The cardinal’s “no” to a papal visit

I added the official correction from the bishops’ conference to how Trouw represented the facts below:

eijkAccording to Trouw, preparations for a hypothetical papal visit to the Netherlands was already well-advanced when Cardinal Wim Eijk, as president of the Bishops’ Conference, vetoed the visit, doing so, he explained, after discussing the plans with the Pope on 10 January.

It seems amazing that the preparation was already so well underway: security was planned, money was available and there was even a script for the visit. While the idea was floated by Bishop Jos Punt several months ago, rumours did not become serious until the ad limina visit two months ago, and plans weren’t even officially discussed until the January meeting of the conference. For there to be a script ready this soon seems incredible. The article in Trouw states that Bishop Punt presented a full schedule for a one-day papal visit to Amsterdam during the plenary meeting in autumn. By the looks of it, this seems more like the trademark enthusiasm of Bishop Punt. A papal visit to his diocese would have been unlikely without the involvement of the rest of the conference. It would have been a national event anyway.

francisAs president of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Eijk is fully within his right to veto such plans, of course. And while the Trouw article suggests that “inside sources” confimr that no papal visit was discussed during Cardinal Eijk’s meeting with Pope Francis, the bishops’ spokeswoman rightly states that such meetings are confidential: we never get to hear what the Pope discusses with those he meets, especially not when they’re cardinals. Pope and cardinals can decide for themselves what they want to share of their conversation, and Cardinal Eijk has decided to keep it at this.

In general, the sources who say that a visit would have been possible or even desired by the Pope, are unnamed sources in the Vatican. I don’t think there’s much credibility we can attach to those…

Is it a shame that Pope Francis isn’t visiting? Of course. It would have been wonderful. It would also have been expensive, and I can understand that that would have kept the Pope at home, even though the Netherlands is, in some sense, a peripheral area in the Catholic world. And I don’t think that the bishops are ready to manage this… Pope Francis’ visit to the Netherlands, even if it were for just one day, would be making headlines for weeks. Considering the media’s opinion and track record of reporting on Catholic affairs, there would have been an enormous amount of misrepresentation of the Church and the faith, which would have to be corrected by the bishops and the faithful (who need to do this much more often, anyway). In that sense, I am glad that the Pope is not coming over.

And then there is the financial side. The bishops’ conference is cutting costs on all sides, and a papal visit is not going to be financed completely by the Holy See. While housing Pope Francis, with his sober tastes, would not be a problem, using the Amsterdam Arena football stadium for a prayer service, the logistics, the security, and all sorts of additional costs would be irresponsibly high at this moment.

Would the visit attract enough people? I think so. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1985 was disastrous, but times have changed. The media haven’t turned on Pope Francis yet (which they will when they find out he is not going to change Church teaching on sexuality, marriage, family and such). So in that sense a visit would be desirable now, more so than in the future. But in what sense it would be for the perceived persona of the Pope instead of a pastoral visit to strengthen the faithful can be debated…

Logistics, finances and communication skills would prohibit this visit, in my opinion. While Pope Francis would be enthusiastically received by all layers of society (imagine the circus when politicians all want to be involved…), I fear the effects of the visit would not last very long.

It’s a sad decision, but a good one, I think. Enthusiasm for a visit is simply not enough to make it happen.

EDIT: While my general comments above stand, it seems that the facts of the decision are somewhat different than represented by Trouw. The decision to not have a papal visit was not the cardinal’s, but the Pope’s. Read below my translation of the official statement from the bishops’ conference:

 On 10 January last, Cardinal Eijk met with Pope Francis in a private audience. The newspaper Trouw today misrepresents what both discussed during the meeting. Trouw states that the Pope and Cardinal Eijk decided jointly that a visit to the Netherlands would not take place. Cardinal Eijk is said to have also stated that in the plenary meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. That is completely besides the truth.

During the ad limina visit Cardinal Eijk replied to reporters’ questions that Pope Francis is welcome in the Netherlands. On 10 January he probed Pope Francis about the possibility of a papal visit to our country. The Pope himself indicated that he did not see a chance to do so in the foreseeable future. He is already planning to visit the Holy Land and several other countries. There is therefore no opportunity to visit the Netherlands soon.

