Question time!

Christmas is the day on which we reopen our hearts to Christ, to receive Him as He was received more than 2,000 years ago. We find Him also in the people around us, with their questions, curiosity and need for confirmation in and strengthening of their faith.

Hence another round of questions to be answered. I find these questions in the search terms that have lead people to my blog. In some cases their search will have given them an answer, in other cases it won’t. For them, and for other as well, I will try and give short comprehensive answers that may be of help. All questions were asked in the last month.

Will Archbishop Georg Gänswein become a cardinal?

Archbishop-Georg-Ganswein-900x500Archbishop Gänswein is the Prefect of the Papal Household, personal assistant to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and one of the most visible prelates next to the Pope. At general audience and other major events with the Holy Father, he can be seen at his side. Will he be made a cardinal in next February’s consistory? I would expect not. There are a few reasons for this. No Prefect of the Papal Household has been a cardinal since Pietro Gasparri from 1914 to 1918, and he was already a cardinal when appointed to the office. However, the five Prefects between Gasparri and Gänswein were made a cardinal later: Giovanni Tacci Porcelli in 1921, after wrapping up his duties as Prefect of the Holy Apostolic Palaces and before being made Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Mario Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano in 1969, also immediately after completing his work as Prefect; the same goes for Jacques Martin in 1988; Dino Monduzzi in 1998; and James Harvey in 2012, when he was made Archpriest of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. So there is certainly a precedent for Archbishop Gänswein being made a cardinal after being given another position in the Curia or in a diocese somewhere. But will Pope Francis be the one to do it? I have my doubts. I expect that his first consistory may be fairly light on Curial prelates and heavy on diocesan bishops, shepherds in the truest sense. And creating men as cardinals as a form of reward? I don’t see Francis doing that either.

I am a Catholic but have not been to Church in a very long time. How do I get back?

Go. Just go to a Church near you, or further away of you want, and enter. You are always welcome. Christ is there and He will not turn you away. Enter and sit down, open your heart to Christ. Take all the time you need. And if the time is right for you, strike up a conversation. With a volunteer, the sacristan, a Massgoer, the parish priest, even. They can and will welcome you and help you in whatever way you want and need. Don’t think there is a lot you need to do as soon as you walk into the church. God is patient. Once you are ready, the priest can help you take the next steps to return to full communion with Christ and His Church.

Who is Catholic Bishop Lewis Zeigler?

archbishop-zeiglerHe is the Metropolitan Archbishop of Monrovia in Liberia. Archbishop Zeigler is 69 and was appointed as Bishop of Gbarnga in Liberia in 2002. In 2009 he was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Monrovia, ie. auxiliary bishop with right of succession, in 2009. In 2011, he became the archbishop. He has also been the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Liberia since 2005.

Cardinal Burke demoted?

I’ll leave that to Father John Zuhlsdorf to explain and interpret.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk as cardinal?

Archbishop ShevchukThis one is a bit more likely. Major Archbishop Shevchuk is the head of a Church united to Rome, and Pope Francis knows both him and the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Until 2011, Archbishop Shevchuk was auxiliary bishop and apostolic administrator of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires, the Ukrainian Catholic jurisdiction in Argentina, with its see in the same city where Pope Francis was archbishop until this year. Pope Francis has shown sympathy to the eastern churches, and Archbishop Shevchuk has lobbied for his church to be elevated to a Patriarchate. His position and Pope Francis’ familiarity and sympathy make him a very likely future cardinal. And at the age of 43 he would be the youngest cardinal by far.

Keeping on eye on what is really going on in the Tebartz-van Elst case

Especially the German media have found a rich source of articles, opinion pieces and reports in Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the embattled bishop of Limburg. Now that he has travelled to Rome to speak with both Pope Francis and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (as president of the German bishops’ conference responsible for setting up an investigative body to look into the problems keeping both the Diocese of Limburg and its bishop occupied), it would seem prudent to outline what exactly is going on. There are after all, so many words written about the case(s) that it’s hard to keep track of fact and opinion.

franz-peter tebartz-van elst

In short, there are three problem areas which have either raised the ire of clergy and faithful or caused serious questions being asked:

First there is the bishop’s style of management which is deemed to be authoritarian. Although a bishop has authority over the local Church, the style of this authority is important, and although it is a matter of perception, and Bishop Tebartz-van Elst may certainly not have intended to present himself as such, this is certainly something to be avoided.

