A great heart goes home – Bishop Lemmens passes away

This morning brought the sad news of the death of Bishop Leon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, after a struggle with leukemia. The bishop had laid down his duties towards the end of last year and was admitted to hospital in October of 2016, which is where, at the university hospital in Louvain, he passed away last night.

Lemmens1

Bishop Lemmens was an auxiliary bishop of the sole Belgian archdiocese since 2011, when he was appointed as such together with Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn and Jean Kockerols. He was appointed for the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen, and wuithin the bishops’ conference he was responsible for the pastoral care to prisoners, contacts with the other Christian churches and  contacts with the Muslim community. The late bishop was also member of the Community of St. Egidio. Speaking on behalf of that community, historian and member Jan De Volder characterises the bishop as follows:

“Leon Lemmens was an extraordinarily cultivated man, a polyglot, who left an impression because of his stature and sincere cordiality, also on the young people he met. He possessed a robust faith and a great heart, especially for the poor, the homeless, the refugees.”

The titular bishop of Municipa was a priest of the Diocese of Hasselt since his ordination in 1977. He studied moral theology in Rome, after which he served as parish priest in Genk in the early 1980s. A professor at the diocesan seminary since 1984, he rose to its leadership in 1997. In 1998 he was appointed as vicar general of Hasselt. In 2004, Msgr. Lemmens went to Rome, to serve as rector of the Romanian College, and in 2005 he also started working at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. In 2011, he was one of three priests called to serve as auxiliary bishops under the then recently-appointed Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels. In 2015, shortly before being forced to relinquish his duties, Bishop Lemmens accompanied Bishop Guy Harpigny and the later Cardinal Jozef De Kesel on a solidarity mission to northern Iraq.

Aboput his final months and weeks, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt, Bishop Lemmens’ home diocese, says:

“We knew that he was ill and we visited him regularly. I spoke with him over the phone only last week. He bore his illness in full faithful surrender.”

The funeral Mass for Bishop Lemmens will take place on Saturday 10 June, in the Cathedral of St. Rombald in Mechelen.

Quoting the wish from the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen: “Let’s remain united in prayer with him, and ask the Lord to embrace him with great affection and grant him eternal life.”

Photo credit: Philippe Keulemans

2016, a look back

Another year nears its end, the seventh of this blog, which is always a good opportunity to look back, especially at what has appeared here in the blog over the course of 2016. I have grouped things loosely in various categories, so as to give an impression of cohesion.

francisPope Francis at work

In Rome, and despite turning 80 this year, Pope Francis kept up the pace, introducing several changes, expected and unexpected. First, in January, he issued a decree which opened the rite of foot washing on Maundy Thursday also for women. I reflected on it here.

On Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father sent out 1,000 missionaries of mercy, among them 13 Dutch priests, as part of the ongoing Holy Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis commented on the question of female deacons, which led to much debate, at least in Catholic social media. I also shared my thoughts.

A smaller debate revolved around an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by the Pope, about Christian burial.

The reform of the Curia also continued, first with the creation of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life and the appoinment of Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell as its first prefect; and then with the creation of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, for which the Pope picked Cardinal Peter Turkson as head.

Cardinals of St. LouisPope Francis also added to the College of Cardinals, as he called his third consistory, choosing seventeen new cardinals from all over the world.

Towards the end of the year, and following the end of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter about the absolution from the sin of abortion, a faculty now extended to all priests.

The Pope abroad

Pope Francis made several visits abroad this year. To Cuba and Mexico, to Greece, to Armenia, to Poland, to Georgia and Azerbaijan, but the last one received the most attention here. For two days, Pope Francis put ecumenism in the spotlight during his visit to Sweden. Announced in January as a one-day visit, a second day was added in June. In October, the Nordic bishops previewed the visit in a pastoral letter, which I published in English.

The abuse crisis

Still here, and unlikely to go completely away in the next years or decades, the abuse crisis continues to haunt the Church. in February there were shocked reactions to comments made by a prelate during a conference on how bishops should handle abuse allegations. I tried to add some context here. In the Netherlands there was indignation when it became clear that a significant number of abuse cases settled out of court included a secrecy clause, preventing victims from speaking negatively about the Church institutions under whose care they suffered abuse. In April, the annual statistics of abuse cases processed and compensation paid out were released.

