It takes strength of character to amid mistakes, and even more so to ask forgiveness from those you have hurt by your actions. Christian Ouwens has such character. Omroep Brabant reports that the student of theology regrets his actions of two years ago, when he filed a complaint against two priests and the bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The reason was the widely-reported refusal of communion to the openly homosexual carnival prince of the village of Reusel.
Mr. Ouwens now admits that he was wrong and Father Luc Buyens was right. He regrets having urged others in the wrong direction and having attacked the faith, the priest and the bishop. “The fact that something feels good, does not mean that it is good,” he says about his support for a homosexual lifestyle. Mr. Ouwens is homosexual himself.
He has already spoken to Father Geertjan van Rossum, one of the priests he lodged an official complaint against in early 2010, and he says that the priest respects him. He plans to have the priest of Reusel hear his confession this coming Wednesday, although he has already spoken with him. Whether this is Fr. Luc Buyens, the parish priest in Reusel at the time of the incident, or the current priest, Father Karel van Rosmalen, is not known, although the former seems most fitting.
Admitting mistakes is not a weakness, but a sign of maturity. We all make mistakes, and we can all remedy them, such as by asking forgiveness from those we hurt, be they people around us, people farther away, or God Himself. That is what Confession is for. If we are truly sorry for what we did, He will forgive us and shine His light on the road before us.
In an attempt to stem the development of DIY Church communities in Belgium, Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels has welcomed the initiative by Father Andy Penne to see if it is possible to return to his native land. Father Penne is one of fifteen Belgian priest incardinated in the Dutch Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The reasons for their presence in the Netherlands are varied; Fr. Penne works here simply because he felt most at home in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch St. John’s seminary; others chose to be educated and formed here because they considered the Belgain seminaries too liberal. And for years the general attitude among the Belgian episcopate has been that once in a foreign diocese, the priests had best stay there.
But when Archbishop Léonard came to Brussels, the mood has changed. In a newspaper interview, Fr. Penne reports that he will be leaving his current parish in the Netherlands to work in the Belgian archdiocese, near the town where he grew up. Officially, he is ‘on loan’ from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but the change from the past is striking.
The Belgian priests in the Netherlands are generally considered to be more orthodox, or true to the Catholic faith, than many of their brother priests and pastoral workers in Belgium. That is why their possible future return is no reason for joy for many. They fear the spectres of orthodoxy and conservatism which will threaten their lukewarm version of Catholicism. The opposing party’s feelings sound rather spiteful; “once chosen for the Netherlands, they’d better stay there,” and “Some of these priests were not good enough for Belgian seminaries.” But on the other hand, a poll among lay faithful in Mechelen-Brussels also revealed another sound. A catechist from Mechelen said, “There is a shortage of priests here. We should be thankful to the Lord if Flemish priests from the Netherland want to come and help us out here.” And a prayer group leader, “People call them conservative but they merely proclaim what the Church says. We shouldn’t all be making our own little churches.”
For Archbishop Léonard these priests may turn out to be valuable coworkers in the vineyard.
And, finally, the parishes left behind by Father Penne will be the new home for another Belgian priest who made headlines early last year: Father Luc Buyens.
Coming full circle, a topic from the start of the year reaches a conclusion at the end of it. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans and Fathers Cor Mennen, Luc Buyens and Geert-Jan van Rossem will not be prosecuted for denying Communion to practising homosexuals and for defending that Church law.
Two men had lodged complaints in the wake of Fr. Buyens’ decision and the subsequent protests during Mass at the cathedral of St. John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They accused the priest, his bishop, the cathedral administrator Fr. van Rossem and blogging priest Fr. Mennen for discrimination and incitement to hatred. But the court decided yesterday that there is no case of this according to criminal law. Church law is outside the court’s jurisdiction.
Father Mennen’s blog posts fall under his right to express his convictions. He didn’t address homosexuals in general, the court ruled, but discussed a case within the Church which he considers unacceptable. That is his right.
The second month of my blogging here saw a small decrease in viewers, but that was not unexpected. After all, Father Tim and other influential bloggers did not link to me this time around. In total 3,096 views were registered, which is a good number. Certainly more than I had expected two months ago.
Four topics drew lots of viewers: Medjugorje, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and Communion & homosexuality. The latter three are the stereotypical topics that the secular world always connects to the Church and the blog stats meter could tell.
Below is the top ten of best-viewed posts. I am very happy to see some of my translations making it in there.
People who found my blog via search engines where mostly interested in Lent, Father Luc Buyens, STS-130 and Fr. Manfred Hauke. An unusual search string was “endeavour two engines”, a term used during the ascent of space shuttle Endeavour that indicates that the orbiter can make it to a given destination (orbit, abort site) on two engines. And indeed, Google coughs up just two results for that search, the first of them being my blog.