Second is the case of the bishop’s flight to India. In a dispute with national newspaper Der Spiegel, the bishop presented official affidavits twice, claiming not to have flown first class. This now seems not to be true, as the court in Hamburg has  charged Bishop Tebartz-van Elst for perjury.

Lastly, the St. Nicholas Centre near the cathedral of Limburg. A complex including the bishop’s private appartment, a chapel, meeting rooms, the diocesan museum and rooms for other functions, it exceeded projected costs by a factor of six. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, consequently, is accused of leading a life of excessive luxury, and this claim seems not to be wholly unsubstantiated. On the other hand, other bishops’ housings in Germany are no less luxurious or costly, it seems.

All this plays on the background of the initial steps taken by the Holy See to work towards a solution: the visit of Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, former Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. The purpose of that visit was not to arrive at textbook solutions, but to listen to all sides of the conflict and try and achieve some form of reconciliation or, at the very least, the intention of all involved to work towards reconciliation. The joint declaration from Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, which I wrote about here, certainly reflects a desire for clarity and a joint effort towards a solution.

What the future will bring remains to be seen. There is little doubt that the meeting between Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and Pope Francis will be a deeply personal one. Regardless of the personae created by the media of both men, I suspect it will be a private and deeply pastoral conversation. Will the Pope dress down the bishop for his perceived life of luxury? That is what many who have an almost allergic reaction to anything and anyone perceived as orthodox think and hope. But that’s because they have an image of Pope Francis as, as Father Z is fond of putting it, “the very bestest and most wonderfulest ehvur”, who fires all nasty rule-loving clerics everywhere, in between kissing babies and blessing puppies.

In the meantime, let’s pray that all involved can maintain a semblance of openness, honesty and clarity as the conclusion (whatever it may be) of this crisis comes closer.

Photo credit: Uwe Anspach/DPA

Long-distance conference

sacraliturgia_logoI’ve been thoroughly enjoying the fact that I am able to follow the Sacra Liturgia conference almost in realtime. The conference, which wrapped up its final day today, has been well-represented on Twitter, via its official account, but also via attending clerics such as Father James Bradley and Father Z (who also shares impressions on his blog). Msgr. Andrew Burnham today endorsed the Twitter coverage of his own paper, which was presented on his behalf by Msgr. Keith Newton, by tweeting: “The Tweets flowed well and presented the argument”.

I am looking forward to studying the summaries of the papers presented at the conference. What is already clear is that some very important topics were discussed: liturgy is important and so very much more than simple rituals. It really is the way we get to see not only who God is, but also who we are and what form our relationship with Him takes and must take.

Lastly, while the full texts of the papers will be published next year, I can already share, in Dutch no less, Bishop Dominique Rey’s opening remarks.

Misunderstanding Popes

Pope FrancisOne of the dangers of having a new Pope is that we see everything he says and does as a break from the actions and words of his predecessor. This is especially true if the charisma of the new Pope is so different than that of his predecessor.

In the short weeks since his election, Pope Francis has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of lots of people, through his easygoing nature as a people’s person, at comfortable with social interaction and obviously valuing the contacts with his coworkers, not just in the Curia, but also the people working the kitchens, offices and streets of the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI is clearly a more private man, appreciating the quiet of his study and his books, of contemplation and the written word. That is not to say that he avoided people, or that Pope Francis is a stranger to solitude and careful thoughts, but for the sake of this blog post, the difference is certainly noticeable.

Does this make the one Pope better than the other? Obviously not. But there is risk that we start thinking of the one we most easily identify with as the origin of many seemingly new thoughts and actions.

Today, Pope Francis told Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to continue “along the lines set by Benedict XVI, act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse”. Many media, both secular and Catholic, reported this today as a new position taken by the Holy Father, as a tougher stance on sexual abuse. This is, as the official blurb says, quite untrue. Pope Francis wants to continue what Pope Benedict started.