Amoris laetitia

In April Amoris laetitia was released, the Post-Synodal Exhortation that was the fruit of the two Synod of Bishops assemblies on the family. Cardinal Eijk, the Dutch delegate to the assemblies, offered his initial thoughts about the document, followed by many other bishops.

4cardinalsWhile the document was broadly lauded, an ambuguous footnote led to much discussion. In November, four cardinals publised a list of dubia they presented to the Pope, but which received no answer. Citing the clear uncertainty about certain parts of Amoris laetitia, visible in the wide range of conclusions drawn, the cardinals respectfully asked for clarification, which they will most likely not be getting, at least not in the standard way.

The local churches

There were many more and varied events in local churches in the Netherlands and beyond. Theirs is a very general category, aiming to showcase some of the more important and interesting developments in 2016.

In January, the Belgian bishops elected then-Archbishop Jozef De Kesel as their new president. At the same time, Cardinal Wim Eijk announced that he would not be available for a second term as president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. In June, Bishop Hans van den Hende was chosen to succeed him.

bisschop HurkmansBishop Antoon Hurkmans retired as Bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and in January he sent his final message to the faithful of his diocese, asking for unity with the new bishop. In April, rumours started floating that the bishops had suggested Bishop Hurkmans as new rector of the Church of the Frisians in Rome.

The Dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden celebrated the 60th anniversary of their establishment.

On Schiermonnikoog, the Cistercian monks, formerly of Sion Abbey, found a location for their new monastery.

The Dutch and Belgian bishops announced a new translation of the Lord’s Prayera new translation of the Lord’s Prayer, to be introduced on the first Sunday of Advent.

church-498525_960_720A photograph of the cathedral of Groningen-Leeuwarden started appearing across the globe as a stock photo in articles about the Catholic Church. It continues to do so, as I saw it appear, some time last week, in an advert for a concert by a Dutch singer.

Speaking in Lourdes in May, Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz spoke open-heartedly about his deteriorating Eyesight.

In June, Fr. Hermann Scheipers passed away. The 102-year-old priest was the last survivor of Dachau concentration camp’s priest barracks.

In that same month, the nestor of the Dutch bishops marked the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Huub Ernst is 99 and currently the sixth-oldest bishop in the world.

In Belgium, the new Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels closed down the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, erected by his predecessor, to the surprise of many.

Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt received a personal message and blessing from Pope Francis on the occasion of the 18th Coronation Feasts held in Hasselt in the summer.

willibrordprocessie%202014%2006%20img_9175The annual procession in honour of St. Willibrord in Utrecht was criticised this year after the archbishop chose to limit its ecumenical aspect. I shared some thoughts here.

In Norway, Trondheim completed and consecrated a new cathedral. English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was sent to represent the Holy Father at the event.

The retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, was heard from again when a new book featured his thoughts about never having been made a cardinal, unlike his immediate predecessors and, it turned out at about the time of the book’s publication, is successor.

At the end of the year, Berlin was hit by terrorism as a truck plowed through a Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding numerous others. Archbishop Heiner Koch offered a poetic reflection.

The Dutch Church abroad

In foreign media, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands also made a few headlines.

naamloosIn September, Cardinal Eijk was invited to speak at the annual assembly of the Canadian bishops, sharing his experiences and thoughts concerning the legalisation of assisted suicide. In the wake of that meeting, he also floated the idea that the Pope could write an encyclical on the errors of gender ideology.

in Rome, 2,000 Dutch pilgrims were met by Pope Francis, who spoke to them about being channels of mercy.

The new Dutch translation of the Our Father also sparked fears in some quarters that the bishops were leading everyone into heresy, leading to many faithful revolting against the new text. The truth was somewhat less exciting.

Equally overexcited was the report of empty parishes and starving priests in the Netherlands. I provided some necessary details here.

In Dutch

While my blog is written in English, there have also been three blog posts in Dutch. All three were translations of texts which were especially interesting or important. The first was my translation of the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, an important milestone in ecumenical relations between the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

IMG_7842Then there was the headline-making address by Cardinal Robert Sarah at the Sacra Liturgia Conference in London, in which the cardinal invited priests to start celebrating ad orientem again. But the text contained much more than that, and remains well worth reading.

