2016, a look back

Another year nears its end, the seventh of this blog, which is always a good opportunity to look back, especially at what has appeared here in the blog over the course of 2016. I have grouped things loosely in various categories, so as to give an impression of cohesion.

francisPope Francis at work

In Rome, and despite turning 80 this year, Pope Francis kept up the pace, introducing several changes, expected and unexpected. First, in January, he issued a decree which opened the rite of foot washing on Maundy Thursday also for women. I reflected on it here.

On Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father sent out 1,000 missionaries of mercy, among them 13 Dutch priests, as part of the ongoing Holy Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis commented on the question of female deacons, which led to much debate, at least in Catholic social media. I also shared my thoughts.

A smaller debate revolved around an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by the Pope, about Christian burial.

The reform of the Curia also continued, first with the creation of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life and the appoinment of Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell as its first prefect; and then with the creation of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, for which the Pope picked Cardinal Peter Turkson as head.

Cardinals of St. LouisPope Francis also added to the College of Cardinals, as he called his third consistory, choosing seventeen new cardinals from all over the world.

Towards the end of the year, and following the end of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter about the absolution from the sin of abortion, a faculty now extended to all priests.

The Pope abroad

Pope Francis made several visits abroad this year. To Cuba and Mexico, to Greece, to Armenia, to Poland, to Georgia and Azerbaijan, but the last one received the most attention here. For two days, Pope Francis put ecumenism in the spotlight during his visit to Sweden. Announced in January as a one-day visit, a second day was added in June. In October, the Nordic bishops previewed the visit in a pastoral letter, which I published in English.

The abuse crisis

Still here, and unlikely to go completely away in the next years or decades, the abuse crisis continues to haunt the Church. in February there were shocked reactions to comments made by a prelate during a conference on how bishops should handle abuse allegations. I tried to add some context here. In the Netherlands there was indignation when it became clear that a significant number of abuse cases settled out of court included a secrecy clause, preventing victims from speaking negatively about the Church institutions under whose care they suffered abuse. In April, the annual statistics of abuse cases processed and compensation paid out were released.

Amoris laetitia

In April Amoris laetitia was released, the Post-Synodal Exhortation that was the fruit of the two Synod of Bishops assemblies on the family. Cardinal Eijk, the Dutch delegate to the assemblies, offered his initial thoughts about the document, followed by many other bishops.

4cardinalsWhile the document was broadly lauded, an ambuguous footnote led to much discussion. In November, four cardinals publised a list of dubia they presented to the Pope, but which received no answer. Citing the clear uncertainty about certain parts of Amoris laetitia, visible in the wide range of conclusions drawn, the cardinals respectfully asked for clarification, which they will most likely not be getting, at least not in the standard way.

The local churches

There were many more and varied events in local churches in the Netherlands and beyond. Theirs is a very general category, aiming to showcase some of the more important and interesting developments in 2016.

In January, the Belgian bishops elected then-Archbishop Jozef De Kesel as their new president. At the same time, Cardinal Wim Eijk announced that he would not be available for a second term as president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. In June, Bishop Hans van den Hende was chosen to succeed him.

bisschop HurkmansBishop Antoon Hurkmans retired as Bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and in January he sent his final message to the faithful of his diocese, asking for unity with the new bishop. In April, rumours started floating that the bishops had suggested Bishop Hurkmans as new rector of the Church of the Frisians in Rome.

The Dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden celebrated the 60th anniversary of their establishment.

On Schiermonnikoog, the Cistercian monks, formerly of Sion Abbey, found a location for their new monastery.

The Dutch and Belgian bishops announced a new translation of the Lord’s Prayera new translation of the Lord’s Prayer, to be introduced on the first Sunday of Advent.

church-498525_960_720A photograph of the cathedral of Groningen-Leeuwarden started appearing across the globe as a stock photo in articles about the Catholic Church. It continues to do so, as I saw it appear, some time last week, in an advert for a concert by a Dutch singer.

