An uncomfortable situation

Following the Ariënskonvikt affair, which spawned legitimate debate, there is now another discussion in a number of Catholic blogs that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Ms. Nelly Stienstra, chair of the orthodox Contact Rooms Katholieken group, translator of official Vatican documents and volunteer in the cathedral parish in Utrecht, has been told by Archbishop Eijk to step down from her duties in the parish. This after publically questioning his integrity and displaying her disregard of him during services, as a letter from the archbishop says.

I don’t know what is and is not true here, but it is not my place to know, let alone debate, either. The major problem is that someone saw fit to make public the private correspondence between two people by sending it to a blogger. It was subsequently picked up by other blogs, as these things go. Ms. Stienstra then responded through a press release voicing her disagreement with the decision.

Here we have a private matter made public to make others look bad – in this case the archbishop and the staff of the archdiocese. To me that seems very unethical. The archbishop has been criticised for not publically explaining his reasoning: he shouldn’t, since this is not something that concerns anyone but himself and Ms. Stienstra.

I have been doubting whether to write about this. Ideally I wouldn’t have for the exact reasons I mention above. But I decided in favour of it to share a different opinion about it all. A decision may be agreed with or disagreed with, and it may also be discussed. But a private matter between two people should remain so, and not be made a topic of public discussion.

Considered discussion

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster commented yesterday on the debate between secularists and believers. He said that the former are “just as dogmatic as the worst religious believer and sometimes more stridently so”.

“Public life is not a neutral place. Everybody comes with their set of values and religion has just as much right to be there as anybody else.

“A secularist is just as dogmatic as the worst religious believer and sometime they are more stridently so.”

The archbishop emphasised the importance of constructive dialogue.

“That means getting away from the sound-bites and getting away from the discussion that is always centered around oppositional conflict.”

Words that seem very logical, but too rarely put into practice. Mudslinging is always easier, of course, because constructive dialogue requires well-thought out arguments and the possibility of having to reconsider one’s ideas. And there are some situations where the parties and the points of view are so opposed to one another that common ground is very hard to find indeed, thus limiting the possibility for dialogue.

Personally, I would think that this may be one such instance, at least when the parties – secular and religious – are both rigid in their points. But I also think that a sensible approach to this can be found in the Catholic Church, which approaches, for example, science and faith – another much-discussed topic – from the angles dedicated by their respective fields of expertise. But that does not mean that within the Church dialogue is abundant and fruitful. On the contrary: Catholics are people too and may often find mudslinging easier and more attractive than considered dialogue. And I can’t exclude myself from that group.

But I hope to be able to remedy that with my blog’s new focus, and walk the fine line between criticism and negativity, with a firm eye set on a hopeful future.