Lastly, I provided translations of all the papal addresses and homilies during the Holy Father’s visit to Sweden. I kept the post at the top of the blog for a while, as a reflection of its importance for Dutch-speaking Christians as well.

A thank you

Twice in 2016 I asked my readers to contribute financially to the blog. In both instances several of you came through, using the PayPal button in the sidebar to donate. My gratitude to you remains.

2016 in appointments

Obituary

As every year, there is also death. Notewrothy this year were the following:

  • 26 March: Bishop Andreas Sol, 100, Bishop emeritus of Amboina.
  • 31 March: Georges-Marie-Martin Cardinal Cottier, 93, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Domenico e Sisto, Pro-Theologian emeritus of the Prefecture of the Papal Household.
  • 16 May: Giovanni Cardinal Coppa, 90, Cardinal-Deacon of San Lino, Apostolic Nuncio emeritus to the Czech Republic.
  • 26 May: Loris Cardinal Capovilla, 100, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Archbishop-Prelate emeritus of Loreto.
  • 9 July: Silvano Cardinal Piovanelli, 92, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie a Via Trionfale, Archbishop emeritus of Firenze.
  • 2 August: Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, 89, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni a Porta Latina, Archbishop emeritus of Kraków.
  • 18 August: Bishop Jan Van Cauwelaert, 102, Bishop emeritus of Inongo.
  • 13 November: Bishop Aloysius Zichem, 83, Bishop emeritus of Paramaribo.
  • 21 November: Bishop Maximilian Ziegelbauer, 93, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Augsburg.
  • 14 December: Paulo Cardinal Arns, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Antonio da Padova in Via Tuscolana, Archbishop emeritus of São Paulo, Protopriest of the College of Cardinals.

Archbishop Léonard reveals his thoughts at missing out on a red hat

In a book recently published, which, like a number of earlier publications, takes the form of a conversation with a (not necessarily) religious philosopher, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard comments on his thoughts at never being made a cardinal. In the past he has stated that it was no concern to him, not least as Pope Francis preferred to create cardinals from the peripheries of world and Church. Now that he has made Archbishop’s Léonard’s successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, a cardinal, the comments can be seen in a new light.

Titled Un évêque dans le siècle, the new book is a conversation with liberal philosopher Drieu Godefridi, and was written before the news that Archbishop De Kesel would be made a cardinal. On Mr. Godefridi’s question if not being made a cardinal ever hurt for Msgr. Léonard, the latter responds:

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“Hurt is too big a word. But it did surprise me since it is a tradition of two centuries. In the past there have been many archbishops of Mechelen who were never cardinals, but since two centuries it has become a sort of tradition. Should that remain so? When I thought about it, I told myself it didn’t. It is clear that the current Pope wants to appoint cardinals from countries which never had cardinals, to underline their importance, to not have a College of Cardinals which is too Euro- or Americanocentric. I think that is a good thing.”

Later in the conversation, he speaks some more about his personal feelings.

“It was clear, to return to my case, and despite everything a little surprising. It is a delicate thing to say about myself, but many have said so in my place: pastorally, intellectually, I have done work which few archbishops have managed. In the intellectual field that was Dechamps in Mechelen, who was a very good philosopher, an apologist too. As far as I am concerned, I have completed my task in a rather original way. One of my auxiliary bishops, by the way, has dared to write that I was the first archbishop of Mechelen to visit the entire archdiocese. He also lauds my work in the intellectual field. In short, [not receiving a cardinals’ hat] surprised me, disappointed me a little, but I got over it easily.”

Following the appointment of future Cardinal De Kesel, it is clear that Archbishop Léonard’s assumption that Pope Francis does not want to create cardinals simply because it goes with the see they’re in is not correct. That said, it is equally clear that Pope Francis chooses cardinals who fit a certain pastoral mold, and if these happen to be in traditionally cardinalatial sees, so be it. De Kesel in Mechelen-Brussels is one example, Osoro Sierra in Madrid and Cupich in Chicago are others.

