The compatibility of different approaches – two bishops against the tide of church closings

de korte eijkAgain, the rivalry between bishops seems to be rearing its head, if we are to believe the media. Earlier I wrote about Cardinal Eijk’s efforts in dealing with church closings and parish mergers, all in the context of decreasing participation and means, and today Bishop Gerard de Korte makes public his own efforts to handle the very same issues in his own diocese. And both approaches differ in some ways, but they are perhaps more similar and compatible than many want to see.

The plans of the two prelates can be summarised as follows:

Cardinal Eijk is merging parishes which will have a “Eucharistic centre”, a church building where there will be Holy Mass on every Sunday. Other churches in the new parish are on rotation when it comes to Mass, so to speak. In this way, the cardinal underlines the importance of the Mass on Sunday and the stability it provides for parish life.

Bishop de Korte aims at local communities. In his new parishes he wants the local communities, the remnants of separate parishes, to remain alive and viable, even if there is not always a Mass on Sundays. And if need be, they will also have to do without a church building of their own, although the bishop strives to keep every church in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden open.

Bishop de Korte is perhaps much clearer about his desire for active local communities, but there is no indication that Cardinal Eijk disagrees, even if he does not spell it out. In the Archdiocese of Utrecht, local communities can and should also continue being active and living schools of faith, even if there is no regular Sunday Mass or even a church building. In that sense, the options are no different than what Bishop de Korte has outlined in a recent letter to the parishes of his diocese.

For neither bishop closing churches is policy or even a desire. Bishop de Korte has clearly said he wants to avoid it whenever possible, and Cardinal Eijk recently said something similar, even if he seems perhaps sometimes a bit more pessimistic.

But when local communities want to remain viable, there is one thing to remember. It does not happen automatically. As Bishop de Korte said, we all need to take our responsibility as Catholics and contribute to the life of our parish in whatever way we can.

Both bishops’ plans in response to the facts of decreasing means are more similar than different and, at the very least, compatible. Emphasising the importance of a regular Mass in a central place for the entire parish is important, as is the value of local communities where people live, learn and celebrate their faith together. Bishop de Korte identifies a point that is of paramount importance to make both his and Cardinal Eijk’s focus a success: strengthening Catholic identity and finding new people and means. We need to know who we are and what we believe in order to become living and attractive communities.


Archbishop Léonard looks to the future

léonardIn an interview for the campus newspaper of the Catholic University of Louvain, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who is the university’s Grand Chancellor, speaks about the future, which includes what may well be his last year as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

Archbishop Léonard will reach his 75th birthday on 6 May 2015, little over a year from now.

“The rule is that you tender your resignation to the Pope around your 75th birthday. It is up to him to decide what happens then. Sometimes, depending on the situation and your health, he will ask you to stay on a bit longer. The archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Meisner, is 80! In other situations you retire. I will do what will be asked, and enthusiastically so. It is a wonderful duty. I meet so many people, from soldiers to prisoners, from professors to young families. That gives an unimaginable wealth to life. If I am allowed to continue doing that a while longer, I would be very grateful. When I retire, I will also enjoy that very much. Didn’t I say a priest had to be flexible?”

In a television interview, the archbishop said a bit more about his retirement plans.

“Once retired I would like to live near a shrine in Belgium or France, to hear confessions or give conferences. I do intend to leave the dioceses of Mechelen-Brussels and Namur, since I have already been active there for so many years.”

André-Joseph Léonard was a priest of the Diocese of Namur from his ordination in 1964 to 1991, when he was appointed as that diocese’s bishop. In 2010, he was appointed as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

The rest of the interview, which also touches upon the Catholic identity of the Catholic University of Louvain, science and faith, the archbishop’s work as Grand Chancellor, priesthood in past and present, the future of evangelisation, Pope Francis and Archbishop Léonard not being made a cardinal, can be read in my translation here.

Photo credit: KU Leuven – Rob Stevens

“Not very nice”- Protestants call Cardinal Eijk to explain himself

eijkThe comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one – that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.

Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.

But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.

arjan-plaisier-04Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:

“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”

The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.

The letter continues:

“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”

The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.

“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better  understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of  the others Baptism?”

The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul  was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.

Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves

Photo credit: [1] ANP

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Glemp passes away

z13285238Q,Kardynal-Jozef-GlempIf it weren’t for Blessed John Paul II, Józef Cardinal Glemp would have been the sole face of Polish Catholicism in the waning days of that country’s Communist regime. Yesterday he died at the age of 83.

Born in the Polish heartland in 1929, the life of young Józef was marked by war. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was employed as a slave labourer. Despite this, which undoubtedly marked his teenage years, he was able to continue his seminary education, culminating in an ordination to the priesthood in 1956. He belonged to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, although he initially worked in neighbouring Poznań. After two years, he was sent to Rome, to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. In 1964, Father Glemp earned his doctorate and also the title of Advocate of the Roman Rota. He also wrapped up studies in church administration, which no doubt prepared him for his future job.

