For all or many – Pope Benedict enters the debate

Pope Benedict and Archbishop Zollitsch, during the former's visit to Germany last year.

In a fairly unprecedented move, Pope Benedict XVI interfered in the affairs of a local bishops’ conference earlier this month, when he wrote a letter (translation) to the German Bishops’ Conference via Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (and through them also to the other bishops of the entire German speaking area).

Like other conferences, the bishops of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein are  working on a new translation of the Roman Missal. Whereas the new English translation was launched last Advent, there are still many other languages awaiting new translations.

The issue that divides the German bishops and that prompted the pope to write a five-page letter, revolves around two words in the Eucharistic Prayer. The Latin, from which all translations are made, has the words “pro multis” to indicate for whom Jesus suffered and died. In the translations of the 1960s and 70s, this was rendered as “for all”, out of a wish to interpret the words in a way that would do most justice to the original. Or so translators thought. The Holy Father now indicates that this line of thought has since fallen out of favour and argues strongly against interpretative translations. Interpreting Scripture is one of the main tasks of the Church, but this should happen in the churches, by the bishops and the priests, not by the translators. Bishops and priests can react quickly and specifically to the needs to their specific faithful, whereas translations usually remain the same for years on end. Translation of Scripture and the canon of the Mass should therefore remain as literal as possible. “Pro multis”, then, should be translated as “for many”.

The letter goes into some detail about the questions that this change may give rise to, and also about the theological backgrounds of each choice. Although specifically directed at the German situation, the same arguments can and will be made in other countries, including the Netherlands, which still await a new translation.

Photo credit: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

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“A desperate push” – Holy Father corrects disobedient priests

Popes rarely correct specific groups of people during high-profile events, instead opting for private audiences or similar occasions. Pope Benedict XVI chose to do otherwise today,in his homily at the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. His intended audience? The priests from Austria, Belgium and other countries who have launched a ‘call to disobedience’ to the Church and her teachings:

“Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?

But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice. Nor must we forget: he was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.”

Thank you, Holy Father.

Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

The weak case of the disobedient priests

The disobedient actions of priests in Austria (there most visibly, but similar feelings are also present among clergy in other countries), who call for married priests, ordination of women and lay people ‘celebrating’ the Eucharist (a sheer impossibility, equal to, say,  having fish wait tables), has also spread to Belgium. From the Diocese of Bruges, to be exact. A manifest titled “Faithful have their say” (‘Gelovigen nemen het woord’) has by now been signed by several hundred people, among them 155 priests. The full text, along with the names of the priests who signed it, is available, in Dutch, here.

The seriousness of the blatant disobedience of these people to their faith, Church, faithful and bishop, is explained by theologian Stijn Van Den Bossche, in an article he wrote for Tertio:

“The manifest at least remains more careful, but because of that also vaguer than its Austrian compeer. It expresses the wish that formed ‘fellow faithful’ be allowed to ‘lead Sunday celebrations’. If that means lay people leading the Eucharist – as is proposed in Austria – this is not only forbidden to Catholic and Orthodox understanding, but it also results in an invalid sacrament – therefore we do not receive a sacrament there.”

The manifest itself expresses the concerns of its author(s) in the form of propositions to which they want answers (provided, I fear, that these answers suit their agenda). The problem that, they say, needs solving is the existence of parishes without priests, Masses on unsuitable hours and prayer services without Communion. While this ‘problem’ in itself already showcases the serious lack of understanding of such things as Holy Orders, the sacraments and the nature of Communion (the latter being not a right of ours), the proposed solutions, presented in the form of aforementioned propositions, are equally untenable.

Let’s go over the propositions one by one, and analyse them. It may seem that I am a bit strict in my definitions of the ‘rules’, so to speak, but for clarity’s sake, I think it’s good to present things as bare-bones as possible. That does not mean that exceptions and adaptations are not possible, but these do not change the rules, of course.

