Do not deny churches access to information about their membership, citizens urge government

afbeelding-site-sila_05-bijgesnedenA government intention to abolish the system that supplies municipal information about  church members to local parishes has led to the most successful Internet consultation yet. Following an appeal from the bishops, among others, 17,000 signatories when through the trouble of lodging their complaints against a possible abolishment of the SILA system, which automatically forwards municipalities’ information about the death or moving of parishioners (while keeping  this information confidential). This allows parishes to remain informed when members newly arrive or when parishioners die.

Responses mentioned the desire of parish groups to be able to continue visiting the eldery in care homes, but also of families who appreciated being welcomed in a new parish. There is also the fear of elderly faithful that the parish might loose track of them. The positive contribution of parishes to society, some said, is denied by politicians who wish to shut down this system as it exists now.

Government ministeries can use consultations about concepts for law proposals, ministerial regulations or general government decisions. The results may be used to adapt these proposals or decisions, but they are not binding.

SILA, short for Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie, is used by seven churches and church communities, among them the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and collects and manages information about the church affiliation of private citizens who are registered members of one of the seven churches who use SILA. Municipalities only register who is known by SILA, but can’t see to which church they belong. Any mutations in the status of these citizens, such as death or relocation, is forwarded to SILA, which does now the specific church affiliation and can send the relevant information to the correct church community. In reverse, SILA also informs municipalities about new church members or church members who wish to be removed from the database.

The decision to bar SILA from information from the basic registration of citizens is taken to streamline the way in which the registration functions, and is one of several measures to assure this. The repsonsible government department is the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, headed by Minister Ronald Plasterk. He is a member of the PvdA, which suffered a significant loss of seats in last week’s elections, and will therefore most likely be succeeded by a member of another party, with the PvdA relegated to an opposition role. What that means for the proposal and the results of the consultation, however, remains to be seen.

Holding on to each other in a time of confusion – Bishop de Korte’s Christmas message

On Monday, following the annual Van Lanschot Christmas concert at the cathedral, Bishop Gerard de Korte presented his Christmas message. The bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch reflects on the state of our society and political world, saying that there is much to be grateful for, but also acknowledging feelings of insecurity which exist and which deserve a better answer than the ones provided by populist movements. In God’s coming down to humanity at Christmas, the bishop says, we find an example of what a just and loving society can look like.

bisschop-de-korte“Several weeks ago our queen opened the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science. With this, the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch advances in the academic march of civilisation.

The data institute researches the possibilities of ‘big data’, but also the moral implications of the enormous increase of information. During the presentations preceding the opening of the institute, the guests were presented with interesting examples of practical applications.

In recent decades the digital revolution has led to an enormous increase of avalaible data. One thing and another means, in theory, that decisions by doctors, bankers, companies and managers can be made with much greater precision.

Reflecting on these matter I encounter a paradox. In the media we continuously hear about fact-free discussion among our politicians. While more information becomes available, many a politician prefers not to speak on the basis of facts, but primarily on the basis of feelings and emotions. It is not about what is true, but about what feels true.

I recall that, during the American elections, most of the statements by the current president-elect about economical topics were revealed by economists to be partly or completely untrue. Once again, it became clear that data must always be interpreted, and that interests also always play a part.

Much to be grateful for

One of our daily newspapers recently published an interesting conversation with Swedish researcher Johan Norberg about his latest book, Progress. In that book, Norberg shows, with a multitude of data, how life has improved from one generation to the next. It goes well with the world when it comes to fighting poverty, life expectation and education.

Worldwide fewer people fall in the category of ‘extremely poor’, research by the World Bank shows. In 1970, 29 percent of the world’s population was malnourished. Today that is 11 percent. People born in 1960 died on average at the age of 52. Today the average person reaches his 70th birthday.

In our country life expectation rose from 73 to 81 in half a century. The Netherlands has one of the best healthcare systems, as we read recently, and when it comes to education our dear fatherland is high on many lists. Seen from history, we can say that the Netherlands is a good country to live in.

We have a high level of prosperity. We do not need to fear the sudden appearance of a police van in front of our house, taking us away without reason. We have an impressive constitution with many freedoms, a free press and an independent judiciary. In short, there are much data for which we can be grateful.

