Further developments around Reusel

The case in Reusel of the local priest denying communion to the openly homosexual carnival prince of the village continues to stir up the blogosphere. In Dutch, both Frank Meijneke and Father Cor Mennen comment on it. The original news item was even picked up internationally by LifeSiteNews and commented upon by the iPadre, Father Jay Finelli. In local news media, sadly, various dissident Catholics, such as former abbot Ton Baeten, criticise Father Buyens for his actions. But that was not unexpected. In orthodox circles, developments are sometimes reconsidered good because these people are against them.

The announced protests by homosexual organisations at the church in Reusel on Sunday did not fully materialise, luckily. Some people did show up, and others attended the Mass in protest. They handed out pink triangles to parishioners. Some politely returned them, others enthusiastically accepted.

Fearing a demonstrative refusal of the communion by people who attended Mass in protest (something for which the Body of Christ may never be used), Father Buyens decided to not distribute Communion at all. A sad but necessary decision to protect the Blessed Sacrament against possible profanation.

Translating from Frank Meijneke’s article linked to above:

“Receiving Holy Communion is seen as a right, which has led to the humble realisation of the gift of grace falling out of sight. […] [H]e who consciously denies God’s approach in an act of ‘protest’ does not deny the priest and not even the Church, but God Himself. With such an attitude it is of course not proper to receive the Body of the Lord as long as the relationship with God has not been repaired.”

And Father Mennen:

“It is disgusting to have to read in the newspaper how people speak about communion as “giving a host”, as if it is a piece of candy that everyone in the building has a right to receive.”

The latest news is now that the protesters, or possible a handful of instigators, plans to go to the cathedral of St. John the Baptist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch next Sunday. Why there? Because the next televised Mass will be broadcast from there…

The influence of blogs

A combination of several things I read today made me think about how influential blogs are, especially Catholic blogs.

Father Z writes this blog post about priest bloggers and the issue of influence is discussed further in the comments. A certain Dutch blogger seems to think she is important enough to have caused the temporary closure of the website of the diocese of Rotterdam. Schoppenkoning concluded a month ago that we bloggers are really not as important and influential as we would like to think. In his Message for World Communications Day Pope Benedict XVI encourages priests to make use of modern media, including blogs.

These are just four points to consider. The Internet is big, very big. So is the Catholic Church. Certain Catholic blogs are also quite well-read, but is that enough? Are size and influence, so to speak, balanced?

A look at the situation in the Netherlands: When there are few Catholic bloggers, it takes little effort for them to be heard over their fellow Catholics, and therefore seem influential. But when we look at the raw numbers, as Schoppenkoning did, this is all very relative. My blog had some 3,500 views this month, from an international audience. 3,500 is not even 2% of the population of Groningen. That is not influential, and I don’t pretend it is, although to me the numbers very gratifying. I hazard to guess that the numbers are higher for other Dutch Catholic blogs, but not in the order of ten to twenty times as high. There are more than 4 million Catholics in the Netherlands. I would assume that Catholic blogs reach significantly less than 10% of them.

Blogging and other social media are important, and should be encouraged. It is a very easy way to reach people and relay information to them. No, more than just relaying information, communicating on a deeper level than is possible via radio or TV. Looking at the audience reached by Father Roderick, and their feedback, would support that.

It is easy to look at your blog and conclude it does well, and that you have done all you could. But there is still an entire world out there, even – no, especially – within the borders of the Netherlands. And there is a lot to gain if we want to make our voices be heard again – a necessity in our mute and inward-looking parishes and communities.

A blog, a podcast, any other means to reach out to people, is a great start. It is not necessarily an achievement if we want to reach out. Blogs by themselves very rarely work that way, unless you are one of a handful of very popular bloggers and podcasters, like Father Z or Fr Roderick, for example. But these men have the great advantage of having a large national or international audience (in both cases very much an American audience). Reaching the relatively small Dutch Catholic population is a different game altogether.

I don’t have the answers, though. But I think it is something to be aware off. A few thousand page views is great, but they are not a measure of influence. I even wonder if solitary Internet activities alone can ever be influential enough…

Still, Catholics: get active, reach out to others, be visible. It’s a good start, if not the be-all and end-all.

This quote by Saint Francis is also valid here: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Critical blogging – some thoughts

Knowledgeable laity

In the process of becoming an active Catholic blogger, I have been introduced to a fair number of colleagues, so to speak: people who are Catholic and blog about their faith and the Church. Sometimes they are diarists writing about their personal experiences, sometimes professional theologians or priests and sometimes knowledgeable lay people. Any combination of the above is also possible of course, but I want to focus specifically on the latter group: the knowledgeable laity.

These are often devoted Catholics who know their way around theology and liturgy, the world Church and their local parish. As such they can, and often will, connect what happens on the local level to the greater theological trends and events in Rome, as well as Church history and dogma. And that is good. The individual parishes and dioceses aren’t separate but, to paraphrase yesterday’s second reading, members of one body, and the body as a whole is the deciding factor of the actions of the members, even if sometimes unconsciously.

These knowledgeable lay bloggers have an acute awareness of the connection between members and body, and vice versa. And that is perhaps especially so when something disturbs that connection, when a member does not fit in well, or does something that is harmful to other members or the body as a whole. In the Netherlands there are many instances, past and present, of such a disruption, and these pop up in the media every now and then. Parishes coming up with homemade liturgies, priests or pastoral workers spouting non-Catholic theology, and they often do it without knowing it.