Speaking in Lourdes in May, Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz spoke open-heartedly about his deteriorating Eyesight.

In June, Fr. Hermann Scheipers passed away. The 102-year-old priest was the last survivor of Dachau concentration camp’s priest barracks.

In that same month, the nestor of the Dutch bishops marked the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Huub Ernst is 99 and currently the sixth-oldest bishop in the world.

In Belgium, the new Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels closed down the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, erected by his predecessor, to the surprise of many.

Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt received a personal message and blessing from Pope Francis on the occasion of the 18th Coronation Feasts held in Hasselt in the summer.

willibrordprocessie%202014%2006%20img_9175The annual procession in honour of St. Willibrord in Utrecht was criticised this year after the archbishop chose to limit its ecumenical aspect. I shared some thoughts here.

In Norway, Trondheim completed and consecrated a new cathedral. English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was sent to represent the Holy Father at the event.

The retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, was heard from again when a new book featured his thoughts about never having been made a cardinal, unlike his immediate predecessors and, it turned out at about the time of the book’s publication, is successor.

At the end of the year, Berlin was hit by terrorism as a truck plowed through a Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding numerous others. Archbishop Heiner Koch offered a poetic reflection.

The Dutch Church abroad

In foreign media, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands also made a few headlines.

naamloosIn September, Cardinal Eijk was invited to speak at the annual assembly of the Canadian bishops, sharing his experiences and thoughts concerning the legalisation of assisted suicide. In the wake of that meeting, he also floated the idea that the Pope could write an encyclical on the errors of gender ideology.

in Rome, 2,000 Dutch pilgrims were met by Pope Francis, who spoke to them about being channels of mercy.

The new Dutch translation of the Our Father also sparked fears in some quarters that the bishops were leading everyone into heresy, leading to many faithful revolting against the new text. The truth was somewhat less exciting.

Equally overexcited was the report of empty parishes and starving priests in the Netherlands. I provided some necessary details here.

In Dutch

While my blog is written in English, there have also been three blog posts in Dutch. All three were translations of texts which were especially interesting or important. The first was my translation of the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, an important milestone in ecumenical relations between the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

IMG_7842Then there was the headline-making address by Cardinal Robert Sarah at the Sacra Liturgia Conference in London, in which the cardinal invited priests to start celebrating ad orientem again. But the text contained much more than that, and remains well worth reading.

Lastly, I provided translations of all the papal addresses and homilies during the Holy Father’s visit to Sweden. I kept the post at the top of the blog for a while, as a reflection of its importance for Dutch-speaking Christians as well.

A thank you

Twice in 2016 I asked my readers to contribute financially to the blog. In both instances several of you came through, using the PayPal button in the sidebar to donate. My gratitude to you remains.

2016 in appointments

Obituary

As every year, there is also death. Notewrothy this year were the following:

  • 26 March: Bishop Andreas Sol, 100, Bishop emeritus of Amboina.
  • 31 March: Georges-Marie-Martin Cardinal Cottier, 93, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Domenico e Sisto, Pro-Theologian emeritus of the Prefecture of the Papal Household.
  • 16 May: Giovanni Cardinal Coppa, 90, Cardinal-Deacon of San Lino, Apostolic Nuncio emeritus to the Czech Republic.
  • 26 May: Loris Cardinal Capovilla, 100, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Archbishop-Prelate emeritus of Loreto.
  • 9 July: Silvano Cardinal Piovanelli, 92, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie a Via Trionfale, Archbishop emeritus of Firenze.
  • 2 August: Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, 89, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni a Porta Latina, Archbishop emeritus of Kraków.
  • 18 August: Bishop Jan Van Cauwelaert, 102, Bishop emeritus of Inongo.
  • 13 November: Bishop Aloysius Zichem, 83, Bishop emeritus of Paramaribo.
  • 21 November: Bishop Maximilian Ziegelbauer, 93, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Augsburg.
  • 14 December: Paulo Cardinal Arns, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Antonio da Padova in Via Tuscolana, Archbishop emeritus of São Paulo, Protopriest of the College of Cardinals.
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More people and better visibility – Trondheim gets ready for its new cathedral

Yesterday, Pope Francis chose Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to be his official representative at the consecration of the new cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. Where Church attendance falls all over northern and western Europe, the Scandinavian dioceses (and two territorial prelatures, of which Trondheim is one) are showing growing numbers, chiefly through immigration from countries such as Poland and the Philippines.