Despite all these material and immaterial achievements, the experience of the state of our country is a different one for many Dutchmen. Sociologists refers to our country as ‘extremely rich and deathly afraid’. There is a strong feeling of unease among a significant part of the population. More than a few people have feelings of fear and insecurity.

Time of unease

In part that is a result of western news services. Good news is boring news. But in general one could say that good whispers and evil shouts. In that regard I like to quote Pope Francis: one falling tree makes more noise that an entire forest growing. Our media enlarges problems and everything that is going well remains in the background. Watching the news, one could get the impression that our world is one great mess, but that is not true of course. There is much more going well than wrong in the world.

But I do not want to claim that these current feelings of unease in our society are fact-free. There is an accumulation of problems which rightly worry many people.

Accelerated globalisation of the last decades has made many uneasy. There are increasingly clear winners and losers of that globalisations. People hear about the excesses of worldwide capitalism, such as high bonusses and tax evasion. But at the same they fear for their own jobs or those of their children and grandchildren. The security of existence of an increasing number of countrymen is under pressure.

Our political landscape is rapidly splintering. Many people are worried about that. While there are great challenges this splintering threatens to limit the effectiveness of the government after next March’s elections.

Many of us are also worried about the pollution of the environment and climate change. In his impressive social encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis urges us to protect Mother Earth. Especially now we are facing the challenge to truly realise our stewardship.

A vague sense of insecurity also invokes much unease, especially because of attacks by Muslim terrorists. With their pointless violence against our citizens they try to destabilise our society and so play into the hands of unsavory forces in our own society.

Fear and the unease of the people is fed, not in the last place, by a spiritual crisis. Because of the last decades’ secularisation and dechristianisation many of our contemporaries lack a solid foundation. In a time of rapid transition they no longer have the ability of falling back on a solid faith in God.

All the concerns and problems lead to a coarsening of relationships in our society and sadly also to the rise of a poisonous populism. Poisonous because it divides people, undermines the trust in our fragile rule of law and especially because it shouts loudly, coarsely and without any nuance, without offering concrete solutions.

How to respond?

What response to this development is desirable? As bishop I want to mention a few things, based on the Catholic thought about the good and just society.

Let responsible administrators take the questions of populists seriously, for they are the questions of many citizens of our country. But these questions deserve a better answer than is being provided in populist circles. The threat to security of existence that is being felt requires a response. Our wealthy Netherlands must be able to safeguard the existence of every citizen, also materially.

Let us, as citizens of this good country, no longer push one another away, but keep looking for connections. No thinking in us and them, but inclusive thinking. Catholic thoughts aims to unite and is directed at sense of community and solidarity. Of course there are differences in vision and conflicts of interest. Many debates get stuck in rough language and shouting matches. Instead of providing arguments, personal attacks. The result is that the dignity of the neighbour is trampled underfoot. Let us then conduct social discourse on point, but also with respect and courtesy.

Our diocese’s recent policy note is titled Building together in trust. But that is not just a mission for our own diocese, but also for our society. An important aspect of this is that we acknowledge our responsibility for the whole. If we only serve our own (partial) interests, we will get a hard society in which the law of the jungle will be victorious. A just society, on the other hand, has an eye of the vulnerable and for the many people wo are threatened to be left behind.

Christmas: celebration of God’s solidarity

In a few days we will be celebrating Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Even before the celebration of St. Nicholas, many shop windows in our city were decorated for Christmas. Santa Claus, green and lights everywhere. Retail knows well how to use Christmas to make the December revenu a success. Priests and preachers have traditionally questioned this development. Christmas is more than gold and glitter, more than good food and presents.

I will not be repeating this Church protest against commerce’s grip on Christmas tonight. Not only because I do not like waving my finger like an angry school teacher, but also because that protests is not very effective.

It makes little sense for a sour-faced bishop to speak about the degeneration of the Christmas thought. People, including believers, have a need for comfort and security, especially in the dark and cold month of December. A good meal and a thoughtful present can only serve to improve mutual solidarity.

But perhaps you will allow me to invite you not to stop at the exterior, but also search out the interior of Christmas.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Emmanuel: God with us. In Christ, God bows down to the world. At Christmas, God says to you and me: man, I love you. In Christ, God’s love of humanity has become unequivocally visible. In Jesus, God wants to share all with us, including our fear of dying and death. Christmas is the feast of God’s solidarity and loyalty. With Him, we are safe.

