A priest breaks his vows – my thoughts about the case of Pierre Valkering

I didn’t want to devote many words to this, as I thought that, sordid as the affair is, it is not a reflection of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, nor does the priest responsible deserve his story to overshadow other, more positive news. But as it has now broken internationally (in English at Crux, and in German at Katholisch.de), I think I can at least share my thoughts. I published those thoughts in Dutch on Tuesday, and, as said, I wanted to leave it at that. But perhaps it is good to also share them in English.

First, the context:

pierre-valkeringOn 1 April, Father Pierre Valkering celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. After the festive Mass he presented his autobiography, which he had been working on in secret over the past couple of years. In it, he describes not only his homosexuality, but also his addiction to pornography (going so far as to say that something of the Gospel may be found in pornography) and his past visits to dark rooms and other homosexual meeting areas. These revelations came as a shocking surprise to the diocese. In the past, Bishop Jos Punt had spoken at several occasions with Fr. Valkering about his celibacy, receiving the assurance that the latter was dealing with it “responsibly”. That was obviously a lie.

As a response, the bishop requested that Fr. Valkering cease his priestly duties for the time being and enter into a period of reflection. In a statement issued on 2 April, the diocese states:

“Father could also have chosen to discuss his struggle with his sexuality and celibacy openly and honestly with his bishop. That honesty would certainly not have been punished. On the contrary, together with Fr. Valkering ways could have been found to reflect upon it and receive help. That has in the past also been done for several other priests.

But Fr. Valkering has chosen for a sudden and public act, in which the bishop has not been known in any way. He has also not given any indication about whether he is willing or able to maintain his celibacy in the future.”

Below follows the opinion piece I shared in Dutch via Twitter and Facebook.

The piece below is not a discussion about the doctrine of the Church, homosexuality, sexual abuse in the Church or the mandatory celibacy for priests in the Catholic Church. This is my response to articles about the Amtserdam priest Fr. Pierre Valkering who was placed on leave by Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam following the publication of his autobiography. In that autobiography Valkering describes his homosexuality, his ignoring his oath to remain celibate by actively having sexual contacts and his appreciation for pornography. Separate from a discussion about these topics, the indignation about such behaviour by a Catholic priest is justified. Had Valkering written about heterosexual contacts, that indignation and the consequences for him would have been no different.

At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. A sensible conclusion to draw when someone publishes a book by his hand on that date, in which he prides himself in his sexual excesses, appreciation for pornography and regular visits to dark rooms and other gay meeting places. And this person is a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. No priest, who should have a more than superficial knowledge of what the Church teaches about sexuality and priesthood, would say something like that in all seriousness, right? It would have been a fine April’s Fools joke.

But nothing of the sort. Father Pierre Valkering apparently does not value the oaths he made at his ordination. Celibacy for priests is not a new thing. It existed long before there was a Pierre Valkering. But this priest seemingly considered it possible that an active sexual life was compatible with the priesthood, and thought he should speak about it proudly as well.

Valkering indicates that he has long struggled with his homosexuality and that his priesthood was essentialy a form of fleeing. That is something that must be taken seriously. That struggle and flight should have been prevented, and Valkering should have received the help he needed. His surroundings, including the Church, have failed him in that respect. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the period of reflection imposed upon him by Bishop Punt, can help him, and that he will not have to go through it alone.

I obviously do not know the exact cirucmstances which led Valkering to a crooked combination of priesthood and a seriously harmful form of sexuality. Bishop Punt probably also does not know, even though there have been meetings between priest and bishop in the past regarding previous publications and statements and the priest’s view on celibacy and his experience of it (he handled it responsibly, according the the diocese’s statment, but that apparently has a different meaning for Valkering than it did for the bishop). But with the bishop’s responsibility for assuring the correct communicatuon of the faith and the doctrine of the Church by his priests, Msgr. Punt could do little else than asking Fr. Valkering to lay down his duties, at least for now, and reflect on his actions.

