Bishop in the pub – making the conference more present

dbk logoA month from now, the German bishops will be meeting for their spring plenary in the city of Hildesheim, but on the eve of that meeting on the 23rd of February, seven bishops will participate in debates about various topics in seven pubs throughout the city. Whereas plenary meetings of bishops’ conferences are usually far removed from the daily lives of the faithful, they do influence it and are an arena where important issues and plans are discussed and decided. By holding such pub debates, as it were, both the conference and their topics take a few steps towards the faithful, closing the gap between them. This is, of course, further helped by the fact that entrance is free (although some pubs have a space limit)…

The plan seems to be the brainchild of Bishop Norbert Trelle, host of the meeting and vice-president of the bishops’ conference. The Diocese of Hildesheim celebrates the 1200th anniversary of its foundation this year and its 11th century cathedral has just come out of an extensive renovation.

These are the seven bishops speaking at various pubs: Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier will speak about peace and justice; Bishop Franz-Josef Bode (Osnabrück) about the communication of faith; Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann (Würzburg) about art and religion; Bishop Heiner Koch (Dresden-Meißen) about marriage and family; Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen) about business ethics; Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne) about poverty; and Bishop Norbert Trelle (Hildesheim) about immigration and human rights.

An example worth following by bishops in other countries.

The impossibilities of Bishop Bonny

Johan-BonnyIt’s no secret that Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp is a voice of the more ‘progressive’ side of the Church, if such categories can be applied to the Catholic Church (which I think they can’t to any satisfactory extent). He is a bishop able to relate easily to the faithful, addressing them effectively about the practicalities of the faith (as we have seen in, for example, his recent letter for Advent). At the same time, he is less concerned or interested in adhering to the legalities, the rules, the doctrine of the Church, although these are one of the two legs the Church stands on: mercy and the law, which support and feed each other. The one must not exist without the other.

The fact that Bishop Bonny emphasises mercy is not a problem in itself. Pope Francis does so as well. But the Holy Father does not distort or deny the teachings of the Church. Bishop Bonny, sadly, does.

In an interview with Belgian newspaper De Morgen, published on Saturday, Bishop Bonny made several statements regarding the recognition of same-sex relationships by the Church. He said that there should be a “range of forms of recognition”.

“In the Church we should look for a formal recognition of the ‘relationality’ which is also present in same-sex couples. Just like a diversity of legal frameworks for couples which exist in society, a range of forms of recognition should also be introduced in the Church.”

It is hard to understand what Bishop Bonny means here. Recognising the existence of a relation between two persons is something factual. We can all see a relation, in whichever form, between two people, whoever they are. The Church will also acknowledge this, as she is not in the business of denying reality. But we may well assume that recognition goes a bit further in this case.

“The substantive values are more important to me than the institutional question. Christian ethics assume durable relationships in which exclusivity, loyalty and care for the other are at the centre.”

Bishop Bonny makes a sharp distinction here between the substance and the institution, which is, in essence, a division between the two legs of pastoral care I mentioned above, mercy and law. Of course the content or substance of a relationship is extremely important, be the relationship a heterosexual or homosexual one, or even a friendship of family bond. But the fact, the institutional question does not go away and can not be ignored. These continue to exist, and must be recognised and understood, in addition to the substance of the relationship.

“Additionally, there is the openness to new life, or at least the responsibility assumed by partners to be generous in what is being passed on to children.”

This is pure watering-down of what the Church teaches about the nature of marriage. The sacrament of marriage is open to life, which means that the spouses are open to welcoming new life flowing forth from their sacramental bond, both mentally, spiritually and physically. Simple sharing a responsibility is quite simply not the same thing, even though it is, in itself, laudable.

In the last quote featured in the article linked to above, Bishop Bonny finally hits the mark.

“In their lives, everyone is confronted with relationships, friendships, family and the education of children. We must not deny that there are wounds and traumas in the Church about this. Too many people have felt excluded for too long.”

This is true, and not only for homosexual people, and this is a serious problem that must be addressed. The care offered by the Church must be effective, ever-present and open. There is much to win in this field, since many people are indeed excluded because the Church gives the impression that they are. But the big question is how to remedy that.

There are two options, as I see it:

  • We open our doors and listen to everyone who comes to us, share the truth with them and help them in their need, or
  • We tell these people lies and promise them impossibilities to make the pain stop.

What is the right option? It should not be hard to see.

I am not saying that the right option is the easy one. It isn’t in the least, because here too we find the two legs of pastoral care in the form of emotion on the one hand, and facts on the other.