In this period, we dispel the darkness of winter with lights and candles. Our God dispels our darkness with the light that is Christ. I sincerely wish that you will allow that divine Light into your lives.

It will allow the tempering of much unease and anger. Secure in God’s love, we are called to hold onto each other in this confusing time and life in solidarity with each other; to build together in trust and take our responsibility for the building up of our faith communities and society.

Out of that conviction I wish you a blessed feast of Christmas.

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte
Bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch”

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

 

Anything is possible – German bishops to elect a new chairman

dbk logoLater today, the German bishops will elect their new chairman. While their spring assembly lasts until tomorrow, this is by far the most eagerly anticipated part of their deliberations. A total of 66 electors will be voting: 63 ordinaries and auxiliary bishops, as well as the administrators of 3 vacant sees. Limburg’s Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is not present; his place is taken by Administrator Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the departing chairman of the conference, also votes for his own successor, as he is the administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau.

zollitsch^Archbishop Zollitsch at the opening Mass for the Bishops’ Conference’s meeting.

There are no clear favourites in this election, but whatever the choice, it will constitute a generational shift. But this shift has been typical for the German Bishops’ Conference since about last year. A fair number of bishops and archbishops are retiring or have already done so. Among them are, for example, the aforementioned Archbishop Zollitsch, Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner and in the near future, Mainz’s Cardinal Lehmann and Hamburg’s Archbishop Thissen.

Despite the lack of favourites, there are a few names which have been mentioned more than others: Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx (who may have to let this one pass, as he has his share of responsibilities already: ordinary of Munich, Coordinator of the Council for the Economy, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals…). Other names are Osnabrück’s Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Trier’s Bishop Stephan Ackermann.

Whatever the choice, the expectation is that the new chairman will take Pope Francis’ program and run with it, which means a stronger focus on charity and evangelisation and, I fear, a greater risk of bishops getting head of themselves on issues like marriage and Communion (a topic the bishops are also discussing in this meeting), which we’ve already seen happen in Germany.

schwaderlapp hesse

^Two electors with their own choice to make: Cologne’s auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp and Administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße are also set to vote for the new archbishop of Cologne.

The election is set to take place this morning, and per the schedule available at Domradio.de, the presentation of the new chairman is scheduled for 10:30 local time.

“The strenght of our hope” – 25 years of Cardinal Meisner come to an end

meisner

Stefan_Hesse1_jpg_763125014He led a diocese for less than four hours, but Bishop Manfred Melzer probably won’t lose any sleep over it. It is simply standard procedure in Cologne: as the archbishop retires, leadership of the archdiocese falls automatically to the most senior auxiliary bishop. Until, that is, the cathedral chapter has picked a diocesan administrator, and they didn’t take very long to do that. Vicar General Msgr. Stefan Heβe (pronounced “Hesse”) (pictured at right) runs the ongoing affairs of the archdiocese until Pope Francis confirms the election of a successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who retired today after 25 years, two months and a few days at the head of one of Germany’s oldest sees.

In 1988, Cardinal Meisner came to Cologne from Berlin, 14 months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Höffner. Today he becomes the first archbishop of Cologne in almost 129 years to retire, and he does so at the almost unprecedented age of 80. Cologne now joins three other German dioceses – Erfurt, Passau and Freiburg in Breisgau – which are also still awaiting a new bishop, in the case of the former two since October of 2012.

Cardinal Meisner leaves Cologne in the hands of diocesan administrator Msgr. Heβe, and Auxiliary Bishops Melzer, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The diocesan administrator now had the duty to collect an expansive report on the state of the archdiocese and send that to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In the meantime, the see of Cologne is Sede vacante nihil innovetur, in other words, while there is no new bishop, no changes may be made. In other respects, Msgr. Heβe has the same rights and duties as a diocesan bishop.

The Archdiocese of Cologne, or Köln as it is properly called, is the second oldest in Germany (only Trier is older), dating back to the year 200, and once dominated the western part of modern Germany as well as major parts of the Low Countries. The Dioceses of Roermond (Netherlands), Magdeburg, Aachen and Essen (Germany) and parts of Liège (Belgium) were at one time or another all part of Cologne.