The bishop shares the responsibility mentioned above with his priests. From his ordination and mission a priest has the duty of communicating the faith, by celebrating and teaching it, but also by being an example. The sexual excesses of Pierre Valkering, and the way in which he made them public, are an example which is contrary to the faith in all respects: he not only repeatedly broke his oath, but he also ignores his priestly mission and so leads others away from the faith. The way in which he thinks to express his sexuality are at odds with a healthy sexuality as the Church understands it. This is something one can disagree with, obviously. Discussion is always possible, but Valkering did not choose that option. Instead, he chooses a prideful form of deceit. He is a Catholic priest, but does not feel bound to the tasks and responsibilities of a priest. Instead of living for God, he chooses living for himself. He choose to lie to his bishop, to all the faithful for whom he was responsible as parish priest, and ultimately also to God.

With his autbiography, Valkering inflicts damage to the Church, to the people around him, and most of all to himself. Let us hope and pray that he may learn to see that and is offered and can accept the help he needs. The damage done in the past can’t be taken away, but perhaps its impact can be softened.”

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Attack in Utrecht: reactions from the archdiocese

A terrorist attack or an honour killing, whatever motivated the shooter, three people were killed and five injured while riding a tram in the city of Utrecht this morning. The shooter was arrested in the evening after the city had been on lockdown for the better part of the day.

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In a first reaction, the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk, said:

“Today’s shock is great. The perpetrator’s motives remain unclear for now, but it is clear that the impact on the city and the Netherlands is great. We greatly sympathise with the victims and their family, and also with the witnesses of this horrific incident. I ask your prayer for the deceased and those they leave behind, and for the injured we mourn today, for a quick and full recovery.”

From Germany, Domradio reached out to Father Anton Ten Klooster, priest of Utrecht who teaches at a university in the city. He was forced to spend his day at the university as the police had asked everyone to remain indoors while the shooter remained at large,  and describes his first thoughts upon hearing the news:

“As a priest I think in the first about the people and their fear. But I also think about what it means for society. These are, after all, tense times. There has been the terrible terorrist attack in New Zealand. And now this. What does that mean for us priests? How can we really try to accompany people and also respond in the right way? These are the first thoughts, but one can’t really do anything immediately.”

Anoher priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, Father Roderick Vonhögen, shares his thoughts upon hearing the news in the vlog below (starting at 2:09):

Photo credit: ANP

Secularisation averted – Utrecht’s cathedral to remain open

imgThe cathedral church of St. Catherine is to remain the seat of the archbishop of Utrecht. After several months in which the local parish explored possibilities and eventually concrete steps towards secularisation and sale of the mediaval church, the archbishop, Cardinal Willem Eijk, has now requested that that process be stopped and keep the cathedral open.

In a statement released by the parish today, it is acknowledged that the plan for secularisation and sale, within the context of a larger building plan, was “understandable and also well though-out.” Were there no other mitigating circumstances, that would be enough for the archbishop to decree the secularisation and sale of the church. But the concerns and complaints which arose after it became known that the parish was planning to close the cathedral played their part and were reason for Cardinal Eijk to decide against it. The “more than regional import of the cathedral for the whole of the Netherlands, as metropolitan seat” was a deciding factor.

This decision is in line with Cardinal Eijk’s policy of handling requests from parishes to secularise church buildings. He never takes that initiative, but only considers requests, and when those are well supported and necessary for the future (financial) wellbeing of the parish, he usually agrees with what the parish has concluded is the right of action. In this case, the protests were serious enough for him to decide against secularisation. The depiction of Cardinal Eijk as a prelate ordering the closing of churches across his archdiocese is nonsense, then.

This does leave the parish council with financial concerns, however. They had come to the conclusion that the cathedral had to go because they were unable to maintain two church buildings. They now need to find other forms of income. Cardinal Eijk sees this as reason to achieve a fast-track merger of the three city parishes of St. Salvator, St. Ludger and St. Martin. The parish council is also seeking increased cooperation with the adjacent Catherijneconvent museum to allow for improved public access and furhter integration of the cathedral in the monastic complex owned by the museum (the cathedral was originally the monastery church). There had been rumours that the cathedral would be sold to the museum for a symbolic sum.

 

As the summit opens, Bishop van den Hende on what the Dutch experience brings

One of the first things that Pope Francis asked of the bishops he has called to Rome to take part in the meeting on the protection of minors in the Church, which opens today, was that they meet with victims. This is something that victims themselves had also generally demanded, as a part of the recognition of their suffering: that the Church see them, hear them, understand what they had gone through. In the Netherlands, the Dutch bishops have made efforts to do so since the crisis broke here some nine years ago.

