The question of a decoration – pro-abortion politician inducted in the Order of St. Gregory

31763202376_be0cc71348_zLilianne Ploumen, member of the Dutch parliament and formerly Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, recently showed off a papal decoration she received, the insignia of commander in the order of St. Gregory the Great. This decoration is one of five papal orders of knighthood and is granted in recognition of “personal service to the Holy See and to the Roman Catholic Church, through [the recipient’s] unusual labors, their support of the Holy See, and their excellent examples set forth in their communities and their countries.”

This recognition is problematic in more than one way: Ms. Ploumen has been a staunch advocate of abortion, setting up the She Decides campaign to raise money after American President Trump discontinued the use of taxpayer’s money to finance abortions abroad. In 2010, she also urged people to disrupt Mass at St. John’s cathedral in Den Bosch, after an openly homosexual man was denied Communion. Ms. Ploumen’s public persona, at least, is one decidedly at odds with Catholic teaching and even openly hostile against parts of it.

It is hard to see exactly why she received this recognition, given in the name of the Holy Father, who, it must be said, is rather emphatically opposed to what Ms. Ploumen supports. However, there is a chance that the recognition was given for what she does in private life, in her parish or other organisation. In the past she also headed Catholic relief organisation Cordaid, which could possibly also play a part in this.

GregoriusordenIncreasing the surprise, even indignation, about this is the fact that neither the bishops’ conference nor the nuncio are aware of this decoration having been awarded. Normally, nominations are relayed to Rome via the bishops and apostolic nuncio, the the representative of the Holy See in a country.

Assuming that this is not a bit of fake news – and I see no reason to believe it is – there are two conclusions to draw from this: someone either seriously messed up, thus (un)wittingly making a mockery of the Catholic teachings about abortion (and also the Pope’s vocal opposition to it); or the entire process of awarding decorations is not to be taken too seriously. It is safe to assume that Pope Francis was not personally informed about the decorating, but someone in his staff was. What value do decorations have if they are automatically rubber-stamped, as could have conceivable happened here?

Whatever the case may, as the situation stands now many Catholics feel offended by the fact that a known supporter of abortion, and a person who has called for the disruption of the celebration of Mass to make a political point, has received this high papal decoration.

EDIT 1: The Archdiocese of Utrecht today issued an official reaction to this affair, which I share here:

“In response to many questions from both The Netherlands and abroad, Cardinal Eijk says that he was not involved in the application for the title Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, which former minister L. Ploumen received last year. Cardinal Eijk was also unaware of the fact that this papal award was requested for her.”

EDIT 2: In a commentary for Nederlands Dagblad, Vatican watcher Hendro Munsterman offers a possible explanation for Ploumen being awarded the title of commander in the Order of St. Gregory. In 2017, he explains, Ms. Ploumen was part of the delegation accompanying King Willem Alexander on the first official state visit of a Dutch head of state to the Holy See. On such occasions it is customary for visitors and hosts to exchange decorations, and ten members of the Dutch delegation received such from the Vatican, among them then-Minister Ploumen. However, many people will obviously be unaware of such diplomatic niceties, and Munsterman is right when he says that Ploumen should have prevented the journalist interviewing her from turning a simple matter of protocol into a statement. To Catholic Herald, Ms Ploumen said that she also assumed that she received the decoration for being a part of the Dutch delegation.

EDIT 3: Late last night, the Vatican released an official comment, stating:

“The honor of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great received by Mrs. Lilianne Ploumen, former Minister of Development, in June 2017 during the visit of the Dutch Royals to the Holy Father, responds to the diplomatic practice of the exchange of honors between delegations on the occasion of official visits by Heads of State or Government in the Vatican.

Therefore, it is not in the slightest a placet [an expression of assent] to the politics in favor of abortion and of birth control that Mrs Ploumen promotes.”

This should put to rest this current affair, although it leaves questions open about the wisdom of issuing automatic decorations to politicians and diplomats with no regard of their standpoints and actions.

Photo credit: [1] Lex Draijer

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Bishop de Korte’s election advice – the problems of voting Catholic in the Netherlands

While bishops usually tend to avoid giving voting advice, at least when it comes to specific parties, Bishop Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch recently did do so on a personal title. In an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad he said,

bisschop-de-korte“As bishops we realise that you can’t say that, if you are Catholic, there is a single party to vote for. From a Catholic perspective, something can be said in favour of all parties.”

But the bishop makes one exception to this rule. Geert Wilders’ PVV, which has ideas which are “contrary to the Catholic idea about a just society. They way that they pit populations against one another, abandon the freedom the religion, attack the rule of law – “fake parliament”, “fake judges”… These are things that should make us very reserved.”

