“A defeat for humanity”? The wisdom of the cardinal’s words

parolinCardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has commented on the Irish referendum which resulted in a major vote in favour of same-sex marriage, and called it a “defeat for humanity”. Was that the wise thing to say?

The Irish vote was certainly a defeat for the Christian argument, if such simplistic wording can be properly used in this context. Seen from the Catholic position, the very nature of marriage is being redefined, changing its essential role in building healthy societies. It is being downgraded to a mere legal acknowledgement that two people love each other and want to be together, with no eye for their duties towards society and future generations (duties that are also increasingly being forgotten in marriages in general, it must be said). The complementarity of man and woman, which finds its ultimate expression in marriage, is deemed unimportant enough to deny it its defining place within the concept of marriage. In essence, it is being said that marriage need not have all the defining characteristics in order to be marriage.

As hinted above, same-sex marriages can have worthy elements that we also find in true marriage, such as love and responsibility, but it lacks other elements: the openness to new life as a product of the (physical and emotional) love of the spouses, and the ability for full complementary love which flows forth from their identities as man and woman (more than just a physical characteristic).

Many critics will say that many heterosexual marriages are equally closed to life and fullfilment, and they are right. Married partners have an obligation to love and take care of each other and raise their children in that same love and care, and when they refuse that, for whatever reason, marriage becomes a mockery of itself, denied to be what it is called to be.

The wisdom of the phrase “a defeat for humanity” can be debated. I am not too keen on getting overly dramatic about every setback, but as humanity consists of men and women who are called to find fullfillment in each other and so contribute to humanity as a whole (marriage, after all, is not only for the spouses), I can understand the sentiment expressed by the cardinal.

Is it wise, then, to use these words in the public debate? I don’t think so. While Cardinal Parolin can’t be faulted for being clear, his words are so easily distorted, misunderstood, taken out of context and presented as nothing but a blunt attack. Cardinal Parolin is right in disagreeing with the vote, but I have already seen his words being used to contrast the cardinal with Pope Francis, who has also been quoted and understood out of context on this subject more than once. The cardinal also stated that the result of the referendum must be an invitation for the Church to do more in the field of evangelisation, and that is certainly necessary. In order for the Church to be understood, she must make herself understood. Headlines have their use, but not when they don’t invite to further reading. Any discussion about marriage must either presume knowledge about Catholic doctrine, or explain it.

In this debate, I think that one element is being forgotten: holding on to the traditional definition of marriage is not in any way an invitation to discriminate. When it comes to equal rights in work, income, finances, housing and other opporunities, sexual orientation can be no reason to deny people anything. Even when two people of the same sex decide to share their lives, we should support their equality. We may not agree with it, but it’s  really not our place to refuse basic social rights and opportunities. But society as a whole, as well as children, also have their rights and opportunties. Marriage, however, is more than rights and opportunities. It is the God-given way in which men and women find each other and themselves and in which children receive the home and basis they need to be raised in.

In the end, any debate on topics like this must be based on reason, as it has strong emotional connotations for many. We must acknowledge and understand the emotion, but also know that emotion alone won’t lead to an understanding, a solution or willingness to learn and grow.

Some photos…

…beg for a funny caption, but also leave one wondering what on earth is going on in them. This is one such photo.

francis bertone

Pope Francis in conversation with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, just before the opening session of the four-day consistory which began today. The Holy Father made sure he was present to greet the 165 participating cardinals and arrived early. Only a few dozen cardinals were there before him.

Aside from creating 20 new cardinals on Saturday, the consistory is also an ocassion for updating the cardinals on the work of Council and the reforms they are setting into motion in the Curia. Today the increasing likelihood of merging several dicasteries into two new Congregations, one for Family, Laity and Life, the other for Charity, Justice and Peace (which will include a department for “safeguarding creation”. That’s an environmental office, in essence.

Photo credit: CNS/Paul Haring

Going green – Christians and the environment

VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE-CANONISATIONBefore summer we may expect Pope Francis’ second encyclical, and its topic will be the environment. For some reason the prospect of a green encyclical has a some Catholics all riled up. Apparently, it is not something the Church should be overly concerned with.

I do notice that this subject is quite politicised, especially in the United States, which is where most of the criticism comes from. It is a left-wing or liberal pet subject, it’s true, and that side of the political spectrum quite often clashes with Catholic faith, to be fair.