As I have hinted at above, care and concern for homosexual people, including those in relationships, is a good thing, and it must be expressed. The pain and lack of understanding they feel is real. As Catholics we are people of mercy and this means we can not be deaf to these feelings. But that is not the complete picture of our duty as Catholics. We also represent a truth beyond ourselves, after all, the truth of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, He offers the best guidance in such situations through this passage from the Gospel of John: after He has been confronted by the scribes and Pharisees with the adulterous woman, and tells them that he is who is without sin cast the first stone, and after they have silently left, He addresses the woman: “Has no one condemned you?” She replies that no one has. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go away, and from this moment sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

There are several lessons to draw from this: first, Jesus does not condemn the woman who has objectively sinned, but He does tell her to stop sinning. That is our example. Not to condemn or exclude anyone and to be honest to the truth, the truth of Christ.

So, in the end, while Bishop Bonny is most certainly right in emphasising the need for proper pastoral care for people in homosexual relationships (as well as anyone else, really), his chosen solution ultimately does more harm than good as it dilutes the truth and present impossibilities as attainable and desirable.

The General Report for the Ad Limina – The portfolios

Continuing with our translation of the general report that the Dutch bishops will be handing to Pope Francis in the first week of December, we arrive at the second part, in which the various portfolios within the Bishops’ Conference are described, as well as some developments within the fields they cover.

It would seem that each portfolio holder has written a short text. These are sadly not written for easy reading. They are dry texts intended to convey information, and their length prevents the inclusion of much detail.

Below, I will briefly list the main points in each text.

logo TSTVocations and Education to Church Ministry (Wim Cardinal Eijk): Mentions the intended merger between the three Catholic theological faculties in the country. The Faculty of Catholic Theology (logo pictured) of the University of Tilburg, but located in Utrecht, was the result. Two faculties participated, while the third lost the right to dispense ecclesiastical grades. No mention is made of the seminaries.

Liturgy, Church Music, Bible and Christian Art (Bishop Jan Liesen): This department tries to emphasise the fullness of liturgical life through letters and liturgical books. There is special attention for new translations of the Roman Missal and the Bible as used in the liturgy.

Catechesis (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): There are projects about First Communion and Confirmation,  a series of six catechetical magazines on topics like birth, suffering, forgiveness and education, a catechesis method for children and teenagers. New goals are new forms of evangelisation and catechesis and more investing in the volunteer force.

basisschoolEducation (Bishop Jan Hendriks): Government policy and secularisation put pressure on Catholic education. Ways are sought to improve relations between Church and schools and increase religious knowledge of teachers.

Youth (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): Pastoral care is mostly presented in national events (Catholic Youth Day, diocesan events). The number of youth groups is slowly decreasing, but young Catholics are increasingly present on the Internet and in social media.

Communication and Media (Bishop Frans Wiertz): Little interest from secular media in Church and faith, except for the sexual abuse crisis and the election of Pope Francis. Fewer financial means to invest in communication. There seem to be new chances in new media (seriously? Seem to be?)

prisonPastoral care in Justice and Health Care (Bishop Everard de Jong): Pastoral care in prisons takes place in close cooperation with the state. Most hospitals and nursing homes are secularised, making providing pastoral care more difficult. It is being ‘professionalised’ and thus becoming more secular. There are very few priests available in this area, and the challenge is to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and dioceses, and dioceses and institutions.

Church and Society (Bishop Gerard de Korte): The bishop meets twice annually with representatives from various areas of society, including political parties and unions. The bishop tries to spread Catholic social thought via the media.

Ecumenism and Contacts with the Eastern Rites (Bishop Hans van den Hende): There are direct ecumenical contacts with the Protestant Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental and Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Alliance and the Pentecostal churches. Expressions of ecumenism include a joint declaration on Baptism and a nationwide Week of Prayer for Unity.

Interreligious Dialogue (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Cooperation exists with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Deus Caritas Est and the Vatican II documents are basis for further contacts.

punt ethiopiëMission and Development (Bishop Jos Punt): There is solidarity and creativity in the parishes, often aimed at local projects. These can be integrated in national actions. There is also a decline in financial contributions to missionary projects. (At left: Bishop Punt on a missionary visit to Ethiopia)

Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) (Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom): The bishop participates in the two meetings per year of the COMECE, and subsequently reports to the bishops’ conference about it. Several COMECE projects are put into practice in the Netherlands.

Marriage and Family (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): Good marriage preparation and family amenities are promoted for the new parishes. Numerous movements assist the Church in these goals.

