Cardinal Eijk’s not too outlandish encyclical suggestion

Despite many a Dutch reaction, Cardinal Wim Eijk’s suggestion that Pope Francis devote an encyclical to the errors of the gender ideology, first reported by CNS here, is not that outlandish.

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On Facebook I came across several people sharing the CNS article: the first, from an American source, came with a number of reactions, all positive. The second, from a Dutch source, had for the most part reactions that were the equivalent of the rolleyes emoticon. bdjkv-myThere’s that old-fashioned out-of-touch cardinal again, enforcing his restrictive morals on the rest of the world, they seemed to say. There may be much to be said about the social reasons for this difference, but it also, perhaps, illustrates how Cardinal Eijk – and the topic he raised – are perceived in the Netherlands as compared to abroad.

But, as I have said, his suggestion to devote an encyclical, an authoritive document on a doctrinal matter, to the question of what gender is and how it has been ideologically hijacked by some does not appear completely out of thin air. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have spoken about it on more than one occasion and most recently, Pope Francis described it as a sort of “ideological colonisation” and a threat to the family and children especially.

And that makes sense, as the theory that gender is somehow a social construct clashes on all fronts with the Catholic understanding of human nature. Our gender is a constituent part of who we are as persons, and it is therefore not something that should be tinkered with too easily. The Church does not deny the existence of people who suffer psychologically because they struggle with their own gender, but she looks for reasons and solutions elsewhere, and she will therefore always try to combat an increasing social acceptance of gender theory, as we see happening with things like abortion and euthanasia.

Is Pope Francis likely to issue an encyclical on an issue like this? I don’t believe so. Partly because encyclicals take time to write: Pope Francis will be 80 next month, and he has enough plans and work for the foreseeable future as it is. And he may also think that his comments on the matter have already been clear enough, or they may be answered as the Church continues developing what Amoris laetitia thought.

And while Cardinal Eijk has suggested it might be a good idea, he is not actually actively lobbying the Pope to write a gender encyclical, despite the conclusions that some may have already drawn.

Photo credit: CNS/Francois Gloutnay, Presence

Two approaches – Cardinals Kasper and Burke

Catholic News Service has two video interviews out today, one with Cardinal Kasper, the other with Cardinal Burke. These two opponents in the debate about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics could not be more different in their thoughts about this, although both are united in emphasising that the upcoming Synod will be about so much more than this single question. On the other hand, Cardinal Kasper’s eagerness to grant interview after interview about it does seem to indicate that he thinks it is a very important topic indeed.

First, let’s listen to Cardinal Kasper:

Some thoughts: It is hard to get to the bottom of the cardinal’s argument here. Everything he says is nice and understanding, the sort of things we want to hear when we’re in a crisis of whatever sort. What strikes me is that the cardinal only speaks about the second marriage. What about the first? Was that not a loving one, where there no children there, did both spouses not have the intention to make it last? We know that, for some reason, it failed, so in the end it did not last. We know that in hindsight. How can we than say, beforehand, that the same will not be true for a second marriage? We hope it will last, that there won’t be any storms leading to a shipwreck, but we can’t know that.

A sacramental marriage can’t be broken. It can be, after due consideration by competent authorities, judged to have been invalid, after which there is no obstacle to enter into a proper valid marriage. But if the marriage has been valid, it can’t suddenly become invalid. What God has joined, let no man break asunder, after all. Sacraments are the bonds God forges with people and between people, which people freely accept (a sacrament, a marriage, is not valid when someone has been coerced into it).

Cardinal Kasper is right, though, when he says that we need to be careful in our language. Accusing a couple of adultery will probably do more bad than good. After all, the Church wants to help, and that’s impossible when you immediately accuse people, even if that accusation is correct according to the letter of the law.

Cardinal Burke then:

This a very factual approach. A true one, but very factual, and people who are divorced and remarried need much more than that. This is what the Synod is about: not about changing teaching, but about improving the pastoral approach to people, making the help and care of the Church be so much more effective and comforting.

Cardinal Burke also mentions the confusion that the whole debate has apparently caused for many people. People have the duty to be critical about what they read and hear, but the Church has a duty to be crystal clear about her teaching and the whys and wherefores of it.

The Synod will undoubtedly be discussing the proposals and the criticism against them. I dont expect, as Cardinal Burke hopes, that it will be settled so easily, but in the end, the focus will be much more on the pastoral care for divorced and remarried couples and not on adapting the teachings of the Church to suit the perceived needs of the times.

