Presenting the Synod Fathers

In addition to delegates from the world’s bishops’ conferences, three president-delegates (Cardinals Tong Hon, Robles Ortega and Monsengwo Pasinya), the relator-general (Cardinal Wuerl) and the secretary (Archbishop Carré), the Holy Father specifically appointed 36 Synod fathers for this autumn’s Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the new evangelisation. Later, there will be additional lay men and women who will be invited to contribute as well.

The list of the 36 Synod Fathers is as follows:

  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals.
  • Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, Germany.
  • Cardinal Vinko Puljic, archbishop of Vrhbosna, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and president of SECAM/SCEAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar).
  • Cardinal Christoph Schönborn O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria.
  • Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia.
  • Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia.
  • Cardinal Péter Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary and president of CCEE (Council of European Episcopal Conferences).
  • Cardinal Agostino Vallini, His Holiness’ vicar general for the diocese of Rome.
  • Cardinal Lluis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain.
  • Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, France.
  • Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India and secretary general of FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences).
  • Patriarch Francesco Moraglia of Venice, Italy.
  • Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria.
  • Archbishop Hector Ruben Aguer of La Plata, Argentina.
  • Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza of Guayaquil, Ecuador, president of the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference.
  • Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, president of FCBCO (Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania).
  • Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation.
  • Archbishop José Horacio Gomez of Los Angeles, U.S.A.
  • Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, president of CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Council).
  • Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England.
  • Archbishop Ricardo Antonio Tobon Restrepo of Medellin, Colombia.
  • Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila, Philippines.
  • Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy.
  • Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, prelate of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei.
  • Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France.
  • Bishop Menghisteab Tesfamariam M.C.C.J., eparch of Asmara, Eritrea.
  • Bishop Benedito Beni dos Santos of Lorena, Brazil.
  • Bishop Santiago Jaime Silva Retamales, auxiliary of Valparaiso, Chile and secretary general of CELAM.
  • Bishop Luigi Negri of San Marino-Montefeltro, Italy.
  • Bishop Alberto Francisco Sanguinetti Montero of Canelones, Uruguay.
  • Bishop Enrico Dal Covolo S.D.B., rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
  • Fr. Julian Carron, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.
  • Fr. Renato Salvatore M.I., superior general of the Clerks Regular Ministers to the Sick (Camillians).
  • Fr. Heinrich Walter, superior general of the Schönstatt Fathers.
  • Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil C.M.I., prior general of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate
Four of the Synod Fathers: Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishops Onaiyekan and Longley, and Fr. Walter.

The list is an interesting mix of the old guard (Sodano, Meisner) and the up and coming (Gomez, Tagle), and also includes a number of prelates who have recently worked closely with the pope on papal visits (Pengo, Longley, Onaiyekan, Negri). Although hand-picked for the Synod, these prelates are not more or less important then the delegates from all over the world. They will be full and active participants on the Synod, though, and at least some of them may be expected to contribute significantly.

Archbishop Fisichella calls Europe’s main archbishops to Rome

Archbishop Salvatore "Rino" Fisichella

In what seems to be an attempt to establish local centres of evangelisation in those areas most affected by secularisation, Archbishop Rino Fischella of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation has met with the archbishops of some of the most important European archdioceses. Specifically, they came from archdioceses who themselves “have put into play new evangelization initiatives in European countries where the Catholic faith is going through a season of deep crisis”, the Vatican Insider reports.

Meeting with Archbishop Fisichella and with one another to exchange ideas, plans and experiences, were Péter Cardinal Erdő (Esztergom-Budapest), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Dublin), Joachim Cardinal Meisner (Cologne), José Cardinal Policarpo (Lisbon), Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard (Brussels), Archbishop Patrick Kelly (Liverpool), Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (Vienna), Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz (Warsaw), Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia (Turin), Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach (Barcelona) and André Cardinal Vingt-Trois (Paris).

A select company with some striking gaps; there are major European dioceses which are not represented. It may be concluded that these have yet to implement plans and projects for new evangelisation, but perhaps this meeting can be a starting point for them. If the Pontifical Council can collect the plans that exist and use them to take further steps, perhaps on a larger European scale, it may be able to learn from the experiences of those ‘on the ground’, so to speak. A good approach, it seems, which does not disregard what developments have already been made.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianch

What’s up in Austria?

A question that’s been popping up here and there, following a meeting between the Austrian bishops and representatives of the parish councils of Austria in Mariazell. First Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt says in an interview that the choice of celibacy should be made by every priests individually, and also that the ordination of women should be opened in the future. And then later Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, says he shares the concerns of the other bishops about these matters, although he does not endorse a change in Church discipline in these matters.

I think that, in the case of Bishop Iby, who is 75 and has already offered his resignation to the pope, it is the old guard talking. The pressure on the Austrian bishops from liberal groups to end mandatory celibacy for priests is said to be quite high. Certain bishops, formed and ordained in the tumultuous 60s, 70s and 80s, are only to keen to go along with that. Bishops and priests are, after all, still products of their time. It is the malformed ‘spirit of Vatican II’ at work. I have to wonder if these issues are truly on the minds of the faithful, though.

In the case of Cardinal Schönborn the situation is a bit different, I think. I find it hard to read the man; one moment he says things that are fully in line with a sensible faith, and the next he does or says something naive and inconsiderate. But on this issue we should understand him to speak as the chair of the Austrian bishops’ conference. As such he can’t do anything but recognise the concerns raised in that conference. He also added that he is “happy to be in a Church in which there is freedom of speech and opinion.” And that’s very true: contrary to the impression of some outside the Church, there is ample room for debate and discussion about all manner of topics. But at a certain point the time for debate is over and decisions need to be made and upheld. That too is part of the Catholic understanding of authority: bishops, priests and laity are free to question everything (after all, questions can lead to understanding), but there must also be a good understanding of who can decide and enforce what. Celibacy is not a dogmatic institution and can indeed be discussed (and who knows, it may even be (partly) abolished in the future), but Rome will have the final say on the matter. Not Bishop Iby or a ‘We Are Church’ group.

A source.

Two points of view on the abuse case, and further developments.

In all affected countries there has been a lot of discussion about the abuse of minors committed by priests, religious and employees of Catholic institutions. Cardinals Kasper and Schönborn have both called for a thorough investigation and a review of the education and formation of priests, respectively. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg im Breisgau, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference is in Rome to confer with the Holy Father.

Closer to home, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam has written a pastoral letter to all the faithful in his diocese, explaining the situation and the decisions made by the bishops’ conference. He points out that the issue is not exclusive to the Church, that it is symptomatic of the excessive sexualisation of society, but he understands society’s need to first look to the Church in this case. He hopes that the victims of abuse in non-ecclesiastic contexts may also be heard.

The bishop’s letter is available, in my translation, here.

In the mean time, the media is abuzz with all kinds of reports. A lawyer wishes to prosecute the Archdiocese of Utrecht as a criminal organisation, two men in Limburg have expressed the desire to financially undress the Church… all understandably emotional responses, but hardly constructive.

From the Protestant side, Dr. A.H. Veerman, preacher in the protestant community in ‘t Harde, offers some thoughts as well. He sees the abuse issue as damaging for all churches. “Most people don’t make a distinction between Catholic and protestant. This is greatly damaging to the Name and case of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Veerman  was promoted in 2005 on a case study on sexual abuse among preachers. “We really can’t say that sexual abuse occurs more in the Roman Catholic Church than in protestant churches. It is true that the abuse that is now revealed in the Roman Catholic Church more often concerns children and young people. In protestant churches it is more about preachers who are sexually out of line towards adults.”

He says that research shows that abuse does not happen more often within churches than without. “But not less either. But that is no excuse – because it shouldn’t happen in the church at all.”

Veerman also says that the structure of the protestant church prevented much serialised abuse. The structure of Catholic boarding schools, for example, meant that one person could do a lot of damage.

When asked if he thought that the celibate life of a priest is one of the causes, he said: “No, not celibacy in itself. I once read somewhere that celibacy is not wrong, but the fact that people with a problematic sexuality use celibacy as an excuse to not work on their problems. That is certainly true. I don’t see celibacy in itself as the cause of this kind of derailment. In protestant churches for example, there are many narcissistic preachers. That is not because of the preacherhood, but of the character of people abusing the preacherhood.”

Lastly, Drs. Wim Deetman, the former cabinet secretary and mayor of The Hague, has spoken today about his task as head of the committee to investigate abuse in the Catholic Church. Some statements:

“My work will focus on the following targets: formulating the research question; establishing methods and fields of investigation; manning the eventual committee; establishing a timeline and guaranteeing an independent, careful and transparent investigation.”

“To achieve these goals I will call on external expertise. In the past days several people have already offered this expertise. That is understandable, but not decisive in the choice that will be made. This phase too will be independent.”

“I expect to finish my work in six to eight weeks. Until that time there will be no further statement to the press.”

About the decision to choose him for the role of principal investigator he said: “I am the right person for this role? I am not Catholic. In Catholic circles there are people with much more knowledge. But the wish to emphasise independence is more important. There is a lot of pain, a lot of sorrow. In such a case, you must have a very good reason to say no.”

Sources: Reformatorisch Dagblad, RKK.nl and Rorate

The problem of Medjugorje

The alleged pilgrimage site Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently been in the news again. The site, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared virtually daily since 1981, was visited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, despite the fact that Rome does not acknowledge the apparitions as authentic. Local Bishop Ratko Peric had to explain that fact once more.

Medjugorje is a popular place for thousands of pilgrims, and the prayer, conversion and sacraments received there are often considered evidence for the authenticity of the site. So what is the problem?

Mariologist and theologian Fr. Manfred Hauke (pictured) was asked about that by German Catholic news paper Die Tagespost. It’s an interesting read, sometimes a bit heavy on theology (not that that’s a bad thing), and it emphasises some of the dubious claims made by the seers and priests associated with Medjugorje, and also presses for clarity and openness about it from the side of the Church.

Because of Medjugorje’s enormous popularity, especially among European pilgrims, I thought it important to also have the interview available in Dutch. Many Dutch parishes and other Catholic organisations still perform pilgrimages to Medjugorje. These are even advertised in national Catholic newspapers. Like Fr. Hauke says:  “If a new investigative commission reaches a recognition that certain characteristics indissolubly connected with the phenomenon of the apparitions speak against their authenticity, then the love of truth demands that this be made known with all clarity and that Catholic Christians be warned expressly against “pilgrimages”.

An English version of the interview has been duly translated by Catholic Light.

Interview with Cardinal Schönborn

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. In the past weeks his visit to Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje has been the reason for criticism and, rumour has it, a private audience with the pope. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, last Friday, German Catholic news outlet Kath.net had an interview with the cardinal. He talks about his relationship with Christ, the past and future, the media and the Church, the Wagner affair, and indeed Medjugorje.

by Petra Knapp-Biermeier

Kath.net: Lord Cardinal, on 22 January you celebrate your 65th birthday, for which we heartily congratulate you. To start with a  ‘birthday question’, which takes us a bit into the realm of fantasy: it is the year 2020, you are celebrating your 75th birthday, and you are looking back on the past ten years. What is the best of these ten years? What of the things that you have achieved, experienced or overcome, pleases you?

Cardinal Schönborn: I have to be honest and say that I can’t answer that, since I can’t see into the future. Of course, I see tasks in my services to the diocese. I can only say: my wish for the coming years is simply that we will live ever more in faith, hope and love, that we will be connected to Christ, that many people will understand this faith, that many people will be open to the mercy and allow God to affect them. That is really all I can say. But I believe that that is the most important.

KATH.NET: In hard times, what has helped you to go on and look to the future without doubt?

Cardinal Schönborn: Always two things: my relationship with Christ and my friends. I believe that that is the essence. Recourse to Jesus is always truly affirming and supporting, to be  actively connected to Him, concretely in the Gospel, to His person, His words, to His life, particularly in the Eucharist, his presence in the tabernacle. The other thing is the invaluable gift of friendship that Jesus has established between Him and us, because He also wanted to be alive among us.

KATH.NET: Many people are open to God, but reject the Church as an institution. What do you say to them?

Cardinal Schönborn: I often and directly say: I was that you may have the same positive experience in the Church that I had. To that I usually add that I know that I can easily say that when you didn’t have such an experience yourself. But for me the Church has always been a home. I thank the Church for so very much and therefore I wish that others can have the same experience. I also ask them to remove preconceptions. The mistakes of the Church should admitted and be named. Jesus did the same towards His apostles, and the apostles did it in the gospels. They loyally wrote about the mistakes they made themselves. But we should also speak up when the Church has been done an injustice, when false preconceptions exist. We should know the history of the Church better. There are exceedingly false depictions of the crusades, the inquisition or the affairs around Galilei. These typical reproaches against the Church usually come from a very deep ignorance. We have the task to discredit and explain all preconceptions.

KATH.NET: Lord Cardinal, you have contributed to Church history – the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What changes or developments would you still like to see within the Church?

Cardinal Schönborn: The great new mission in Europe! That certainly is a great dream. Europe was initially evangelised in early Christian times, the apostolic times. The apostles travelled far. The Iro-Scottish monks were the second great missionary wave. The waves of evangelisation were also always waves of renewal. The great  monasticism reform of Cluny, followed by the reform of Citeaux with its enormous expansion with monasteries over all of Europe. With the growth of the cities came the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, who evangelised the growing urban population. That was followed by the great renewal of the Counter-Reformation. The 19th century, during the industrialisation, was also a  source of renewal in the Church. I hope we will see something similar in our time. But we don’t really control that – they are forces that come from inside, from the power of Heaven. Renewal must truly come from the power of God. But there are many signs that the Lord is also the Lord of history: if he told Abraham that He could bring the stones to live,  he can spring a new source of fervour for the gospel in Europe, where the faith has grown weak, through special mercies.

KATH.NET: In the last few days you have visited Pope Benedict XVI. Did you tell him about your positive impression of Medjugorje? Did he say anything about that?

Cardinal Schönborn: One usually doesn’t speak about audiences. But of course I can say this much: Medjugorje is a topic in Rome now, because of the publicity surrounding my pilgrimage. I reported about my impressions in Rome. And I trust that the Committee, which the Holy Father established to research the events at Medjugorje, will do god and responsible work, and the result will certainly be very positive. I am certain that they’ll be careful and sensitive about this phenomenon, which by now has attracted 30 million pilgrims and has given much good fruits, as well as many questions.

KATH.NET: Recently, the numbers of Church leavings were presented in Austria. From 40,654 leavings in 2008 to 53,215 in 2009 was a major increase. How do you see this development, what do you think is the reason for it, and how will the Church respond?

Cardinal Schönborn: There are some precise indications: The strong increase in Church leavings in the beginning of the year seems to have to do with the response to the appointment of a bishop and the Williamson affair and the strong reactions to those. But the fact that the leavings remained high throughout the year has, in our opinion, to do with the economic crisis. Many people have worries about their jobs. They simply save money were possible, and that directly affects the Church contributions. Sadly we have not succeeded to explain to contributing Catholics that, when they have financial problems, there are reductions possible. Many people pay their contribution without requesting a reduction or a partial payback – and that;s the end of the story.

KATH.NET: The Church has been confronted with the involvement of the media and lobbyists at the appointment of bishops. What do you think of this development? Should the Church respond to this pressure from outside, and how?

Cardinal Schönborn: That has always been the case. Even when I look at my own family history – I am the eighth bishop in my family -, what manner of tensions and conflict there were, for example on the baroque period. it’s a sign of life, that there is an interest in the bishop. If no one cared who would become a bishop, that would be a bad sign. The fact that many people were concerned about who became bishop is a sign that many people feel that the office of bishop is important in the Church. And of course there are ideological conflict surrounding the appointment of bishops.

If someone is said to be conservative, you may be sure that there will be protests from the media. But the person in question also has some influence. One can’t and shouldn’t avoid all conflicts, but many don’t exists until we cause them ourselves. But here we should look at the individual case. One thing is clear: the Church has long fought for the freedom to appoint her own bishops. She can’t and won’t renounce this freedom. The pope is free to appoint bishops. Of course it’s important that he receives good information so that the institutes that prepare they can work well and thoroughly. And I’m certain that they do this. But the local churches themselves also have responsibility, because Church law dictates that every bishops’ conference must forward a list of possible bishop candidates to Rome every three years. And every single bishop is similarly charged to send well-founded reports for the appointment of bishops to Rome. We have often neglected to do that in Austria.

KATH.NET: Thank you very much for this interview and good wishes and God’s blessing on your birthday!

Source