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

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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.

Cardinal-designate Eijk on Zenit

Zenit today features an interview with Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht set to become the Netherlands’ eighth cardinal in history. The interview touches upon such topics as the archbishop’s reaction to being on the list for next Saturday’s consistory, his preparation for his new responsibilities, the new evangelisation, his medical education and specialisation in medical ethics, but also the sexual abuse crisis in the Netherlands. About that, he says:

 “I see the scandal of sexual abuses disconnected from my creation as cardinal. As the Church in the Netherlands, we must do in-depth research on the scandal of abuses and then take a great number of steps. The fact that, as archbishop of Utrecht, I am being created cardinal is encouraging for the Dutch Church, but it has no connection with the scandal of sexual abuses.”

Go read the rest of the interview with my former bishop (and also the bishop who baptised and confirmed me almost five years ago) at the link above.

Papal soundbytes: Benin

The past weekend’s three-day papal visit to Benin has not made many headlines in most media, but that doesn’t mean important things weren’t said and done. They were, for Benin and Africa as well as Catholics and countries all over the world. Here is my selection of passages from the addresses and homilies that Pope Benedict XVI gave during his visit. You can find the full texts here.

The pope, with Cardinal Bertone and Fr, Lombardi at his side, answers questions during the flight to Benin

On giving new vitality to the faith

“[W]e must not imitate these [Evangelical or Pentecostal] communities, but we must ask what we can do to give fresh vitality to the Catholic faith. And I would say that an initial point is certainly a simple, profound, easily grasped message; it is important that Christianity should not come across as a difficult European system that others cannot understand and put into practice, but as a universal message that there is a God, a God who matters [to us], a God who knows us and loves us, and that concrete religion stimulates cooperation and fraternity. So, a simple concrete message is very important.

[…]

“I would also say that a participative but not emotional liturgy is needed: it must not be based merely on the expression of emotions, but should be characterized by the presence of the mystery into which we enter, by which we are formed.” (Interview during the flight to Benin, 18 November)

Good intentions

“Man, in consequence of original sin, wants to possess himself, to possess life, and not to give his life. Whatever I have, I want to keep. But if this is my attitude, if I want not to give but to possess, then of course good intentions lead nowhere. Indeed it is only through love and knowledge of a God who loves us and gives to us that we can arrive at the point where we dare to lose our lives and give ourselves, knowing that this is how we stand to gain.” (Idem)

Pope Benedict arrives in Benin

Modernity’s pitfalls

“Modernity need not provoke fear, but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past. It needs to be accompanied by prudence for the good of all in order to avoid the pitfalls which exist on the African continent and elsewhere, such as unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance, nationalism or exaggerated and sterile tribalism which can become destructive, a politicization of interreligious tensions to the detriment of the common good, or finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values.”  (Welcome ceremony in Cotonou, 18 November)

On the mercy of God

“In the Son, the “Father of mercies” (2 Cor 1:3) is made visible; ever faithful to his fatherhood, he “leans down to each prodigal child, to each human misery, and above all to their moral misery, to their sins” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 6). Divine mercy consists not only in the remission of our sins; it also consists in the fact that God, our Father, redirects us, sometimes not without pain, affliction or fear on our part, to the path of truth and light, for he does not wish us to be lost (cf. Mt 18:14; Jn 3:16). This double expression of divine mercy shows how faithful God is to the covenant sealed with each Christian in his or her baptism.”  (Visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy, 18 November)

Speaking with President Thomas Yayi Boni before giving a speech for government and religious dignitaries

Human beings and the ills of society

“Human beings aspire to liberty; then to live in dignity; they want good schools and food for their children, dignified hospitals to take care of the sick; they want to be respected; they demand transparent governance which does not confuse private and public interests; and above all they desire peace and justice. At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death. These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world.”

[…]

“I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom.” (Meeting with government, diplomats and other religions, 19 November)

The Church and the state

“The Church accompanies the State and its mission; she wishes to be like the soul of our body untiringly pointing to what is essential: God and man. She wishes to accomplish, openly and without fear, the immense task of one who educates and cares, but above all who prays without ceasing (cf. Lk 18:1), who points to God (cf. Mt 6:21) and to where the authentic man is to be found (cf. Mt 20:26, Jn 19:5). Despair is individualistic. Hope is communion. Is not this a wonderful path that is placed before us? I ask all political and economic leaders, as well those of the university and cultural realms to join it. May you also be sowers of hope!” (idem)

Violence in the name of God

“True interreligious dialogue rejects humanly self-centred truth, because the one and only truth is in God. God is Truth. Hence, no religion, and no culture may justify appeal or recourse to intolerance and violence. Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts. To use the revealed word, the Sacred Scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault.” (idem)

Hope through interreligious dialogue

“To finish, I would like to use the image of a hand. There are five fingers on it and each one is quite different. Each one is also essential and their unity makes a hand. A good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other which is not condescending, and the respect of the rights of each one are a vital duty. This must be taught to all the faithful of the various religions. Hatred is a failure, indifference is an impasse, and dialogue is an openness! Is this not good ground in which seeds of hope may be sown? To offer someone your hand means to hope, later, to love, and what could be more beautiful than a proffered hand? It was willed by God to offer and to receive. God did not want it to kill (cf. Gen 4:1ff) or to inflict suffering, but to care and to help live. Together with our heart and our intelligence, our hand too can become an instrument of dialogue. It can make hope flourish, above all when our intelligence stammers and our heart stumbles.” (idem)