Handboek-katholieke-medische-ethiekMedical Ethics (Wim Cardinal Eijk): The cardinal lectures on this topic in the Netherlands and abroad, and also teaches the subject at the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and writes articles for various publications. He also maintains political contacts to emphasise the topic, and has published a handbook on medical ethics (pictured), which is currently being translated into English and Italian.

Relations with Judaism (Bishop Herman Woorts): Several meetings between Jewish and Christian communities take place, in relation to the remembrance of the Holocaust and several Jewish feasts. All dioceses should have their own working group for relations with Judaism.

Movements and New Communities (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): These are fourteen movements and communities recognised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Religious and Secular Institutes (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Three to four meetings per year have led to mutual dialogue and confidence and has brought bishops and religious closer together.

Church and the Elderly (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Two elements are important: representation and comfort on the one hand, and questions of life and death, the younger generations and hope on the other. This is achieved through celebrations and speaking engagements.

Church and Women (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Consisting mainly of contacts with the Union of Dutch Catholic Women, in two meetings per year.

Our Lady of Lourdes BasilicaPilgrimages (Bishop Herman Woorts): The bishop takes part in the annual meeting of the three official pilgrimage organisations. Important now is the creation of a new pilgrims’ book related to the publication of an interrim Missal, probably sometime in 2014. The bishop takes part in various pilgrimages and celebrations.

Pastoral Care for Workers in Carnivals, Circuses and Shipping (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): There is a well-ordered nationwide parish for shipping workers, with its own parish priest and group of volunteers. There is an annual meeting with the bishop.

Beatifications and Canonisations (Bishop Frans Wiertz): There have been four canonisations and three beatifications in the Dutch Church province since 1998. There are three Blesseds awaiting canonisation.  There are 13 further cases, of which three have reached the stage of Venerable. Three cases have had their file sent to Rome, and two files have been handed over to dioceses abroad. Three or four more candidates are being considered to have their processes started.

The reports are very factual and while the describe intentions, plans and wishes, there is no indication of how these are to be realised, nor how effective any projects are.

Striking – and disappointing – is the conclusion from Bishop Wiertz as holder of the communications portfolio that “here seem to be new chances in new media”. These chances have been there for years, and many Catholics in the world are exploiting them. There is a world to be won on the Internet for the Church in the Netherlands, a world that is barely being explored at this time.

A close call for a bishop

In the abuse crisis that we, for better or worse, have gotten somewhat acclimatised to, one of the most painful chapters is that of the castrations that took place to ‘cure’ men from homosexuality. Although this was, for a while, accepted medical practice, both in Church-run facilities and in secular institutions, the commotion about it is nothing but understandable.

Professor van Lieburg

Things seemed to get a bit worse this week, when medical historian Mart van Lieburg announced that he had evidence that an unnamed bishop had ordered the castration of a man sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. And that bishop would have still been alive. That last statement would have narrowed the number of possible names down to two. Of the Dutch bishops in the 1960s, only Bishops Jan Bluyssen (‘s Hertogenbosch, 1966-1983) and Huub Ernst (Breda, 1967-1992) are still alive today.

On Wednesday, during the same set of hearings in which Mr. Bakker of the previous blog post spoke, Professor van Lieburg came back from his initial statement, as Trouw reports today. He explains that a surgeon had been in contact with a bishop about castration: “The discussion with the surgeon took place over the telephone. I first want to hear on tape what he said precisely. But the conclusion that a bishop ordered castration is, as far as I’m concerned, premature. Perhaps, under the pressure of time, I didn’t express myself clearly.”

Contact between medical ethical committees and a bishop is not something that is cause for concern, Professor van Lieburg says.”There were medical ethical committees which discussed sensitive forms of treatment. There were Protestant ministers and also Catholic theologians on those committees. In the south, a surgeon would have likely had contact about that with someone from the Catholic Church.”

If anything, all this goes to show how much public perception has changed in the past 50 years. Although we don’t know the exact details of the contact that a bishop may have had with a surgeon who was to perform a castration, the response to even the possibility of it having happened is wildly different from the response that it would have received in the middle of the last century.

But that is no reason to say that, just because it was somewhat accepted at the time, we should just accept it now. It is in fact a very Catholic attitude to say that there is a morality that is not dependent on public opinion, but which exists because it is an integral part of creation. What was good and right in the past, is still that. The very same goes for what was bad and unjust.

Photo credit: RosaMedia

Stability – Cardinal Martini on same-sex relationships

Carlo Cardinal Martini, the 85-year-old emeritus archbishop of Milan, has written a short book in which he posits his disagreement with the Church’s opposition of same-sex relationships. “It is not bad,” he writes, “instead of casual sex between men, that two people have a certain stability.” Surely this is true, if we limit ourselves to these two choices. Stability and faithfulness always trumps casual sex with multiple partners.

