Meetings in Rome, and some thoughts about blogging bishops

hendriks paus franciscusThe Netherlands is a fairly small country, and the Catholic Church in this country is, relatively speaking, even smaller. So when a Dutch bishop or two visit Rome and meet with the Pope, it is interesting enough to mention here. But that’s not the only reason, of course…

This week, Bishops Jan Hendriks and Theodorus Hoogenboom visited the Eternal City to discuss the plight of diocesan religious institutes who no longer have enough members to supply their own superior, economist or council members. For that purpose they met with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Bishop Hendriks writes about the visit on his personal website.

Bishop Hendriks also attended Wednesday’s General Audience (where the photo above was taken) and shares an anecdote about a meeting with a Nigerian cardinal:

“Among others, I spoke with Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, who was in Rome for a congress on the meaning and the role of women, with participants from various world religions. He had been well acquainted with the former bishop of Haarlem, Msgr. Hennie Bomers CM, who died suddenly in 1998, shortly after a visit to Nigeria where he had ordained fellow Lazarist brothers. The cardinal had good memories of the bishop’s house in Haarlem, where he had stayed in the past. I didn’t tell him we are busy selling the building…”

Bishop Hendriks is the sole blogging bishop in the Netherlands (although several other bishops regularly contribute articles and texts to various media and their diocese’s websites), and I think his is an example that deserves more following. It is good to know what our bishops are doing, to counter the unwanted image of secrecy that, in my opinion, the bishops’ conference still has. We know they meet monthly, but what they discuss remains a secret. I’m not suggesting we should all receive detailed reports of their discussions (Bishop Hendriks also supplies none, but he does explain what the meeting in Rome was about), but more openness, certainly in the personal medium of a blog or piece on a website, could help making us faithful feel more involved in their daily affairs and more understanding when difficult decisions need to be made, such as in cases of parish mergers and church closings.

Of course, a blog is not for everyone. Neither is a social media presence. But generally speaking, there is still so much to gain in the new media for our bishops. The Internet has penetrated in every layer of society and few are the people who never come into contact with it. More and more people get their news from the web first, and opinion is everywhere. As the chief shepherds of our local Church and the visible representatives of the world wide Church that they are, the bishops must also be there. Blog posts, the personal element of a social media presence, can be a great asset in that.

New words and a ministry of mercy – Bishop de Korte on the Synod

My own bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, has also released a short statement about the Synod. His hopes and expectations are realistic and, I think, what we should expect from the Synod. Bishop de Korte holds the portfolio for Church and society in the bishops’ conference.

mgr_de_Korte3“In the media there has, rightly, been much attention for the tension between current Church teachings about sexuality, marriage and the family, and the concrete realities of stubborn life. For many modern Catholics much of the teaching about marriage and family have become incomprehensible and petrified.

That is why I very much hope that the Synod will choose a third way. Not a repetition of words which no longer express anything, but neither an adaptation to modern liberal culture. It will have to be about putting the Catholic wisdom about marriage and family into comprehensible words. For without a clear teaching which is near to life, many (young) Catholics receive no spiritual guidance in the fields of sexuality and forming families. They very easily go along with the ethics as shown in movies, video clips and soap operas. Those are often ethics of brief pleasure and fleeting relationships. The Church faces the challenge of speaking clearly about the importance of faithful love, especially for the happiness of people. Within marriage the Golden Rule is of great import: treat your neighbour as you would want to be treated.

The Synod will undoubtedly maintain the indissolubility of marriage. The teaching of Christ on this point is clear. Marriage is a covenant for life: not a temporary contract. But we can’t close our eyes to the enormous marriage crisis in our modern (western)  world. In our country one in every three marriages ends in divorce. Against that background the Synod will probably and rightly plead for a more intense marriage preparation.

For the many people who fail in marital fidelity the Synod will hopefully choose a ‘ministry of mercy’. Like the youngest son in the parable, God is also a father for people who divorce, a father who watches for and embraces with unconditional love. That may hopefully be a source of comfort for people in a relationship crisis. God remains faithful, also for failing and sinful people.”

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte

Court steps in: more time for victims of abuse to come forward

rechtbankFor the first time, a civil court has ordered a practical change in how the Church handles the abuse crisis in the Netherlands. The deadline for reporting past abuses by perpetrators who are either deceased or which happened too long ago to be pursued by a court of law, originally set for 1 July 2014, needs to be extended to at least the first of May of 2015. This, the Judge decided, better reflects the deadlines used in neighbouring countries and is a reflection of the sometimes decades-long silence kept by the victims for reasons of fear, shame or the denial of Church authorities. The court stated that setting a deadline is, in itself, justified, but in this case the Church did not adequately involve the interests of all parties involved. The Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious should have realised better that the reporting abuse was often a very big and difficult step to take for the victims. The court felt that this was not properly respected in setting the original deadline.

