Wit and wisdom – Archbishop Léonard explains the truth behind the headlines

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard wrote an article in this month’s edition of Pastoralia, the magazine published by the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, concerning his upcoming retirement. It is written with wit, but it is also a serious reminder about the nature of the mandate of a bishop, the priesthood and the hope of a Christian.

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“In December some media were moved to hear that I would be writing a letter to the Holy Father on 6 May, to make available my office as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. All those emotions were completely unnecessary, since some one hundred bishops will write a similar letter this year, on the occasion of their 75th birthday, as dictated by Canon Law (can. 401 § 1). It is up to the Pope to accept or deny this resignation.

Since normal news reports are not interesting to the media, some have wanted to interpret that future letter as a clear sign of discouragement or disappointment, or even as an expression of disagreement with Pope Francis! Such imagination…

Some reporters asked me if a hoped that my mandate would be extended for a few years, as was often the case for archbishops during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I replied that I did not hope for that. A Christian’s hope, and that of a priest, is rather directed at something much more important than the extension of his mandate. From that they concluded that I did not hope for an extension and wanted to retire immediately. As if “I do not hope that…” and “I do not hope for..” are synonymous. Well, the hope of a Christian and a priest is not so much to retire quickly, but to remain active in his mission for a long while. But from the media I draw the conclusion that people do not excel in logic, even when they have made words and language their profession…

In short: I ask my brothers in the priesthood and the faithful of the diocese not to be carried away by unfounded assumptions. What I hope for especially – in this and many other situations – is that the will of God will manifest itself in my life and that I will be sufficiently free to accept the Holy Father’s  decision, whatever it may be, with an equanimous heart.

In that respect I appreciate greatly the words of Pope Francis, who reminds his brother, cardinals, bishops and priests, that they are neither eternal nor irreplaceable, and in which he discourages every spirit of careerism and human ambition in servants of the Holy Church. Let he who has ears, listen!

Finally, until the time that my duty in Mechelen-Brussels ends, I would use all my strength for my task, with the same enthusiasm and the same gratitude as today. And when the time comes to bid each other farewell, I will live my priesthood – for the time that remains for me on this earth – with the same attitude and the same hope.

 + André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels”

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.

Nuncio Dupuy on the verge of retirement

dupuyIn four days, on 13 February, Archbishop André Dupuy will reach the age of 75, which means that the Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands will be sending his resignation letter to the Vatican, and the archbishop will wrap up his fairly short term of office in the Netherlands. He was appointed in December of 2011, a little more than three years ago. Unlike some of his previous postings – most notably Venezuela – Archbishop Dupuy’s  time in our country has been fairly quiet. He has not had to deal with any new bishops’ appointments, and his public appearances were mostly for festive occasions, such as the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral of Groningen in 2012. He also attended events surrounding the installation of King Willem-Alexander and the election of Pope Francis. In addition to his duties as papal representative in the Netherlands, Archbishop Dupuy has also been the permanent observer of the Holy See at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is, like the nunciature, based in The Hague.

The French prelate, whose time in office was the shortest since that of Archbishop John Gordon, who was Pro-Nuncio from 1976 to 1978, was the second Frenchman to be the Hoy See ambassador in the Netherlands. It is anyone’s guess who will succeed him, or when that successor will take office. There are very few vacant nunciatures in the world today, although two – to Honduras and to Madagascar, the Seychelles and Mauritius – have been empty for more than six months. Whether or not the representation to the Netherlands will have priority over these remains to be seen.

New travel companions – two ordinations in Groningen-Leeuwarden

ordination duzijn jellemaA festive day for the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden yesterday, as it gained two new priests. Father Diederik Duzijn and Arjen Jellema were ordained by Bishop Gerard de Korte in the cathedral of St. Joseph. It was the second ordination in two weeks time, following that of diocesan hermit Brother Hugo to the diaconate on 23 January.

In his homily, the bishop spoke about the well-known story of the disciples who travelled to Emmaus. Just like Christ who joined them as a stranger, the bishops said, priests are also called to join the faithful on their way, to both listen to their life stories and explain them in the light of the Gospel.

The bishop also referred to his recent letter about the future of the diocese and asked the new priests to aid the faithful in contributing to building thriving communities of faith. The sacramental priesthood, he noted, is intended to be in service to the entire people of God.

Father Diederik Duzijn is appointed to the parishes around Drachten in the southwest of Friesland, while Father Arjen Jellema will work in the parishes in the southern part of the city of Groningen and surrounding towns, as well as the student chaplaincy. Both priests will offer their first Masses today: Fr. Duzijn in Drachten and Fr. Jellema in the cathedral in Groningen.

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.

Paul and Francis – a selective reading of two Popes

Paul-VIIn this month’s edition of our diocesan magazine I came across an odd statement: Pope Francis has freed the Church from the strict doctrines regarding human sexuality and procreation as laid down by Pope Paul VI (pictured) in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The same Pope Francis who has beatified Paul VI and repeatedly called him a courageous prophet, exactly for Humanae Vitae

Where do these claims come from? It isn’t the first time I’ve come across similar statements. Pope Francis is undoubtedly a people’s person, even more so than Saint John Paul II was, I suspect. But Pope Francis is also Catholic, and is unafraid of underlining even the unpopular teachings: he is staunchly opposed to abortion and euthanasia, continuously speaks of the dangers of sin and the devil, and, like I said above, is fully in line with the teachings of Blessed Pope Paul VI.

It is risky business to isolate Popes from one another. Humanae Vitae does not show us the full person of Paul VI, and today’s General Audiences don’t tell us everything about Francis. Both those parts of their teaching and person are important, but if we do not look any further, we run the risk of making such faulty and misleading statements as the one that opened this blog post.

In the case of Pope Francis, let his open personality be an invitiation to find out more about him and thus about the faith. His appreciation for Paul VI should likewise be reason to read Humanae Vitae anew. The papacy is no popularity contest, and nor does it revolve around superficial niceties. It is a teaching office, and sometimes that teaching reaches across the years, decades and centuries. And sometimes it is expanded or we look at it from a new perspective. In the case of Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, it is more than policy, more than old-fashioned opinions that need correcting. On the contrary, as Pope Francis has said, it is prophetic.