While Archbishop Léonard would never express any doubts or questions he may have at the choice of Archbishop De Kesel for the red hat, others have. In more than a few places, it has been seen as a slighting of Archbishop Léonard, who is now the first archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels since 1832 to not be made a cardinal. While a cardinal’s hat should not be seen as a reward (except in those cases where it given to a retired priest or bishop well in his 80s or 90s), the question remains why Archbishop Léonard never received one. It is not because Mechelen-Brussels no longer has the status in the Church it has (although that status has obviously changed as the heartland of the Church shifts way from Europe). It is also not because, as some have said, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Léonard’s predecessor, had not yet reached the age of 80. Danneels turned 80 in 2013, more than two years before the retirement of Archbishop Léonard.

Is it then because Archbishop Léonard did not meet the criteria of Pope Francis for the red hat? In a recent piece on Cardinal-designate John Ribat of Port Moresby, John Allen Jr. outlines the three criteria that the Pope seems to follow for making cardinals: being from the periphery, supporting a cause near to the Pope’s  heart, and being his kind of guy. Archbishop Léonard does not tick the first box, but then again, neither does Archbishop De Kesel. If a cause can be attributed to Archbishop Léonard, it is evangelisation. Hard to go wrong there, although the ways of achieving it are varied, and Archbishop Léonard’s way of evangelisation through catechesis may not be that of Pope Francis, who has a more hands-on approach. And as for being the Pope’s kind of guy, that is hard to estimate. Archbishop Léonard was certainly not afraid to be among the people. From the very start of his time in Brussels, he went out to visit the deaneries of his archdioceses in cycles that he would simply repeat once completed. The smell of the sheep was not alien to him.

Still, discussing why one man is made a cardinal and the other is not is, to a large extent, a guessing game, and there will probably always be more suitable men than there are red hats to give out. That said, it is my opinion that Archbishop Léonard would have been a fine choice for cardinal. Whether Archbishop De Kesel will be, that remains to be seen. In his short time in Brussels he has said and done both positive and negative things (his defense of a hospital’s freedom to deny euthanasia comes to mind, but so does his strange decision to disband the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles).

After a new cardinal, now a new Nuncio for Belgium

After some uncertainty about the retirement of the previous one, Pope Francis today appointed a new Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium. The new ambassador of the Holy See to the Kingdom of Belgium, and representative of Rome to the Catholic Church in Belgium is an experienced diplomat who has served as a Nuncio since 1998.

augustine%20kasujja_0Archbishop Augustine Kasujja hails from Uganda, where he was born in 1946. In 1973 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kampala, and he entered the Holy See diplomatic service in 1979. He served in various countries, including Argentina, Haïti, Portugal, Peru and Algeria. In 1998 he was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Algeria and Tunisia, and with that he was consecrated as archbishop of the titular see of Cesarea in Numidia. In April of 2004 he was transferred to Madagascar and the Seychelles as Nuncio, combined with the office of Apostolic Delegate to the Comoros. In June of that same year he also became the Nuncio to Mauritius. In 2010 he was appointed to Nigeria, where he served until his appointment today. It is assumed that Archbishop Kasujja will arrive in Belgium in the course of November.

Now 70, it makes sense to assume that the archbishop will complete the five years until his retirement in Belgium. As Nuncios play an important role in the appointment of bishops (they provide detailed reports on the three candidates selected by the cathedral chapter of the diocese in question and pass that on, together with their own advice, to the Congregation for Bishops, which then passes it on the Pope. The Pope can then use the report and advice to make his choice), it is perhaps interesting to see for which bishops Archihsop Kasujja will help pick a successor.