1008h-forplass-rammesok-red

An artist’s impression of the finished cathedral, seen from the north side.

The new cathedral, dedicated to Saint Olav like its predecessor, will be consecrated on 19 November. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who was the archbishop of Westminster from 2000 to 2009, will concelebrate and give the homily during the Mass. He is present not in his own name, but in the name of the Holy Father. Papal envoys are usually sent to major events, such as the consecrations of cathedrals or national eucharistic congresses.

1008h-perspektiv-kirkerommet-justert-red

There is more than one reason for the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim to build a new cathedral. The previous building, completed in 1973, was structurally unsound since the beginning and had reached the danger of collapse in recent years because of rusted steel beams.

Another reason is one I have mentioned above: the growing Church in Norway. Trondheim is home to some 10,000 registered Catholics of 70 different nationalities. Before building a new cathedral other solutions were found to accomodate the growing number of faithful, such as refurbishing existing building or using buildings owned by the municipality, but none proved permanently satisfactory or even possible,

There was also a desire to make the Catholic Church in Norway more visible, going back to the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II in 1989. Trondheim is the birthplace of Norwegian Catholicism and this, coupled with increasing Catholic involvement in ecumenical contact in Norway, has led to the wish to increase this visibility by adding a distinctive Catholic presence to the skyline. The proximity of the shrine of St. Olav – in the Lutheran cathedral nearby –  and the growing number of pilgrimages made to that shrine has also played its part.

The Territorial Prelature of Trondheim is one of Norway’s three ecclesiastical circumstriptions and covers central Norway. It is the current incarnation of the medieval Archdiocese of Nidaros, which was suprressed in 1537. Trondheim is currently administered by the Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Ivar Eidsvig.

 

Looking back at the year: 2012 in review

It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.

The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.

For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.

But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:

TscherrigJanuary:
Pope Benedict announces a consistory. The list of 22 new cardinals includes the archbishop of Utrecht.
CDF releases a note with recommendations for the Year of Faith.
Archbishop Tscherrig (pictured) leaves Scandinavia for Argentina.
Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun turns 80.
– In the abuse crisis, soon-to-be Cardinal Eijk speaks before a parliamentary commission.
Bishop Jan Liesen is installed as bishop of Breda (Installation homily here).

german cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (R)February:
Dutch-born South-African Bishop Everardus Baaij passes away.
Cardinal Levada opens a major symposium on sexual abuse in Rome.
– At the same symposium, Msgr. Charles Scicluna tells it like it is.
The bishops of Belgium reply to a modernist movement among priests and laity.
Cardinal-designate Eijk is interviewed by Zenit.
Cardinal-designate Dolan delivers a landmark address about the new evangelisation.
22 new cardinals are created in the consistory of 18 February (new Cardinal Eijk pictured).
Responsibilities within the Dutch bishops’ conference are reshuffled.
In Germany, Bishop Reinelt retires.
Dominik Schwaderlapp is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Cologne.
In Mainz, Bishop Guballa passes away after a long sickbed.
Cardinal Eijk returns home with a pastoral letter on the Eucharist.