Returning to Gniezno, Fr. Glemp took up work as chaplain to Dominican and Franciscan sisters and taught religion in a house for underage delinquents. He was also secretary of the Gniezno seminary, and had duties as notary for the Polish curia.

For fifteen years, starting in 1967, he was the secretary of Poland’s great wartime prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. This took Fr. Glemp to Rome and all over Poland and made him a familiar face among the Polish bishops. In 1972 he was made a Chaplain of His Holiness, conferring on him the title of Monsignor. In 1976, Msgr. Glemp became a canon of Gniezno’s metropolitan chapter.

In 1979, Msgr. Glemp became bishop of Warmia, but he wouldn’t stay there long. In 1981, his longtime mentor and collaborator, Cardinal Wyszynski, died. The cardinal was archbishop of both Gniezno and Warsaw, and Bishop Glemp succeeded him in both sees, in part as a reflection of their respective importance: Warsaw as Poland’s capital, and Gniezno as Poland’s primatial see. Archbishop Glemp therefore became Primate of Poland. This gave him the right to wear a cardinal’s  red zucchetto, although he wasn’t a cardinal yet.

In 1983, Archbishop Glemp became Cardinal Glemp, with the title church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. I 1992, Pope John Paul II decided to dissolve the union “ad personam” between Gniezno and Warsaw. Cardinal Glemp remained as archbishop of Warsaw alone, but he held the title of Primate until his 80th birthday in 2009. After that date, the title reverted to the archbishop of Gniezno.

Cardinal Glemp was president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference from 1981 to 2004, and was also ordinary of the Eastern-rite Catholics of Poland from 1981 to 2007. Following th sudden resignation of his successor in Warsaw, Archbishop Wielgus, Cardinal Glemp served as Apostolic Administrator of Warsaw for three months in 2007. Until his retirement, he was a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Apostolic Signatura.

Cardinal Glemp’s time as archbishop was marked with few controversies, chief among this perceived anti-Semitism. He later regretted that he was perceived as such. In the Cold War years, he worked with future president Lech Walesa, and was a careful intermediary between Church and Communist leadership. He was not a violent man, and never supported violent opposition to the regime, stating that his duty was the preservation of the Church, not the overthrow of the government. Although he urged restraint from the faithful, he expected the same from the Communists.

Cardinal Józef Glemp passed away afer a battle with lung cancer. He leaves a strong Catholic identity in Poland, having successfully averted the tides of secularism in his time.

The College of Cardinals remains with 119 electors out of 210 members.

.catholic – a coup by the Church?

Digibron1An article on by Reformed minister Dr. Hans Kronenburg (pictured) challenges the efforts by the Catholic Church to register the domain name extension .catholic. He identifies it as “nothing but a conscious or subconscious digital coup”. From a Protestant point of view he is absolutely right, but from a Catholic one he couldn’t be more wrong.

The .catholic extension, if granted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory body responsible for these things, would be allowed to be used only by institutions, groups, individuals and societies which are in good standing with the Catholic Church. Basically, the Church will have the final say if any group or person may use the extension. This would, of course, offer some control over the Catholic ‘brand’. It offers some surety that a website using the extension .catholic is, in fact, that. There are, after all, some responsibilities that come with calling yourself ‘Catholic’.

What are the problems that Dr. Kronenburg has with what he calls a coup or power grab by the Church? The core of the problem is as follows, in his own words, translated by me:

“It is the same old song again: a church which forms just one branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, namely the Roman Catholic, appropriates something that belongs to the church of Christ as a whole, as it is confessed in the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople (381).”

He also shares and agrees with three points of the complaint lodged with ICANN by Saudi Arabia (of all nations). 1) The church claims the name Catholic, while other churches do likewise, 2) Ecumenically speaking, it is not done to give one church control over the name ‘catholic’ when it is not authorised to do so by other churches, and 3) there are questions about the ‘catholicity’ of the Catholic Church, since she alone considers herself fully Catholic. That is not universal, but sectarian. According to Dr. Kronenburg.

Generally, it is easy to agree with at least the first point above. There is a problem when multiple churches, rightly or wrongly, claim to be catholic. In their own understanding, if not that of the Catholic Church, they are catholic.

Points two and three are, frankly, nonsensical. Ecumenism, as mentioned in point two, is about finding common ground and a growth towards unity in the one Church of Christ. It is pertinently not about changing identities, which is what happens if one church is told by another what she can or can not call herself. Point three is very much related to the understanding of the term ‘Catholic’, and that is the very core of the problem, as I mentioned above.