The PVV continues to score in the opinion polls, also among Catholics, and Bishop de Korte’s remarks have had their share of criticism. But while the bishop’s comments focussed on the positives to be found in irtually all parties, the criticism focussed on those elements in party’s programs which are incompatible with Catholic teaching. How, critics asked, could any Catholic in good conscience vote for a party which promotes anti-life measures such as abortion and euthanasia? As I mentioned in my recent article for The Catholic Herald, only two parties, both Christian, are pro-life: the Christian Union and the SGP, although it must be added that the PVV is at least hesitant about further liberalisation on these topics.

This is a valid criticism, and a Catholic vote must take the position of parties on these (and other) topics seriously. But Bishop de Korte is not saying that all positions of all parties, except those of the PVV, should be supported by Catholics. On the contrary, he merely acknowledges that all parties promote positive aspects which a Catholic can get behind, while, although he does not say so explicitly, they may also support things a Catholic should oppose. There is no clear black or white when it comes to casting a Catholic vote in these elections.

pvv-logo-560x190Why single out the PVV, then? Are their positions more abhorent than those of other parties? The tone of their way of doing politics is certainly not one we should promote, and their singling out of parts of the population and disrespect for the rule of law when it does not agree with their positions are indeed problematic. For Bishop de Korte these seem to be decisive factors. For others, like myself, the respect for life (both born and unborn) may be equally decisive, and in that context the left-wing parties such as GroenLinks and SP are just as undeserving of my vote. Singling out the PVV is too simplistic: no party is perfect, and when you say that  “something can be said in favour of all parties,” an honest reading wil also show that that includes the PVV.

Bishop de Korte gave a personal opinion, the reasoning of which I do not fully agree with, although I share his decision not to vote for the PVV. But that is my opinion. Others may reach another conclusion in good conscience, based on the priorities they focus on. As long as it impossible to cast a vote which is in full agreement with Catholic teaching, this is the situation we are stuck with.

Don Danneels? The power struggles of the Belgian cardinal

danneelsIn an extensive biography (cover pictured), published earlier this week, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and personal choice of Pope Francis to attend the Synod of Bishops assembly in two weeks time, speaks frankly about his membership of a group of cardinals and bishops, which he likenes to a maffia. This group, named Sankt Gallen for the Swiss town where they would meet, became active in 1990s and included among its members the late Cardinals Carlo Martini and Basil Hume, Cardinals Kasper and Lehmann, as well as Bishop Ad van Luyn, bishop emeritus of Rotterdam.

It should be noted that I have not been able to read the biography myself yet, so I draw my conclusion from those snippets I have read and from what others have written.

The group, which Cardinal Danneels called a maffia in an interview, had the aim of radically modernising the Church following the papacy of St. John Paul II. Members could speak freely and no records were kept, as the cardinal admitted once the group’s existence was revealed in research related to the writing of the biography.

Unhappy with the course of the Church under Saint John Paul II (who appointed Cardinal Danneels as archbishop in 1979 and cardinal in 1983), the group tried to influence the conclave of 2005, and Cardinal Danneels freely admits to have been disillusioned when the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was elected as Pope Benedict XVI. Apparently they had a Pope in mind in the mold of Pope Francis, and his 2013 election was met with satisfaction.

It is one thing to discuss the future and express hopes and wishes, it is quite another to form a sort of shadow cabinet in blatant opposition to the Pope and expressing disappointment when the wrong pontiff is chosen. Cardinal Danneels does not seem to see it as problematic that he so callously disregards one Pope and creates an artificial opposition between him and his successor.

As Catholics we believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit when a new Pope is chosen. We believe that his work is for the good of the work, even when we may sometimes disagree with the way he works or what he focusses on. There is a certain element of loyalty involved, especially on the parts of cardinals and bishops, who have been created and appointed to assist the Pope in the affairs of the world Church. Loyal disagreement, which may be expressed personally to the Pope or even publically when well-founded and expressed with aforementioned loyalty and faith in the Spirit is certainly possible. It may even be good sometimes.

But this is not what the Sankt Gallen group did. Secret meetings, no records, a maffia… This does not give an impression of loyalty, but of an attempt to influence things in secret, behind the scenes. And while the group is evidently happy with Pope Francis, he may turn out to be their greatest enemy. From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has wanted to end the backroom politics and hunger for personal gain in the Curia and has been very clear about what a bishop should be: concerned not with power, but with the sheep.

Personally, I do not like pidgeonholing people (Cardinal Wilfrid Napier has a good article in the Catholic Herald on that same topic, by the way), and I don’t believe for one second that Cardinal Danneels is or has been all bad, as some would have us believe. But that does not take away the fact that he has gone beyond his authority and the conduct expected of cardinals and bishops.

Oddie continues where Dolan stopped

Published on the Translations page yesterday, a translation of this article by William Oddie of the Catholic Herald. I made the translation on the request of Ronald Marks, co-author of Marks & Marks Blogspot.