Pope Shenouda IIIMarch:
Cardinal Eijk announces that he will be keeping a closer eye on the celebration of the liturgy.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño turns 80.
Cardinal Sánchez passes away.
Cardinal Simonis speaks to Zenit about the Second Vatican Council.
Copenhagen’s Bishop emeritus Martensen passes away.
The Dutch bishops respond to a new horrible chapter in the abuse crisis.
Coptic Pope Shenouda II (pictured) passes away.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam makes public all the cases concerning sexual abuse by clergy.
A new presidency for the COMECE.
The Dutch bishops issue a letter concerning the celebration of the Easter Triduum, and the need to return its focus to the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict visits Mexico and Cuba.
Bishop Schwaderlapp is consecrated.

aponte martínezApril:
Cardinal Egan turns 80.
In the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the vicar general announces he will enter a monastery.
– In a letter to parliament, The Dutch bishops outline four developments in the fight against sexual abuse.
Pope Benedict directly addresses groups of disobedient priests and laity.
Cardinal Daoud passes away.
Cardinal Eijk reveals a monument for victims of sexual abuse in the Church.
Cardinal Aponte Martínez (pictured) passes away.
A parliamentary committee hears the ‘contact group’ for victims of sexual abuse.
The Dutch chapter of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem invests new members in the cathedral of Groningen-Leeuwarden.
Pope Benedict writes a letter to the German bishops and enters the debate about the new German translation of the Roman Missal.

bishop de korte, new altar st. joseph's cathedralMay:
After 66 years, the Belorussian Diocese of Pinsk finally gets a new bishop.
A new page on the blog, about my conversion story.
The annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed takes place.
Cardinal Vlk turns 80.
Cardinal Eijk takes possession if his title church.
The Deetman Commission undertakes a new abuse investigation, this time into the abuse suffered by women.
Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki is misunderstood about homosexuality.
The cathedral of St. Joseph receives a new altar (Bishop de Korte anointing it pictured) and marks the 125th anniversary of its consecration.

logo year of faithJune:
Pope Benedict XVI visits Milan.
New priests.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño passes away.
Florian Wörner is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Augsburg.
The bishops of Roermond publish a brochure about Communion.
– The Dutch bishops follow suit with a letter about the same topic.
Cardinal Schwery turns 80.
The Instrumentum laboris of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation is published.
The logo for the Year of Faith is revealed (pictured).
A round of personnel changes in the Curia.
Dutch Father Louis Tijssen is declared venerable.
Archbishop Nowacki is appointed as the new nuncio to Scandinavia.
The Heel abuse affair breaks.
President-Delegates are appointed for the Synod.

Gerhard Ludwig MüllerJuly:
Archbishop Müller (pictured) is appointed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
About half of the world’s bishops’ conferences have formulated guidelines against sexual abuse.
Cardinal de Araújo Sales passes away.
Bishop Borys Gudziak is appointed as Apostolic Exarch of France.
Cardinal Stafford turns 80.

carlo martiniAugust:
Bishop Wörner is consecrated, while Bishops Wehrle and Siebler retire.
The Diocese of Rotterdam publishes a Prayer for Faith.
Cardinal Rosales turns 80.
Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passes away.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80.
A Dutch priest’s apparent refusal to baptise the child of a lesbian couple fails to escalate much.
Cardinal Martini (pictured) passes away.

pope benedict  lebanonSeptember:
Cardinal Martini’s last interview causes some debate.
Bishop de Korte marks the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Rumours surface that priests in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden are unhappy with their new appointments.
Elections in the Netherlands result in a loss for the Christian parties.
Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz turns 80.
Pope Benedict (pictured) visits Lebanon.
Misunderstandings about ecumenism in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Pope Benedict XVI appoints 36 Synod Fathers.
Cardinal Baldelli passes away.
Questions arise about the German ‘Church tax’.
The first progress report on how the Church deals with abuse claims is released.