  • His retirement already submitted, Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy will probably see it accepted within the coming year. Archbishop Kasujja will probably have inherited the file on Ghent from his predecessor, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco. [EDIT: On 13 October, it was revealed that Pope Francis asked Bishop Van Looy to remain in office for two more years, until the end of 2018].
  • In July of 2018, Bishop Remy Vancottem of Namur will reach the age of 75. The erstwhile auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels succeeded the now retired Archbishop Léonard in the latter’s home diocese in 2010.
  • Archbishop Kasujja will possibly also start the groundwork for the appointment of the successor of Archbishop Jozef De Kesel in Brussels. The cardinal-elect will reach the age of 75 in June of 2022, well over a year after the Nuncio, but considering the importance of the archbishop of Brussels, not least now that he is once again a cardinal, the process may well have begun at that time.
  • In that same year, but four months earlier, Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn, one of Mechelen-Brussels’ auxiliary bishops, will also submit his resignation. But as auxiliary bishops are not archbishops, the preparation for the selection of new one (of there is even going to be one) need not take as long.

Archbishop Kasujja’s appointments is noticeable in that he is not only the first non-European Nuncio to Belgium, but also the only African Nuncio in Europe at this time.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium has also been the Apostolic Nuncio to Luxembourg since 1916, when the first papal representative was sent to the grand duchy. Archbishop Kasujja will therefore soon also be appointed to that smallest of the Benelux countries.

The Apostolic Nunciature to Belgium in its current form dates back to 1843, although there have been interruptions in the presence of Nuncios (there were none from 1846 to 1866, 1868 to 1875, 1880 to 1896 and 1911 to 1916). Archbishop Kasujja is the 21st Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, and the most notable of his predecessor is the first in that list, who served from 1843 to 1846: at the time Archbishop Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, he became Pope Leo XIII in 1878. Fourteen of the previous Nuncios to Belgium later became cardinals.

Photo credit: NTV

Good work, but not in Belgium – Mechelen-Brussels sends the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles packing

The Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels came with a rather puzzling press statement today, announcing an end to the diocese’s cooperation with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. This fraternity of priests was invited to Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, but apparently his successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, wastes no time in shutting them down. Even as the news broke, the priests of the fraternity were still meeting with the staff of the archdiocese.

There are rumours that there is more to the decision than the press release states, but as that is the official position of the archdiocese, it must be taken seriously, strange as it is.

This is the full text of the statement, translated by me:

Wapen-bisdom%20kleur100%25“The Fraternity of the Holy Apostles was established in 2013 as a “public clerical society of faithul” of diocesan right. It falls under the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels.

The Fraternity has 27 members, 6 priests and 21 seminarians of whom one is a deacon. Of the 27 members, 21 reside in Belgium and 6 in France, especially in the Diocese of Bayonne. The majority of the current members comes from France.

It is the Fraternity’s main purpose to make young people sensitive to the beauty of the vocation to the diocesan priesthood. Answering that vocation does not necessarily mean that one stands alone: the priest can rely on the support and solidarity of the brothers with whom he forms a fraternity. This option is indeed very valuable in the life of the priest today.

This initiative, however, presents a problem when one realises that at the moment the majority of the Fraternity’s seminarians comes from France, where so many areas suffer from a distressing shortage of priests. Of course, it is possible that the number of Belgian seminarians, both French- and Dutch-speaking, can increase over the years. But then, too, they will come from other Belgian dioceses to become priests for the archdiocese.

In the current situation it is better not to encourage such a process. It would indicate a great lack of solidarity among the bishops, both with the bishops in our country as with the French bishops. That is why the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels decided to no longer work with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles in his diocese from the end of June 2016 onwards.

Those members of the Fraternity who have already been ordained as priests or deacons serving the archdiocese remain priests or deacons of the archdiocese, as prescribed by canon law. Regarding their appointment the arcbishop will take into account what was dear to them when they entered the Fraternity. In this context, and contrary to what some rumours would have us believe, it is the arcbishop’s wish that the experiences of the church of St. Kathelijne [the Brussels church entrusted to the pastoral care of the Fraternity – MV] may by further developed.

The seminarians can, if they so wish and if they meet the demands for the formation of priests of the archdiocese, continue their education at the diocesan seminary.

This decision of the archbishop is the result of long deliberations with his auxiliary bishops and the diocesan council. A special commission has met with all the member of the Fraternity residing in Belgium. The Belgian bishops were also consulted and support the decision, as do the responsible departments of the Holy See.”

So, in short, the Fraternity has too many priests from abroad, and while the archdiocese continues to make use of the priests already ordained (if only because canon law demands it), the other members can basically do whatever they please. Sure, the seminarians are welcome at the diocesan seminary, if they are good enough and if they really must, but there’s no pressure.