Odie takes Archbishop Dolan’s recent blog post on the ‘policies’ of the Vatican as a starting point and explores the issue further. He finds that there is an important question that Catholics have yet barely begun to ask themselves: are we able to bridge the gap of understanding between us and the secular world? An important issue, not least in the Netherlands.

Birth of a nation

Tomorrow, a new nation will be born from the tropical southern part of Sudan. Simply named South Sudan, the new state will be home to anything from 7.5 to 13 million people. An estimated 3 million of these are Catholics, with another 1.1 million living in the remainder of Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim.

The breaking away of South Sudan from Sudan also divides the Catholic community of that country. All signs indicate that, for now, the bishops of both states will continue to meet in one conference, but they may also part ways (as far as any bishop ever can from his brethren) in the future to form their own bishops’ conferences. Most countries in the world, barring the smaller states, have their own bishops’ conferences, after all. And neither Sudan nor South Sudan can be consider a small state.

The map above shows the nine dioceses of both countries, with the ones in yellow belonging to the north, the rest forming the south. In a way, a future establishment of new bishops’ conferences is easy, as there are already two metropolitan archdioceses  which form the heart of both Church communities. The first, in the north, is Khartoum (2), with El Obeid (2) as suffragan diocese. Large jurisdictions with a relative small number of Catholic faithful, headed by Archbishop Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok in Khartoum, and Bishops Macram Gassis and Michael Adgum Mangoria (as coadjutor) in El Obeid.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako

In South Sudan, the picture is more varied, with six dioceses gathered around the Archdiocese of Juba (8), led by Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro and Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale. The other dioceses are Malakal (5) (vacant), Rumbek (4) (Bishop Cesare Mazzolari), Tombura-Yambio (6) (Bishop Edward Kussala), Torit (9) (Bishop Akio Mutek), Wau (3) (Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak) and Yei (7) (Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe).

What directions to the two Church communities will take remains to be seen, but it can be reasonably expected that the southern Catholics will orient themselves more towards the Church in east Africa, while their northern brethren will start to look more towards north Africa and the Middle East. At the very least, the northern dioceses will be odd ones out in the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa. On the other hand, ever since 1993, when Eritrea regained independence from Ethiopia, the bishops of these countries have continued to work together in one conference, the Eritrean and Ethiopian Episcopal Conference. Maybe this will also be an option for the two Sudanese countries, but one can never be certain in as volatile a region as the horn of Africa.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako is hopeful, at least: “Politically, the nation will be divided into two – the old and the new Sudan – but, religiously, the two Sudans will remain united,” he told Vatican Radio. Catholic Herald has more.

Beatification information

What with the celebration of Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands and the assorted social engagements that accompany it, I find little time to write something substantial about tomorrow’s big event: the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom we may from then on call Blessed John Paul II. Luckily, several other bloggers and reporters are in Rome to share the amazing atmosphere in the eternal city with their readers. I happily link to them.

Father Roderick and Steve Nelson are in Rome for SQPN. They give a foretaste of the excitement and the crowds here. Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald shares her first Roman blog post to give an excellent overview of the events of today, including the closure of St. Peter’s Square at 1 this afternoon until 5:30 tomorrow. Finally, Rocco Palmo, of the excellent Whispers in the Loggia, offers several detailed posts about the preparations as well.

I will spend tomorrow morning in front of the tv. Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK will start live coverage at 10 in the morning.

Fr. Michel Remery celebrated Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in Rome's church of the Frisians today

Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK

Preparation for the Vatican blognic off to a good start

Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald reports the following message from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications regarding the Vatican blogmeet of 2 May:

Dear Friends
By 8am Monday morning we had received over 400 requests.. On Wednesday 13 April we will close the application process and sort out requests into categories of language, geography, typology etc. and where necessary we will draw lots to make the final selection. On Saturday a list of participants will be posted on http://www.pccs.va. We are heartened by the widespread interest, and ask you all to be patient with this effort to increase dialogue with the blogging community, and also to support us with your prayers.

Richard Rouse and Ariel Beramendi

It looks like the blogmeet, despite it being announced rather late, has garnered much interest in a pretty short time. As I wrote earlier, only about 150 people will be able to attend, and it’ll be interesting to see who will be selected to participate.

In the meantime, various Catholic bloggers are organising The *Other* Rome Blognic on the afternoon of 3 May. As far as I understand it, the reason for an alternate blogmeet is the fear that the so-called ‘Taliban Catholics’ won’t be heard or selected for the official meeting. This second blogmeet is presented as one that will be fun and that will actually be about something, essentially a meeting that will matter. In my eyes, it’s a rather premature conclusion to draw that only moderate bloggers will be invited to the official blogmeet, while those that tackle the difficult questions and are sometimes critical about Church leadership and policies will be ignored. And, added to that, I think that the official meeting should be embraced and supported by all bloggers, exactly because it is among the first tentative steps of the Vatican into the blogosphere. Hosting an alternate meeting will hardly do much good towards creating a unified blogging community working with the Church.