synod of bishopsOctober:
German Bishops Wanke and Schraml retire.
Dutch missionary Bishop Joseph Willigers passes away.
Morocco does not take kindly to the arrival of a Dutch ‘abortion boat’.
Vatican Promotor of Justice Charles Scicluna is recalled to Malta to become auxiliary bishop.
The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation begins (pictured).
Cardinal Erdö outlines eleven points for the new evangelisation of Europe.
Belgian Curial Bishop Frans Daneels is made an archbishop.
The Year of Faith begins.
Pope Benedict announces a small consistory for November.
The Synod of Bishops closes.
An attempt at stopping liturgical abusive carnival Masses in Eindhoven.
Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas church is to be made a basilica.

brother hugo vowsNovember:
Cardinal Arinze turns 80.
Bishop Demming passes away.
New sexual abuse accusations surface in Iceland against Bishop Gijsen.
Liège’s Bishop Jousten retires.
At Rolduc, Dutch seminarians attend a conference on new evangelisation.
Bishop Michael Hrynchyshyn passes away.
Hermit Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows (pictured).
The student chaplaincy in Tilburg is brought back into the Catholic fold.
European intolerance towards religion on display in Slovakia.
Cardinal Martino turns 80.
Pope Benedict XVI creates six new cardinals.
Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe speaks about the ‘official Church’.

pope twitterDecember:
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer is appointed as bishop of Regensburg.
Dutch missionary Bishop Wilhelmus Demarteau passes away.
Dutch government announces pulling the plug on small religious broadcasters.
Georg Gänswein is appointed as Prefect of the Papal Household and will be made an archbishop.
Cardinal Scheid turns 80.
Pope Benedict enters the Twitterverse (pictured).
Pope Benedict publishes the Apostolic Letter on charity, Intima Ecclesiae natura.
Dutch media totally misrepresent the pope on the family and gender.

That was 2012. Now let’s get 2013 started. Happy new year!

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80

The first archbishop of Westminster to have retired, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turned 80 yesterday, bringing the number of cardinal electors down to 118 and leaving England and Wales without a cardinal elector able to participate in a future conclave.

Born of Irish parents in Reading, young Cormac was one of four children. After a school career in Reading and Bath, he went to Rome in 1950 to study for the priesthood at the Venerable English College. He earned a degree in theology there, and went on to earn licentiates in philosophy and sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1956, he was ordained.

As a young priest, Father Murphy-O’Connor worked in Portsmouth and the surrounding area until 196, when he became the private secretary of Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouth. In 1970 followed an appointment as parish priest in Southampton, followed in late 1971 by a return to the Venerable English College, where Fr. Murphy-O’Connor became the new rector. With this appointment came the title of Monsignor in 1972.

In 1977, the aging Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Murphy-O’Connor as bishop of Arundel and Brighton. In his time as chief shepherd of that diocese, he worked much towards unity with the Anglican Church, which lead to him being awarded a Degree in Divinity by then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. He later came under scrutiny regarding the presence of an abusive priest working in his diocese. In early 2000, Bishop Murphy-O’Connor became the tenth archbishop of Westminster, which led, one year later, to him being created a cardinal, with the title church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See and the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for Culture. His most notable recent function was that of secretary of the Vox Clara commission which crafted the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Another high-profile task he was given was to oversee the  recent Apostolic Visitation of the Archdiocese of Armagh and its suffragans in Ireland, in the wake of the abuse crisis breaking in that country.

In 2009, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor retired, the first archbishop of Westminster to live long enough to do so.

Photo credit: The Papal Visit on Facebook.

Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory

The late Cardinal Foley

With yesterday’s passing of John Cardinal Foley, Grand Master emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the number of cardinals able to vote in a conclave (ie. those under 80) has dropped to 109. A consistory creating new cardinals sometime in 2012 seems increasingly likely, especially considering the fact that in that year another 13 cardinals* will become octogenarians, bringing the number of electors down to 96, the lowest it’s been since, as far as I can gather, 2001. In the recent history of the college, whenever the number drops below 100, consistories would usually follow fairly soon after.

