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.

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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

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Tweeting the Synod

Today the Synod of Bishops will convene for the first session of their fifteenth ordinary general assembly on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment”, which will run until the 28th of October. In the past, the daily deliberations and individual contributions of delegates were summarised and published by the Holy See press office, but this is no longer the case. An unwise decision, in my opinion, as it makes the entire process a secretive one. As outsiders, all we will have are rumours and the eventual final document. During the previous Synod we have seen what damage rumours can do, especially when they are neither confirmed nor denied in any clear way..

twitterThat said, there is always social media, and a number of Synod delegates are enthousiastic (or less so) users of those media. Below, I present a short (probably incomplete) list of delegates who use Twitter. It is mostly western prelates using the medium, with English being the dominant language. Other languages used are Italian, French, Spanish, German and Maltese.

  1. Pope Francis (obviously). As pope he convenes the Synod and acts as its president, although he delegates that duty to four delegate presidents. Pope Francis will not be commenting on the Synod proceedings, but offer prayers and short items to reflect on spiritually.
  2. Archbishop Charles Scicluna. Archbishop of Malta. One of three members of the Commission for Disputes.
  3. Bishop Robert Barron. Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and CEO of Word On Fire.
  4. Bishop Frank Caggiano. Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  5. Archbishop José Gómez. Archbishop of Los Angeles.
  6. Archbishop Leo Cushley. Archbishop of Edinburgh.
  7. Archbishop Eamon Martin. Archbishop of Armagh.
  8. Archbishop Anthony Fisher. Archbishop of Sydney.
  9. Leonardo Cardinal Sandri. Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
  10. Robert Cardinal Sarah. Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  11. Kevin Cardinal Farrell. Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
  12. Peter Cardinal Turkson. Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
  13. Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi. President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
  14. Gérald Cardinal Lacroix. Archbishop of Québec.
  15. Daniel Cardinal Sturla Berhouet. Archbishop of Montevideo.
  16. Blase Cardinal Cupich. Archbishop of Chicago.
  17. Carlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes. Archbishop of Mexico City.
  18. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. President of the Pontifical Academy for Life,
  19. Archbishop Peter Comensoli. Archbishop of Melbourne.
  20. Father Antonio Spadaro. Member of the Vatican Media Committee.
  21. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn. Archbishop of Vienna.
  22. Wilfrid Cardinal Napier. Archbishop of Durban.
  23. Luis Cardinal Tagle. Archbishop of Manila.
  24. Vincent Cardinal Nichols. Archbishop of Westminster.
  25. Carlos Cardinal Osoro Sierra. Archbishop of Madrid.

KLqGjJTk_400x400Not all of the prelates above use their accounts equally often or in the same way. For example, Cardinal Tagle only posts links to his ‘The Word Exposed’ Youtube catechesis talks, Cardinals Sturla Berhouet and Farrell mostly retweet, Archbishop Fisher hasn’t tweeted since February of 2017, and most use Twitter as a one-way channel. Among those who do respond to what their followers say are Cardinal Napier, Archbishop Comensoli (his Twitter profile picture at left) and Bishop Barron.

Other delegates, such  as Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Passau’s Bishop Stefan Oster, are active on Facebook, while Belgian Bishop Jean Kockerols keeps the youth of his country up to speed via a blog.

Several delegates have already shared their arrival in Rome, and it is these (such as Archbishop Comensoli and Bishop Barron) who will perhaps offer the best idea of what goes on in the coming weeks. That said, all we will get are glimpses, and no tweeting delegate will share what goes on in the debates. So, in this age of social media and high-speed communication, the Synod of Bishops remains firmly behind closed doors.

 

Newspaper dubia? Proper papal interview raises questions

exclusive-stop-exploiting-africa-share-resources-pope-tells-europe-2018-6Pope Francis has again given an interview on the current affairs in his pontificate. It is good to see he chose a proper journalist this time: Reuters’ Philip Pullella. The interview is available here, and will be added to over the course of today, as the final line says. The Holy Father covers various issues, the most noteworthy of which is his support for the American bishops’ condemnation of the zero-tolerance policies of the Trump administration towards immigrants. The pope also discusses Vatican relations with China, the abuse crisis in Chile, the curia reforms and speculations about a possible early retirement (“Right now, I am not even thinking about it”, he said).

Among the topics addressed is the criticism against him from within the Church. The pope make a rather puzzling comment about the questions from Cardinal Burke and Brandmüller, together with the late Cardinals Caffarra and Meisner, the so-called dubia, which they formulated in 2016. Pope Francis claims he learned about these from the newspaper and calls it “a way of doing things that is, let’s say, not ecclesial”. These comments do not agree with what the four cardinals said and did.

The letter detailing the dubia is dated to 19 September 2016, and it wasn’t made public until November of that year. The publication was made because of a lack of an official response to what was initially a private correspondence, as dubia are supposed to be. This means that Pope Francis should have learned about them from that letter, and not from some newspaper. It is hard to figure out what this means. Maybe someone in the Vatican’s higher circles prevented the pope from seeing the dubia? Perhaps Pope Francis honestly failed to recall the exact details (something which is perhaps understandable considering the fact that he undoubtedly does learn much of the criticism against him from the newspaper)?

Agree or disagree with Cardinal Raymond Burke, one thing is certain: he is a by-the-book prelate with a profound knowledge of the rules and regulations regarding the dubia. And so are or were the other three cardinals involved. There is no conceivable way that they did things differently from what they claim.

