Archbishop Dolan explains the Vatican

In a recent blog post, Archbishop Timothy Dolan asks us to consider who we are blaming for the things we don’t like in the Church. Too often, ‘the Vatican’ is presented as issuing big bad doctrines and displaying an unwillingness to adapt to the times. The archbishop of New York explains how it really works.

I would think this is good summer reading for disobedient priests, subjective journalists and all others who are somehow active in the Church, but really seem to have no clue what that Church is.

Also available is my translation.

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“He got up from table … and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5)

Emotional scenes at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception yesterday. Emotional, but also poignant and important, as Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Boston’s Seán Cardinal O’Malley prostrated themselves before the bare altar before beginning a Liturgy of Lament and Repentance. Cardinal O’Malley is in Ireland as part of his work as one of the Apostolic Visitors appointed by the pope to investigate how the Irish Church can weather the abuse crisis.

Such a liturgy was called for in the pope’s letter to the Irish Catholics, to be held as part of the healing and reconciliation that is so needed to deal with the crisis. The liturgy is a public and visible statement of regret and sorrow at what has been in institutions of the Church and by people who belonged to her. As part of the liturgy, the archbishop and the cardinal washed the feet of eight victims of abuse, in a ritual similar to the washing of feet on Good Friday. The liturgy was planned in close cooperation with these victims, although others interrupted three times over the course of the ceremony. The congregation listened to all statements, planned and unplanned, quietly and responded with applause.

The liturgy is part of the Apostolic Visitation being made by Cardinal O’Malley and four other prelates of Irish descent – Archbishop Dolan of New York, Archbishop Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, formerly of Westminster.

Archbishop Martin spoke the following words about ‘the three silences’:

There are moments where silence and listening are more important than words and what we say.

What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious? I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered. I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours. Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way. I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent. I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives.

I can recognise the humiliation you suffered, the assault on your dignity and self-esteem, the fear and anxiety, the isolation and abandonment you experienced. I can listen to you tell me about your nightmares, your frustrations and your longing for a closure which may never come. I can imagine your anger at not being believed and of seeing others being cared for while you were left on your own.

I can try to imagine all those experiences but I know that it is only you who have had that experience. Whatever I imagine, what you experienced must be a thousand times worse.

I can express my sorrow, my sense of the wrong that was done to you. I think of how you were not heard or not believed and not comforted and supported.

I can ask myself how did this happen in the Church of Jesus Christ where as we heard in the Gospel children are presented to us as signs of the kingdom. How did we not see you in your suffering and abandonment?

The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese [of] Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility.

Someone once reminded me of the difference between on the one hand apologising or saying sorry and on the other hand asking forgiveness. I can bump into someone on the street and say “Sorry”. It can be meaningful or just an empty formula. When I say sorry I am in charge. When I ask forgiveness however I am no longer in charge, I am in the hands of the others. Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.

I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.

There is a time for silence. But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth.

There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent. Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.

All survivors are indebted to those who had the courage to speak out and let it be known what had happened and how they were treated. The Church in Dublin and worldwide and everyone here today is indebted to them. Some of you in your hurt and your disgust will have rejected the Church that you had once loved, but paradoxically your abandonment may have helped purify the Church through challenging it to face the truth, to move out of denial, to recognise the evil that was done and the hurt that was caused.

The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out. The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not with designer soap but with a fire that burns and hurts and lances.

Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered. I appeal to you to continue to speak out. There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.

There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon. It is the silence of the cross. I was asked who should preside at this liturgy. My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ. We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us. It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.

The final moments before the death of Jesus were marked by darkness and silence. That silence is broken by the words of Jesus: He forgives those who kill him. He also brings forgiveness and new life to one of the thieves who surround him. But that forgiveness is not cheap forgiveness. One thief mocked Jesus; he did not recognise that act of injustice that was being carried out. The other recognised his own guilt and that recognition opened the door to forgiveness. No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.

The silence of Jesus on the cross is again interrupted by his prayer of abandonment: “My God why have you forsaken me?” It is the prayer that so many survivors must have made their own as they journeyed with the torment of hurt which for many years they could not share and which haunted them day after day, from their childhood and into adult life.