20160412_Utrecht_MgrVanDenHende_©RamonMangold-e1478072701381-280x267Bishop Hans van den Hende, chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and as such a participant in the meeting, decribes the context of his meetings with victims as follows:

“Several times I have met and spoken with victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes they were people who did not want a procedure, but who did want to tell their story. Most often the meetings were a part of the sessions of the complaints commissions of the reporting authority. Also in the framework of the socalled contact group, there has in some cases been direct contact with victims, because their procedures had stagnated. These meetings were a confrontation every single time. As a bishop you act on behalf of the community of the Church. Often the accused had already passed away. Many people have been marked by the abuse and I could see that speaking about the personally suffered abuse is difficult and requires courage.”

Bishop van den Hende sees the meeting as a unique event, the first in its kind, and forms his expectation around the goals expressed by Pope Francis:

“The pain and shame for the abuse of minors has been felt for years inside and outside the Church. This is the first time that the problem of abuse of minors in the Church is discussed in a special meeting of the worldwide Church. Pope Francis has indicated that he has three things in mind with this meeting: to make bishops across the world aware of the abuse and make them recognise it, commitment of the worldwide episcopate to engage this problem, plus communal moments of prayer and penance.”

The Dutch approach has always had a sharing with the rest of society in mind. This was a recommendation of the Deetman Commission, which executed the independent investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. As part of this effort, the Commission’s final report was translated into English and communicated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Dutch experience, Bishop van den Hende explains, is in a sense unique and may well be a valuable contribution to the meeting:

“In the Netherlands the bishops and religious are fully aware of the seriousness of the abuse of minors by people of the Church. Together they chose at the time for an independent investigation and an independent procedure to achieve recognition and compensation for victims, and also support. Elsewhere in the world you do not often see such cooperation or joint approach.”

Source

Laudato si’ up north – bishop calls for end to gas extraction

The goals expressed by Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato si’ are inspiring the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden to support an open letter to the Dutch government to stop the extraction of gas around the northern Dutch coast and islands. That coast and most of the islands fall under the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Other supporters of the letter include companies, social organisations, local government and the governments of the provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and Fryslân.

bisschop-ron-van-den-hout_F8A9148-479x600Bishop Ron van den Hout:

“Climate change, the emission of fossil fuels and the exhaustion of the earth reveal the limits of what the planet can handle. We are responsible for the effects on our way of life and economical choices. That is also true for the Wadden Sea and the northern Dutch coastline.”

In the province of Groningen the consequences of gas extraction on land have become painfully clear in recent years, with earthquakes damaging houses and infrastructures. Bishop van den Hout:

“The north has  a lot of experience with gas extraction and its harmful consequences for people and their joy of living. In northern Groningen those problems are still a long way from being resolved. The north deserves serious care and attention from national politics.”

The Wadden Sea and the islands therein are a World Heritage Site, a Biosphere Reserve and, in the Netherlands, a natural monument. It is an important feeding ground for migrating birds and houses significant populations of seals, fish and shellfish. There are major gas deposits underneath it, as well as under the adjacent land areas, which are in part extracted and supported to a major extent the Dutch growth in welfare in the 20th century. In recent decades the emphasis has shifted to conservation and alternative sources of energy, with wind energy being the chief example.

Like Pope Francis, Bishop van den Hout emphases that, “Ecological and economical questions must be seen, more than ever, in relation to human behaviour and our unlimited desire for wealth.”

Source

 

In the run-up to global abuse meeting, Bishop van den Hende and Dr. Deetman look to its outcome

Thursday will see the beginning of perhaps the most charged and certainly most anticipated Vatican event in some time: the bishops’ summit on abuse, in which the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, representatives of religious movements and  the heads of a number of curia dicasteries will meet over the course of three days to discuss a unified approach to sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.  Expectations about its outcome are high, although they may be too high considering the brief length of the meeting and its focus, not on formulating unfified policies – these often already exist – but on getting every single bishop on the same time. After this week, no bishop should have the excuse of saying he did not know of any abuse or how to deal with it.

