kirchensteuer is a relic from times past, but nonetheless law in Germany. The highest court of appeal has reinforced this by stating that the only way to avoid paying the tax is to officially leave the faith you belong to. And that has ramifications for our profession of faith, as Mr. Akin points out.

If we want to function in society, we need money. That is true for you and me, and also for the Church. In Germany, the Church receives disposable income via the Kirchensteuer. Should this be abolished, and much may be said for that, new sources of income need to be found. Voluntary and regular donations from the faithful is an option, but what we see in the Netherlands, for example, is that many don’t contribute financially, either because they’re unable or unwilling. A scaling down of the institutional Church and her activities, on the national, diocesan and parish level, is a consequence of that, and we see that happening as well.

And I haven’t touched upon the separation between Church and state, treasured by so many…

Funeral freedom

The parish councils of three parishes in the Diocese of Roermond have come up with a solution for the increasing demand of funeral services in a church, but without all the trappings of a Mass. Upon enquiries from the diocese, the parish priest, Father Ralf Schwillens has emphasised that the services will retain an “ecclesiastical character”, but the proposal remains that families can rent a church for a funeral service without a priest (and without Communion, it must be said), and have great liberty in the choice of rituals, music, poems and speeches.

The diocese is not in favour of this “new form” which aims to lure people, who otherwise would limit their funeral service to crematorium or cemetery, back to the Church.

While the goal of getting people back into the church is a lofty one, I have my doubts if this proposal is a good idea. Despite the aforementioned promises of the parish priest it gives the family of the deceased enormous freedom in choosing things that are not necessarily compatible with the location (although they may, admittedly, choose things that are compatible, of course).

A Catholic church is not merely a building. While it may sometimes be used for other purposes than the celebration of Mass or the administering of the sacraments, its uses must always be in accordance with the Catholic identity of the building.

It is a sad fact that there will not always be a priest available to offer a funeral Mass, and neither will the deceased or his or her family be wanting a funeral Mass. That does not mean that everything is allowed or desirable. A funeral in a Catholic church should, by that fact, be Catholic, even if there is no priest available and therefore no funeral Mass possible. And since it must be Catholic, it must elevate and educate those present in their Catholic identity. Everything Catholic is, in a way, educational, after all. It all prepares us for the reality of the encounter with God.

I don’t think that giving prospective users of a church building complete freedom of choice will achieve that. It’s not a priest or Catholic community’s duty, either, to allow anything that merely feels good. But that is a risk that this proposal presents.

The Way of Truth – Bishop Egan’s focus

Yesterday saw the consecration of Bishop Philip Egan, the new bishop of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. At the conclusion of the Mass, the eighth bishop of this Portsmouth made some remarks which several trustworthy sources have interpreted as a game plan for the future, not only in his own diocese, but all of England.

I would go even further, and suggest it is a good pointer for what our focus should be in all of Europe, not least in the Netherlands. Hence my translation.

“There is a Way – and it’s the Truth!
It’s the true Way that leads to Life, real life, life to the full, a life that never ends.
There is a Way, and it’s not a strategy, a philosophy or a package-deal.
This Way has a Name, because it’s a Person,
the only Person in human history who really did rise from the dead,
a Person alive here and now: Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son Incarnate.
He alone can save us.
He alone can give us the salvation our spirits crave.
He alone can reveal to us the Truth about God and about life,
about happiness and humanism, about sexuality and family values,
about how to bring to the world order, justice, reconciliation and peace.”

 It may be difficult, it may be unpopular, but this is a truth that we can’t afford to forget if we want to have a future as Catholics, as Christians.

Photo credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Credo – our faith confessed, part 5

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.

Through him all things were made.

A short line, but one with far-reaching consequences when it comes to our understanding of Jesus Christ. In the first book of the Bible we read that God created everything through the act of speaking: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). And now we find that God created made all things through Christ. Christ and the act of speaking, the word or logos, are then the same: Christ is the Word of God.

This tells us something fundamental about Him. Not only did everything come to be through Him, even before we know Him, He continues to be creative. Our relationship with Jesus is a creative relationship, it makes us into new people.

Entering into a relationship with Christ is then not without consequences. We need to get to know Him and be willing to be changed by Him, for that is the essence of His Person: He is the creative Word of God made flesh.

And words need to be spoken. Time and again, the Gospels show us the importance of speaking.  Christ heals by speaking out that someone is cured, for example. We too, are called to express our relationship with Jesus, by speaking the Word of God to others.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Baldelli passes away

Erstwhile diplomat and retired Major Penitentiary Fortunato Cardinal Baldelli passed away yesterday at the age of 77. The College of Cardinals now numbers 205, of whom 116 are electors.

Fortunato Baldelli was born in 1935, as one of eight children in the mountains of Perugia in Italy. He entered seminary in Assisi in 1947 and was able to continue his priestly formation despite the death of his parents, thanks to his brother priests and Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi. It did take until 1961 before he was ordained for the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. In those 14 years he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology, and at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where he studied diplomacy.

Following his ordination, Father Baldelli became vice-rector of Assisi’s minor seminary. In 1966, he earned a doctorate in canon law and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. After assignments in Cuba and Egypt, Fr. Baldelli returned to Rome, where he worked at the Secretariat of State and later at the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. In 1979 he was tasked to be a special envoy, with the duties of a permanent observer, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

In 1983, Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Fr. Baldelli as titular archbishop of Bevagna, and sent him to Angola as apostolic delegate. In 1985 he also became Apostolic pro-Nuncio to São Tomé and Principe. In 1991, he left Africa to become Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, where he was succeeded in 1994 by one Archbishop Bacqué, who would later become Nuncio to the Netherlands. From 1994 to 1999, Archbishop Baldelli was Nuncio in Peru, and after that in France. In 2009 he returned to Rome, and was appointed as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic penitentiary.

