Pope Francis received the participants of the plenary session of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in a private audience today. He also addressed them and, unsurprisingly in this Holy Year, his main topic was mercy. But there is more to his words than most would expect.
^Pope Francis with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation, and, at left, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Archbishop of Valencia and one of the members of the congregation.
Too often, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is depicted as an opponent to Pope Francis and his attempts to reform the Curia and, especially, emphasise the importance of Christian mercy and mission in modern society. This stems from a perceived opposition between mercy (and, by extension, the practical application of faith and its consequences in society) and doctrine, as if the two are not complementary. We must show mercy, but we also need to know what that mercy is. It is the congregation’s duty to safeguard that, to ensure that what is being said and done in the name of the faith is indeed in agreement with that faith.
In his address, Pope Francis emphasised the complementarity between mercy and doctrine when he said,
“[H]ierarchical and charismatic gifts are called to collaborate in synergy for the good of the Church and of the world. The testimony of this complementarity is all the more urgent today and it represents an eloquent expression of that ordered pluri-formity that connotes all ecclesial fabric, as reflection of the harmonious communion that it lives in the heart of God, One and Triune.”
In other words, the Church and the world need both the gifts exhibited in the hierarchy, or that part of the Church which is called to teach, and those of the various charisms, the fruits of the Spirit which become visible in the faithful everywhere in the world. The Holy Father speaks of an “ordered pluriformity”, a term which in itself summarises this complementarity I referred to above. This complementarity, the Pope continues, is an expression of the essence of the Trinity.
Another important element that Pope Francis mentions, albeit in the context of synodality, is proper understanding. Instead of seeing mercy as “being nice” and doctyrine as “being mean”, we must make a proper endeavour to understand both, on their own and in relation to each other. There is no opposition, no fight between the two. Rather, the struggle must be about knowing, developing and displaying both, to come “to an ever more realized, deepened and dilated communion at the service of the life and mission of the People of God.”
The website of the Dutch Dominicans – usually something of a hotbed of liberal thought and vague spirituality of the 1960s – features a short interview with English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Order from 1992 to 2001. The interview is presented in the context of issues between parishes and dioceses, most recently the student chaplaincy in Tilburg. Fr. Radcliffe has some interesting things to say about the hierarchy and its role in the Church, a topic that never fails to raise hackles in the “spirit of Vatican II” camp.
My translation follows here, with some thoughts of mine added in red.
TR: “There is often much talk about the “official Church”. I don’t like those words, because it makes “them” official and “us” unofficial. But as Dominicans we are just as official as anyone else. The very same goes for the words “the institutional Church”. The Order is also an institution, The Tablet is an institution, your website is an institution. The Church is alive when she creates many institutions. I resist those words, because it marginalises us. I don’t believe at all that I am marginal. I hope I’m on the edge, if you know what I mean, but I’m not marginal.”
So what are you?
TR: “We marginalise ourselves when we discuss the institutional or official Church. We must claim the centre. The same, by the way, goes for the magisterium, the teaching authority. The historian Eamon Duffy says that it consists of Christians who teach, and there are many of those: from the Pope to parents who teach their children. Some do well, others don’t, but it’s all part of the magisterium.” [Fr. Radcliffe seems to limit the magisterium merely to the act of teaching. The magisterium is also – firstly, even – a body that has the specific role to teach and defend teachings (and thus the faith) in the Church. It is therefore more than a person teaching something. The things that need to be taught are well defined and define the identity of the magisterium, which then does not stand or fall by the abilities of individual members.]
So religious and parishioners should do as they please? [A favourite desire in liberal circles…]
TR: “Authority exists when authority is given. Not just to the faithful and their questions, but also to the Vatican. I should try my best to understand what the Vatican is saying, even if they don’t listen to me [Ah! Authorities do not need to listen to me in order to speak authoritatively]. By that I refuse to be marginalised. You see, playing victim is so easy, but it is so negative and also extremely boring [The relics of the 1960s in the Church are good examples of this]. You should refuse to play the victim game.”
In the Dutch Church and in society that game is very popular.
TR: “It’s a dangerous game. When you make yourself the victim, you are bringing yourself down. It is repressive.”
So how do you call the official Church?
TR: “The hierarchy. And that is like the chassis of a car: it keeps everything together, but it is not the engine, or the tyres of the steering wheel [I think it is a steering wheel as well, with Christ doing the actual steering, but that’s just me…]. A car’s dynamics do not come for the chassis. We need the hierarchy like we need a chassis. But we shouldn’t blame the chassis for not being dynamic. Dynamics should come from us, the religious and lay groups [And it all depends on what you consider dynamic. If it’s just a matter of doing stuff, many in the Church are quite dynamic]. When you’re driving you don’t often think about the chassis. You think about where you want to go and you are happy about your journey. If we would think about our chassis all the time that we were underway, we wouldn’t get far.”