Not that numbers are magical or in any way legally binding. The maximum number of cardinal electors is set at 120, although popes are free to create more than that or raise or lower that limit. Blessed John Paul II has done the former several times, for example. Although numbers do play a role, cardinals are not created to fill up the roster, so to speak. But we can use the numbers as indicators. Next year, as the forces of old age bring the number lower and lower, Pope Benedict XVI may wish to look towards the future and prepare for the election of his successor. Obviously, he can do so by deciding who receives the red hat.

The buzz these days is that a consistory may be scheduled for the end of the new year, much like the last one, which took place at the end of November of 2010.

Lastly, as for the likely cardinalibile, much is guesswork.Two reasonably likely candidates in these parts of the world, however, are Archbishops Wim Eijk of Utrecht and Vincent Nichols of Westminster. Their respective predecessors (Cardinals Simonis and Murphy-O’Connor) have recently turned 80 or will do so in 2012. Since Pope Benedict has an unofficial policy of not appointing new cardinals in areas with an existing cardinal below 80, these archbishops now run a fair chance at the red hat.

Photo credit: AP Photo

*These, emeriti all, are: José Card. Saraiva Martins (Congr. Causes of Saints), Joseph Card. Zen Ze-kiun (Hong Kong), Rodolfo Card. Quezada Toruño (Guatemala), Edward Card. Egan (New York), Miloslav Card. Vlk (Prague), Henri Card. Schwery (Sion), James Card. Stafford (Denver, Apostolic Penitentiary), Gaudencio Card. Rosales (Manila), Cormac Card. Murphy-O’Connor (Westminster), Pedro Card. Rubiano Sáenz (Bogotá), Francis Card. Arinze (Onitsha, Congr. Divine Worship & Discipline Sacraments), Renato Card. Martino (Pont. Council Justice & Peace) and Eusébio Card. Scheid (Rio de Janeiro).

“He got up from table … and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5)

Emotional scenes at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception yesterday. Emotional, but also poignant and important, as Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Boston’s Seán Cardinal O’Malley prostrated themselves before the bare altar before beginning a Liturgy of Lament and Repentance. Cardinal O’Malley is in Ireland as part of his work as one of the Apostolic Visitors appointed by the pope to investigate how the Irish Church can weather the abuse crisis.

Such a liturgy was called for in the pope’s letter to the Irish Catholics, to be held as part of the healing and reconciliation that is so needed to deal with the crisis. The liturgy is a public and visible statement of regret and sorrow at what has been in institutions of the Church and by people who belonged to her. As part of the liturgy, the archbishop and the cardinal washed the feet of eight victims of abuse, in a ritual similar to the washing of feet on Good Friday. The liturgy was planned in close cooperation with these victims, although others interrupted three times over the course of the ceremony. The congregation listened to all statements, planned and unplanned, quietly and responded with applause.

The liturgy is part of the Apostolic Visitation being made by Cardinal O’Malley and four other prelates of Irish descent – Archbishop Dolan of New York, Archbishop Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, formerly of Westminster.

Archbishop Martin spoke the following words about ‘the three silences’:

There are moments where silence and listening are more important than words and what we say.

What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious? I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered. I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours. Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way. I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent. I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives.

I can recognise the humiliation you suffered, the assault on your dignity and self-esteem, the fear and anxiety, the isolation and abandonment you experienced. I can listen to you tell me about your nightmares, your frustrations and your longing for a closure which may never come. I can imagine your anger at not being believed and of seeing others being cared for while you were left on your own.

I can try to imagine all those experiences but I know that it is only you who have had that experience. Whatever I imagine, what you experienced must be a thousand times worse.

I can express my sorrow, my sense of the wrong that was done to you. I think of how you were not heard or not believed and not comforted and supported.

I can ask myself how did this happen in the Church of Jesus Christ where as we heard in the Gospel children are presented to us as signs of the kingdom. How did we not see you in your suffering and abandonment?

The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese [of] Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility.

