In Rome, no one was fired for being gay

We’ve all read the headlines by now. A Polish official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was fired for announcing his homosexuality and the Church is therefore full of old meanies. Reality is bit different, as it often is.

krzysztof-charamsa-ranghoher-vatikanmitarbeiter-100~_v-img__16__9__l_-1dc0e8f74459dd04c91a0d45af4972b9069f1135Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, pictured at left, who has worked for the Congregation for more than a decade, yesterday informed the world about his sexual preference and also introduced the man he has a relationship with. In the process he strongly criticised the Church and the Congregation he worked for, calling for an end to homophobia and, by his actions, the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage. Of course, working where he had for the past decade and more, he should have known better.

There are three things that are significant here:

  1. Msgr. Charamsa’s homosexuality. This is no reason to fired him, and it wasn’t. No one can be held accountable for his sexual orientation, and it should not play a part in his suitability for his job in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  2. A secret relationship. Msgr. Charamsa has a relationship with a man, which means he broke his promise of celibacy, made freely at his ordination. This is a serious problem. Of course, any priest, be he homosexual or heterosexual, can fall in love. In such a situation, the priest in question has the obligation to take his vows and promises seriously and try and find a way to resolve the situation. And he should get all the assistance he needs, not least from his bishop and brother priests.
  3. Timing. It would be a very strange coincidence that Msgr. Charamsa made his announcement yesterday, the day before the opening of the Synod of Bishops, when all (media) eyes are on Rome. This is not the story of a victim of inhuman rules, but a well-planned and well-timed statement of disobedience. It has all the hallmarks of a man burning his bridges behind him. He should have known that this was what would happen.

Many media and commentators, including Catholic ones, reduce this to just the man’s homosexuality, to show how intolerant the Church is. It is good to remember that the outcome would have been no different if Msgr. Charamsa had revealed that he was in a relationship with a woman.

Judging by the press statement released yesterday, the Holy See was less than pleased and announced that Msgr, Charamsa would not be continuing his work at the Congegration for the Doctrine of the Faith and several Roman universities. His ordinary, Bishop Ryszard Kasyna of Pelplin, was quick to announce that Msgr. Charamsa was “admonished … to return to the way of Christ’s priesthood”.

“The freedom to commit myself” – Archbishop Heße on marriage and fatherhood

Portrait_Hesse_webThere are many eyes on the German bishops in the runup to the Synod of Bishops assembly in autumn. Their ideas about family, marriage and related topics has been much discussed and criticised. Today I came across an interview with the archbishop of Hamburg Msgr. Stefan Heße. Journalist Norbert Vojta is not overly familiar with the Catholic Church and has managed to craft an honest and open interview with the archbishop, which delves into various topics, from Pentecost and the Holy Spirit to the archbishop’s football team preferences (he has none) and hobbies (classical music). From some questions on celibacy, Archbishop Heße moves to the topic of marriage, which I share in translation here:

“I believe that freedom does not consist of me leaving everything open and free and undertermined, but instead, that I choose and commit myself. Analogously, that is also the case in marriage. […] I can’t permanently keep all options open, but I am only happy when I can concretely commit myself to someone.”

“In our understanding, I can not get a divorce. Marriage exists until death separates the spouses. The idea is that I give myself fully and completely to a person and trust him or her fully and completely. That is a magnificent undertaking. I am happy that my parents are able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Of course, I also know that marriages do fail.”

Does the archbishop have no wish to be married and have children?

“I can imagine myself as a father. In all honesty, that was a topic during my studies.That was very clearly a question I had to ask myself.”

“For me it is a comfort that I can also see myself as a husband or father. I would have found it harder if I had told myself, well, you’re unsuited to be a father or husband, so you may as well be a priest.”

2014, a year in review

As the year ends, it is once more time to look back at the past year in this blog. It wasn’t quite 2013, but there was still enough to write and think about. I have been a bit less active in writing, for reasons of real life, but the number of page views in 2014 still topped out at close to 100,000. An altogether satisfactory number.

In this review of the year, I will look back on various topics that kept us busy in 2014.

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands

jaimeThere have been many interesting things going in locally, some positive, some negative, but together they reflect the life of the Catholic Church in this country. From Roermond, the case of Bishop Frans Schraven, a martyr for the faith in China, was sent to Rome in light of a future beatification. The financial numbers of 2012 were published and showed a continued downward slope. The Dutch government sent a new – and royal – ambassador (pictured at left) to the Holy See. The Congregation for the Religious sent their second man to meet representatives of religious orders in the Netherlands. Monks of a declining abbey announced that they would be moving to a small island of the northern coast of the country. Personally, I experienced aprocession warfhuizen rain-soaked but satisfying pilgrimage (at right) to another religious site in the north. The Dutch bishops felt the need to stand up against a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and they also announced the upcoming publication of a new Missal translation. My own diocese saw the ordination of two new transitional deacons, while the sole hermit residing in that same diocese also announced the good news of his own upcoming ordination. Protestant clergy discovered the benefits, if not the deeper meaning, of the Roman collar. A community fighting the biography simonisclosing of their local Church appeal to the Pope. Catholic Voices, the successful communications initiative from the UK, launches a Dutch chapter. The retired archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Ad Simonis, is the subject of a major biography (cover at left). And in Nijmegen, the Diocese announces changes to the local university chaplaincy.

Cardinal Eijk

eijkThe archbishop of Utrecht remains unenviable as he continues in his work as president of the Bishops’ Conference, member of the Curia in Rome, and all too often a scapegoat. This year, he made headlines when stating that the decisions of the Council of Trent are still current, which caused resentment among ecumenical partners. He was also accused of vetoing a papal visit to the Netherlands, which turned out to be quite untrue, and the bishops ended the rumours by releasing a joint statement.

The seminaries

ariënsinstituut seminariansBy the end of summer, a debate erupted about the future of the seminaries in the Netherlands. Some parties advocated the creation of one or two major seminaries, while others were in favour of continuing with the current six. The majority of seminary directors seemed to favour the first option. Earlier in the year, the Archdiocese of Utrecht, restarted its own seminary (first class, staff and family at left).

Pope Francis

cardinals consistoryThe world remains interested in Pope Francis, and it was no different in this blog. First up, there was his first consistory, in which he created 16 new cardinals, including a fair few unexpected ones. The Holy Father was interviewed by young people from Belgium (at left), an interview that was also televised. Later, the verse vis,luc van looy, francisPope also sent a personal note to the Netherlands, to the participants and organisation of the Catholic Youth Festival. 50,000 altar servers from Germany made a pilgrimage to Rome, where Pope Francis spoke to them. The national Church of the Dutch, the Church of the Frisians, marked the anniversary of its dedication, and Pope Francis sent a note of congratulations. The Pope’s decision to terminate the appointment of the commander of the Swiss Guard led to much rumour, which proved pope francis curia christmas addressunfounded later. Pope Francis clarified this and other questions in a new interview. By the end of the year, Pope Francis announced his second consistory. Finally, his Christmas address to the Curia caused new shockwaves, but deserves a good reading by everyone.

New appointments

101020marx250There has been a fair amount of new appointments in 2014, and especially in Germany. First Fr. Herwig Gössl was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg. Cardinal Reinhard Marx (at left) was elected as the new president of the German Bishops’ Conference, in addition to his many other duties. In Essen, Bishop Franz Vorrath retired and Fr Wilhelm Zimmermann was appointed as new auxiliary bishop. Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg retired while his successor remains to be appointed. Fr. Stefan Oster was woelki32appointed as the new Bishop of Passau, and Fr. Stefan Burger was the new Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau. The Diocese of Erfurt was finally given a new bishop in the person of Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, after waiting for two years. The biggest appointment of the year was in Cologne, where Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (at right) returned from Berlin to succeed Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Mgr%20Bert%20van%20Megen2-loreWhile there were no new bishops in the Netherlands, a Dutch priest was appointed to represent the Holy See in Sudan and Eritrea. Father Bert van Megen (at left) was consecrated by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

In Rome, there were also some notable appointments: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera left the Congregation or Divine Worship to become Archbishop of his native Valencia. He was later succeeded by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Lastly, Pope Francis appointed a new camerlengo and vice-camerlengo.

The Synod

eijk synodThe big topic in the second half of the year was the Synod of Bishops’ Extraordinary Assembly on the family. In the eyes of the rest of the world, Germany remains a focal point of liberal trends that are at odds with Catholic teaching. That is not always true, but some bishops did strengthen that opinion. Bishop Ackermann of Trier was the first to be criticised for his comments on marriage and sexuality. From Brazil, Austrian-born Bishop Kräutler made comments on celibacy, the ordination of women and the Eucharist, and is said to have the Pope’s blessing to develop these ideas further in johan-bonnyBrazil. In Belgium, Bishop Johan Bonny (at left)was the loudest voice to advocate changes in the teachings on marriage, both before and after the Synod. At the Synod, Belgian Cardinal Danneels spoke in favour of mercy, but did not go as far as Bishop Bonny. In the Netherlands, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts explained that the Synod was not about changing doctrine, and Bishop Gerard de Korte stressed the importance of mercy and finding new words to reach people. How doctrine can change remains an important question.


tebartzSpilling over from last year, the final acts of the case of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (at right) and the Diocese of Limburg played out as it became clear that the Vatican did not want the bishop to stay. He was to retire and Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of neighbouring Paderborn was appointed as Apostolic Administrator. The last statement of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst spoke of forgiveness and a new beginning. Bishop Grothe presented an overview of the situation since then in his letter for Advent.

Sexual abuse

gijsenThe sexual abuse crisis, while quieter than in the past, still continues, with a few shocking revelations and continuing developments in helping the victims. In 2014, three claims of abuse against the late Bishop Gijsen (at left) were deemed plausible, and the late Bishop Niënhaus, auxiliary of Utrecht, was revealed to have been guilty of sexual abuse. Shortly after the news about Bishop Gijsen, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond offered a Mass of penance and reconciliation and said that there is no excuse for sexual abuse by people of the Church. Later, a court decision forced the bishops to continue accepting new claims of abuse by deceased perpetrators, or cases which happened too long ago to be pursued by a court, until well into 2015.

International events

frans van der lugtThis blog has a clear focus on the local Church in Northwestern Europe, and also on Rome of course, but sometimes events in other parts of the world deserve a place here. In fact, the most-read blog post of the year, with more than 3,900 views, is in this category. It is the sad news of the death of Fr. Frans van der Lugt (at right) in Syria. Another death, this time because of a car crash, was vital wilderinkthat of Dutch-born Bishop Vital Wilderink (at left) in Brazil. Also in South America, the retirement of the Bishop of Paramaribo, also a Dutchman, mad me wonder of his successor would be a native son of Suriname. And then there was the shocking crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine, shot down by rebels, killing 298 people.

From Rome

marriageAnd lastly, Rome also had its say in various developments and decisions which came down to us. The Congregation or Divine Worship urged for restraint in the sign of peace during Mass, Pope Francis married 20 Roman couples and changes in the Curia gave some indications of the future.


In 2014 the following cardinals returned to the Father:

  • José da Cruz Cardinal Policarpo, Cardinal-priest of San Antonio in Campo Marzio, Patriarch emeritus of Lisbon
  • Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, Cardinal-Patriarch, Patriarch emeritus of Babylon of the Chaldeans
  • Marco Cardinal Cé, Cardinal-Priest of San Marco, Patriarch emeritus of Venice
  • Duraisamy Simon Cardinal Lourdusamy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie alle Fornaci fuori Porta Cavalleggeri, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Archbishop emeritus of Bangalore
  • Bernard Cardinal Agré, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Crisostomo a Monte Sacro Alto, Archbishop emeritus of Abidjan
  • Francesco Cardinal Marchisano, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, President emeritus of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See
  • Edward Bede Cardinal Clancy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Vallicella, Archbishop emeritus of Sydney
  • Edmund Casimir Cardinal Szoka, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Andrea e Gregorio  al Monte Celio, Archbishop emeritus of Detroit, President emeritus of the Governorate of the Vatican City State, President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission or the Vatican City State
  • Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini, Cardinal-Priest of Santo Spirito  in Sassia, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
  • Jorge María Cardinal Mejía, Cardinal-Priest of San Girolamo della Carità, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist emeritus of the Vatican Secret Archives

Whereas 2013 saw the death of more than a few bishops in Northwestern Europa, in 2014 we lost only two:

  • Bishop Hubert Luthe, Bishop emeritus of Essen
  • Bishop Wolfgang Kirchgässner, Titular Bishop of Druas, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Freiburg im Breisgau

The fluidity of doctrine – looking back at the Synod

Bishop Gerard de Korte looks back on the Synod:

bisschop de korte“Pope Francis’ thinking is process-oriented. The Synod (‘journeying together’) which has now ended was a moment on the way. The Church is on her way to a new Synod in October of 2015. In the meanwhile the thinking about sexuality, marriage and family continues in the worldwide community of faith.

Building bridges, not destroying them, as Church is in the spirit of Pope Francis and the Synod. Personally I advocate a ‘ministry of encounter’.

We can’t kick people with marriage problems or other relational worries when they’re down, but we should stand with and help them. In that way we follow in the footsteps of Christ who, as the Good Samaritan, seeks out and heals people who lie wounded on the side of the way of life. Catholic ministry will not repel or write off people but try and meet them in the places where they are. In that, the Catholic shepherd is called to manifest God’s unconditional love for imperfect people.

Media report that the Church wants to be more merciful but that doctrine is unchangeable. I think that is too simplistic. Life means growth and change. That is also true for the life of the Church. Christian teaching knows development (Cardinal John Henry Newman). When our thinking is historical-organical it becomes clear how important the hermeneutic questions are. The doctrine of the Church must continuously be interpreted and communicated. Of course, the spirit of the times can never be a deciding factor in that. He who marries the spirit of the times, is soon widowed. But we should wonder of we have sufficiently probed the wealth of Scripture and Catholic Tradition (Cardinal Reinhard Marx). In that sense the doctrine of the Church must always be actualised to stay close to life.

Going towards the Synod of October 2015, there are important questions on the Church’s agenda. How can we help young people to grow towards the sacrament of marriage? How do we help couples to strengthen and deepen their marriage bond? How do we stand with people who failed and were unable to fulfill their word of faithfulness?

An important questions, it seems to me, is also how love, friendship and affection can take shape for people who do not live within the bond of marriage. In our country millions of people live outside of marriage. The Church traditionally asks them to live in abstinence. But what does this mean in real situations, certainly when we realise that celibate life is a charisma, a gift from God, which few people receive. When we acknowledge that the questions of relationship ‘within the boundaries of Catholic morality become all the more exiting. In short, there is much work to do for the faith community.

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”

The bishop raises good questions, ones that certainly need answering. But not just theoretical answers. These questions instead need practical solutions, they need to become visible in how the Church acts and speaks, not just how she thinks. That’s what the Synod is about, too: the question of how teachings become reality for people living in the world.

The doctrine of the Church, the rich body of faith that she protects and communicates, is neither completely solid nor completely fluid. Comments about doctrine continuously needing to be interpreted, as made by Bishop de Korte above, are often understood to mean that what the Church once believed to be true, need not be believed anymore (not that am I saying that the bishop holds to this). That is quite simply wrong.

In his most recent blog post, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York writes:

Cardinal-Timothy-Dolan“We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion”.  That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.”

We find this everywhere in the Bible. God reveals Himself to people and over the course of history we get to know Him more and more, and our relationship with Him develops. But at the start, there are certain truths which we know because they have been revealed. These divine truths are unchangeable, as they exist independent of us. So when we say that we must interpret or develop doctrine, we always have these revealed truths as our solid basis. Does that limit us? Perhaps it does, but only because it’s not only about us. God is the other party in the relationship and His contributions, His truth about Himself, creation and human nature and purpose, must equally be acknowledged.

Developing doctrine must be understood as increasing our knowledge and understanding of it, building on what we already know. That deeper understanding is one step, the communication and manifestation of it is another. And that, again, is what the Synod is intended to encourage.

But, as a final aside, not every doctrine is dogmatic (ie. held to be absolutely and unchanging true). Non-dogmatic teachings and practices, such as certain rituals and traditions of the Church, can certainly change. But if we want to change them, we must always ask ourselves: why do want them to change, and why do we have them in the first place? Perhaps then we’ll find that it is sometimes better to hold onto teachings, instead of doing away with them.

Scalfari again

My stats counter tells me that a fair number of people come here to read about the interview that Eugenio Scalfari, editor of La Repubblica, had with Pope Francis. The most recent one, mind you, not the one that made headlines a year ago.

I’m not going to write much about it, though, because I think it is a highly problematic thing. Dutch Catholic blogger Anton de Wit says it best, in my opinion, when he writes about the percentage of pedophiles among the priesthood, allegedly given by the Pope as 2%: “A statistic conjured out of thin air, pure fiction, hearsay from a journalist who says he had heard it from the Pope, who had heard it from some unspecified personnel, who in turn, no doubt, had heard it from someone else again.”

Scalfari, as is generally known now, took no notes and made no recordings during the interview. The complete content of the article is taken down from memory. He nonetheless provides what appear to be direct quotes Pope Francis, but the way in which the data was collected makes the entire article inherently unreliable.

I wonder about the wisdom of granting such interviews. They sow confusion as words are put in the Pope’s mouth which we just have to assume are correct until the Holy See’s press office issues a statement, as they did, that none of the quotes can be assumed as attributable to the Pope. The first interview was already problematic, but Pope Francis grants a second one without, it seems, much concern. We are told that the Pope knows 2% of all priests are pedophiles, that there are cardinals among that number, and that he intends to find a solution for the problem of celibacy. And the memory of a 90-year-old atheist editor is the only source for this. The press office can do all it wants to deny it, but the damage is done as soon as the interview is published.

You can’t grant interviews to journalist who are known to be unreliable in collecting and sharing their information, and then hope to correct any errors that pop up.

Away with celibacy! – If 26 Italian ladies get their way

Several media reported today that 26 Italian women wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking him to do away with that nasty old rule called celibacy for priests. The reason? They are in love, have been in love, or want to be in love with their parish priest and they can’t do anything because the priest is unavailable because of his vow of celibacy.

This causes suffering, the ladies say. Suffering is bad, so let’s do away with the reason for their pain, they suggest to the Pope.

What immediately sprung to my mind was this question: what if these women had fallen in love with married men? That can happen, after all. Shouldn’t they ask the Pope to get rid of that nasty old sacrament of matrimony? After all, it makes the objects of their affection unattainable. That hurts.

Celibacy and matrimony are of course not completely comparable. The one is a human construct with serious spiritual benefits, the other a sacrament from God that we people are given to accept or not, as we choose. But both are entered into freely and in full knowledge of what they entail (at least, one should seriously hope so!). Both help the persons involved – husband and wife, priest of the Lord – reach their full potential according to what God calls them to.

I’m not denying that the women in question are not suffering. Unrequited love is painful, there is no doubt about that. But we must not forget that there are things that are impossible. That can be a learning process, and looking back later we may find that it was good to go through it. Simply calling whatever stands in their way – in this case celibacy – an obstacle to be removed does a great disservice to all involved.

The hopes of Bishop Kräutler

kräutlerHe is said to work closely with Pope Francis in the latter’s future encyclical on ecology, and as such he has been interviewed several times, not only about his own work, but also about his expectations for the future. Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Austrian but living in Brazil, most recently appeared in an interview for Austrian daily Die Presse. And much like the statements of other perceived close collaborators of the Pope, such as Cardinal Walter Kasper and Bishop Nunzio Galantino, Bishop Kräutler’s words are their own source of concern.

You can read my translation of the interview here, but there are a few passages that I want to highlight.

  • A right to the Eucharist. Bishop Kräutler agrees when the interviewer states that faithful have a right to the Eucharist. The bishop is about half right. The Church has the duty to bring the Eucharist to the faithful as much as possible, but the faithful can not exercise a right to receive the Lord. No one has that right. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which is made present in every Mass, making it possible for us to receive Him in Communion, was a free choice from the Lord. He was under no obligation to do that for us, but He did it all the same (which indicates what a mind-boggling event that really is). But no one could or can demand that He gives Himself to us.
  • Celibacy. This is not really problematic, although I don’t agree with the bishop’s reasons. But the Eucharist does not depend on the priest’s celibacy, as the bishop claims. It depends on no characteristic of the priest, actually. If the priest does as Christ did, in unity with the Church, the consecration takes place and the Eucharist is celebrated.
  • Bishops’ conferences. Bishop Kräutler dishonestly contrasts Pope Francis with Pope Benedict XVI, by stating that it was impossible to make proposals to any Pope before Francis. This is an obvious untruth, and it is shameful to depict Benedict as inactive, even unwilling, because he emphasised the importance of prayer.
  • Ordination of women. The door is closed, but it’s still a door, so it may open. Nonsense. Pope St. John Paul II has been very clear that the Church is simply not able to ordain women, and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have  simply upheld this conclusion. Impossible things are not certainly possible because we want them to.
  • Refusing Communion. A person’s conscience is indeed the first arbiter of whether or not we should come forward to Communion. But that conscience needs to be formed properly, and there the Church, in the persons of bishops and priests, has an important duty. To say that a bishop has no right to deny is denying an important duty he has.

The 1970s clearly are not dead yet…

One of the main problems with these kinds of ‘revelations’ and predictions of the future is that it’s all hearsay and speculation. We hear from secondary sources what the Pope did or did not say, wants or does not want, while  we have no way to verify if his words were communicated accurately and completely. And in the case of Bishop Kräutler, Pope Francis’ actions are heavily tinted by the bishops own old-fashioned hopes and ideas. In the end, we can only wait until something actually happens.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler was born in Koblach, Austria, in 1939 and was ordained a priest for the Society of the Precious Blood in 1965, at which time he moved to Brazil. In 1980 he was appointed as Coadjutor Prelate of Xingu in Brazil, succeeding his own uncle, Bishop Eurico Kräutler in 1981. Xingu covers a large area of the east-central Amazon basin, with the city of Altamira at its heart.