PvdA Chairperson Lilianne Ploumen has called people of all sexual orientations to come to Mass at the cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday. A laudable invitation. Or is it?
Sadly, it is not. She does so in order to protest the Catholic teachings about homosexual practices, which she claims are discriminatory. She will attend Mass – great! – wearing a pink triangle with the text “Jesus excludes no one”, and tells others to do the same.
When people write about similar situations, especially in America, they often note the strange ideas of freedom that such people have. That is what I see increasingly here as well. Freedom is great, and everyone should be free to live according to their own conscience, but not if that goes against the popular opinion and political correctness. Then that freedom becomes a crime and its proponents subject of ridicule and violence (verbal or otherwise). The anti-religious lobby in general is oppressive, what Pope Benedict XVI calls ‘the dictatorship of relativism’. Disagreement is not an option.
Arie Slob, chairman of the Christian Union in parliament, has commented on Ploumen’s action: “With all due respect for Ms Ploumen and with happiness at her call to go to church: this is a very inappropriate, provocative interference in church matters.” He continues, “I would like to assume that it is not the PvdA chair but the Roman Catholic expressing herself here [Well, Mr. Slob, trust me: it is not]. But let me be even clearer. I for one can’t imagine using my political brand name to influence the church of which I am a member.”
In the mean time, Robèrt Cooijmans, the man who charged Father Luc Buyens and Bishop Antoon Hurkmans with discrimination, will try to speak during the same Mass. He was prevented from doing so in his own parish church last Sunday, when a plain clothes police officer stopped and arrested him for disturbing the peace.
The homily that Father Luc Buyens gave last Sunday is online. It is, of course, the homily in which he explained to his parishioners (and the protesters who were also present) why he couldn’t give Communion to an openly homosexual man. What with all the media commotion surrounding that, I think it is interesting to see what Fr. Buyens actually said. Below is the homily in English (emphases mine).
Dear parishioners of Reusel, dear people from elsewhere,
After the feast of carnival last week, on Ash Wednesday we have entered our holy Lent, the Christian time of fasting. For us this is a time of more focus on prayer, the practice of confession and being solidary with our neighbour. A time which Jesus has entered before us in His mortal life. I believe that we, as postmodern people of the 21st century, can still learn from that. When a person chooses for such a time of purification, according to Luke the evangelist, there are three points which become clear.
1. The temptation to turn stones into loaves… apparently, a lot is possible from the world of spirits. But Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone”, and everyone who knows the Bible, knows what actually follows next: “but by every word of God”. It is sublime to know that Jesus will eventually feed His own with the bread of heaven, which makes us people grow into the ‘living rock’, into the spiritual building that He establishes and of which He is the cornerstone that holds everything together. But apparently the devil isn’t caught that easily. He comes with a second challenge: “If you therefore will adore before me, all shall be yours”, and Jesus replies, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”: the God for Whom every knee must bend. How can we, dear people, adore and honour Him here on Earth? The only right answer is: there where Jesus shows Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Adoration. ‘God with us’ in the form of consecrated bread. That is how He shall be with us until the end of days. And how can we serve Him? In our neighbour, by serving him or her as we would want to be helped ourselves. Jesus lives in the first place in the poor, the small, the abandoned and fragile, the least of all. If we apply God’s word to what is called temptation, the enemy or tempter is sent back from the very start, and so follows the third temptation: Cast yourself down and you will be carried, in other words: the challenge to cross boundaries, to tempt fate as happens so often these days. What does Jesus say then? “You shall not the tempt the Lord you God”. Creature: know your place. Know what you are doing if you want to tempt the Lord your God. Woe that man…
At that point Satan leaves until the designated time to take his revenge, which will cost him dearly, because Jesus’ death has given eternal life to people of good will and the restoration of all things. This is what God’s Church stands for. He who beliefs and is baptised will be saved from a death that will last forever. From now on man can consider his life from the principle of eternity and let this dictate his values. Jesus entrusted this faith to the Church and, by spreading the Word and administering the sacraments to the people, the Church sanctifies the world.
Following the commotion after pastoral matters were leaked to the press, I would like to say the following. When we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist we do this to consider God’s word and possibly to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Communion or Holy Host. “Truly my Body and Blood”, as Christ teaches us. This ‘bread from heaven’ is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. In 2008 the Dutch bishops published a letter asking the ministers of the Eucharist to make the faithful aware of what communicating in God’s Church means. They gave four models to achieve a good formulation towards the faithful. All four of those models indicate that one can’t receive Communion under certain circumstances, and that, including the amendments in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism, goes for everyone.
Dear people, why do I mention all this? To tell you that there is nothing wrong when something is lived orderly. There are boundaries for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and for everyone else possible.