The archbishops of Cologne were powerful men, in that rather German way that they were both spiritual and worldly leaders, being electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, while not the primatial see of Germany, Cologne remains important, being the largest diocese in number of faithful (some 2 million) and covering a significant part of the Industrial Ruhr area and including the major cities of Cologne, Bonn (former capital city of West Germany) and Düsseldorf. Cologne has produced 10 cardinals and 7 ordinaries who were declared saints.

meisner posterJoachim Meisner was born on Christmas Day 1933, in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, but at the time the city of Breslau in Germany, which was rapidly falling into the clutches of the Nazis. Having lived through the war as a child and young teenager, Joachim Meisner ultimately became a priest of the Diocese of Fulda in 1962, days before his 29th birthday. In 1975, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, which has been established only two years before (tensions between communist East Germany and the Holy See meant that the former had almost no full-fledged dioceses). Bishop Meisner was also given the titular see of Vina. In 1980, he became the bishop of Berlin, which, because of the aforementioned tensions, was not yet an archdiocese. Bishop Meisner stayed there for eight years, being created a cardinal in 1983, before being called to Cologne in 1980 (a poster welcoming his arrival is pictured at left).

Coinciding with his retirement, Cardinal Meisner published his final Lenten letter, which is also a  farewell to his archdiocese and the faithful for whom he was pastorally responsible. He concludes the letter as follows:

Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,

I was allowed to serve you as Archbishop of Cologne for a quarter of a century. I have always wanted to testify to the peace of God and bring this across to you, since it is the strength of our hope. I thank you once again from my heart for all the strength which I found in that and beg you all very much for your forgiveness when my service were not a source of strength, but perhaps a source of irritation. The Lord will complete everything which was only fragmentary in my service. I will remain – God willing – among you until the hour of my death and will now have more time to pray for you all, and bring all your concerns and hopes to the heart of God.

The all-powerful God bless you all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”

Nikola-EterovicAnd now? The Archdiocese of Cologne has already started the process of selecting a new archbishop by appointing a diocesan administrator. Possible candidates will now be chosen by several entities, all according to the Concordat that the Holy See signed in 1929 with Prussia, the state of which Cologne was then a part. Among these entities are Archbishop Eterovic (pictured) as the Papal Nuncio; the bishops of the other dioceses which were part of Prussia: Aachen, Berlin, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Görlitz, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Trier; and the cathedral chapter of Cologne.

The Nuncio will then collect all proposed candidates and will create a list of three candidates which he considers the best choices. This so-called terna will be added to the other proposals and sent to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will draft its own terna based on the information provided. The list will then go to the Pope, who will either confirm it, or make some changes of his own. Then, the list goes back to the cathedral chapter of Cologne.

The cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from final terna. Voting continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes (at least 8 out of 15). After three voting rounds, only the two candidates who got the most votes continue. If all candidates have five votes after the second round, only the two oldest candidates continue on. For the fourth round of voting a simple majority is sufficient. Do both candidates still have the same amount of votes, the oldest candidate is elected.

After a new archbishop is elected, the governments of the States of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz can voice political concerns against the elected. The Nuncio must seek and obtain the permission of the elected for this. Once the governments agree, the Pope officially appoints the new archbishop.

meisner

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!

Elections – the Christian loss

Compared to some countries, our national elections are a subdued affair, but they happened yesterday all the same. Three quarters of the population went out to vote, and, as many will know, this resulted in a victory for the PvdA and the VVD, comparable to Labour and the liberals respectively. What the results also show is a resounding loss for the confessional parties, the parties with a Christian identity (although there are variations in that identity).

Of the 150 seats in parliament, a mere 21 went to one of the Christian parties, CDA, ChristianUnion and SGP. CDA lost 8 seats, CU remained at 5 and SGP gained 1.

Looking back at previous elections, this is the lowest overall score for these or other Christian parties. Between 1956 and 1963 the number of seats hovered as high as 80. Since then is has steadily been declining, with a temporary reversal of fortunes in the late 80s and early to mid-2000s.

There still remains an option that a Christian party will be part of the coming coalition, since PvdA and VVD do not have a majority in the senate together, but in my opinion that chance is slim.

Stats for June 2010

A few days late, but here they are nonetheless (mostly for myself, I’ll admit)

June was a slightly better month than May, although the news and the topics I wrote about diminished a bit in the second half of the month. 3,652 page views were registered, bringing the total since the beginning of January to 22,582. As I thought, it did indeed cross the 20,000 somewhere around mid-June.