  1. We do not understand why the leadership of our local communities (such as parishes) is not entrusted to a man or woman, married or unmarried, professional or volunteer, who received the necessary formation. The innate nature of the priest is to be a shepherd, in name of the local bishop, of a set group of faithful. This is not just a purely administrative task or a job description given to a man in a clerical collar. Just like Jesus appointed twelve men (specifically men) to lead the developing Church, and gave them the means and abilities to do so because of their faith, so He still appoints men to do so. These men are ordained to be shepherds and to administer the sacraments. That is a core element of our faith and understanding of how God works among His people. The priests, once they are sent to a group of faithful to be their shepherd in the faith, do that 24-7. It’s not a job, so it’s not a question of being a volunteer or a professional. It goes beyond that: through his ordination, a priest is a priest forever. After all, ordination is a sacrament, and a sacrament is forever. It goes without saying that a priest must be an example to the faithful: he needs to practice what he preaches, so to speak. The Latin Church today asks her priests to be celibate, in order to fully devote their life to the Lord and His Church. There are exceptions, such as married Anglican clergy who convert and are later ordained as Catholic priests. But these are exceptions, which change nothing about the rule. In short, The Church established by Christ had a structure, a hierarchy, which she maintains to this day. That means that it is not a matter of simple appointing someone who was ‘formed properly’ to do the work of a priest, who is specifically tasked to lead an educate. Of course, there are such things as parish councils, but these work with the priests and do not, can not, replace him.
  2. We need dedicated shepherds. We do not understand why these fellow faithful cannot lead Sunday services. As already touched upon in the previous answer, a layman or -woman is unable to administer the sacraments. It really is as simple as that. God has chosen to work to specific people when it comes to the sacraments, thus providing structure and certainty. A layman can obviously lead a prayer service – any faithful can pray. He can also read from the Bible and speak about the faith. He can not consecrate or hear confession.
  3. In every living community we need liturgical leaders. We do not understand why – when there is no priest – a service of Word and Communion is not allowed.As far as I understand, this is allowed. But care must be taken that such services remain the exception and do not become the rule. The heart of our faith is the Eucharist: God who became man and saved us through His death and Resurrection. Because of this importance, the Church asks us to attend the Eucharist every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. A service of Word and Communion, despite the value of the Word and of receiving the Lord, does not fulfill this obligation. To pretend it does, is depriving the faithful of a valuable treasure.
  4. We do not understand why skilled laypeople and formed religious educators can not preach. We need the Word of God. We do. And we get it, every time we read our Bibles. But the context of the Mass is not the same as us reading our Bible at home. In the Mass, Christ is present: in the people, but certainly also in the priest and most of all in the Blessed Sacrament once consecrated.  We hear the Word of God in the readings, after which the priest exercises his shepherdly duties of interpretation, education and encouragement. In essence, because the priest is the alter Christus during the Mass, we hear Christ speak to us. A priest is formed and ordained to be able to do this. A priest can not sit back and let someone else discourse about hat he has just read. That would be negligent and deceptive, and possibly simply lazy.
  5. We do not understand why faithful of good will who remarried after a divorce have to be denied Communion. They are equally part of the community. True, but Communion is not a matter of being a community together. It is about being in communion with Christ. In Christ, we form a community. We cannot be a Christian community without Him. Marriage is a sacrament, and as I said above, sacraments are forever. The Church can’t pretend this is otherwise, and therefore can’t allow divorce or remarriage. This doesn’t change of people divorce and remarry all the same. From the position of the Church it is a pretense. This creates a barrier between the people involved and the community of faithful-in-Christ, the Church. The demand Communion anyway is to pretend there is no such barrier.
  6. We plead that, as soon as possible, both married men and woman are allowed to the priesthood. We, faithful, desperately need them. The necessity of priests is not in questions, but altering their identity, or pretending such identity exists, is not the answer. We would be lying to ourselves. As I wrote above, the nature of the priesthood is such that only men are called to it. It is the law of the Church that these men can best fulfill there priestly duties if they remain unmarried and celibate. And besides, the bishops of Belgium, or of any country, can’t change this, since the nature of the priesthood is not a local thing. It’s universal.

Questions about such matters are only understandable, and should be encouraged. Through questions we arrive at understanding, after all. But we must not stop at questioning others, but we must also question our motives when we want to change these things. Do I consider myself above the community, above the Church, above God? Our do I see myself as one who needs God and the community?

The priests who signed this manifest, however… Were these men not educated in seminary? Have they no idea of what they received at their ordination? Do they not know what their duties are to the people and the Church? Are they, I must wonder, their own little bishops and popes?

New, young and facing east

Another significant change in bishops in the German-speaking world. Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt in Austria has been succeed by (the rather impressively-named) Bishop-elect Ägidius Zsifkovics. At 46, Msgr. Zsifkovics is young for a bishop, but he has already made a career in the Church in Austria. He has been the general secretary of the Austrian bishops’ conference, and before that he worked as secretary of the late Bishop Stefan László, also of Eisenstadt. He is also said to have good contacts in the archiepiscopal staff in Vienna. As a representative of the Croat minority in eastern Austria, he also strongly favours good contacts with the countries to the east, possibly including the Orthodox Churches as well.