The decision is the result of proceedings started by five women and the Vrouwenplatform Kerkelijk Kindermisbruik (Women’s platform of child abuse in the Church) who felt that the Church did not offer enough time for victims of physical abuse, especially women, to report their cases. The court agreed with this, stating that the period of 2 year and 8 months that cases could be reported was too short. Three years and six months is a reasonable period, the judge decided.

The bishops and religious abide with the decision of the court and will look into ways of implementing it.

The bigger question – Bishop Mutsaerts on the Synod

The Dutch bishops have not yet spoken much in public about the upcoming Synod, but today Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch, does. And he makes a point that has been emphasised before by both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke: the Synod is not about divorce, remarriage and admission to the Eucharist. The question is a bigger one, as Bishop Mutsaerts explains:

Bisschop Rob Mutsaerts“With the extraordinary Synod of the Family which opens on 5 October, Pope Francis mostly aims for a greater appreciation of the Christian marriage as a sacrament. It is clear that in today’s culture the Biblical vision on marriage and family is considered to be virtually unattainable, and is seen more as a burden than as good news. Perhaps that is the reason for Pope Francis to have scheduled the beatification of Paul VI at the end of the Synod, as a closing statement.

Paul VI was a staunch defender of Christian marriage. His famed and infamous encyclical Humanae Vitae, however, achieved the opposite according to public opinion. The Biblical ideal was almost completely forgotten. It is to be hoped that October’s  Synod will not result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. Expectations, after all, are high. Some fervently hope that the Pope will change the Church’s teaching about divorced and remarried people; others fear he will. That would result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. And that is exactly what Pope Francis is afraid of: “I have not been happy that so many people – even church people, priests – have said: “Ah, the Synod will be about giving communion to the divorced”, and went straight to that point”, the Pope told reporters on the return flight from Israel.

The questions is much broader. The family is in crisis. Young people rarely choose marriage. They choose others ways of living together. The family is in crisis because marriage is in crisis, according to the firm opinion of Francis.

I hope that the Pope will get the Synod he has in mind, and not the Synod which is mainly concerned with the single question of divorced and remarried faithful. That is certainly a genuine problem, but a far more complex problem lies at its root: few understand marriage as a Christian vocation, strengthened by sacramental mercy. Not without reason did the Pope give  it “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelisation” as title, and he placed it as such emphatically within the context of evangelisation. Evangelisation is without meaning if we consider it without the Gospel. The words of Jesus to both the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery was hard to accept for those who heard it then and those who hear it now. Don’t forget that the Apostles thought that Jesus’ teachings about marriage were so difficult that it would be better not to marry. If the Synod is true to the Gospel – can she be otherwise? – she can expect the same response, and it will be her duty to inspire confidence that the Christian marriage is still recommendable.

Pope Francis is keen to emphasise that Christian marriage is a sacrament. Much of the confusion surrounding marriage and divorce arises when we lose sight of the fact that marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is not indissoluble because two people make a promise for life. The Church can dispense people from their promises. That is een true for the vows of religious. But the Church can’t undo a sacrament. Marriage is indissoluble for the same reason that we have tabernacles: a consecrated host can’t be ‘deconsecrated’, just like Baptism or the ordination of a priest can’t be undone. Even a priest who has ben laicised remains a priest, even though he can’t exercise the office of priest (although he can hear confessions in emergencies). Nobody, no Synod and also no Pope, can undo a valid sacrament. That’s simply how it is. We shouldn’t therefore expect a relaxation of rules regarding divorced and remarried people in regard to their receiving Holy Communion. Those who do expect this will be disappointed from the outset.

Most Catholics are unaware of the sacramental character of their marriage. Marriage, by the way, is the only of the seven sacrament which is not administered by a priest or deacon, but by lay people, by husband and wife when they say yes to each other. This is the sacrament that gives strength and mercy to be able to keep promises. That is what it is about for the Pope.”