But by limiting himself so much, the cardinal makes a serious mistake which is comparable to what the media thought Pope Benedict XVI said about the use of condoms being allowed in some cases. The Holy Father presented the use of condoms by a male prostitute as an example of ethical progress, but not ethically sound in its own right. And much the same may be said about the opinion of Cardinal Martini. Surely a stable same-sex relationship is better than loose, possibly unsafe, sexual contacts, but it does not make the relationship itself something that the Church can support, just like it can’t support prostitution, homosexual or otherwise, with protection or not.

And that is Cardinal Martini’s mistake. Despite his assumed good intentions, the cardinal is wrong when he says that because one thing is better than another, it must be inherently good. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as the saying goes. This is an argument of details without taking in the larger picture, and that is that the Church rightfully teaches that same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered, but that’s a topic for another time.

This article on LifeSiteNews, from which I took the above quotation from the cardinal’s book, offers some more aspects of the argument against this position.

Papal soundbytes: Cuba

At the end of another successful apostolic journey, it’s time to look back at the days the Holy Father spent in Cuba. The island nation may be officially Communist, but that does not mean that Pope Benedict XVI was not welcome. On the contrary. In addition to an official welcome by President Raúl Castro and a private meeting with his brother Fidel, the faithful of the country came out in droves to welcome the Holy Father enthusiastically. As in Mexico, this did much to energise the pope, who at times seemed quite fatigued, judging by the many press photos I have come across.

Now, let’s highlight some of the words that the Holy Father addressed to nthe people of Cuba and the world. The original texts are, as usual, available here.

Cuban President Raúl Castro speaks to Pope Benedict XVI upon the latter's arrival in Santiago de Cuba

Rebirth of society

“Many parts of the world today are experiencing a time of particular economic difficulty, that not a few people regard as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenceless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families. We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer. On the other hand, real progress calls for an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension. In the hearts and minds of many, the way is thus opening to an ever greater certainty that the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person” (Welcoming ceremony, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).

A home for humanity

“In Christ, God has truly come into the world, he has entered into our history, he has set his dwelling among us, thus fulfilling the deepest desire of human beings that the world may truly become a home worthy of humanity. On the other hand, when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the “Yes” to the love between God and humanity who responds to him” (Homily, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).

Human freedom

“It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it. And we see also how the beginning of the earthly life of the Son of God was marked by a double “Yes” to the saving plan of the Father – that of Christ and that of Mary. This obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation” (Idem).

The lofty mission of the family

“The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church” (Idem).

Truth

“The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), claiming is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.

On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each man and woman has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.” (Homily, Havana, 28 March).

Pope Benedict meets with Fidel Castro in a private meeting at the nunciature in Havana. They spoke about study, books and changes in the liturgy.

Freedom of religion

“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world.

The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic” (Idem).

Photo credits:
[1] Javier Galeano/AFP/Getty Images
[2], [3] Reuters/Tony Gentile
[4] Reuters/Osservatore Romano
[5] Esteban Felix/AFP/Getty Images

Into the quagmire of modern secular society

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

Go ahead, read that again. I’ll wait.

That texts is no joke, not even a very tasteless one. It is an abstract of a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. This is a serious proposal.

Newborns are somehow inferior to other human beings, the fact that they’ll grow into ‘normal’ people is irrelevant, and adoption is not always ideal, so it’s okay to murder a baby if we don like it.

Lord Alton, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group in the UK, has rightly said that this development, and the thought processes behind it, “illustrates not a slippery slope, but the quagmire into which medical ethics and our wider society have been sucked”.

A baby, not actually a human being, apparently.

The slippery slope that we are one, since we live in a society (especially here in the Netherlands) which allows the killing of children before birth, leads to a quagmire in which it is okay to kill a child at any age, since it is okay to do so until a random number of weeks after conception.

What will these lead to? From accepting killing the unborn, will we go to the killing of newborn, to the killing of anyone who is undesired?  What kind of sick situation are we in when it is even accepted to consider something like this? In the past, proponents of abortion hid behind the pretense that is was somehow for the best interest of the mother (and sometimes the child), but the authors of the paper linked above don’t even bother doing that. They essentially say that when a child is somehow undesired, or when raising him or her will somehow be difficult, due to whatever circumstances (not even necessarily related to  the health of the child), it should be allowed to murder it in cold blood.

Just exercising my right to kill, your honour. No big deal.

Make sure you also read ‘After-birth abortion’ is logically sound: that’s why it will boost the pro-life movement.