Mouring and rejoicing after Notre Dame burned

“We are gathered in the Mother Church of the Diocese of Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral, which rises in the heart of the city as a living sign of God’s presence in our midst.  My predecessor, Pope Alexander III, laid its first stone, and Popes Pius VII and John Paul II honoured it by their presence.  I am happy to follow in their footsteps, a quarter of a century after coming here to offer a conference on catechesis.  It is hard not to give thanks to the Creator of both matter and spirit for the beauty of this edifice.  The Christians of Lutetia had originally built a cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr; as time went on it became too small, and was gradually replaced, between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, by the great building we admire today.  The faith of the Middle Ages built the cathedrals, and here your ancestors came to praise God, to entrust to him their hopes and to express their love for him.  Great religious and civil events took place in this shrine, where architects, painters, sculptors and musicians have given the best of themselves.  We need but recall, among so many others, the architect Jean de Chelles, the painter Charles Le Brun, the sculptor Nicolas Coustou and the organists Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau.  Art, as a pathway to God, and choral prayer, the Church’s praise of the Creator, helped Paul Claudel, who attended Vespers here on Christmas Day 1886, to find the way to a personal experience of God.  It is significant that God filled his soul with light during the chanting of the Magnificat, in which the Church listens to the song of the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of this church, who reminds the world that the Almighty has lifted up the lowly (cf. Lk 1:52).  As the scene of other conversions, less celebrated but no less real, and as the pulpit from which preachers of the Gospel like Fathers Lacordaire, Monsabré and Samson transmitted the flame of their passion to the most varied congregations, Notre-Dame Cathedral rightly remains one of the most celebrated monuments of your country’s heritage.  Following a tradition dating back to the time of Saint Louis, I have just venerated the relics of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, which have now found a worthy home here, a true offering of the human spirit to the power of creative Love.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 12 September 2008, at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

12310904-6925015-image-m-220_1555355956402

Last night, Notre Dame burned. This morning, we find that more than we could have hoped for was spared of its interior. The roof and spire may be gone, and soot may cover the walls and mangled debris may have reached the floor, but Notre Dame still stands.

And most important of all, the reason of its existence still remains: the presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, the sacraments given to us who wish to follow Him, as well as some of the symbols of the salvation He wrought for us.

Notre Dame is a historical building which has a special place in the hearts and minds of many, first of all the Parisians and the French, but also those millions, including yours truly, who had the chance to visit her, however briefly.*

But more than a monument to history and the civilisation in which we live, Notre Dame is a church. It is the home of God, a prefiguration of heaven, the place where we come to encounter Him as closely as we can. It manifests the presence of God in the heart of Paris, in the place where that great city began, and thus also in the heart of all the works and endeavours we undertake.

Last night’s fire and its timing, as Holy Week begins, can be understood symbolically, regardless of the cause of the fire. The scenes of people praying and singing as the cathedral burned give us hope and remind us that God hears us at the difficult times in our lives, but He remains present when things are going well and we tend to forget or ignore Him. Like Notre Dame, He is always there.

Today, we may mourn the damage done, but we may also rejoice in what remains. Notre Dame still stands. God is still with us.

*Last October, my wife and I had the chance to visit Notre Dame. By chance we participated in a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Aupetit and Bishop Freddy Fuenmayor Suárez of Los Teques, Venezuela, who gifted an icon of the Blessed Virgin to Notre Dame. The cathedral was filled to capacity and the mood was celebratory. The joy of the Hispanic community was palpable and infectuous. A fond memory, which made yesterday’s developments all the more painful.

Advertisements

Popes opposed? Some thoughts about the negative reactions to Benedict XVI’s essay

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s essay on what he perceives to be the causes for the sexual abuse crisis in the Church (and beyond) is causing much discussion on social media, which can be divided in two debates: the first on the content, and the second on the author.