UPDATE 22-6:

The two surviving dubia cardinals have also spoken up about the apparent papal slip-up over the past two days. Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, asked about the issue by OnePeterFive, commented: “The Dubia were first published after – I think it was two months – after the Pope  did not even confirm their reception. It is very clear that we wrote directly to the Pope and at the same time to the Congregation for the Faith. What should be left that is unclear here?”

Cardinal Raymond Burke offers some more details about how the cardinals went about presenting their dubia to the Pope: “The late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra personally delivered the letter containing the dubia to the Papal Residence, and at the same time to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on September 19, 2016,” and “During the entire time since the presentation of the dubia, there has never been a question about the fact that they were presented to the Holy Father, according to the practice of the Church and with full respect for his office.”

Cardinal Burke, however, also allows for the pope having misunderstood the question. This is confirmed by Edward Pentin here, and adds that Philip Pullella informed the National Catholic Register that while Pope Francis was indeed responding to a question about the dubia, and not some other initiative, more details from the interview will be published soon.

Photo credit: Thomson Reuters

For 2018, a somewhat obscure saint

Heilige_AfraEvery year I use the Saint Name Generator to find a patron saint for my blog for the year. Whatever name the generator may come up with, I always try to see it as something of an inspiration and guide for my future endeavours here and in social media. But sometimes, that’s difficult.

This year, I was given the name of Saint Afra. She’s no only a very old saint, having died in 304, but also one of whom we know very little beyond her legend. But at least she hails from the area which I try to cover in this blog: of Cypriot origins, she led a holy life and died in Augsburg, Germany.

Her legend tells us that she was originally a pagan, possibly the daughter of the king of Cyprus, working as a prostitute (perhaps in the service of the local temple of Venus). She converted when she and her mother hid the bishop of Girona, Spain, who was fleeing the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian. Now a Christian, she was arrested when she refused to make a sacrifice to pagan idols, and was killed by being burned at the stake (although some sources say she was actually beheaded). The story of her martyrdom is by far the more reliable part of her legend.

Her patronage includes the city of Augsburg, converts, martyrs and penitent women. There, at least, we may find something to relate to as your author is himself a convert (eleven years ago coming April). Maybe Afra’s steadfastness in the face of adversity will prove to be an inspiration as well.

Sancta Afra, ora pro nobis!

‘t Is the season… – Christmas giving

At Christmas we share with others, giving from what we have. Maybe this blog could also be the recipient of some kind donations this season.

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With your donations I can continue bringing news, translations and opinions about the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and countries around it, as well as some of my personal reflections which may be of some benefit to others. You never know, right?

As we enter the eighth year of this blog, I remain grateful for the visits here and the sharing of my blog posts (with due credit, of course) in other media. I think it is important to provide an objective and positive voice about the faith, especially as it is lived in my part of the world, in the wider world.

Donors will obviously be remembered in my prayers.

Donations may be made via the PayPal button below (one is also always present in the left sidebar). In your donation, it is possible to make a specific request or purpose for the money.

After death threats, Archbishop Schick invites to prudence during Advent

A bishop’s reflection on Advent is nothing new, but it becomes more interesting when the author is personally invested in what he says. For Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, his appeal for prudence and calmness comes after a period in which he himself has been the target of verbal and written attacks – and even death threats – after he said in an interview that he saw no problem with the legal election of a Muslim president of Germany.

erzbischof-dr-ludwig-schick-portaet-001“The past months were dominated by many populist utterances, verbal and even brutal attacks, insults and distractions. There were violent shitstorms on social networks. Many words and actions in the Year of Mercy were very merciless. Prudence had disappeared. Many people suffered and have been damaged because of that, human relationships have been disrupted and the social atmosphere was poisoned. Personally, I also suffered from it.”

In a public debate, Archbishop Schick had said that the Church was obliged to accept the election of a Muslim president of Germany. “Anything else would not be supported by the Basic Law [the German constitution]”. The archbishop was subsequently misquoted in social media and so became the target of verbal abuse and even death threats.

In his message, which was addressed to friends and followers, but also strangers and enemies, Archbishop Schick speaks about Advent as a new beginning, or at least the start of the road towards a new beginning.

“Advent is in the first place the invitation to all of us to forgive and to reconcile; without forgiveness and reconciliation there can be no new beginning and no better future; that is true for all areas of life.

Advent then invites us to reflect, to start anew and to continue in a different way. Slowing down and silence are necessary in speaking and judging, and also when typing, posting or sending.”

Fifteen minutes a day, if possible more, to quietly listen to the voice within us is a good way to uncover the essence of our being again, the archbishop concludes his message.

Flying back to Rome, Pope Francis pictures the headlines

cns-plane2%20cIf today’s press conference on the flight back from Azerbaijan is any indication, Pope Francis has learnt the ways of the media. Speaking about the headline-generating topic of gender, the Holy Father balanced the reality of life and the objective nature of sin. In his answer he also warned about incorrect conclusions (emphases in bold by me):

“Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. Inclinations or hormonal imbalances cause many problems and we need to be careful when claiming all cases are the same: we need to embrace and study each case, accompany the person, discern and integrate them. This is what Jesus would do today. But please don’t go and say now: the Pope is going to sanctify transsexuals! I can just picture the front pages of the newspapers… It is a human problem, a moral problem. And we need to resolve it as best we can, always with God’s mercy and with truth but always with an open heart.”

The papal in-flight press conferences are, by now, looked at with some trepidation, as Pope Francis has shown a tendency to speak of the cuff and not always succeeding in clearly expressing what he wants to say, which in turn leads to people thinking that things have changed when they have not. Today’s conference avoids that with a succinct warning.

Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring