The possibilities of a Dutch CNMC

On Saturday 7 August, the third annual Catholic New Media Celebration took place in the Archdiocese of Boston. The one-day event was organised by SQPN, and saw several keynote addresses and so-called ‘tracks’ focusing on new media, mainly blogging and podcasting. The participants were, not surprisingly, mainly Americans, but there were some representatives from my side of the pond as well, among them my friend Inge, who runs the The World According to Taquoriaan blog and podcasts, and also the CEO of SQPN, Father Roderick Vonhögen. I wasn’t able to attend, although reading about the experiences and seeing the photos of those who did, make me wish I could have. Jeff Geerling has made an excellent summary with links to photos, videos and blog posts about the CNMC 2010. Watching the recordings of the keynotes and the tracks may well be interesting for any Catholic who is active in new media (whether they have just a Twitter account or a major media company with podcasts, radio shows, blogs and what have you). I especially found radio presenter Lino Ruli’s keynote and the blogging track run by blogger and author Rachel Balducci (with a panel including Thomas Peters (the American Papist) and Mark Shea) to be interesting and entertaining. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the first keynote, by Father Robert Reed, yet. Links to everything may be found in Mr. Geerling’s summary.

Following the closing of the day by Séan Cardinal O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, and Fr. Roderick, there were enthusiastic calls for something similar in Europe, not least from Fr. Roderick himself. Of course, in the Netherlands we’ll hopefully have a first Catholic Tweetup in October, and perhaps that could be a start towards something CNMC-like. I’m not very familiar with Catholic new media initiatives in continental Europe, but Catholic internet activity has certainly increased in the past year in the Netherlands. Getting some of the experience that exists together in one place so that people can both learn and be inspired by others would, I think, be a good foundation for a further expansion of the Catholic presence online.

But I fear there is a serious problem, at least in this country. Catholic interaction, on Twitter especially, has been consistently argumentative, and while that is no bad thing in itself, it is steadily dissolving in pointless fights. Person A says person B is not orthodox enough and therefore a heretic, person C say that person D is too focused on the rules and will therefore be ignored. People are lumped into perceived groups and personally attacked by others because of differences of opinion. There is a segregation taking place. I realise that this is online interaction, which is quite different from face-to-face interaction, but it is the foundation being formed now, and it’s not a good one. Not all Catholics online are guilty of this, but a fair number of the most vocal and influential ones are.

The Catholic Church, by definition, encompasses all of human life, in all its shapes and forms. It has certain important unifying elements, but there is room for many kinds of people and many kinds of worship, from the charismatic to the solemn. You may prefer the one over the other, but that obviously says nothing about the validity of any form of worship. The same goes for choices of literature and theological thought. But almost automatically writing people off because of differences in preference and opinion is simplistic and dangerous. But that is what is happening.

So, a CNMC in the Netherlands, with Dutch Catholic media experts, bloggers and podcasters? I doubt it will bear similar fruit as the American version. Maybe it’s Dutch mentality, something cultural, that we have the urge to be overly individualistic, especially when it comes to personal matters of faith and religion. I don’t know. But it worries me to see too many Catholics treat their fellow Catholics as second-rate people.


What to do about the sacrilege displayed in Obdam?

Many will have heard or read about the so-called ‘World Cup Mass’ that Fr. Paul Vlaar of the parish of St. Victor in Obdam celebrated. It’s been doing the rounds for the past few days, both nationally and internationally, so I think it’s good to pay attention to it in my blog as well. With the priest dressed in an orange chasuble, and the church adorned with footballs, goals and orange banners, the Mass was a celebration of football, which is of course not only ridiculous, but also blasphemous. The Mass is the actualisation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the Eucharist  source and summit of our faith.

The footage is below. It may be shocking in its blatant display of sacrilege.

Understandably, such nonsense puts the Church in the Netherlands, which doesn’t have a very good reputation anyway, in a bad light. As is often the case, the efforts of many good priests can be undone by the work of one bad priest. The comments on the post that the American Papist devoted to it speak for themselves. And there is room for a whole lot of improvement in the Netherlands, but the only thing that I want to add now is that these ‘Mass’ is not representative for the vast majority of parishes. Thank God it is not.

Is there something we can do to try and stop such blasphemy in the future? I think there is. If it is improvement we ask for, dialogue and debate online is not enough. That serves well to bring things to people’s attention, but ultimately it is the people in charge who need to implement changes.

The parish in Obdam, where this took place, is part of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the ordinary of which is Msgr. Jozef Punt. I suggest writing him a formal and polite letter, explaining what you have seen and think about it. Explain your concerns and the reasons for it, but do not try and tell the bishop what he should do. That’s his decision, and for all we know he may well be aware of this and is already working on it. The fact that we don’t know if he is, says nothing.

You can contact the bishop at this address: Nieuwe Gracht 80, 2011 NJ, Haarlem. Be polite but clear, write in Dutch if you can, and keep the letter as short as possible (a bishop has more to do than read long letters).

If we want to do something about the ignorance about and blatant disrespect for the Lord that still occurs too often in our parishes, we must do that in communion with our priests and bishops. I know Bishop Punt slightly, and in my opinion he won’t just brush your concerns aside. But it is he, not us, who will decide what will be done, and that’s important to remember.

EDIT: Credit where credit’s due: the idea for this post was inspired by my friend Ismael.

EDIT 2: Some more thought later, I think it is also good to remain open for dialogue with Fr. Vlaar and his parish, especially since other Dutch bloggers picked up my post and have offered advice. So if you want to contact Father Paul Vlaar about this, I suggest the very same things as I did for a letter to the bishop. Be clear, polite and not excessively longwinded, and write in Dutch if at all possible. The website of the parish has a contact form that you can use, but there is also an address on the site: St. Victorparochie, Dorpsstraat 149, 1713 HE, Obdam.

Should Fr. Vlaar himself come across this post, he is welcome to respond, of course, in Dutch or English. For the sake of consistency, I keep this blog in English as much as possible, but I have been known to speak Dutch too.

Cardinal Newman to be beatified by the pope, officially announced

Numerous bloggers, especially those in the UK, have reported the news of the formal announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK from 16 to 19 September. There is an extensive website about the visit, offering all the details and then some. 

Anna Arco has some comments from Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. 

John Henry Cardinal Newman, painted by W.W. Ouless in 1879

American Papist, lastly, focusses on the great news that Pope Benedict XI will personally beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham.  

From the Very Rev. Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Actor of the cause of John Henry Newman come these words: 

The Fathers and many friends of the English Oratories are delighted by the official announcement that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will beatify our founder, the Venerable John Henry Newman, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during his visit to Britain in September. Newman made his home in the Archdiocese for all his adult life, first in Oxford, where he lived as an Anglican and was received into the Catholic Church, and later in Birmingham itself where he founded and worked in the Birmingham Oratory for over forty years. 

The Holy Father’s life-long devotion to Newman has made a profound contribution to understanding the depth and significance of our founder’s legacy. His decision to beatify Newman in person confers a unique blessing upon the English Oratories and all who have drawn inspiration from Newman’s life and work. 

The soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman also has a place in the banner at the top of my blog (he is the second from the right), since I consider him a great teacher, both knowledgeable and pastoral, especially for our often difficult times.

The fear of change

American Papist has news that Roger Cardinal Mahoney, archbishop of Los Angeles, has approved a coadjutor bishop to eventuelly succeed him. Interesting news for LA, of course.

What struck me was the following paragraph:

Some of the faculty at St. John’s Seminary – where new priests for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are trained – have expressed concern that the new coadjutor bishop will lean more “conservative” than his predecessor, and some have even threatened to resign or retire if this turns out to be the case.

What would be the cause of such an enormous fear, which by no means is limited to Los Angeles? We’ve seen the same reactions very recently surrounding the appointment of Msgr. Léonard in Brussels, and here in the Netherlands, bishops like Msgr. van den Hende and Msgr. Eijk have also been cause for similar threats.

A new bishop – or any new ‘boss’, really – will do things differently and employees will notice changes. Some changes will be minor, some perhaps quite major. And sometimes these changes may be countered by such threats as quoted above. But the striking thing in this case is that the mere mention of a new bishop leads to the threats. It is as if people go from square one to square nine or something, missing a few steps in between.

Could the reason to fear conservatism or orthodoxy, which are often treated as the same (they really are not), possibly be an awareness, perhaps subconsciously, that the current situation has no hope to continue for all eternity? That eventually things must return to the condition they are supposed to be in?

For the Church, certainly in this country, that means that the empty churches, lack of priests and associated lack of knowledge about the faith, to mention but a few points, must end. And people know that their liberal course which relativises anything that even smells of faith has no hope of continuing. In the end this approach will kill itself.

So, yes, I fully understand why some people would fear an orthodox boss. He is the personification of the closed road they’re on. Let’s hope and pray that future appointments, in LA and elsewhere, will shows that there is no need for fear, even if there is need for change.