Archbishop Baldelli was created a cardinal in the consistory of 2010, and became cardinal deacon of Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino (incidentally the seat of the Primate of the Benedictine Order, Notker Wolf, re-elected as such today). In January of this year, Cardinal Baldelli retired as Major Penitentiary.

Cardinal Baldelli was a member of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

The case of Jesus’ wife, and why it matters (or not)

Yesterday and today we learnt of some revelation that Jesus Christ was married. This despite any Biblical proof or the overwhelming body of authoritative teaching that He never married. Or did we?

It all started with the conclusions of Dr. Karen King about a small piece of 4th century papyrus which seems to feature a text in which Jesus speaks of His wife. Various media outlets have grabbed on to this to announce that Dr. King had presented evidence that Jesus was married. But the fact is that she did no such thing.

A reading of the outline of her work shows that she limits her conclusions to the existence of some debate in the fourth century about the marital status of Christ:

“Does this fragment constitute evidence that Jesus was married? In our opinion, the late date of the Coptic papyrus (c. fourth century), and even of the possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus.”

The fact that there was debate and that differing opinions and belief existed, even in the first centuries of the Church, should be no surprise.  But debate does not validate certain ideas, it doesn’t make them somehow true. And this research does not come out in favour for or against a single idea; it merely describes the contents of the shred of papyrus and draws conclusions from it. Not conclusions about Jesus, but about what certain people wrote about Him several centuries after His death and resurrection.

But would it matter if Jesus was married? The validity of His teachings would certainly not change, but our sense of His historical presence among us would. It would also raise questions. For example, who was His wife, and where did she go? We still venerate His mother and His twelve closest Apostles are rightly considered saints, as are many of His other contemporaries, not least His foster father. Why would His theoretical wife be missing among these?

Christ was not hostile to marriage. He would have had no reason to hide a marriage. The fact that He, and His contemporaries as well, have never claimed that Christ was married would indicate that He wasn’t. We know where and how Christ was born and died, we know where He lived, we know about His social interactions and His reputation among the people, but His marriage would have remained a closely kept secret? That doesn’t make much sense.

And, returning to Dr. King’s work, it seems that debates about this supposed marriage of Christ and some unknown woman flow forth from ideas about the ideal way of life (celibacy or marriage), and not from any lost knowledge.

Presenting the Synod Fathers

In addition to delegates from the world’s bishops’ conferences, three president-delegates (Cardinals Tong Hon, Robles Ortega and Monsengwo Pasinya), the relator-general (Cardinal Wuerl) and the secretary (Archbishop Carré), the Holy Father specifically appointed 36 Synod fathers for this autumn’s Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the new evangelisation. Later, there will be additional lay men and women who will be invited to contribute as well.

The list of the 36 Synod Fathers is as follows:

  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals.
  • Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, Germany.
  • Cardinal Vinko Puljic, archbishop of Vrhbosna, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and president of SECAM/SCEAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar).
  • Cardinal Christoph Schönborn O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria.
  • Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia.
  • Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia.
  • Cardinal Péter Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary and president of CCEE (Council of European Episcopal Conferences).
  • Cardinal Agostino Vallini, His Holiness’ vicar general for the diocese of Rome.
  • Cardinal Lluis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain.
  • Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, France.
  • Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India and secretary general of FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences).
  • Patriarch Francesco Moraglia of Venice, Italy.
  • Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria.
  • Archbishop Hector Ruben Aguer of La Plata, Argentina.
  • Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza of Guayaquil, Ecuador, president of the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference.
  • Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, president of FCBCO (Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania).
  • Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation.
  • Archbishop José Horacio Gomez of Los Angeles, U.S.A.
  • Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, president of CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Council).
  • Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England.
  • Archbishop Ricardo Antonio Tobon Restrepo of Medellin, Colombia.
  • Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila, Philippines.
  • Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy.
  • Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, prelate of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei.
  • Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France.
  • Bishop Menghisteab Tesfamariam M.C.C.J., eparch of Asmara, Eritrea.
  • Bishop Benedito Beni dos Santos of Lorena, Brazil.
  • Bishop Santiago Jaime Silva Retamales, auxiliary of Valparaiso, Chile and secretary general of CELAM.
  • Bishop Luigi Negri of San Marino-Montefeltro, Italy.
  • Bishop Alberto Francisco Sanguinetti Montero of Canelones, Uruguay.
  • Bishop Enrico Dal Covolo S.D.B., rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
  • Fr. Julian Carron, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.
  • Fr. Renato Salvatore M.I., superior general of the Clerks Regular Ministers to the Sick (Camillians).
  • Fr. Heinrich Walter, superior general of the Schönstatt Fathers.
  • Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil C.M.I., prior general of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate
Four of the Synod Fathers: Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishops Onaiyekan and Longley, and Fr. Walter.

The list is an interesting mix of the old guard (Sodano, Meisner) and the up and coming (Gomez, Tagle), and also includes a number of prelates who have recently worked closely with the pope on papal visits (Pengo, Longley, Onaiyekan, Negri). Although hand-picked for the Synod, these prelates are not more or less important then the delegates from all over the world. They will be full and active participants on the Synod, though, and at least some of them may be expected to contribute significantly.