I can accept that there are parts of France where priests are few, but the Belgian bishops are fooling themselves if they think the same is not true, or will be in the foreseeable future, for their own dioceses. The Fraternity is drawing young men who want to work as priests in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. The archbishop should be overjoyed by this. Instead, there is misplaced talk of solidarity with the other bishops. Instead of closing a successful institution because it might draw future priests away from other dioceses in Belgium or France, the bishops would do better by looking at what it is that makes the Fraternity work and adopt that in their own seminaries. There is a good chance that it is this what caused the Fraternity’s seminarians to choose the Fraternity over a diocesan seminary.

By this decision’s logic, I might add, the seminaries of the Neocatechumenal Way should also be closed. These also train seminarians from other countries to work in Belgium or whatever country they are sent to. They, too, should return to the seminaries of their home dioceses, out of solidarity with the bishops there…

Like I said, this is a puzzling decision. It could well be that the true reasons remain secret, and that there is much more going on. The Fraternity has in the past struggled with accepting and submitting themselves to episcopal authority, and that is indeed problematic. But if such problems lie at the root of this decision, let it then be said. If today’s press statement is true, it is evidence of serious short-sightedness on the part of the archbishop and the other bishops; if there is instead more going on, the statement is deceitful.

Lastly, it is hard not to see this as a slap in the face of the archbishop emeritus, André-Joseph Léonard, who lived with the Fraternity for a short while between his retirement and his departure for France. He brought them to Brussels, seeing them as an asset in the new evangelisation of the Belgian capital.

In Liège, Cardinal Maradiaga hints at a consistory and a red hat for Archbishop De Kesel

Maradiaga5

Visiting Liège for a conference on Monday, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (pictured above with Liège’s Bishop Jean-Pierre Delville), archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras and one of the members of the C9, the council of cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the Curia, hinted at a possible consistory for the creation of new cardinals to be either held or announced in November. He also suggested that among the new cardinals could be the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, but chances are that that was just inspired by the fact that Cardinal Maradiaga was speaking in Belgium. And while Archbishop De Kesel could theoretically be made a cardinal – many of his predecessors were (with the notable – and regrettable – exception of Archbishop Léonard) – Pope Francis’ eye is not automatically focussed on the old dioceses of Europe when it comes to handing out red hats…

Between now and the end of the year, seven cardinals will turn 80 and thus become unable to vote in a conclave. The number of electors is now 114 and will be 107 at the end of November. If a consistory is held sometime in February, as the previous two were, at least one and perhaps two more cardinals will have aged out, allowing Pope Francis to create up to 15 new cardinals to bring the number of electors back up to the maximum of 120.

The nine cardinals turning 80 between now and mid-February are:

  • William Levada, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 15 June.
  • Anthony Okogie, Archbishop emeritus of Lagos, on 16 June.
  • Antonio Rouco Varela, Archbishop emeritus of Madrid, on 24 August.
  • Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop emeritus of Havana, on 18 October.
  • Nicolás López Rodríguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo, on 31 October.
  • Ennio Antonelli, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family, on 18 November
  • Théodore-Adrien Sarr, Archbishop emeritus of Dakar, on 28 November.
  • Audrys Bačkis, Archbishop emeritus of Vilnius, on 1 February.
  • Raymundo Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida, on 15 February.

Of these, seven are retired, but it would be altogether too easy to expect their successors to be made cardinals after them ( and Cardinal Levada’s successor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Müller, already is one). Still, it would fit with Pope Francis’ focus on the periphery, the plight of refugees and the importance of families to make Archbishops Alfred Martins in Lagos, Juan García Rodríguez in Havana and Vincenzo Paglia in the Pontifical Council for the Family cardinals.