And the liberal ‘We Are Church’ movement does not like him, which is a change from Bishop Iby, who in recent months openly favoured the abolishment of celibacy for priests and other liberal classics.

What’s up in Austria?

A question that’s been popping up here and there, following a meeting between the Austrian bishops and representatives of the parish councils of Austria in Mariazell. First Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt says in an interview that the choice of celibacy should be made by every priests individually, and also that the ordination of women should be opened in the future. And then later Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, says he shares the concerns of the other bishops about these matters, although he does not endorse a change in Church discipline in these matters.

I think that, in the case of Bishop Iby, who is 75 and has already offered his resignation to the pope, it is the old guard talking. The pressure on the Austrian bishops from liberal groups to end mandatory celibacy for priests is said to be quite high. Certain bishops, formed and ordained in the tumultuous 60s, 70s and 80s, are only to keen to go along with that. Bishops and priests are, after all, still products of their time. It is the malformed ‘spirit of Vatican II’ at work. I have to wonder if these issues are truly on the minds of the faithful, though.

In the case of Cardinal Schönborn the situation is a bit different, I think. I find it hard to read the man; one moment he says things that are fully in line with a sensible faith, and the next he does or says something naive and inconsiderate. But on this issue we should understand him to speak as the chair of the Austrian bishops’ conference. As such he can’t do anything but recognise the concerns raised in that conference. He also added that he is “happy to be in a Church in which there is freedom of speech and opinion.” And that’s very true: contrary to the impression of some outside the Church, there is ample room for debate and discussion about all manner of topics. But at a certain point the time for debate is over and decisions need to be made and upheld. That too is part of the Catholic understanding of authority: bishops, priests and laity are free to question everything (after all, questions can lead to understanding), but there must also be a good understanding of who can decide and enforce what. Celibacy is not a dogmatic institution and can indeed be discussed (and who knows, it may even be (partly) abolished in the future), but Rome will have the final say on the matter. Not Bishop Iby or a ‘We Are Church’ group.

A source.

A note from Rome

Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ

The rapid response from the bishops’ conference on the sexual abuse cases has not gone unnoticed in Rome. Father Federico Lombardi SJ, chief of the Vatican press office, has released a note about how the cases are handled in the countries where they occurred: Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. He acknowledges the seriousness of the crimes against the victims, but also notes the necessity of finding solutions which are not limited solely to the Church, but rather to society as a whole. Without denying the reprehensibility of sexual abuse in ecclesiastical institutions, by priests and others, he rightly notes that these cases are not exclusive to the Church. A solution must therefore neither be sought exclusively by the Church.

My translation of Fr. Lombardi’s note is here.

Interview with Cardinal Schönborn

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. In the past weeks his visit to Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje has been the reason for criticism and, rumour has it, a private audience with the pope. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, last Friday, German Catholic news outlet Kath.net had an interview with the cardinal. He talks about his relationship with Christ, the past and future, the media and the Church, the Wagner affair, and indeed Medjugorje.

by Petra Knapp-Biermeier

Kath.net: Lord Cardinal, on 22 January you celebrate your 65th birthday, for which we heartily congratulate you. To start with a  ‘birthday question’, which takes us a bit into the realm of fantasy: it is the year 2020, you are celebrating your 75th birthday, and you are looking back on the past ten years. What is the best of these ten years? What of the things that you have achieved, experienced or overcome, pleases you?

Cardinal Schönborn: I have to be honest and say that I can’t answer that, since I can’t see into the future. Of course, I see tasks in my services to the diocese. I can only say: my wish for the coming years is simply that we will live ever more in faith, hope and love, that we will be connected to Christ, that many people will understand this faith, that many people will be open to the mercy and allow God to affect them. That is really all I can say. But I believe that that is the most important.

KATH.NET: In hard times, what has helped you to go on and look to the future without doubt?

Cardinal Schönborn: Always two things: my relationship with Christ and my friends. I believe that that is the essence. Recourse to Jesus is always truly affirming and supporting, to be  actively connected to Him, concretely in the Gospel, to His person, His words, to His life, particularly in the Eucharist, his presence in the tabernacle. The other thing is the invaluable gift of friendship that Jesus has established between Him and us, because He also wanted to be alive among us.

KATH.NET: Many people are open to God, but reject the Church as an institution. What do you say to them?