Someone once reminded me of the difference between on the one hand apologising or saying sorry and on the other hand asking forgiveness. I can bump into someone on the street and say “Sorry”. It can be meaningful or just an empty formula. When I say sorry I am in charge. When I ask forgiveness however I am no longer in charge, I am in the hands of the others. Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.

I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.

There is a time for silence. But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth.

There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent. Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.

All survivors are indebted to those who had the courage to speak out and let it be known what had happened and how they were treated. The Church in Dublin and worldwide and everyone here today is indebted to them. Some of you in your hurt and your disgust will have rejected the Church that you had once loved, but paradoxically your abandonment may have helped purify the Church through challenging it to face the truth, to move out of denial, to recognise the evil that was done and the hurt that was caused.

The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out. The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not with designer soap but with a fire that burns and hurts and lances.

Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered. I appeal to you to continue to speak out. There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.

There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon. It is the silence of the cross. I was asked who should preside at this liturgy. My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ. We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us. It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.

The final moments before the death of Jesus were marked by darkness and silence. That silence is broken by the words of Jesus: He forgives those who kill him. He also brings forgiveness and new life to one of the thieves who surround him. But that forgiveness is not cheap forgiveness. One thief mocked Jesus; he did not recognise that act of injustice that was being carried out. The other recognised his own guilt and that recognition opened the door to forgiveness. No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.

The silence of Jesus on the cross is again interrupted by his prayer of abandonment: “My God why have you forsaken me?” It is the prayer that so many survivors must have made their own as they journeyed with the torment of hurt which for many years they could not share and which haunted them day after day, from their childhood and into adult life.

But Jesus faces that abandonment and finally hands himself over to the Father bringing his self-giving love to the utmost moment of giving his own life in love. That opened the door to newness of life.

We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.

This afternoon is only a first step. It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. It will always bear this wound within it. The Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be.

Cardinal O’Malley made the following remarks:

My brothers and sisters, I am very grateful for this opportunity to be with you today and to take part in such a moving service of reparation and hope. I am especially thankful to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, for his care for the Church in Ireland and for inviting me to be part of this Visitation.

On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the Church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome, the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse. Publicly atoning for the Church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions – and inactions – gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.

The O’Malleys hail from County Mayo, a part of Ireland that was hallowed by St. Patrick’s ministry there. They tell the story of a dramatic conversion of an Irish chieftain by the name of Ossian. A huge crowd assembled in a field to witness his baptism. St. Patrick arrived in his Bishop’s vestments with his miter and staff. St. Patrick stuck his staff in the ground and began to preach a long sermon on the Catholic faith. The people noted that Ossian, who was standing directly in front of St. Patrick, began to sweat profusely, he grew pale and fainted dead away. Some people rushed over to help and they discovered to everyone’s horror that St. Patrick had driven his staff through the man’s foot.

When they were able to revive Ossian they said to him, “Why did you not say something?” And the fierce warrior replied, “I thought that it was part of the ceremony.”

The warrior did not understand too much about liturgy and rituals, but he did understand that discipleship is often difficult. It means carrying the Cross. It is a costly grace and often we fall down on the job.

Jesus teaches us about His love in the Parable of the Good Samaritan where in a certain sense the Samaritan represents Christ, who is so moved to compassion by the sight of the man left half dead on the road to Jericho. The innocent victim of the crime is abandoned by all. The priests and levites turn their back on him, the police fail to protect him, the innkeeper profits from the tragedy. It is Christ who identifies with the man who is suffering and showers compassion on him.

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy. Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel. He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse. The Parable ends with injunction; “Go and do likewise!”; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused.

We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

We have no doubt of Jesus’ compassion and love for the survivors even when they feel unloved, rejected, or disgraced. Our desire is that our Church reflect that love and concern for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families and be tireless in assuring the protection of children in our Church and in society.

