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.

From the front row – new interview with Archbishop Gänswein

An interesting interview in Christ & Welt, a weekly supplement to Die Zeit in Germany, with Archbishop Georg Gänswein yesterday. It sheds some interesting lights on recent developments in the Vatican, such as Pope Francis’ Christmas talk to the Curia, the Pope’s relationship with the media, the Synod and also retired Pope Benedict XVI and some personal touches. Worth a read:

Cgänswein&W: At Christmas Pope Francis caused some furore with his talk about fifteen diseases of the Roman Curia. You were seated directly next to the Pope. At what point did you stop counting?

Georg Gänswein: As Prefect of the Papal Household I sat, as ever on such occasions, at the Pope’s right. And as ever I had a copy of the talk in my briefcase, but I hadn’t had the time to read it beforehand. When the list of diseases began I thought to myself, “Now it’s going to be interesting”, and it became ever more interesting. I counted until the ninth disease…

What went through your head?

Normally the Pope uses the Christmas reception for the Curia to look back on the past year and look ahead to the coming one. It was different this time. Pope Francis preferred to hold up a mirror of conscience to the cardinals and bishops, among them a few who were retired…

Did you feel like it appealed to you?

Of course I asked myself, “Who does this concern? What disease affects you? What needs to be corrected?” At one point I had to think of my many moving boxes.

Do you mean the anecdote about the moving of a Jesuit with countless possessions? Francis had said that moving was a sign of the “disease of hoarding”.

Exactly. Since leaving the Apostolic Palace after the retirement of Pope Benedict in February of 2013 more than a few of my things are still in boxes in a storeroom. But I can’t see a sign of disease in that.

What did Pope Francis intend with this act of flagellation? It could be demotivating.

That is a question that many of my colleagues also asked. Pope Francis has been in office for almost two years now and knows the Curia pretty well. He obviously thought it necessary to speak clearly and to cause an examination of conscience.

What were the reactions?

It was a treat for the media, of course. During the talk I could already see the headlines: Pope castigates Curia prelates; Pope reads his coworkers the law! Sadly, outwardly it gave the impression that there was a rift between the Pope and the Curia. That impression is deceiving, and does not coincide with reality. But the address drowned that out.

Was the talk criticised internally?

The reactions ranged from surprise to shock and incomprehension.

Perhaps with Francis, the Curia needs to adjust to permanent spiritual exercises?

It has long been adjusted to that. Pope Francis makes no secret of his religious formation. He is a Jesuit, shaped through and through by the spirituality of the founder of his order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

What are your thoughts about Francis, two years after his election?

Pope Francis is a man who has made it clear from the outset that he deals differently with things that he sees differently. That is true for his choice of living, the car he drives, the entire process of audiences in general and especially for protocol. One could think that he was getting used to things in the beginning and wanted a significant degree of flexibility. By now it has become standard. The Holy Father is a man of extraordinary creativity and Latin American zest.

Many still ask where we are going?

If you listen attentively to the words of the Pope, you will hear a clear message in them. Nevertheless, the question continuously arises of where Francis wants to lead the Church, what is his goal?

One year ago you said, “We are still waiting for substantial standards.” Can these now be seen?

Yes, much more clearly than a year ago. Consider the Apostolic Letter  Evangelii gaudium. In it he has presented a compass for his pontificate. In addition he has published important documents and given major addresses over the course of the year, such as in Strasbourg for the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Contours have become clearly visible and clear priorities were set.

Such as?

The most important priority is mission, evangelisation. This aspect is like a red thread. No internal navelgazing, no self-reference, but sharing the Gospel with the world. That is the motto.

Do you understand Francis George, the retired archbishop of Chicago, who criticised the fact that the words of the Pope are often ambivalent?

There have indeed been cases in which the Vatican spokesman had to clarify matters after specific publications. Corrections are necessary when certain statements lead to misunderstandings which can be collected from certain sites.

Does Francis have a better grip of the media than his predecessor Benedict?

Francis deals with the media offensively. He used them intensively and directly.

Also more skilful?

Yes, he uses them very skilfully.

Who are actually his closest advisors?

This questions always and consistently goes around. I don’t know.