Learning how to bishop – Bishop Oster in Rome

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau shares the photo below on his Facebook page. Germany’s youngest ordinary met Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Archbishop Georg Gänswein over lunch yesterday and brings back the retired pontiff’s heartfelt greetings and promises of prayer to Passau, the diocese in which Benedict was born in 1927.
oster benedict gänswein

Bishop Oster is in Rome as part of the annual “training course” for new bishops who were appointed in the past year. With him from Germany are Archbishop Stephan Burger and Bishop Michael Gerber from Freiburg, Bishop Ansgar Puff from Cologne, and Bishop Herwig Gössl from Bamberg (pictured below while attending one of the seminars earlier this week).

gerber, burger, oster, puff, gössl

The training week is organised by Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s  Congregation for Bishops, and is attended by some 130 bishops from across the globe. Various cardinals and other Curia members offered seminars on such topics as the Church’s social teaching (Cardinal Turkson), the spirituality of bishops (Cardinal Amato) and the workings of the Synod of Bishops (Cardinal Baldisseri), the reforms of the Curia (Cardinal Ouellet), and finances (Cardinal Pell), but they also heard the sobering stories of bishops from Iraq and Syria. The ten days of the training is, as Bishop Oster says, also a time of reflection, prayer and community and will be closed tomorrow with an audience with Pope Francis.

From six to one – the seminary question in the Netherlands

rector_BrugginkThe old debate about the number of seminaries in the Netherlands was restarted this week as the rectors of two of them – Fathers Jan Vries of Rolduc (Diocese of Roermond) and Gerard Bruggink (pictured at right) of the Tiltenberg (D. of Haarlem-Amsterdam) – both suggested that the Church in this country would be better served by having a single seminary for the entire Province, instead of the six that exist now.

Every Dutch diocese, except for Groningen-Leeuwarden, maintains its own seminary, although there is cooperation to a certain extent: professors and teachers often work at more than one seminary, and the one in the Diocese of Breda, Bovendonk, is specifically geared towards seminarians who begin their studies and formation later in life, next to a job. Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam send their seminarians, for their entire study or part of it, to Haarlem-Amsterdan, Utrecht or Bovendonk. In addition to this, the Neocatechumenal Way maintains two seminaries in the Netherlands and sends its students for several courses to either Rolduc or the Tiltenberg.

All in all, there are 76 fulltime seminarians studying at the several seminaries in the Netherlands, of whom 49 come from abroad. They are generally part of the Neocatechumenal Way. There are also another 11 parttime seminarians, who study next to their day job.

Huis%202%20klMost seminary rectors are in favour of merging the existing seminaries into one or two. Father Patrick Kuipers of the recently re-established Ariëns Institute (seminary building pictured at left), Archdiocese of Utrecht, says, “Personally, I am very much in favour of it. I think that the group of seminarians in the Netherlands is too small to be spread out over five or six institutes.” He thinks a group of 25 would be ideal, because that would form a true community. Father Norbert Schnell, of Bovendonk, relates that German colleagues say that 20 seminarians is the minimum required.

Fr. Bruggink wonders if it is even possible to maintain two seminarians, one according to the proper seminary model in which all education taking place in-house, and another following the convict model, in which some or all academic training takes place at a university of polytechnic. “I am very much in favour of maintaining the seminary format, if need be next to the convict form. Intellectual, pastoral and personal formation together with spiritual formation in one house, in one whole, is, I think, necessary for the future. I think that young people are attracted to that instead of the current fragmentation.”

There are practical considerations which all boil down to one thing: can the Dutch Church continue to support these five or six separate institutes into the future? The financial side of this is not the least, as the Church is not supported in any way but by the faithful. It is they who, ultimately need to support whatever structure of seminary education the bishops wish to maintain.

And, as all seminary rectors stress, it is with the bishops that the ball lies. Fr. Kuipers says, “I discussed it several times with Cardinal Eijk, who is responsible in the bishops’ conference for the seminaries. But that is all. The question is to what extent the bishops can let go of their own seminaries.” Fr. Vries of Rolduc simlarly states, “We can toss ideas about, but it’s the bishops who must hold the talks.”

sint-janscentrumOdd one out among the rectors is Fr. Filip De Rycke of the St. John’s Centre in Den Bosch. He admits that “sharing” teachers is a burden on people and that a larger group of students is better. But he also looks to Flanders, where all dioceses, apart from Bruges, joined forces. There is no outpouring of vocations there either, he states.

Deciding in favour of only one or two seminaries for the Church in the Netherlands would, in my opinion, have positive effects in several areas. It would allow for the formation of true communities which in turn would attract more prospective seminarians, and resources may be bundled: financially and in manpower (thus eliminating the concern that Fr. De Rycke mentions). Expertise is more effective when concentrated and communities form their members when they can actually be communities.

I hope that this question is picked up by the bishops, and that they are able to look at the bigger picture of the future of the Church in the Netherlands. We need priests and priests need the best formation and education on offer.