From my own experience in several dioceses with the tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors I see that your wounds are a source of profound distress. Many survivors have struggled with addictions. Others have experienced greatly damaged relationships with parents, spouses and children. The suffering of families has been a terrible and very serious effect of the abuse. Some of you have even suffered the tragedy of a loved one having taken their own life because of the abuse perpetrated on them. The deaths of these beloved children of God weigh heavily on our hearts.

The wounds carried in Ireland as a result of this evil are deep and remind us of the wounds of the body of Christ. We think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he experienced his own crisis. He, too, was overwhelmed with sorrow, betrayed and abandoned. Not only survivors of abuse and their family members, but many of the faithful and clergy throughout Ireland can echo our Lord’s plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But today, through the saving power of the Cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future. We come together to bind up the wounds we carry as a result of this crisis and to join in prayer for healing, reconciliation and renewed unity.

Based on the experience I have had with this Visitation, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the Church here to respond to the crisis in a way that will build a holier Church, that strives to be more humble even as it grows stronger. While we have understandably heard much anger and learned of much suffering, we have also witnessed a sincere desire to strengthen and rebuild the Church here. We have seen that there is a vast resource, a reservoir of faith and a genuine desire to work for reconciliation and renewal.

During the course of many meetings, I have been blessed to hear from many survivors and their families, lay women and men and religious and clergy who seek reconciliation and healing. Today’s service, which survivors so generously assisted in planning and are participating in, gives testimony to the longing of so many to rebuild and renew this Archdiocese and the Church throughout Ireland.

Just as the Irish people persevered and preserved the faith when it was endangered, and carried it to many other countries, the commitment to sustain the faith provides the opportunity for the hard lessons of the crisis to benefit the Church in our quest to do penance for the sins of the past and to do everything possible to protect children in the present and in the future.

I would like to conclude my remarks by sharing another parable with you that further illustrates the demands of the Great Commandment which contains the whole Law and the prophets. The Japanese tell the story of a man who lived in a beautiful home on the top of a mountain. Each day he took a walk in his garden and looked out at the sea below. One day he spotted a tsunami on the horizon coming toward the shore and then he noticed a group of his neighbors having a picnic on the beach. The man was anxious to warn his neighbors, he shouted and waved his arms. But they were too far off, they could not hear nor see him. So the man set fire to his house. When the neighbors on the beach saw the smoke and flames some said let us climb the mountain to help our friend save his home. Others said: “That mountain is so high and we’re having such fun, you go.” Well, the ones who climbed the mountain to save their neighbor’s home were themselves saved. Those who remained on the beach having fun perished when the tidal wave hit the shore.

The Gospel of Christ is about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope and salvation. The burning house on the top of the hill is the Cross, and it is the suffering of all those children who experienced abuse.

Climbing the mountain, we are not doing God a favor, we are saving our souls.

Photo credit: [1] RTE News, [2] John Mc Elroy, [3] Daily Mail

Five big names to investigate Ireland

The Vatican announced today that the apostolic visitation of certain dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations in Ireland will commence this autumn. Pope Benedict XVI had announced this visitation earlier in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. And he is not sending the least to do the actual investigation into how the highest ranks of the Irish Church behaved when faced with sexual abuse under their jurisdiction.

The four metropolitan archdioceses of Ireland – Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam – are first on the list. Each of the archdioceses has a principal visitor named. To Armagh will go Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, emeritus archbishop of Westminster. To Dublin Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. To Cashel and Emly Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, and to Tuam Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa. Furthermore, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is named the apostolic visitor to the seminaries and houses of formation, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

A group of five heavy-hitters, mostly from the new world, some experienced (Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and O’Malley) some very much up and coming (Archbishop Dolan) and some experienced mediamen (Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Prendergast are both active bloggers, for example).

Of their goals, the press release says:

“Through this visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

“The apostolic visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical ‘Motu Proprio’ ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ and the norms contained in ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland’, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.”

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor
Sean Cardinal O'Malley
Archbishop Thomas Collins
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
Archbishop Timothy Dolan