The pope prays at the tomb of his friend Cardinal Gantin

The special responsibility of the priest

“Dear priests, the responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation falls in a special way to you. Owing to your reception of Holy Orders and your celebration of the Sacraments, you are called in effect to be men of communion. As crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received. I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life, by being in full communion with your Bishop, by a genuine goodwill towards your brother priests, by a profound solicitude for each of the baptized and by great attention to each person.” (Meeting with priests, seminarians and religious at St. Gall Seminary, Ouidah, 19 November)

The obedience of the religious

“Poverty and chastity make you truly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere. May poverty, obedience and chastity increase your thirst for God and your hunger for his Word, who, by increasing, transforms hunger and thirst into service of those who are deprived of justice, peace and reconciliation.” (idem)

The quality of the priestly life

“Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function. The quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation. Faced with the challenges of human existence, the priest of today and tomorrow – if he wants to be a credible witness to the service of peace, justice and reconciliation – must be a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous. After 60 years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation.” (idem)

Pope Benedict signs the Post-Synodal Exhortation Africae Munus

Families in the Church

“By having love and forgiveness reign in your families, you will contribute to the upbuilding of a Church which is beautiful and strong, and to the advent of greater justice and peace in the whole of society. In this way, I encourage you, dear parents, to have a profound respect for life and to bear witness to human and spiritual values before your children.” (idem)

Sharing the treasure of Jesus

“Do not hesitate, dear children, to speak of Jesus to others. He is a treasure whom you should share generously. Throughout the history of the Church, the love of Jesus has filled countless Christians, and even young people like yourselves, with courage and strength.” (meeting with children at St. Rita’s parish church, Cotonou, 19 November)

Apostolic zeal

“Apostolic zeal, which should animate all the faithful, is a direct result of their baptism, and they cannot shirk their responsibility to profess their faith in Christ and his Gospel wherever they find themselves, and in their daily lives. Bishops and priests, for their part, are called to revive this awareness within families, in parishes, in communities and in the different ecclesial movements.” (Meeting with the bishops of Benin, 19 November)

On the fraternity of bishops and priests

“As leaders and pastors of your people, you are called to have a lively consciousness of the sacramental fraternity which unites you, and of the unique mission which has been entrusted to you, so that you may be effective signs and promoters of unity within your dioceses. With your priests, an attitude of listening, and of personal and paternal concern must prevail so that, conscious of your affection for them, they may live their priestly vocation with peace and sincerity, spread its joy around them and faithfully exercise their priestly duties.” (idem)

On the formation of seminarians

“Dear Brother Bishops, the formation of the future priests of your dioceses is a reality to which you must pay particular attention. I strongly encourage you to make it one of your pastoral priorities. It is absolutely necessary that a solid human, intellectual and spiritual formation allow young people to attain a personal, psychological and affective maturity, which prepares them to assume to duties of the priesthood, especially in the area of interpersonal relations. […] Since the choice of formators is an important responsibility incumbent upon you Bishops, I invite you to exercise this duty with prudence and discernment. Formators, each of whom must possess the necessary human and intellectual qualities, must be concerned with their own advancement along the path to holiness, as well that that of the young to whom they have the mission of helping in the search for the will of God in their lives.” (idem)

The kingship of Christ

“Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve!” (Holy Mass at Cotonou, 20 November)

Jesus identifies with the sick

“I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage! Jesus wanted to identify himself with the poor, with the sick; he wanted to share your suffering and to see you as his brothers and sisters, to free you from every affliction, from all suffering. Every sick person, every poor person deserves our respect and our love because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven.” (idem)

Encouragement to proclaim the faith

“The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the word of God! Many are those whose faith is weak, whose way of thinking, habits and lifestyle do not know the reality of the Gospel, and who think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life. With enthusiasm, be ardent witnesses of the faith which you have received! Make the loving face of the Saviour shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!” (idem)

Africa, the land of hope

“I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope. I have already said this many times. Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God’s help and the determination of Africans themselves.” (Departure ceremony, Cotonou, 20 November)

Photo credits:

[1] Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

[2], [6] AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, HO

[3], [4] Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

[5] AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, poolber

[7], [10] AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

[8] Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

[9] Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

The pope on science: Benefit never trumps “the destruction of even one human life”

For some there’s a minefield where faith meets science, but in reality that minefield is largely imaginary. Pope Benedict XVI proved as much when he spoke at an international Conference on adult stem cell research. Rapidly becoming a theme in his pontificate, the Holy Father once again presents ethics, justice and properly formed conscience as the foundations of all human effort. The address, given this past weekend in Rome, also offers an introduction to the two pillars of “the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.” It’s a good read for anyone interested in the dynamic between faith and science.

Read my translation here.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Osservatore Romano