When suddenly… a new Missal translation

missalAnd so, on an August afternoon last week, the Dutch bishops announced the first fruits of a 2001 request from Rome to realise a new, more accurate translation of the Roman Missal. The process has long been in apparent limbo, although work must have progressed behind the scenes. There was little way of knowing it did, though, and as late as February of 2012, Cardinal Eijk stated that a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer – to be the same in both the Netherlands and Flanders, as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments desired – would still be a long way off. But the differences are now overcome, and the Congregation gave its permission for use and publication on 10 June of this year. The bishops are still to announce exactly when the new texts may be used in the Churches.

As the process took so long and information about progress was so scant, there are still many questions. How exactly will the changes be introduced? Will the faithful simply be presented with a fact, or will there be suitable catechesis? Looking at a similar effort – the new English translation of the Missal –  and some of the initial responses to the new text of the Lord’s Prayer, the need for catechesis seems obvious. It is perhaps a characteristic of the Dutch mentality that any change is looked upon with suspicion. What’s more, in matters of faith, one’s own feelings and experience of the new is contrasted with what is known, and the known is usually clung to. “I am going to keep praying the Our Father in my own words, because that’s  the way I like it.” With a change of this kind, people not only need to know the reason for it, but also the reasons of these texts, in whatever translation, in the first place. Why do we pray the Our Father? Why does the Mass have the structure it has? Why use one word and not the other?

Words convey meaning, obviously. The words we use in prayer reflect the faith we have, and in that sense it goes both ways: we address God, but the words we utter also teach us. Words, the Word, is central to our faith. Christ speaks to us in the Gospel, the liturgy and even our own prayers, and what He tells us must be translated well. Translation can’t muddle up the original meaning. It’s too important for that.

I hope that the announcement of the new translation, as well as the publication of a first “small Missal” is a first step that is followed by a program of catechesis and education about the word we use and their meaning.

prayerThe Lord’s Prayer has existed for decades in both a Dutch and Flemish translation which differed in various places. These differences are by now ingrained in the collective consciousness of the faithful, so finding acceptable changes was a long and slow process. Not only did the new translation need to be more faithful to the Latin source, but it also needed to remain understandable. The words and passages that were the same in both versions were not changed, but the differences were. Here follows a brief look at what was changed. I’m offering English equivalents of the relevant Dutch translations, so this overview serves more as an explanation of the problems and their solutions, and not as an accurate reflection of the text.

The Latin text is as follows:

Pater noster qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum;
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus
debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a malo.

1. in caelis: In the Dutch version this was translated as in heaven, while the Flemish used in the heavens. The plural used in Flanders is more accurate, but was deemed to be archaic. The Willibrord translation of the Bible also generally uses heaven in the singular, and this translation is most often used in the Mass. The choice was made to retain heaven in the singular.

2. sanctificetur nomen tuum: Translated as Your name be holy (or hallowed) in The Netherlands and Holy (or hallowed) be Your name in Flanders. The version of the Netherlands was retained in order to retain the structure of the first three supplications of the prayer, which all end with verbs (hallowed, come, done).

3. sicut in caelo, et in terra: Here the issue centered around the word as (sicut). The Netherlands use zoals, while Flanders uses als. Both words are close in meaning, with zoals something like like as, and als meaning as. The word sicut appears twice in the text and is translated the same both times in the Dutch and differently in the Flemish text. The choice was made for zoals, to keep both instances of the word the same in translation.

4. dimitte nobis debita nostra: Translated as Forgive us our trespass/mistake/guilt (singular) in the Netherlands and Forgive us our trespasses (plural) in Flanders. Debita is also plural, so the choice was made to retain the Flemish translation.

5. sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris: Here the translations differed significantly. The Netherlands had As we forgive others their trespassing, while Flanders used As we forgive our debtors. As mentioned above, sicut was translated zoals. The Netherlands translations translates the noun debitores with a description (others who trespass), while the Flemish also employ a noun (debtor, albeit not strictly in the financial sense). For this reason, and although the equivalent of debtor in this meaning is not very common in Dutch, the Flemish version was retained.

6. et ne nos inducas in tentationem: Here, no difference existed between the Dutch and Flemish versions: And lead us not into temptation. The reason to nonetheless change this lies in the Greek source text of the Gospels in which the Lord’s Prayer comes to us. A more correct translation of tentationem is not so much temptation as it is today generally understood, but with the added meaning of being put to the test. The old translation also seems to imply that it is God doing the tempting, while we ask Him not to lead us into it. This is incorrect, as we, for example learn from James 1:13: “Nobody, when he finds himself tempted, should say, I am being tempted by God. God may threaten us with evil, but he does not himself tempt anyone.” The new translation uses the Dutch beproeving, which may be translated as test, but also as ordeal or tribulation.