But there is rather an obsession with the chassis.
TR: “The Dominican Herbert McCabe said: the world is interested in the Church, we should be more interested in the Gospel. I think that we would be far happier if we wouldn’t be talking about the Church all the time, and if we would be passionate about the Gospel.”
While I have my questions about some points in the interview, I fully agree with the final answer. Without the Gospel we have little hope of achieving anything. The Gospel should always be what propels us to do things, and it should shine through in those things.That goes for blogs as well, my own not excluded. While the hierarchy is a regular feature in my blog, it should be seen in the context of the Gospel, of proclamation of the Word of God. That is the new evangelisation.
Upon reading a letter from the Dutch provincial of the Dominicans, Fr. Ben Vocking, o.p., to Archbishop Eijk, about the firing of pastoral worker Tejo van der Meulen, I was once more struck by the deep divide between the way the Catholic Church works and the way some people think it works. The core question that Provincial Vocking asks this, “Do you think you must act against what so many faithful consider the most normal thing in the world/in the Church?” The clear answer to that is, of course, “If that thing is unequivocally wrong or illegal: yes, the bishop must act”.
Reading a homily and joining in the Eucharistic Prayer is something that only priests are allowed to do. We may like it or not, but this is a simple fact. If these rules are not followed, it is only logical that a bishop or superior acts to prevent it. The teachings and rules of the Church are not created in a democratic process. Christ himself did not come to say what people wanted to hear or do what they wanted Him to do. Just as we look towards Him to lead us in our lives, so to do we look to the Church to do the same for us.
Fr. Vocking also mentions the Belgian initiative denouncing celibacy, Holy Orders and a whole raft of other things. “I certainly do not hope,” he asks, “that you think that these people have left the faith behind them?” The people who signed the initiative may not have left all faith in God behind them, but they do wilfully act against His Church.They place individual preferences above God’s intentions and ignore the shepherds he has given us.
Faith is a gift. It is not a human construct, and neither are its contents. Instead of being a democratic institution, the Church is tasked with leading the faithful to God, who is above human thought and action. In that sense, we do well to cultivate an attitude of faithful obedience, with confidence in the teachings of the Church that Christ established. The Church is bigger than us individuals, and can not be subject to our whims and preferences. This does not suggest a passive attitude, but an active participation in the mystery of the salvation that the Lord chooses to achieve through His Church.
Fr. Vocking’s are pointless. He should already know the answers.
Having just watched the press conference about the final report of the Deetman committee, I am letting the words and number sink in. I took some notes as Mr. Deetman elaborated on the conclusions of the 18-month investigation, and I will use those to compose this blog post. For readers who want a more thorough explanation: you can download a summary in English here. The complete report, consisting of two hefty books, can be purchased from the publisher or in bookstores.
The title of this post can be considered the main conclusion that the committee drew, the question of “what has happened in society that led to such outbursts of violence?” Said violence included the sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, but also much more beyond. That, I believe, is the question that society should ask itself, and which this report can hopefully help in finding a solution for.
Anyway, on the points of the conclusion which I jotted down:
Mr. Deetman started by expressing his surprise at finding that the structure of the Church was and is fragmented, despite impressions. Bishop, dioceses, orders and superiors often acted alone, keeping problems to themselves and trying to find solutions internally. The capacity to solve said problems was small or non-existent. The bishops had the topic of sexual abuse on the agenda since the late 1940s, but efforts to find solutions ceased at the onset of the Second Vatican Council and certainly at the Pastoral Council. Many other things that needed answers led to the abuse question being buried and forgotten. Only in the 1980s, when women’s movements drew attention to the abuse of women, did the sexual abuse of minors return to the agenda of the bishops. This led to the creation of the Hulp & Recht agency, the first in the world of its kind.
The issue of cultural silence, the statement that people simply did not know, can not be upheld. People, including the Catholic laity, did know, but didn’t act on it, and when they did, the focus was on the perpetrators. Mr. Deetman explains that this was fed by canon law, which as an internal legal body is focused on the the identity and behaviour of those within the Church. Victims were left out in the cold for various reasons, including the fact that talking about sexuality was a taboo and the concept of a person with authority committing such things was, frankly, not believed.