I want to share some thoughts on that second debate. There are those who believe that a pope emeritus should never be heard from. And should he be heard from, that means he is undermining the policies and pastoral activity of the current pope. That is an untenable position in the case of Benedict XVI’s essay, as he is not proposing any policies or criticising anything that Pope Francis has said or done. Benedict writes that he informed both Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin about the essay before publishing it in a minor periodical for Bavarian clergy. All involved, however, must have known that the essay, coming from the retired pope, would not remained limited to the audience of that publication for long. It is a safe assumption, therefore, that both the pope emeritus and the current pope are at peace with the essay being read across the world.

20161119T1450-1109-CNS-POPE-CONSISTORY-CARDINALS (1000x667)

To claim that this text is an attack or criticism on Pope Francis is symptomatic of the politicising happening in the Catholic Church. Everything, it seems, has to be seen as either right- or left-wing, with the pope emeritus being taken as a spokesman for the right and Pope Francis as one for the left, This is not only a simplification, but also seriously harmful. If we take successive popes as being automatically contrary to each other, the conclaves and the papacies of each vicar of Christ become nothing but political spectacles. The papacy has its political elements, sure, but it is in the first place a pastoral ministry, if at a global scale. And that ministry has its continuity, although the person exercising it periodically changes. What Pope Benedict XVI said and did is not by definition contrary to what Pope Francis says or does, even if both men, having different personalities, focus on different elements and express themselves differently. The continuity remains, and that is why it is also entirely irresponsible to see what one pope says and does in isolation from what his predecessors did and said (and from the deposit of the faith in which they stand and act). If that happens, you get radically different (mis)interpretations, the likes of which we have seen on an increasing scale in recent years.

The knee-jerk reactions I see in the wake of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s essay reveal that there is a strong tendency among many to place him in automatic opposition to Pope Francis, and whatever they see the latter standing for. This is not only unjust, but also dishonest.

Photo credit: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

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.”

After four days, a successful summit?

As Pope Francis delivered his closing remarks of the abuse summit, which took place last week in Rome, what should have been a game-changing event came uncomfortably close to a failure. While it was perhaps optimistic to expect concrete measures within hours after the summit’s close, the papal speech should have been much more than a generic overview of abuse across society and (again) a statement that it should not be tolerated in the Church. We know this (and those who don’t have no business holding any position of authority in the Church). Although the insistence on appropriate steps is to be welcomed, the responses, especially those of victims, were understandably angry and disappointed. But the words of Pope Francis will not be all that comes from the summit.

A press conference revealed that we can expect a follow-up meeting (which took place on Monday with the heads of Curia departments and the pope), a Motu Proprio on the topic, a ‘rule book’ for bishops and religious superiors to outline the laws and procedures, and last but not least, the conduct we must expect from them in cases of sexual abuse, as well as task forces available to assist dioceses and bishops’ conferences in fighting abuse. But, the real work must take place across the world, in dioceses, parishes, and religious orders and movements, down to every single Catholic everywhere. There is no way that this can be the final word. The work continues.

But, as this step has been taken, we can ask, has it been a good step? What has the summit given to the 190 participants, that they can take with them and use to make the Catholic Church a safe environment for everyone?

During the three-day meeting, nine presentations were given by various clergy and laity. These, together with the opening and closing remarks by Pope Francis, are the most substantial elements of the summit that were shared with the wider public (in a welcome change from recent Synod practices, the presentations were streamed live and the texts published soon after the presentations were held). In order, these presentations were:

  1. Smell of the sheep. Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the heart of the shepherd’s task“, by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
  2. Church as field hospital. Taking responsibility“, by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
  3. The Church in a moment of crisis – Facing conflicts and tensions and acting decisively“, by Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez.
  4. Collegiality: sent together“, by Cardinal Oswald Gracias.
  5. Synodality: jointly responsible“, by Cardinal Blase Cupich.
  6. Communio: to work together“, by Dr. Linda Ghisoni.
  7. Openess: sent out into the world“, by Sister Veronica Openibo.
  8. Transparency in a community of believers“, by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
  9. Communication: to all people“, by Dr. Valentina Alazraki

Together, these presentations served as reminders of the correct conduct towards victims, the regulations that are in place or which should be created, but also the consequences that follow when the Church and her members stick their heads in the sand and look out for themselves and their reputation before the wellbeing and rights of the victims. Dr. Alazraki, speaking as a reporter, did not mince words when she said that the media wants to stand next to the Church in her efforts to uncover the truth, but if she tries to hide that truth, the media will be the Church’s greatest enemy.