There are rules which the Church must apply so that people approach and receive God in the right manner. The Church has the task to keep and protect the people. Especially when they threaten to make mistakes out of ignorance, the Church warns like a concerned mother. On the football field, the referee also engages with a player who acts inappropriately. It can’t be that in the Church, which is eternal, all rules which stem from the Ten Commandments, are cast aside just like that. When I participate in carnival festivities I know I have to respect their rules and the same goes for when I want to participate actively in the life of the Church. Faith reveals itself in acts and here too the Law is what everything is measured by, to the benefit of all. “One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled”, the Lord of heaven and earth says.
I have said a lot and I could say more, but I know that I will feel like a useless help who only tried to do his work in good conscience. I did not want to single out anyone. Everything took place in private. I don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. I know that there is often a lot of pain and sorrow for the people concerned but also, despite all difficulties, the intention to do and be good. The Church is called to be specifically close to those concerned and to help them carry the sacrifices of such a disposition as a cross, together with the crucified Christ. I believe that bringing such a sacrifice can be a great blessing to the Church and the world who needs that so much.They who are willing to carry this cross are even invited and encouraged to frequently receive the sacraments and the blessings of the Church to be strengthened to persevere. After every fall or mistake every believer can and must reconcile himself with God through an honest confession, if he wants to sit at the table of the Lord. That goes for every grave sin of any nature.
To you, who have come here in such large numbers, I would like to say that I, as a priest, am willing to suffer for the sign I stand for. Just like I wish to be respectful to each and every one of you I would want to receive the same respect in return. Sadly, I must inform you, that things do not automatically point in that direction. I do not declare war on anyone, but I ask the Lord of heaven and earth that His peace may soon descend on Reusel once more. Our people here do no benefit from what is happening and do not work that way.
To the press I would like to say thatI did not want this disturbance. This parish has been entrusted to my care by the bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This is my workplace that has been given and nothing more. I think that I have given enough clarity and ask that you turn towards persons of the diocese of Den Bosch and specialists in these matters.
In our Church it is not usual that priests act autonomously. In the case that I have been blamed I have only acted after discussion with the bishop and my colleagues.
I wish to close with the word of the great apostle Paul with his words to the Christians of Philippi: “Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ”.
“Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
The Volkskrant reports today that a homosexual Catholic, Mr. Robèrt Cooijmans is going to report Fr. Luc Buyens, the priest who denied Communion to an openly homosexual man last week, with discrimination. He states: “My church can’t exclude anyone. There is no ground for that in the Bible.” A statement that is evidently incorrect, and indicative of Cooijmans’ knowledge of his own faith. And I won’t even start about the ‘my church’ business.
Cooijmans bases his claim on the fact that he has always received Communion without problem and polls by pro-homosexual media are said to say that as many as 94% of priests make no issue out of it. Does that validate the claim of discrimination? Of course not. If anything, and if true, it indicts the priests in question for ignoring Church teachings. Sadly, that is all too common in this country. And it may be cause for problems for Fr. Buyens too. I highly doubt that any court will accept the case, but the fact that this has no become an exclusively gender- and sexuality-based affair is a bit problematic.
Denying Communion to practising homosexuals is simply an obligation for every priest. But the same goes for divorced person, or people who live together unmarried or anyone who lives in a state of grave sin. Making this an exclusively homosexual affair is therefore counterproductive and incorrect. Sadly, I think that both sides in the argument may be to blame for that. Fr. Buyens for not being consistent and the media for hyping it as discrimination.
In the end, though, I think the court will consider this a matter of Church law, and Church law is very clear on this.
The misunderstanding and violent need to be proven right becomes painfully clear in other parts of the Volkskrant article quoted above. “We want to see if Communion will also be postpone there [the cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch] if we are present,” says Giovanni Nijenhuis, chief of gay organisation Embrace Pink. “It is important for us all that the church acknowledges that homosexuality is a disposition, which has nothing to do with moral preconceptions”.
“We’ll totally confuse them,” he said about the planned protests.
This is not about intelligent debate, this is an emotional and childish need to be proven right, even if that is not the case.
What we Catholics should do is not lower ourselves to their tactics, but offer clear and concise explanations of the truth. That Communion is not a right, that excluding people from Communion is not a matter of discrimination, that is not limited to homosexuals alone, that Communion is not the sole way of being part of the Church, and that the Church is neither a democracy nor a human club of which anyone, no matter what they do and how they live, can be a part. The Church, like any gathering of people, has rules that regulate it and improve its members. Denying those rules is like playing a football game and being upset when the referee calls foul when you don’t follow the rules of the game. “But football is for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to make their own rules!” That’s not football, that’s chaos.