DSC_2699_31481e79b67ab70c5ca711c62299f166On behalf of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Hans van den Hende will attend the meeting in his capacity as the body’s president. The bishop of Rotterdam already met with the pope in December, together with Dr. Wim Deetman, who headed the Dutch investigation into the abuse that took place over past decades. This audience took place out of the pope’s desire to be informed about what the Dutch bishops had done to combat abuse and to compensate the victims. Some have seen that approach as an example for the rest of the world. Bishop van den Hende, in a recent interview, agrees with that, saying, “The joint approach of bishops and religious as it took shape in the Netherlands, in combination with an independent investigation and an independent procedure, is, I think, a good example of recognition and commitment with regards to the victims.”

About the expectations of the summit and its outcome, Bishop van den Hende is catious.

“Much will depend on the results of the meeting, that is to say if the goals established by the pope will be fully achieved. You can only come to plans of actions out of the recoginition of the seriousness of the abuse and the joint willingness to come to a true commitment. I am not sure if this can be achieved in the short timespan granted to the upcoming meeting, but it is necessary to take true steps forward in the world Church.”

In another interview, Dr. Deetman showed himself a bit more optimistic:

“I don’t know what the pope plans to do, he did not express himself about that to me. But if Pope Francis, in those four days in Rome, is able to convince the bishops that the abuse is a major problem which concerns the entire Church, and which requires a thorough approach, the meeting will in a sense already have been successful. Then something can be done on a global scale. That also means that a second meeting must soon follow.”

2018-12-18-Audientie_WimDeetman_00011_19122018-klein-465x300Dr. Deetman, shown at left while meeting Pope Francis, believes that the Dutch investigation and program of compensation is indeed an example of how things should be done in other locations as well.

“You must outsource such an investigation [into abuse]. Multidisciplinary and with free access to the archives. I emphasised that to the pope. Also very important: it concerns facts. Make sure that nothing remains swept under the carpet. If you want to properly investigate what went wrong in the various Church provinces and in the Vatican itself, it must be independent, and the results must be made public, with anjustification of the methods of investigation. Without any doubt.”

But Dr. Deetman also urged for caution:

“You must be careful, also when it concerns perpetrators. We have had to conclude that someone had been accused, but it later turned out that he or she could impossible have done it. You do damage someone’s reputation and name. And something else: something may be ‘plausible’, but even then there all kinds of degrees of plausibility”.

This is a good reminder. In recent headline cases in which prelates have been accussed of knowing of the actions of abusers – I mention a Cardinal Wuerl or Farrell – conclusions are drawn before the facts have been studied. This is not something that should be encouraged, although it is understandable when it comes to such horrible acts.

Photo credit: [2] Servizio Fotografico – L’Osservatore Romano

“Our” Nuncio goes south – Archbishop Bert van Megen to go to Nairobi

imgYesterday the sole Dutch bishop serving abroad was giving his second assignment. Archbishop Bert van Megen, who comes from the Diocese of Roermond, was appointed as Aostolic Nuncio to Kenya. Since 2014, he had been serving as nuncio to Sudan and Eritrea.

In Kenya, he succeeds American Archbishop Daniel Balvo, who was appointed to the Czech Republic last September. Archbishop van Megen is the fourth nuncio to Kenya, and the ninth high-level Holy See representative in that country overall (there were five Pro-Nuncios before there were Nuncios to Kenya).

The post of Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya is sometimes combined with other posts. Archbishop van Megen’s three immediate predecessors also served as Permanent Observer to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), which is headquartered in Nairobi. Additionally, Archbishop Balvo, the previous nuncio, also served as the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan. As that position is currently also vacant, it is not unlikely for Archbishop van Megen to soon be appointed to that country as well.

One of the most visible tasks for a nuncio is to facilitate to the appointment of new bishops. In most countries the nuncio plays a key role, as he not only communicates the wishes of the other bishops, but also adds his own choices an advice. In Kenya, Archbishop van Megen will have enough work to do in that area. Of the country’s 26 (arch)dioceses, six are vacant, two, including Nairobi, have bishops serving over the age of 75, and three have bishops who will reach that age within the next three years.

Apostolic Nuncios are moved to new positions every five years or so, so this new assignment for Archbishop van Megen was in the books. It is rare for a nuncio to be moved over such a short distance, though, but those are the vagaries of chance.