The only claim to success that this summit has is the future. If the words spoken over the past days remain just that, nothing will change. They must lead to action. Abuse, sexual or otherwise, has no place in society, and least of all in the Church. The only response to abuse can be to stand with the victims and the truth.

 

Cardinal Müller’s Manifesto of Faith – refutation of its critics

I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was nonetheless yesterday.

Cardinal_Gerhard_Mueller_in_St_Peters_Basilica_at_the_installation_Mass_of_Bishop_Maurizio_Malvestiti_on_Oct_12_2014_Credit_Lauren_Cater_CNA_CNA_10_13_14On Friday, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now a sort of free-roaming cardinal with no specific mission, issued a “Manifesto of Faith“. As he explains in the opening paragraphs he did so on the request of various people, both clergy and laity, in order to provide some measure of clarity to the confusion that exists about Catholic doctrine. Without doubt, we must understand this to be based in the different interpretations of recent papal teachings regarding such varied topics like marriage, sexuality and ecumenism. The teachings themselves may not be confusing, but their communication and interpretation most definitely are. But Cardinal Müller’s reasons go beyond this, and back over past decades and the formation, or lack thereof, of the faithful on matters of conscience, the nature of Christ, the Church, the sacraments, morality and eternal life.

catechism-of-the-catholic-church2628lgThe manifesto is in the first place a summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at least regarding the topics discussed. It is stuffed with references to paragraphs from the document, which aims to summarise the faith, and as such can serve as a helpful reminder of what it is that we confess as Catholics and how that affects our spiritual and daily life. Cardinal Müller also offers a few interpretations and explanations, which are all the interpretations of Tradition, communicated over the years and centuries by popes and theologians alike. Until those interpretations, for example that divorced and civilly remarried faithful can not receive Communion, are changed, they stand. They are what we are beholden to as Catholics. And, despite footnotes and desires expressed in interviews, under Pope Francis no steps have yet been taken to change this.

On to my surprise.

The reception of Cardinal Müller’s manifesto, especially in social media, has been as expected. Some quietly welcomed it, presenting it as a text worth reading, without, I must say, a lot of further comment. Others, however, including a significant number of Vatican commentators and reporters, have taken the text to frame the cardinal and his supporters:

Cardinal Müller, they say, is opposed to Pope Francis, and with this manifesto he presents an alternative Magisterium. Some have gone so far as calling him an anti-pope. How on earth, I wonder, can a text so rooted in the Catechism, in the faith that we all claim to confess as Catholics, be an alternative Magisterium? It is as if the critics claim that this is not the faith they confess, and, worse, not the faith that the pope confesses. If that were true, we would indeed have an anti-pope, but it would not be Cardinal Müller.

The criticism they level at Cardinal Müller is also marked not by theological refutations, but limit themselves to superficialities. The cardinal is angry at the pope for being dismissed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they say. We know this because of the way he signed his manifesto. He must be opposed to Pope Francis, because the Holy Father chooses not to discuss doctrine that much, instead focusing on social and charitable issues. Thus, they insist, the manifesto should not be taken seriously, even mocked (and not just the text, but in the first place its author).

Worst of all, those critics continue to insist that there is no confusion. There is therefore no other reason for Cardinal Müller to publish his manifesto than to position himself as an alternative authority to the pope. In reality, though, the different interpretations of various recent papal communications, and the spiritual and formative developments of the faithful over the past decades, are clear as day.