But Jesus faces that abandonment and finally hands himself over to the Father bringing his self-giving love to the utmost moment of giving his own life in love. That opened the door to newness of life.

We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.

This afternoon is only a first step. It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. It will always bear this wound within it. The Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be.

Cardinal O’Malley made the following remarks:

My brothers and sisters, I am very grateful for this opportunity to be with you today and to take part in such a moving service of reparation and hope. I am especially thankful to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, for his care for the Church in Ireland and for inviting me to be part of this Visitation.

On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the Church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome, the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse. Publicly atoning for the Church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions – and inactions – gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.

The O’Malleys hail from County Mayo, a part of Ireland that was hallowed by St. Patrick’s ministry there. They tell the story of a dramatic conversion of an Irish chieftain by the name of Ossian. A huge crowd assembled in a field to witness his baptism. St. Patrick arrived in his Bishop’s vestments with his miter and staff. St. Patrick stuck his staff in the ground and began to preach a long sermon on the Catholic faith. The people noted that Ossian, who was standing directly in front of St. Patrick, began to sweat profusely, he grew pale and fainted dead away. Some people rushed over to help and they discovered to everyone’s horror that St. Patrick had driven his staff through the man’s foot.

When they were able to revive Ossian they said to him, “Why did you not say something?” And the fierce warrior replied, “I thought that it was part of the ceremony.”

The warrior did not understand too much about liturgy and rituals, but he did understand that discipleship is often difficult. It means carrying the Cross. It is a costly grace and often we fall down on the job.

Jesus teaches us about His love in the Parable of the Good Samaritan where in a certain sense the Samaritan represents Christ, who is so moved to compassion by the sight of the man left half dead on the road to Jericho. The innocent victim of the crime is abandoned by all. The priests and levites turn their back on him, the police fail to protect him, the innkeeper profits from the tragedy. It is Christ who identifies with the man who is suffering and showers compassion on him.

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy. Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel. He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse. The Parable ends with injunction; “Go and do likewise!”; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused.

We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

We have no doubt of Jesus’ compassion and love for the survivors even when they feel unloved, rejected, or disgraced. Our desire is that our Church reflect that love and concern for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families and be tireless in assuring the protection of children in our Church and in society.

From my own experience in several dioceses with the tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors I see that your wounds are a source of profound distress. Many survivors have struggled with addictions. Others have experienced greatly damaged relationships with parents, spouses and children. The suffering of families has been a terrible and very serious effect of the abuse. Some of you have even suffered the tragedy of a loved one having taken their own life because of the abuse perpetrated on them. The deaths of these beloved children of God weigh heavily on our hearts.

The wounds carried in Ireland as a result of this evil are deep and remind us of the wounds of the body of Christ. We think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he experienced his own crisis. He, too, was overwhelmed with sorrow, betrayed and abandoned. Not only survivors of abuse and their family members, but many of the faithful and clergy throughout Ireland can echo our Lord’s plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But today, through the saving power of the Cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future. We come together to bind up the wounds we carry as a result of this crisis and to join in prayer for healing, reconciliation and renewed unity.

Based on the experience I have had with this Visitation, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the Church here to respond to the crisis in a way that will build a holier Church, that strives to be more humble even as it grows stronger. While we have understandably heard much anger and learned of much suffering, we have also witnessed a sincere desire to strengthen and rebuild the Church here. We have seen that there is a vast resource, a reservoir of faith and a genuine desire to work for reconciliation and renewal.

During the course of many meetings, I have been blessed to hear from many survivors and their families, lay women and men and religious and clergy who seek reconciliation and healing. Today’s service, which survivors so generously assisted in planning and are participating in, gives testimony to the longing of so many to rebuild and renew this Archdiocese and the Church throughout Ireland.

Just as the Irish people persevered and preserved the faith when it was endangered, and carried it to many other countries, the commitment to sustain the faith provides the opportunity for the hard lessons of the crisis to benefit the Church in our quest to do penance for the sins of the past and to do everything possible to protect children in the present and in the future.