Bishops

In a diocese the bishop is ultimately responsible for making sure the members – faithful, priests, parishes – under his jurisdiction are healthy and function well. The bishops of a Church province are gathered in a bishops’ conference and this conference is called to Rome regularly – theoretically every five years – in a so-called ad limina visit. In Rome, they meet with curia officials and the pope to discuss the specific events, positive and negative, in their Church province. Often, the conclusions of an ad limina visit are collected in a document, and the bishops return home with, literally, a mission. It is but one of the means through which the body of the Church makes sure its members are healthy and function properly. It may sound horribly clinical, but in a gathering as large as the Catholic Church, clear regulations are a boon.

The Dutch bishops last visited Rome in 2004, so the next visit should have taken place last year. However, the five-year minimum is somewhat flexible due to time constraints of pope, curia and local bishops. The next ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops will, however, not be far off.

Detecting problems

There are also other ways for members and body to function properly. The members themselves may detect a disturbance and alert other members and the body. They are often closer to the action, after all. But what is the best way to follow this route?

There are members of the group of knowledgeable lay bloggers who take it upon themselves to alert other members, specifically other faithful, the bishops and the rest of the magisterium. They do so through blogging about illegal developments in parishes and dioceses, collecting reports of individual infractions or dubious developments, and sometimes hinting at plans to send it to Rome on the occasion of a future ad limina visit.

The question is: does this work?

On one level it does. It makes people aware of what goes on, and why certain developments are not good. Awareness of the problem is essential when you want to find a solution.

On another level it does not work; the bloggers’ tone and emphasis on the negative will put people off from either the blog, its author or, worse, the bishops responsible and the Church. Then you end up with members operating outside the body. Too often, the blogs in question paint pictures of faithful, priests, pastoral workers and bishops that are not favourable, to put it mildly. They say the responsible parties do nothing, keep their eyes closed. Sometimes such criticism is justified, but not when the goal is finding a remedy to the problem.

In the Church we have bishops and priests to act as shepherds of their flock, to lead them and do what is necessary to keep the flock together and on track. The flock does not decide what, when and how a shepherd will act, although a good shepherd looks at his flock’s signs and bases his actions on that. The approach I outlined above is basically a case of sheep trying to taking over from the shepherd. An oft-heard complaint is that a bishop does not act, or not soon enough. I would say that not all actions of a shepherd are, or should be, public knowledge. Deducing that something goes wrong in a parish does not mean that the bishop sits back and condones it. Maybe he is working on finding a solution, or perhaps he is waiting for an official report which takes time. Outside the diocesan offices there will be little indication of that. But the fact that we can’t see through walls does not mean that nothing happens behind those walls. We will see and hear once a door or window opens.

The approach of documenting the abuses and disturbances online and suggesting a lack of action from the parties responsible is ultimately incomplete  and wrong. It creates a certain measure of critical questioning, to be sure, but also frustration, antagonism, polarisation and a misguided sense of influence (a few hundred page views per day and a hundred followers of Twitter do not mean you have the ear of Rome), but does not lead to concrete solutions.

In my opinion any lasting solutions can only be achieved through and by the body of the Church as a whole, so through the hierarchy as it exists. Bishops and other responsible persons must be made aware of abuses, but can’t be left out of any debate or discussion. It is the duty of the reporting party to ask directly for answers from the responsible party. Simply throwing it online and expecting a bishop to read it and come running with a solution does not cut it. Neither does ignoring said bishop and hurry to tell his superiors, or paint a  picture of him.

I often get the impression that people see priests and bishops as mere appointed officials in the bureaucratic system, and not as the ordained members of the Church of Christ. Through their ordination they have the obligation and ability to teach and shepherded, but also the right to our obedience.

I’ll end with some words from Father Martin Kromann Knudsen, FSSP, found here:

The pope, the bishops and the priests have the power to lead and manage us in the name of Christ. Through them we received the merciful life through baptism, they give us the bread of heaven and raise us to be children of God. In Christ’s place they are our spiritual fathers. We must honour them, love them and obey them. If we do not agree with them we must keep that to ourselves. It is not honourable for a Catholic to openly protest the authority of the Church. An obedient child of the Church ideally offers his displeasure in prayer, and returns to his religious duties, which is to sanctify his soul.

An uncomfortable situation

Following the Ariënskonvikt affair, which spawned legitimate debate, there is now another discussion in a number of Catholic blogs that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Ms. Nelly Stienstra, chair of the orthodox Contact Rooms Katholieken group, translator of official Vatican documents and volunteer in the cathedral parish in Utrecht, has been told by Archbishop Eijk to step down from her duties in the parish. This after publically questioning his integrity and displaying her disregard of him during services, as a letter from the archbishop says.

I don’t know what is and is not true here, but it is not my place to know, let alone debate, either. The major problem is that someone saw fit to make public the private correspondence between two people by sending it to a blogger. It was subsequently picked up by other blogs, as these things go. Ms. Stienstra then responded through a press release voicing her disagreement with the decision.

Here we have a private matter made public to make others look bad – in this case the archbishop and the staff of the archdiocese. To me that seems very unethical. The archbishop has been criticised for not publically explaining his reasoning: he shouldn’t, since this is not something that concerns anyone but himself and Ms. Stienstra.

I have been doubting whether to write about this. Ideally I wouldn’t have for the exact reasons I mention above. But I decided in favour of it to share a different opinion about it all. A decision may be agreed with or disagreed with, and it may also be discussed. But a private matter between two people should remain so, and not be made a topic of public discussion.