With the Synods on the pastoral care for families this past and the coming autumn, Francis created a focal point. Especially the question of allowing divorced and remarried faithful access to the sacraments causes much disagreement. Some also have the impression that Francis is more concerned with pastoral care than with doctrine…

I do not share that impression. It creates an artificial opposition which does not exist. The Pope is the first guarantor and keeper of the doctrine of the Church and at the same the first shepherd, the first pastor. Doctrine and pastoral care are not in opposition, they are like twins.

Do the current and the retired Pope take opposite views in the debate about divorced and remarried Catholics?

I know of no doctrinal statements from Pope Francis which are contrary to the statements of his predecessor. That would be absurd too. It is one thing to emphasise the pastoral efforts more clearly because the situation requires it. It is something else entirely to make a change in teaching. I can only act pastorally sensitive, consistent and conscientious when I do so on the basis of full Catholic teaching. The substance of the sacraments is not left to the discretion of pastors, but has been given to the Church by the Lord. That is also and especially true for the sacrament of marriage.

Was there a visit of some cardinals to Benedict during the Synod, with the request that he intervene to rescue the dogma?

There has not been such a visit to Pope Benedict. A supposed intervention by the Pope emeritus is pure invention.

How does Benedict respond to the attempts by traditionalist circles to recognise him as an antipope?

It was not traditionalist circles who attempted that, but representatives of the theological profession and some journalists. Speaking of an antipope is simply stupid, and also irresponsible.  That goes in the direction of theological arson.

Recently there was excitement surrounding a contribution in the recently published fourth volume of the Collected Works of Joseph Ratzinger. The author changed some conclusions to the topic of the divorced and remarried in a stricter sense. Does Benedict want to involve himself with this in the Synod debate?

Not at all. The revision of said article from 1972 was completed and sent to the publisher long before the Synod. It must be remembered that every author has the right to make changes in his writings. Every informed person knows that Pope Benedict has not shared the conclusions of said contribution since 1981, which is more than 30 years! As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he has expressed this clearly in various comments.

The timing of the publication of the new edition to coincide with the Synod was then anything but happy…

The fourth volume of the Collected Works, in which the article is printed, was supposed to be published in 2013. The publication was delayed for various reasons and happened only in 2014. That a Synod on the topic of the family would take place at that time, was absolutely unforeseen when the planning of the publication of the separate volumes was made.

Upon his retirement, Benedict XVI said that he would be living “hidden from the world”. He continues to make appearances, however. Why?

When he is present at important Church events, it is because he is personally invited by Pope Francis, for example when he took part in the consistory of last February, the canonisation of John Paul II and John XXIII in April and also the beatification of Paul VI in October. He has also written a greeting for the inauguration of the Auditorium Maximum of the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, which was named after him. Pope Benedict was invited for that, but did not accept that invitation.

In the greeting, which you read out on his behalf at the time, he however makes clear theological statements. “The elimination of truth is lethal for the faith,” he wrote.

The greeting was an impressive contribution to the topic of “Truth and Mission”. You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet during the reading in the crowded auditorium. Content-wise, it was a theological classic. Pope Francis, who had received the text from Benedict beforehand, was much impressed and had thanked him for it.

Does Benedict sometimes speak about his retirement? Is he relieved?

He is at peace with himself and convinced that the decision was right and necessary. It was a decision of conscience that was well prayed and suffered over, and in that man stands alone before God.

You struggled with Benedict’s historical retirement in February of 2013. How do you look back on this step now?

It is true that the decision was difficult for me. It was not easy to accept it internally. I struggled to cope. The fight is now long since over.

You swore to be loyal to Benedict to the death. Does that also mean that you’ll remain at his side, and also in the Vatican?

On the day of his election as Pope I promised to help him in vita et in morte. Of course I did not take a retirement into account at that time. But the promise is still true and remains valid.

Bishops should be shepherds. As archbishop in the Roman Curia, do you sometimes feel like a shepherd without a flock?

Yes, sometimes. But I am getting more and more invitations for confirmations, anniversary Masses and other celebrations. Initially I responded somewhat defensive to those and accepted only a few. But that has changed lately. Direct contact with the faithful is very important. That is why I accept pastoral duties whenever it is possible and compatible with my other obligations. That is both good and necessary. And it is also the best medication against one of the diseases of the Curia mentioned by Pope Francis: the danger of becoming a bureaucrat.