But concern for the environment is, in fact, quite Christian. Pope Francis touched upon the subject in his homily this morning, when he said:

It is our response to the ‘first creation’ of God. It is our responsibility! A Christian that does not care for creation, that does not make it grow, is a Christian who doesn’t care about the work of God; that work born from the love of God for us. And this is the first answer to the first creation: to care for Creation, to make it grow.”

The creation story in Genesis, which prompted the Holy Father to make these comments, is the clearest indication of our relation to the world we live in. Not as independent agents, even parasites, whose only effect on the natural world is destruction, as some would have it, but as integral parts of it with a clear duty.

God created us and the world we live in. These are not separate things. Humanity has a role to play in the world: we are to be stewards of it. A good steward is not afraid to use the world around him, but does so with responsibility, in the knowledge that, like him, his world is also a creation of God. He is not the master of it, but he has been given a duty, as we my deduce from Genesis chapter 1, verses 28 and 29:

“God blessed them, saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.”

God also said, ‘Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food.””

There is no debate about man’s use of the world around him. Considering the human influence parasitic and undesirable  is therefore incompatible with Christian teaching. But looking at the larger context of creation as being a product of God given to man for his benefit, we must develop a responsibility. God’s creation is not ours to destroy or give back. It is for us to use and maintain.

In that context environmentalism is a thoroughly Christian concern, and it is no stranger a topic for an encyclical than, say, faith, charity, hope or love.

As the rumours go, another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst?

franz-peter tebartz-van elstRecently there has been some confusion about Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. The erstwhile bishop of Limburg is rumoured to have been working in Rome since December, keeping the house in Regensburg where he has been living since leaving Limburg. More accurately, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who was forced to resign from Limburg because of financial mismanagementm is said to be working as a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

The way rumours go, this story has been alternating between confirmation and denial of the above. Initially, the Frankfurter Algemeine newspaper quoted Pope Francis, who seemingly said that he wasn’t considering any Curial appointment for the German bishop. The Passauer Neue Presse later reported that “usually well-informed Vatican sources” had stated that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst had recently participated in a three-day meeting of the New Evangelisation Council, in which he spoke about catechesis. This was later also confirmed to German Catholic news outlet Kath.net.

These latest rumours do fit with the narrative as we know it: when Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation was confirmed by the Holy See, the official announcement already spoke of future appointments. But there are also some questions.

Usually, new appointments are announced via the Holy See press office, especially when it is an appointment to a Curial dicastery. And although the appointment is said to have been made on 5 December, no such announcement has yet been made.

A new appointment for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst should be no reason for indignation. Instead of doing nothing in his home in Regensburg, he is once again tasked to be of service to the Church. This is no promotion, but a direct consequence of his being a bishop. As such, he will likely also have been given a titular see, as is standard for bishops in the Curia. But nothing is known about that either.

We known nothing for certain, but we can’t deny the possibility of some truth behind the rumours. And if there is a grain of truth, it would constitute another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.

EDIT 8/2: The latest word, which has an increasing undertone of certainty, is that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will not be a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation (which already has two of those), but a delegate or member with a special focus on catechesis. Such functions are not usually announced in the daily bulletins of the Holy See press office, which would explain the lack of any official word.

Pope Francis’ letter – a call to action and cooperation

francisIt’s a fairly short, but also very clear, letter that Pope Francis released today, on the topic of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and other Church workers. In essence, it is both a repeat exercise to emphasise the Church’s dedication of rooting out sexual abuse (of both minors and vulnerable adults), and a call to the world’s bishops and religious superiors, anyone in charge of the Church’s major groupings of faithful, to work with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. And that latter part is quite unique.

It may be assumed that the dicasteries of the Curia can expect the cooperation of the clergy and faithful of the Church, but we don’t usually get an express urging from the Pope to do so. It underlines how important the work of this Commission is. In a way, it is the next step in the fight: first, the abuse needed to be known and the local churches had to come to terms with the terrible things that happened in the past. Over time, they came to establish means and measures to bring perpetrators to justice and offer a listening ear and healing to the victims. And now those efforts have come together: the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors will have the final word in what the local churches need to do.

Cardinal-Sean-OMalleyThe Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has seven members, a president and a secretary. The President is Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley (at right), the archbishop of Boston. Serving as secretary is Msgr. Robert Oliver, also a Bostonian. Both won much experience in dealing with the child abuse crisis as it broke in the United States, a prelude, it later turned out, to what would become known in other parts of the world. The members of the Commission come from various countries in all continents and include two survivors of sexual abuse: Marie Collins from Ireland and Peter Saunders from the United Kingdom. Other members are experts in psychology, social services, counselling, human trafficking, but also civil and canon law, religious life and theology.