I would like to conclude my remarks by sharing another parable with you that further illustrates the demands of the Great Commandment which contains the whole Law and the prophets. The Japanese tell the story of a man who lived in a beautiful home on the top of a mountain. Each day he took a walk in his garden and looked out at the sea below. One day he spotted a tsunami on the horizon coming toward the shore and then he noticed a group of his neighbors having a picnic on the beach. The man was anxious to warn his neighbors, he shouted and waved his arms. But they were too far off, they could not hear nor see him. So the man set fire to his house. When the neighbors on the beach saw the smoke and flames some said let us climb the mountain to help our friend save his home. Others said: “That mountain is so high and we’re having such fun, you go.” Well, the ones who climbed the mountain to save their neighbor’s home were themselves saved. Those who remained on the beach having fun perished when the tidal wave hit the shore.

The Gospel of Christ is about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope and salvation. The burning house on the top of the hill is the Cross, and it is the suffering of all those children who experienced abuse.

Climbing the mountain, we are not doing God a favor, we are saving our souls.

Photo credit: [1] RTE News, [2] John Mc Elroy, [3] Daily Mail

How bishops can use social media

The American bishops have collectively given a prime example of how prelates can use social media  such as Twitter to inform and involve their audience and flock (which is not always the same thing). They have been meeting to elect, among others, a new chairman to succeed Francis Cardinal George, and as the voting progressed, the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has been using its Twitter account to immediately share the results. It brings the goings-on to live in a way that very few Church organs have managed to do. Blogging priests and bishops (few as they are) do it, but the impulse of an official organisation active in social media is not to be dismissed out of hand.

The Church in the United States is important in that it has a relatively strong media presence, both on the Internet and outside it. In the west especially, its bishops will be the standard bearers of a Church and a faith that continues to be marginalised, by the actions of others or itself. Who gets to lead this flock of prelates is therefore fairly influential, and it is good to see that popular, sensible and orthodox Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York won the vote for president. His election is radical in that the vote usually goes to the sitting vice-president. That would have been, in this case, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, who has been criticised in orthodox blogs for both his perceived liberal thoughts and his handling of the case of a priest who ended up abusing a number of boys.

Five big names to investigate Ireland

The Vatican announced today that the apostolic visitation of certain dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations in Ireland will commence this autumn. Pope Benedict XVI had announced this visitation earlier in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. And he is not sending the least to do the actual investigation into how the highest ranks of the Irish Church behaved when faced with sexual abuse under their jurisdiction.

The four metropolitan archdioceses of Ireland – Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam – are first on the list. Each of the archdioceses has a principal visitor named. To Armagh will go Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, emeritus archbishop of Westminster. To Dublin Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. To Cashel and Emly Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, and to Tuam Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa. Furthermore, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is named the apostolic visitor to the seminaries and houses of formation, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

A group of five heavy-hitters, mostly from the new world, some experienced (Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and O’Malley) some very much up and coming (Archbishop Dolan) and some experienced mediamen (Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Prendergast are both active bloggers, for example).

Of their goals, the press release says:

“Through this visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

“The apostolic visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical ‘Motu Proprio’ ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ and the norms contained in ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland’, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.”

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor
Sean Cardinal O'Malley
Archbishop Thomas Collins
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
Archbishop Timothy Dolan

The digital continent

I’ve been struck lately by how accurate Pope Benedict XVI was when he spoke of a ‘digital continent’ in his Message for World Communications Day. Certainly when using means of modern communication, especially blogs, social networks, podcasts and the like, we are not bound by any geographical borders. Looking at my own blog I find posts which correspond with locations all over the map: Groningen, New York, Brussels, the UK, Rome, Haarlem, Malaysia, Rotterdam, Haiti, Den Bosch, Medjugorje, The Hague… And that’s just this month.

The sense of being part of the Catholic Church is no longer mostly dictated by the parish or diocese one happens to live in. Of course, both remain important, since they are the ‘cells’ that the world Church is made of. But when active on the digital continent, it doesn’t matter if a topic or an idea hails from one part of the globe or another. As long as there is a means of communication, faithful all over the world can share and discuss things. And I think that is development that should be encouraged.