Added to that are the Pope’s plans to reorganise the Roman Curia. As is known he has established a commission of eight cardinals from all continents who regularly meet in Rome to advise him in that matter. In the coming years this reorganisation will require much time and attention from the Pope. Therefore he has little opportunity to conduct travels abroad.

Trouw claims that the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference has said that Cardinal Eijk informed the Bishops’ Conference that the Holy Father and he had decided that the visit would not take place. In her e-mail to Trouw reporter Emiel Hakkenes, of Friday 31 January last, the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference made it known that the Pope decided himself not to visit the Netherlands (for now).

The important things happen behind closed doors – the Council of Cardinals gets to work

Although much attention has been given to Pope Francis’s second interview in less than two weeks (more on that later), the real meat behind his proposed reforms is being discussed behind the closed doors of the private library in the papal apartments.

council of cardinals

The Council of Cardinals, from left to right: Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, George Cardinal Pell and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya.

The Council of Cardinals (not the ‘G8’ – that’s a dumb name) will meet twice daily until Thursday. On Friday, they will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Assisi. In the previous months, the cardinal members have been working generally solo, collecting information from the bishops, priests and faithful in their part of the world, although they have been in contact of course. During World Youth Day in Rio, some of them met up unofficially to speak about their mandate.

The meetings which started today will remain private and, as the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, we shouldn’t be expecting any sweeping changes just yet. The council’s work will take a long time, which is also the reason why Pope Francis made it a permanent body. Membership is to the Pope’s  discretion, and we may expect a ninth member from one of the Eastern Churches soon.

In closing I recommend this interview with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, conducted by Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV, in which the cardinal speaks about the Council of Cardinals and their work, among other things:

Photo credit: Catholic News Service photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

A hold on honorifics, and the priorities of Pope Francis

pope francisBack in April, so several sources claim, Pope Francis put at least a temporary stop to the granting of the honorary title of Monsignor or, more accurately, the titles of Honorary Prelate of His Holiness and Chaplain of His Holiness. Both titles grant the use of the title ‘monsignor’ to whom it is bestowed. It is a honorific, granted upon the request of a priest’s bishop or by papal initiative to priests who have done some extraordinary service that would merit this recognition. In practice, and in some areas, the titles have also een given almost automatically to priests who reached a certain age or number of years in one position or function.

Bishops also use the title of monsignor, but this comes with their consecration as bishops and is therefore not an honorary title.

It is said that Pope Francis wants to await the first meeting of the college of eight cardinals that he has appointed to advise him in reforming the Curia, before possibly restoring the practice. Or not, as the case may be. The cardinals Bertello, Errázuriz Ossa, Monsengwo Pasinya, Gracias, O’Malley, Marx, Pell and Rodríguez Maradiaga will meet next month.

Six months into this pontificate, it should come as no surprise that Pope Francis’ priorities do not lie with the granting of honours and titles. Of course, he has appointed bishops and archbishops, but that is quite different, flowing from the need of a diocese for a shepherd. What this means for Francis’ first consistory seems clear: don’t hold your breath. While there are a number of clear candidates to be created cardinal – among them the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, to name but one – they will be kept waiting a while longer, I would think.

WuerlAnd why not, after all? With 111 electors there is no shortage of cardinals who can participate in a conclave, and we have no reason to assume one is forthcoming (then again, this time last year we thought much the same…). Metropolitan archbishops can do their jobs just as well without being cardinals, and the same would go for prefects and presidents of the offices of the Curia. However, the College of Cardinals can be a valuable aid in running the Church, and Pope Francis will very likely be using it as such. In fact, with the title of cardinals comes the responsibility to function as such. The Pope can call consistories to assemble the entire college to deliberate, advise and decide about any given topic. And before long, I would think, Pope Francis may want to have the Secretary of State, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, to name three Curial officials who are not yet cardinals, in that College.