Dr. Heiner Koch, Erzbischof von BerlinIn addition to Archbishop De Kesel, there are some more possible candidates for a red hat in northwestern Europe. In Germany, Archbishop Heiner Koch (at right) of Berlin is one. Six of his predeccesors in the German capital were cardinals, and although elected by the cathedral chapter of Berlin, he was included on the list they chose from, which was okayed by Pope Francis. Another option, if a remote one, is Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, appointed by his fellow bishops to oversee the Church’s efforts in the refugee crisis, a topic close to Pope Francis’ heart. It would Hamburg’s  first red hat. I don’t foresee any new cardinals from other countries in the area. That said, anything’s possible, as Pope Francis has previously elevated cardinals from unlikely dioceses.

If Pope Francis creates any cardinals in this part of Europe, it would be a first. In his past two consistories he did make some German cardinals, but they were all either retired or working in Rome.

Photo credit: [1] Diocese of Liège, [2] Walter Wetzler

An archbishop’s first tempest

de keselLess then two months in, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel weathered his first true storm these past few days, as his comments about the freedom of Catholic hospitals to refuse performing euthanasia led to strong criticism, even from politicians.

In an interview last Saturday, the archbishop was asked what he thought about freedom of choice in matters of abortion and euthanasia. He answered:

“I can understand that someone with a secular view of life has no problems with it. But it is not evident from my faith. I think I am allowed to say that, and what’s more: I also think that we have the right, on an institutional level, to decide not to do it. I am thinking, for example, of our hospitals. You are not free to choose if there is only one option.”

Critics then accused Archbishop De Kesel of disregarding the law in Belgium and urging others, namely Catholic hospitals, to do the same. But others, among them politicians, lawyers and legal experts, soon countered that no such thing was the case. They pointed out that the law does not create a right to be euthanised or have an abortion performed. Institutions, parliamentary documents indicate, are free to refuse such life-ending measures within their walls. However, their obligation to offer all the necessary medical care available does include the option of referral to other institutions or persons who do offers euthanasia or abortion. This is problematic from a Catholic point of view, but that is not what the hubbub was about. Archbishop De Kesel was correct in his statement that institutions should be free to make the choice to not end the lives of their patients.

Even before his appointment to Brussels, Archbishop De Kesel has been criticised for his perceived lack of support for the Catholic doctrines regarding the sanctity of all life. At his installation, there were protesters in front of the cathedral emphasising just this.*

Some said that the archbishop should have used the occasion to say that no Catholic institution can offer to end a life, be it unborn or elderly (or otherwise deemed unsuited to live). And unequivocal statements like that remain necessary, especially in a society where euthanasia and abortion are considered normal medical procedures and even part of a person’s rights. On the other hand, it will not always be effective to do so. The interview in question focusses on the person of the archbishop, and his experiences and thoughts, rather than official Catholic teaching. Of course the latter gets a look in, and a bishop can’t go and deny or ignore it when it does, and Archbishop De Kesel doesn’t. He sheds his personal light on it, not that of the official magisterium. And more often than not, these two overlap (about priestly celibacy, for example, he says: “I am not opposed to celibacy. I think it can be very useful, and personally I have never had the idea that I was a loser or that I missed something because I am celibate. Married people also miss all kinds of things. It is simply a matter of choice”).

Of course, bishops and priests (and lay Catholics, for that matter) must take care not to keep the pendulum on the side of personal experiences and thoughts alone. In the end, a bishop has the duty to teach and communicate the faith that has been taught and communicated to him, regardless of what he personally thinks of it.

In the context of this question, it is clear that the Church opposes the killing of people, no matter the situation. That includes abortion and euthanasia. Persons or institutions calling themselves Catholic are obliged to uphold this. Archbishop De Kesel has said that they should be free to do so, and the law supports this. The Church does not oblige non-Catholics to follow her teachings (although she greatly hopes and desires for them do so).

Archbishop Jozef De Kesel is in the spotlight, now that he is the primus inter pares of the Belgian Church, and that can be both positive and negative. He is experiencing much the same things as his predecessor, Archbishop Léonard, when he took up the job.

*This makes me wonder: why are we always looking at prelates and other Church officials to vocally defend life, when it is clear what the Church teaches? Why only them and not us? Are we less Catholic? Are we somehow less obliged to uphold the sanctity of life? I think that if we take our own responsibility (and not just in these matters either) in defending our faith, we would soon discover the bishops and priests, that we now look towards with expectation, at our side.