In addition to the formation, education and celebration of the faith that parishes and dioceses must offer, the Church must also be present on the digital continent. It is too good an opportunity to ignore. Example: Archbishop’s Dolan message about the Sunday. Written for the faithful in his own archdiocese, but it’s a topic valid all over the world, and a message especially necessary in the secularised west. Many people read it, and they should. The very same goes for the messages that the pope sends out into the world. He doesn’t just address the people gathered at St Peter’s Square, but all the faithful.

In my own personal experience, I am a part of my parish, my diocese and of the world Church. And I consider it very important to make use of all that those three levels have to offer. If I had to draw a network with myself in the middle, the web would include fellow parishioners, my parish priest, my bishop, fellow Catholics across the country, prelates in Rome and across the world, bloggers everywhere. They are part of my digital continent. A message from the pope or a foreign prelate deserves as much attention as one of my own bishop (depending on the topic, of course).

I think the Church is wise to invest in that digital continent. She can offer means for faithful, priests and bishops to reach out to the greater flock, without losing sight of the responsibility for their own specific part of the flock, of course. That investment is already becoming visible here and there, and in many ways it is built from the ground up, by individual faithful who use blogs and social network to comment and share news with the world. News that goes both ways: from local levels out to the world, and from the world down to the individual.

Here’s to hoping that the trend will continue, to bear fruit in and out of the Church.

Archbishop Dolan on Sunday

In his blog, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has published his first message for St. Patrick’s Day. He takes the opportunity to write extensively about the Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Departing from the Jewish Sabbath, Archbishop Dolan goes into much detail about the Sunday being the visible sign of the covenant between God and man, a covenant, he says, which is the very reason of creation. A highly recommended read and, yes, it is also available in Dutch.

Archbishop Dolan, pictured here after his installation last year, is pastoral, charismatic, orthodox and very popular.

Cardinals according to John Allen

In the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen shines his light on future cardinals. He writes and creates the following list:

• Archbishop Paolo Romeo, Palermo, Italy
• Archbishop Giuseppe Bettori, Florence, Italy
• Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Brussels, Belgium
• Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Westminster, Great Britain
• Archbishop Timothy Dolan, New York
• Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Washington, D.C.
• Archbishop Orani João Tempesta, Rio de Janiero, Brazil
• Archbishop Braulio Rodríguez Plaza, Toledo, Spain
• Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, Valencia, Spain
• Archbishop Juan José Asenjo Pelegrina, Seville, Spain
• Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, Bangkok, Thailand
• Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, Ha Noi, Vietnam
• Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
• Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz, Warsaw, Poland
Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk, Utrecht, The Netherlands
• Archbishop Reinhard Marx, Munich and Freising, Germany

There’s also a slew of Vatican officials in a holding pattern to join the College of Cardinals, including:

• Archbishop Angelo Amato, Congregation for the Causes of Saints
• Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
• Archbishop Raymond Burke, Apostolic Signatura
• Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, Apostolic Penitentiary
• Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, Pontifical Council for Culture
• Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples
• Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
• Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls

There is not much overlap with the list I created here, although that can be said to be due to the fact that I took the next two years in consideration, while Allen focusses solely on this year. Still, Archbishop Eijk is among them, as is the new archbishop of Brussels, Msgr. Léonard, and he mentions the possibility of new cardinals in African sees, like I did when I pondered the possibility of a new cardinal from Cameroon.

Allen’s list is a very western affair, with many cardinals from Europe or North America. Traditionally, Europe is the place where important members of the curia come from, of course, so perhaps the lack of African and Asian prelates is due to the fact that the current cardinals from there are still so relatively new (elevated by Pope John Paul II) that they’re not too close to retirement yet.

I have some reservations about Allen’s list, though. Both archbishops Eijk and Léonard are new enough that they could be kept waiting a while (Léonard is not even installed as archbishop yet), and the same may be said for Archbishops Nichols, Dolan, Marx and Burke. However, we will undoubtedly see in due time, quite possibly somewhere before the end of the year.