A sci fi Advent?

The annual Advent Action of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands takes on a new form this year, as the previous organisers threw in the towel earlier this year. The bishops now take direct responsibility and have appointed Father Matthieu Wagemaker to head the charity in which various good causes are available for parishes and individual faithful to support in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

With a new set-up there also comes a new logo. But I have to wonder where the inspiration for the design comes from…

The Advent Action logo
Starfleet logo from the Star Trek tv series and films

The bishops respond to the Solidaridad bust-up

Following  the media bust-up by charity Solidaridad – who ended their cooperation with the bishop’s conference (giving a fabricated story as a reason) and then sent a letter to all parishes encouraging them to do the same – the bishops have sent a letter to all parish councils explaining what really happened. 

They are obviously not feeling particularly charitable towards Solidaridad, and rightly so: Solidaridad’s actions were very much out of bounds, and ignorant to boot. 

Anyway, below is the letter as drafted on the authority of Bishop Punt on behalf of all the bishops. 

——————– 

Dear council, 

Last week you received a letter from Solidaridad. This has led to indignation, not just with the bishops but with many in the missions. More about that later. First I want to inform you, admittedly prematurely – the discussion is ongoing – about the state of business. From the media alone you can impossibly form a good picture. 

Changes in the missionary field 

For a significant amount of time the missionary field in the Catholic Church has been changing a lot. In the past decades various missionary organisations have gone through important developments: increase in scale, mergers and a greater government participation. This often also led to statutory changes of adaptations of goals, blurring the specific religious identity. By cooperating with new partners church funds now represent but a small part of the total budget of large missionary organisations. In itself this development is understandable. But the missionairy visibility of the Church ahs become somewhat threatened because of it. To protect this and to reformulate the relations with the Church, Msgr. Dr. J. Punt, as referent for Mission and Development, has entered into discussions with a number of missionairy organisations on the following criteria: 

1) Transparency. 

By including Church missionary actions into larger aid and development organisation, many parishes experience their own missionary actions as not transparent enough. In dialogue with the implementing partners, the bishops strive to offer the faithful openness and transparency on projects, the spending of funds, overhead costs and the goals achieved. 

2) Churches help churches. 

This means that we want to use as much as possible our own channels for aid. The Church after all has a unique global network with very short lines through missionaries, dioceses, congregations, Church institutes, partner parishes, etc., making adequate and fast aid possible. Many parishes are already using this to the full. It is about allowing churches in the south to state their own priorities, help the poor themselves and fulfill needs, instead of us deciding it for them. This way of working prevent organisation dictating what the people need from western paternalism or ideology. Churches in developing countries continuously identify projects, not just in church development, but especially in education, health care, agriculture, etc. 

4) Input. 

This is about the question of how to realise these principles in new agreements and a new structure. It after all is about the efforts of faithful and parishes and the funds that have been collected in and by the churches. The new structure includes the establishment of an ‘Episcopal Commission for Mission and Development Cooperation’. This will have the task of guaranteeing a balanced campaign or project lost. It will do in close dialogue with the implementing organisations, but will keep the final say in the matter. Where else would that lie? Where is the logic in Solidaridad’s desire for the board of an independent aid organisation to have full say in how to spend church funds? 

In good consultation 

missionary organisations will surely recognise the principles above. The dialogue about this 0 which is still ongoing – has always taken place in a constructive atmosphere. Solidaridad too understood the need for renewal. For themselves, however, they envisioned a different future and broadening of their identity and they took concrete steps to that end. On 11 November 2009 the board of Solidaridad requested the bishops per letter to be allowed to drop to final regulations that still tied them to the Catholic Church. They also added that the Protestant Church in the Netherlands had already ended their ties with Solidaridad. The letter from the board describes this as a win-win situation: “From our side the return of the mandate of implementing organisation for the Advent Action, and from your side the release of a statement of no objection for passing the new statutes. In our opinion creating a mutual space is the best approach.” It is their clear wish to continue as an independent, not-ecclesiastic organisation. The Church would get the space to give a new missionary structure to the Advent Action. 

Solidaridad quits 

After the bishops had agreed to this proposal, the roles are suddenly reversed in a dramatic press release from Solidaridad on 10 February. Solidaridad suddenly attacks the bishops with allegations and suggestions. The purpose seems clear: One the one hand, Solidaridad wants to completely separate from the bishops and on the other hand they want to take the parishes with them to keep receiving money from them and the faithful. To the bishops this is obviously unacceptable. The commentary in the Trouw newspaper was equally surprised: “It is peculiar that Solidaridad urges the parishes to be disobedient and ignore the new Advent Action of the bishops. For clarity’s sake, let this means of collection go.” 

We will trust in your own wisdom to inform your parishioners in due time about the disappearance of Solidaridad from the collection schedule, without burdening them needlessly with details. As soon as there is news about the new content of the Advent Action we will inform you. 

Wishing you a fruitful Lent,

With Regards,

On behalf of the bishops of the Netherlands,

  

Drs. G.H.A. Kruis, secretary general a.i.