The ten most popular posts were the following:

1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution (167)
2: St. Boniface Day 2010 (130)
3: Ouellet to the Congregation for Bishops (81)
4: The curious case of Bishop Walter Mixa (68)
5: Cardinal Newman to be beatified by the pope, officially announced (62)
6: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie – onofficiële vertaling (60)
7: Msgr. De Kesel to Bruges? Wow (54)
8: Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Amsterdam (52)
9: A difficult choice in the voting booth (48)
10: Father Cor Mennen had better look out… perhaps (44)

The high ranking of my post about the St. Boniface Day is mainly due to a link from my favourite Dutch blogger (for a giving value of ‘favourite’), who saw fit to use it as one more tool to attack my bishop, albeit not very convincingly (seriously, I’m suddenly an authority on  how many people attend an event?). Anyway, spike in stats – always nice.

Speaking of bishops, they and other curia members were the trend in the search terms. Msgr. Gänswein (yes, still), Bishop Mixa and the Venerable Cardinal Newman were all popular.

And lastly, can I say how very happy I am to see my translation of Msgr. Marini’s address on the liturgy still lingering in the top 10? Oh, I just did.

A Catholic tendency towards extremism?

Now that the election results are as good as in, I find what seems like a disturbing link between Catholicism and extremist views. I wonder what the reason behind that could be? Are Catholics more prone to vote right wing? Are they more susceptible to populist sloganeering? Are they just not very good thinkers? I’m generalising, of course, but the ‘evidence’ is striking.

Geert Wilders’ populist one-issue party PVV has gained a great victory nationwide (they’re the third part now, with 24 seats), but in municipalities in Limburg, the most Catholic part of the Netherlands, they are easily the largest. Maybe the fact that Wilders is from Limburg himself has something to do with that, but I wonder…

I’ve also come across other instances of Catholic intolerance and extremism, especially towards Muslims. The recent discussions about the murder of Bishop Padovese of Anatolia, which looks more and more to have been a sacrificial killing, brings out people with degrees in generalising. Examples are in the replies to this post in Father Z’s blog, and this post at Rorate Caeli.

The two situations outlined above are different, the one political, the other religious. But intolerance lies at the root of both. Maybe Catholics still feel oppressed (and in certain cases they are right to feel like that) and that they must violently oppose society’s general trends? Certain social trend deserve opposition, but surely openness  and ethical treatment of people of other faiths surely do not? We may disagree, fine, but here we see a division of “we are good and they are evil”.

It’s simplistic, dangerous and quite disconcerting.

A difficult choice in the voting booth

In the Netherlands it’s time to make a difficult decision again: who to vote for in the national elections? It’s never an easy choice, with so many issues going on and so many parties to choose from. And the fact that this election was somewhat unexpected due to the government’s collapse a few months ago does not help either. And when you’re not too enthusiastic or informed about the machinations of politics, the dilemma seems complete.

But vote I will. It’s a right, but also a duty. So the choice is not if I’ll vote, but for whom. And that’s the problem. I’m Catholic (there’s a surprise) and a try to live according to Catholic social teachings, so that is why I try to see reflected in the party programs. And many parties (although some would hate to admit it) agree with what the Church has to say about many topics, but none do so for the full 100 %. In the Netherlands, a Catholic vote is not possible.

So the choice becomes negative. What party is the least divergent? Many Catholics vote left. PvdA, SP and GreenLeft (Labour, Socialists and Greens respectively) are popular. Others vote right: VVD (Liberals) mainly. And traditionally Catholics find a political home among the Christian Democrats of the CDA. And there is the PVV of madman Geert Wilders of course: a one-issue party that looks to be getting many votes out of spite. Will Catholics vote for him? Hard to say.

All these options can be defended (even the PVV, to an extent). But when it comes to combining certain specifically Christian issues (life and the role of religion in society, but also health care and education) and recent events in the media (the abuse issue and demonstrations about the ‘right’ to receive Communion), the choice becomes limited.

There it boils down to those parties who call themselves Christian: CDA, ChristenUnie (Christian Union) and SGP (Politically Reformed Party). CDA and ChristenUnie have been in government, while the SGP has always been a small opposition party, but nonetheless the most consistently Christian. They’re all chiefly or totally Protestant though, with the SGP being openly anti-Catholic.