Of course, Pope Francis’ recommendation is praiseworthy, but it must not be understood as a divergence from the path taken by Pope Benedict XVI. It is a continuation. By presenting it otherwise, we unfairly pit the one Pope against the other, and depict Pope Benedict as somehow not as good as Pope Francis. And why? Only because Benedict is less of a people’s person, more retiring and at ease with decorum and ritual than Pope Francis is.

It is true, both Popes are different, but neither exists in isolation. Father Z is right when he says that we should “read Francis through Benedict“. If we don’t, we not only run the risk of misunderstanding either man, but also of being guilty of deception and, in fact, superficiality.

O sapientia!

As we enter the home stretch towards Christmas, let’s take a look, like we did last year, at the traditional O antiphons:

Today we entered the final week before Christmas, the week of the O antiphons. In the Church’s prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Vespers antiphons of the Magnificat, named for their beginning with the exclamation “O”, look towards the coming of the Lord with fervent hope and prayer, and they do so by using Old Testament titles for the Saviour. Father Z created an informative page about these antiphons.

Today we pray:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

[O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.]

May the incarnation of God, who is Wisdom, guide our path and our actions. May He teach us the way of our salvation in Him.

Good shepherds – standing for the faith

As Thomas Peters put it: “The Holy Spirit has guts”. A look at some of the most recent appointments in the Church (and rumours of future ones) shows as much. Although the decisions are of course made by prelates in the Curia and the Holy Father himself, as Catholics we firmly believe that the Holy Spirit guides and inspires them in their choices. And the choice these days seems to be for a firm stand for the faith and against the shamelessly promiscuous culture of today.

Just looking back over this past month, we have the appointment, albeit controversial in some circles) of Archbishop Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Despite certain doubts about his suitability for such an important position, Archbishop Müller is close to the Pope Benedict in outlook and priorities, and will therefore prove a very close collaborator to the Holy Father.

There have also been a number of appointments to dioceses across the world that support the impression outlined above.

In Britain, “thoroughly sound chap” (per Fr. Tim Finigan, who doesn’t say things without good cause) Bishop Philip Egan was appointed to Portsmouth.

Further north, Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley came to the see of Glasgow as the most populous Scottish diocese’s new archbishop, and mere days later he was taken to account for words that criticised a late politician’s homosexual lifestyle.

And today, staunch defender of marriage, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone (pictured at left) was appointed to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, in many ways the American liberal capital. Dubbed a “bombshell” by Rocco Palmo, the appointment of Cordileone can be considered the latest in a string of appointments that are part of what Father  often calls Pope Benedict’s ‘Marshall plan’ for the Church: an effort that must re-acquaint the Church with her own heritage and then live that out. For that, we faithful need bishops who are unafraid to clearly teach and defend what the Church has taught throughout the ages.

Additionally, and as an aside, there have also been bishops who have been taken to account for their mismanagement or failure to stand for the Catholic faith. Most recently, Slovakian Archbishop Róbert Bezák was removed as ordinary of Trnava.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Michael Short

The benefit of the doubt

I am, quite frankly, surprised and a bit dismayed at the bad press that Archbishop Müller, the Pope and the entire Vatican apparatus have been getting today, following the former’s appointment as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Z, here, makes the following observation:

“Müller has made some statements about clerical celibacy and Mariology that have a few people scratching their heads. That said, his job is to make [things] run smoothly at the Congregation, not to shape the Church’s doctrine.”

Archbishop Müller may have made some theological statements which, at first glance and out of context, seem to be at odds with Catholic dogma. But we are all aware of how easily things can be taken out of context, and also – let’s be honest – how clumsy prelates can sometimes be when explaining things to the media. Pope Benedict XVI has had to learn that, and Archbishop Müller will have to as well, if he hasn’t already.

Before rushing to keyboard or microphone to denounce someone as a heretic (yes, I am looking at Bishop De Galaretta of the SSPX, for one), we should support a new prelate in whatever small way we can, and give him the time to prove or – if necessary – correct himself. No one is perfect, but we all have the possibility to excel. That goes for curia prelates as well as for us.