Catholic is a term that indicates the universality of the Church, in both time and space. Jesus Christ established His Church, which is composed of all the faithful and which has a clear structure. Here is where the Catholic and Protestant understanding depart: The unity and universality of the Church is made visible in the form she takes here and now. Christ established a Church composed of faithful, certainly, but also gave them shepherds and means to exercise authority. Over time, but fairly soon, that has coalesced into the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. In various ways, the Protestant church communities, but also the Orthodox Churches, which have remained close to us in other ways, have departed from this structure. The Protestant church communities are Catholic in that they share our faith in many ways. There are also basic differences, to the detriment of their claim of ‘catholicity’. The Catholic Church is truly Catholic in that she has not only kept the faith in Christ, but also the unity, both invisibly and very visibly, that Christ prayed for.

Dr. Kronenburg’s claim that the Catholic Church is just one branch of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Creed is therefore not true. If she was a branch, she would have been at most a variation on one basic trunk: the faith that Christ gave us. There would be only negligible differences with the other branches. The problem is that these differences are not negligible. Dr. Kronenburg’s own Reformed Church, for example, does not constitute a different branch, but a different trunk of the same tree altogether. The faith of the different churches and church communities may share similarities, but they are by no means equal. To claim that is to neglect the major differences in teaching, understanding and faith that still exist.

And besides all this, there is the logic of domain name extensions. A Protestant website using the extension .catholic would be rather confusing. Even an Orthodox website ending in .catholic, which would have a better claim to the name, would cause confusion.

Photo credit: RD, Anton Dommerholt

A Catholic – so automatically universal – consistory

A last look back at Saturday’s consistory that, according the pope’s own indications, was an attempt to better reflect the international nature of the Church. As the photo above, showing new Cardinal John Onaiyekan with Nigerian pilgrims, indicates, it was an affair that brought together “a variety of faces” from across the world, from Africa to Asia, and from South America to the Middle East.

In his address, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the Church’s Catholicity, stating that this constitutive element of her identity indicates that the Church is for all people.

“[T]he universality of the Church flows from the universality of God’s unique plan of salvation for the world. This universal character emerges clearly on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fills the first Christian community with his presence, so that the Gospel may spread to all nations, causing the one People of God to grow in all peoples. From its origins, then, the Church is oriented kat’holon, it embraces the whole universe. The Apostles bear witness to Christ, addressing people from all over the world, and each of their hearers understands them as if they were speaking his native language (cf. Acts 2:7-8). From that day, in the “power of the Holy Spirit”, according to Jesus’ promise, the Church proclaims the dead and risen Lord “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Church’s universal mission does not arise from below, but descends from above, from the Holy Spirit: from the beginning it seeks to express itself in every culture so as to form the one People of God. Rather than beginning as a local community that slowly grows and spreads outwards, it is like yeast oriented towards a universal horizon, towards the whole: universality is inscribed within it.”

My translation of the address is here.

An elegant and intriguing theological exploration of the word “Catholic”, it deserves no less attention than the tears of Cardinal Luis Tagle, the most popular among this consistory’s batch, not least because his many media activities.

Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Intolerable tolerance

In order to mark the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Method in Great Moravia (encompassing the modern Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and parts of Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine), Slovakia has decided to mint a special memorial 2 Euro coin depicting the two ‘Apostles to the Slavs’ in 2013. A lofty memorial of an event which lay at the basis of Slavic culture in central Europe and beyond.

Saints Cyril and Method came to bring the Christian faith to people who had not yet heard it. Their faith dictated who they were and what they did and said. To ignore that part of the persons is negligent and a falsification of history.

But that is precisely what the European Commission and several member states of the European Union (of which Slovakia is a member) now wants. The crosses on the saints’ clothing and the aureolas indicating their sainthood have been identified as possibly insulting or disturbing some citizens of the Union. By the grace of policy makers, only the double Byzantine cross, which also serves as Slovakia’s national symbol, was allowed to remain.

The Slovakian bishops’ conference has rightly stated that this is a lack of respect for Europe’s Christian traditions. A spokesperson wondered if Europe is a state of rights or a totalitarian system dictating which attributes are tolerated.

This is only one example in a series of Europe curtailing the display of identity and the free exercise of religion. The reasons given, that some unknown person may take offense at the symbols shown, are unreasonable in the extreme. I may say that a lack of Christian symbols offends me. Will the EU take that into account? Will they remove other symbols, statements, images, actions or whatever if they perhaps offend me? The banner of tolerance is used as a tool of intolerance.

This unreasonable fear of any display of religion, even in imagery that has a solid basis in history, is nothing but the complete denial of Europe’s own identity and history. Sts. Method and Cyril were Christians and we remember them for bringing the Christian faith to parts of Europe , so why on earth should we not remember them for who they were? Christian missionaries, not empty vessels to be filled with the identity that modern Europe dictates.