Comparing the three, I conclude that the ChristenUnie is the best choice. Although solidly Protestant, they have been actively trying to involve Catholics in their party. Originally fully pro-life they did succumb to compromise, but that is the nature of Dutch politics. I don agree, but I understand. CDA is Christian in name only and SGP, as I said, is openly anti-Catholic. Despite the party’s qualities that is a major stumbling block for me.

What will we be getting? Perhaps a Liberal/Left combination? VVD, PvdA, GreenLeft? Maybe the PVV will get too involved (something I hope for: it may mean they´ll collapse within the year because they suddenly have responsibility). CDA will likely end up in opposition. D66 (possibly the most anti-Catholic choice we have) may turn out to be instrumental when it comes to forming a coalition, and perhaps, in a smaller way, the ChristenUnie will be as well. Chances of the end result being good are slim though. The major leftwing parties are openly antagonistic to the Church: the PvdA called for the Communion protests during Mass and GreenLeft  head Femke Halsema called the Church part of an axis of evil… Nice, that :$

But even the best options are not amazing. Dutch politics, like the country itself, is much secularised, and issues of faith, ethics and morality do not play a major part or are openly attacked or ridiculed. We will have to struggle on.

Church and politics

Johannes Cardinal de Jong (1885-1955) was chairman of the Dutch bishops'conference when the mandate of 1954 was published.

Since the counterproductive reception of the episcopal mandate of 1954 – which, among rather a lot else, forbade Catholics to be members of socialist parties and unions – the Dutch bishops have refrained from giving any advice on how to vote. An understandable thing to do, perhaps, certainly considering the climate of the decades to follow: Vatican II and the minor storm of iconoclasm that followed, and the general distrust of anything organised, including religion, in the 1960s. But at the same time, it is at odds with the bishops’ duties as shepherds. They are tasked to lead Christ’s flock, after all, in all things faith-related. Deciding on who to vote for may certainly be influenced by a person’s beliefs, so an episcopal declaration on what parties are more in line with Catholic thought and which are not would not be too strange.

Before the good old ‘separation of Church and State’ is dragged out again, it would be good to realise that no such thing actually exists in the Dutch constitution. As Tom Zwitser points out, the constitution speaks of a much more diffuse relation between Church and State. The concept of freedom of religion – which is a constitutional right – is much more applicable here. Of course, Church and State should not be at odds with one another, but in certain cases the relation between can certainly be mutually beneficial. And as for the individual voter: he or she gets inundated with all manner of advice on who to vote for anyway…

That said, the bishops’ conference maintains their position of not officially indicating parties that Catholics should not vote for, although they can certainly offer their own personal opinions. Bishop Gerard de Korte did so quite recently, and while he did warn against the trend of populism in politics (as he has done since 2007), no party is to be expressly excluded, he says.

Fr. Harm Schilder

Although the bishops reiterated their position in 2006, saying that it is not up to the Church to recommend specific parties,  “but to put forward those issues that the Church considers important”, individual priests do sometimes speak out against specific parties. Recently, Father Harm Schilder, parish priest in Tilburg and focus of a long-running conflict about his church bells and the volume they are said to produce before early morning Mass, did so in his homily on Sunday:

“The parties who were expressly against the ringing of the church bells were the PvdA, Greenleft and the SP [left wing parties all]. They are also against the Church. They are allowed to. But it is desireable that churchgoers do not fall for that at the upcoming elections. As the old saying goes: do not kiss the hand of he who hits you.”

Although this is clearly an advice based on a specific local issue, it’s no less valid for it. Local politics will slightly differ per city and from national politics, but they do affect each other. The PvdA leading the call for protests at Mass in ‘s Hertogenbosch, for example, is in my opinion a clear indication that I can’t in good conscience vote for them in tomorrow’s municipal elections (if I was thinking of doing that, I might add).

The importance of politics and elections is for me a natural reason to look for advice and guidance from the corners that also help me in other situations. The Church in her teachings and personified in priests and bishops is one of those. I believe there is much to be gained with a bishops’ conference that is not afraid to speak out clearly and publically on matters, to offer advice when needed. That will certainly lead to much resentment initially, both within and without the Church. After all, we are a people that does not like being told what to do. But sometimes we need it. We needed it as children, and since we never stop growing up and learning, we will always need it.

In the temple in Jerusalem, old Simeon warned the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph that Jesus would be “a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2, 34). The same will be true for anyone who chooses to follow Him.