Cardinal Schönborn: I often and directly say: I was that you may have the same positive experience in the Church that I had. To that I usually add that I know that I can easily say that when you didn’t have such an experience yourself. But for me the Church has always been a home. I thank the Church for so very much and therefore I wish that others can have the same experience. I also ask them to remove preconceptions. The mistakes of the Church should admitted and be named. Jesus did the same towards His apostles, and the apostles did it in the gospels. They loyally wrote about the mistakes they made themselves. But we should also speak up when the Church has been done an injustice, when false preconceptions exist. We should know the history of the Church better. There are exceedingly false depictions of the crusades, the inquisition or the affairs around Galilei. These typical reproaches against the Church usually come from a very deep ignorance. We have the task to discredit and explain all preconceptions.

KATH.NET: Lord Cardinal, you have contributed to Church history – the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What changes or developments would you still like to see within the Church?

Cardinal Schönborn: The great new mission in Europe! That certainly is a great dream. Europe was initially evangelised in early Christian times, the apostolic times. The apostles travelled far. The Iro-Scottish monks were the second great missionary wave. The waves of evangelisation were also always waves of renewal. The great  monasticism reform of Cluny, followed by the reform of Citeaux with its enormous expansion with monasteries over all of Europe. With the growth of the cities came the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, who evangelised the growing urban population. That was followed by the great renewal of the Counter-Reformation. The 19th century, during the industrialisation, was also a  source of renewal in the Church. I hope we will see something similar in our time. But we don’t really control that – they are forces that come from inside, from the power of Heaven. Renewal must truly come from the power of God. But there are many signs that the Lord is also the Lord of history: if he told Abraham that He could bring the stones to live,  he can spring a new source of fervour for the gospel in Europe, where the faith has grown weak, through special mercies.

KATH.NET: In the last few days you have visited Pope Benedict XVI. Did you tell him about your positive impression of Medjugorje? Did he say anything about that?

Cardinal Schönborn: One usually doesn’t speak about audiences. But of course I can say this much: Medjugorje is a topic in Rome now, because of the publicity surrounding my pilgrimage. I reported about my impressions in Rome. And I trust that the Committee, which the Holy Father established to research the events at Medjugorje, will do god and responsible work, and the result will certainly be very positive. I am certain that they’ll be careful and sensitive about this phenomenon, which by now has attracted 30 million pilgrims and has given much good fruits, as well as many questions.

KATH.NET: Recently, the numbers of Church leavings were presented in Austria. From 40,654 leavings in 2008 to 53,215 in 2009 was a major increase. How do you see this development, what do you think is the reason for it, and how will the Church respond?

Cardinal Schönborn: There are some precise indications: The strong increase in Church leavings in the beginning of the year seems to have to do with the response to the appointment of a bishop and the Williamson affair and the strong reactions to those. But the fact that the leavings remained high throughout the year has, in our opinion, to do with the economic crisis. Many people have worries about their jobs. They simply save money were possible, and that directly affects the Church contributions. Sadly we have not succeeded to explain to contributing Catholics that, when they have financial problems, there are reductions possible. Many people pay their contribution without requesting a reduction or a partial payback – and that;s the end of the story.

KATH.NET: The Church has been confronted with the involvement of the media and lobbyists at the appointment of bishops. What do you think of this development? Should the Church respond to this pressure from outside, and how?

Cardinal Schönborn: That has always been the case. Even when I look at my own family history – I am the eighth bishop in my family -, what manner of tensions and conflict there were, for example on the baroque period. it’s a sign of life, that there is an interest in the bishop. If no one cared who would become a bishop, that would be a bad sign. The fact that many people were concerned about who became bishop is a sign that many people feel that the office of bishop is important in the Church. And of course there are ideological conflict surrounding the appointment of bishops.

If someone is said to be conservative, you may be sure that there will be protests from the media. But the person in question also has some influence. One can’t and shouldn’t avoid all conflicts, but many don’t exists until we cause them ourselves. But here we should look at the individual case. One thing is clear: the Church has long fought for the freedom to appoint her own bishops. She can’t and won’t renounce this freedom. The pope is free to appoint bishops. Of course it’s important that he receives good information so that the institutes that prepare they can work well and thoroughly. And I’m certain that they do this. But the local churches themselves also have responsibility, because Church law dictates that every bishops’ conference must forward a list of possible bishop candidates to Rome every three years. And every single bishop is similarly charged to send well-founded reports for the appointment of bishops to Rome. We have often neglected to do that in Austria.

KATH.NET: Thank you very much for this interview and good wishes and God’s blessing on your birthday!

Source