In the minds of Cardinal Müller’s attackers, a cardinal’s duty is to quietly fall in line with what the pope says and does. Their mission is not that of a shepherd, but of a sheep. Any hint at them overstepping that role is seen as an attack against them and what they consider the “fluffiest pope ever”, to borrow a phrase. This is an unhealthy attitude that changes the nature of the Magisterium and the hierarchy of the Church into a dictatorship. Some say that’s due to Pope Francis, but it’s his supposed self-appointed supporters who do the most damage.

The manifesto is text worth reading. As I’ve said above, it offers a reminder of what our faith actually entails in various matters. It says little about practical applications, but theologically it is a reminder of the rich foundation and intricate beauty of our faith. The manifesto is also a call to action, to rediscover that foundation and beauty, and grow beyond the earthly superficialities, which have their place and value, but which do not define our faith and unity with Jesus Christ.

The English text of Cardinal Müller’s manifesto is available in several places, such as here, while my Dutch translation can be found via this link.

 

Paderborn seminary opens doors for homosexual candidates, but maintains celibacy rule for all

priesterseminar-logokomplett@2xThe German Archdiocese of Paderborn will soon allow homosexual men to enter their priestly formation program. Seminary head Msgr. Michael Menke-Peitzmeyer said so before national broadcaster WDR. Like heterosexual seminarians, they will be bound to celibacy. “A person being clearly homosexually active,” the theologian, who has led the seminary since 2013, explained, “I think, would be a criterium to exclude him from priestly ministry.” Msgr. Menke-Peitzmeyer further stated that the difference between orientation and practice must be discerned.

In other words, homosexual men must be treated no different than heterosexual men when coming to knock on the door of the seminary, Both are bound to live celibate lives, and both will receive psychological support during their formation regarding their personal attitudes and sexual orientation, as already happens now.

The Paderborn decision seems to be a departure from a 2005 Instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, which was cited in the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, issued in 2016. The 2005 document states:

[T]his Dicastery […] believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.

Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” [N. 2]

Homosexual practice and support for the so-called “gay culture”, which is at odds with the Catholic teachings regarding sexuality, marriage and family, continue to be reasons for the Paderborn seminary to deny candidates, but “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are another matter. And these, I imagine, are also the most difficult to identify or even define. What are they? Can they be limited to the mere fact of same-sex attraction, or should we understand them as urges which can’t be contained by the celibacy rule? If the latter, the Instruction is understandable.

bodarThe question is further muddled by the fact that the Church already has openly homosexual priests. The best-known example in the Netherlands is Fr. Antoine Bodar (at right), who has been highly critical of the trend that makes homosexual actions the worst sin imaginable, but equally critical of the secular tendency of making every gesture of kindness and affection homosexual. By the 2005 Instruction, Fr. Bodar should never have been allowed to become a priest. And it’s not as if he kept his orientation a secret.

The decision of the Paderborn seminary is, in my opinion, a good one, IF (and I capitalise that with reason) it maintains the clear Catholic teachings regarding sexuality, celibacy and priesthood, coupled with a thorough examination of prospective candidates. If it does, there is no reason for the bishop to refuse a seminarian only because he is homosexual.

Source

 

A Church in upheaval, thoughts coming up

As a Catholic in public, so to speak, I would not be surprised in the least if more than a few people read my thoughts with the (re-)escalating abuse crisis in mind. For those who wonder if I have nothing to say about the topic, and, perhaps, nothing to say for myself as a member of an institution which allowed such horrendous things to happen, even after devoting itself to preventing them: I do have my thoughts, and I will share them. But, like just about everyone, I too am in shock. At this moment, especially since he publication of Archbishop Viganò’s testimony and the (lack of) reactions from pope and bishops, it is hard to know exactly what the truth is. Who knew what, who acted an who failed to act, and in what way?

In many ways, for a blogger writing about the Catholic world, that world (at least the worldly part of it) is in the process of turning upside down. Forming an opinion, let alone shaping it into coherent sentences, is something of a challenge.