And that is, in the end, a far more interesting discussion: how can the Church, all the faithful, forever grow in living, sharing and communicating the Gospel?

“Liberated from the slavery of fashion”

In an excellent CNS video, Father Wojciech Giertych explains why Catholic priests are men only, and also delves into the counter-cultural nature of Christ and the unique closeness to Him that women often achieve.

Fr. Giertych is the Theologian to the Papal Household and, as such,  advises the Pope on theological issues and checks the theological clarity of papal publications.

Full agenda – no ad limina for the Dutch bishops in 2013?

lorenzo baldisseriArchbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (pictured), the secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, has announced that Pope Benedict XVI has completed his first cycle of ad limina visits by the world’s bishops. Although there is no set schedule by which bishops’ conferences come to Rome for the weeklong meetings with Pope and Curia, this year’s planned meetings with the Italian episcopate do mean a return to the start: the Italians were among the first to meet with Pope Benedict in 2006.

But this does leave us with one questions: what about the Dutch? Despite Archbishop Baldisseri’s announcement, the Dutch bishops have in fact not made their ad limina under the current papacy. Their last was in 2004, when Blessed John Paul II was still Pope.

Catholic News Service, who published the news today, have stated they have not yet been able to contact anyone at the Vatican about this, but will amend their report if and when they do.

In April of last year, I wrote about Bishop Jos Punt’s speculation that he and the other Dutch bishops would be travelling to Rome sometime in 2013. Perhaps the Holy See will be able to squeeze them in among the Italians, but Archbishop Baldisseri has said that the Italian ad limina, coupled with Year of Faith activities and the agendas of local bishops preclude any other ad limina visits this year. If true, and the Dutch bishops will have to wait until 2014, there will be an enormous ten-year gap between visits.

Edit: Following this blog’s noticing that the Dutch bishops were seemingly overlooked for an ad limina visit, Archbishop Baldisseri, after an enquery by the Catholic News Service, explained that his Congregation had been informed by the Prefecture of the Papal Household that the cycle of ad limina visits was complete. “But now it seems that with the Netherlands, something happened,” he said. A visit still seems to be scheduled for either later this year or early in 2014.

Translating the pope

Via the Catholic News Service comes an interesting glimpse at what it’s like to translate the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Msgr. Philip Whitmore translated the Holy Father’s latest book, the third installment of his “Jesus of Nazareth” series, and reveals some of the peculiarities of such a job.

On Twitter: out with the fake, in with the real?

Yesterday we learned that the long-promised official papal Twitter account – that is, an account used, or at least sanctioned by the pope – will become reality before the year is out. Pope Benedict XVI sent out a first tweet last year when he launched News.va, but he used the Vatican news account @news_va_en instead of a personal one. That is said to change within the coming two months, as a personal account will be created for the Holy Father, who will not be tweeting himself, though. But, we are told, he will approve every tweet being sent.

But what about the fake popes on Twitter? There are a fair number of those, using the name of Pope Benedict or some variation thereon. Some are sarcastic, humorous or vindictive, but more than one also offer serious Catholic news and opinion.

The Holy See has obviously also noticed all these and has said that it hopes that the launch of the official papal account will cause all the fake popes to “give up when they see the official site is up”, an unnamed official said, as CNS reports. There’s a problem there.

While Twitter has, as part of its policy, the option to block accounts that impersonate others, it also allows for harmless satire. An example is @Queen_UK, a satirical impersonation of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II. So similar accounts about or obviously pretending to be a humourous alter ego of the Holy Father would be safe.

Then there are the accounts using the pope’s name which offer serious news and opinion. Instead of cancelling these, I think a better solution would be to allow them to continue to offer their useful contributions, but perhaps under another name. Changing a username on Twitter is a fairly simple procedure and allows one to keep one’s followers.

Another important issue to consider is the content of the papal tweets. If the Vatican wants others to change something about other users on Twitter, it has to offer something similar. As it seems now, Pope Benedict will not be an avid Twitter user himself (and who can blame him, really?), but the few tweets we may expect on short notice will relate to what he says in audiences and other official functions. No personal tweets about what was served at the papal table or what the weather was like at Castel Gandolfo, then. Will the pope’s presence on Twitter make a huge impact as far as the content of tweets is concerned? Likely not, although the catechesis that Pope Benedict regularly offers at his Wednesday audiences certainly deserves a wider audience, for example. But it will not replace the contributions of others, who now tweet under the pope’s name. And that is again a reason to not ban these accounts, but at most ask them to change their name, so to avoid confusion.