My Dutch translation of Pope Francis’ letter is available here.

For Family Synod 2, Cardinal Eijk returns to Rome

synod of bishopsThe first group of participants in coming autumn’s Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been ratified by Pope Francis. Unlike for last year’s assembly, which was an Extraordinary one, the majority of members for this edition are elected by the bishops’ conferences of the world. The presidents of the conferences do not automatically attend, unless, as in the case of the Dutch bishops, he is elected to do so.

liesenCardinal Wim Eijk, who today coincidentally had a private audience with Pope Francis, will once again participate like he did last year, but should he not be able to do so, the bishops have chosen Bishop Jan Liesen (at right) to be his replacement. Bishop Liesen is no stranger in Rome, as he was a member of the International Theological Commission for a number of years.

The list of participants published today is far from complete. Many bishops’ conferences, such as the German, have yet to elect one of their own to go to Rome in October. The Belgian bishops likewise haven’t chosen , but they will wait for the appointment of a new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and President of the bishops’ conference, sometime in or after May.

Guessing at the future – what the new Curia may look like

cardinals curiaThere are persistent rumours that the reforms of the Roman Curia will soon enter a new phase as several councils will be merged into two congregations. And the preliminary steps for the new phase have already been taken in recent months.

Rumours are rumours, and we should be careful with them. We don’t know when and if changes will take place,nor do we know what they will look like. But we can guess…

Two recent personnel changes shed some light on possible future changes in the Curia. Cardinal Robert Sarah was moved from the presidency of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” to become Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Bishop Mario Toso left his position as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to become bishop of Faenza-Modigliana. Neither prelate has yet been succeeded in their previous positions, and it may be that there will not be a successor. Both “Cor Unum” and Justice and Peace are rumoured to be merged into a larger Congregation for Justice and Peace, together with the Pontifical Councils for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

turksonCardinal Sarah and Bishop Toso have been reassigned, but that leaves several other prelates without a clear place to go. For now at least. Candidates for the position of Prefect of the new congregation would, in my opinion, be Cardinal Peter Turkson (pictured), who now heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, or possibly Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, who is now the president of the Health Care council. Both are about the same age (Turkson is 66, Zimowski 65) and about the same number of years in the Curia behind them. The other option for both of them is a return to their native country, something that Pope Francis seems to prefer. In Ghana, Cardinal Turkson’s native country, the only vaguely likely option is a return to the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, where he was archbishop from 1992 to 2009. Cape Coast’s current Archbishop, Matthias Nketsiah, turns 75 in 2017. Not a very likely prospect, in my opinion.

zygmunt_zimowskiIn Poland, where Archbishop Zimowski (pictured) comes from, there is the enticing option of Kraków, which should become vacant very soon. Cardinal Dziwisz, the current archbishop there, turns 76 in April. Solely judging from these options, Cardinal Turkson would seem to be more likely to remain in Rome and head a new Congregation for Justice and Peace.

The third cardinal involved, Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Council for Migrants, is already 75, and should retire fairly soon. The various secretaries and undersecretaries of the Councils that are set to merge into the new Congregation will either continue their work or be given new assignments in Rome or in the countries they are from. The most senior of these is Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care for Migrants. His dicastery serves a role that is close to Pope Francis’ heart, so perhaps we can see him as secretary under Cardinal Turkson?

A second new Congregation that is said to be created is that of Laity and Family, composed of the current Pontifical Councils of the Laity and of the Family, and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

rylkoAgain, there are two most likely candidates to head this new congregation: Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko (pictured), President of the Council for the Laity for the past twelve years; and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Family Council. Again both are the same age (69), but Cardinal Rylko has far more Curia experience (12 as opposed to 3 years). Should Cardinal Rylko be appointed to his native Poland, there really is no other place for him to go than Kraków, and we already have the option of Archbishop Zimowski going there. Two other Polish archdiocese which will fall vacant within the next few years, Warmia and Przemysl, really don’t have the stature and history for an experienced Curial cardinal. Then again, nothing is set in stone in these matters.

The rumoured merger of the Pontifical Council for the Laity into a Congregation for Laity and Family opens another interesting possibility: that the current secretary of the Laity Council, Bishop Josef Clemens, returns to his native Germany, to one of the vacant dioceses there. As we know, Limburg, Hamburg and Berlin are still vacant, and we don’t know who’s on the list for any of them.

The president of the Academy for Life, lastly, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, is 77 and will likely be allowed to retire without playing a role in a new Congregation.

Just some educated guesses. Reality, as ever, may well turn out radically different.