Returning to the aforementioned pastoral council, this gave the impression that the Church’s teaching about celibacy would change soon. All the priests contacted by the Deetman committee, who became priests in this time, said they did so with the expectation that they would soon not be required to live celibate anymore.
Of a survey among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the committee drew the following conclusions, although it stresses that the numbers should be treated extremely careful and that the margins are intentionally large.
1 in every 10 Dutch people aged 40 and older (which is 9.7% of the population) has been at one time sexually approached by someone from outside the family before they were 18.
This number is slightly higher among Catholics, but that is not because of the religion. Cultural, social, economic and other factors also play a part.
The chance of sexual harassment is twice as high within confined relationships of authority, such as schools and daycare centres. This, again, is not limited to Catholic institutions, but also occurs elsewhere.
1 in every 2 to 300 people have some experience with sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, in our outside specific institutions. The chance of such is higher in boarding schools. The reason: Failed supervision.
The total number of abused people, who were minors at the time and spent at least a part of their youth in boarding schools, is 10 to 20,000. In total, the number is in the several tens of thousands. The abuse has a wide range, from mild and without physical contact to involving penetration. The severity and the consequences are therefore equally divergent. There were about 1,000 serious cases within boarding schools, and several thousand outside it.
The question of whether celibacy plays a role in whether or not a man is likely to abuse a minor can be answered with a no. There is no evidence that celibacy leads to abuse. But Deetman stressed there that this is not a fact. The committee has simply been unable to find evidence for it, which does not mean it does not exist. Despite that, there have been several cases of sexuality out of need. If celibacy had been voluntary, a number of cases would not have happened.
And then, the final question: and now?
The work of the committee, Deetman said, was to a certain extent sad and frustrating, since it deals with an incomplete past which we can do nothing about. We can’t change the facts.
As for practical measures to prevent such horrible crimes happening again, the committee advised the bishops and the religious conference to appoint a single portfolio holder for the abuse question: a person who can keep an eye on things and be a recognisable go-to person and coordinator of the Church’s response to future developments. Archbishop Eijk has assured Mr. Deetman that there will a group of four people, including at least one bishop, to hold that portfolio.
One of the things this group will need to focus on is the continuing contact with victims. In the past, there have been meetings between bishops or superiors and victims from which the victims came back severely disappointed, while the bishop or superior thought it was a good conversation. Compensation, help, a listening ear and conversation, this is what is needed in the future. Human relations need to be restored, which include understanding and listening.
Later today, as I wrote in the previous post, the bishops and the religious conference will offer a reaction to all of the above.
Photo credit:  Antoin Peeters,  NRC/screenshot NOS
An excellent blog post on the website of the parish of Saints John and Clement in Waalwijk*, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, titled, “It is not the Church that needs to change, but you and I”. Taking the recent bush fires in the diocese (Reusel, Liempde, San Salvator, and also Waalwijk, where the previous pastor was less than popular) as a starting point, the unnamed author takes a firm stand against liberal, often elderly faithful who consider themselves progressive and want to change the Church, or at least their parish, in a product of our times.
The ‘protestants’ are often supported by former priests who either resigned their office, or are married and no longer active in a parish belonging to the diocese, or religious priests. They loudly demand democratisation and ‘adaptation to the times’ from the leaders of the Catholic Church who, supported by her bishops and a new class of priests and faithful, all over the world keep to Catholic teaching, which they draw from the unchangeable Gospel of Christ. Those who demand structural change from the Church call their opponents conservative, old-fashioned and stupid. They feel supported by the media and millions of baptised Christians who never, or only at very special occasions, see the inside of a church. All these critics only see a future for the Catholic Church if she adapts to the wishes and ideas of the majority. According to them, the people are the Church, and so they want the people to call the shots in a ‘reformed’ democratic church. Literally and figuratively.
The text mentions some of the examples of incidents I mentioned above, and then continues:
These are all examples which indicate that the Church keeps holding on to the sanctity of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, against the wishes of the majority of the Dutch people, that not only demands that the Church lets people choose for themselves between life and death, fidelity and infidelity, self-sacrifice or self-gratification, charity or selfishness, but at the same time demands that the Church sanctifies, by administering the sacraments, practices that are unchristian according to the Gospels, like the ones mentioned above.
The conclusion of the piece is a serious one:
The only thing that all the protesters and troublemakers achieved since the 1960s, with their anticatholic and unchristian actions, is that the younger generations threw out the baby with the bathwater, i this case the Christ child sent by God. With the result that many young people never or rarely go to a church anymore: Today – 1,400 years after the Christianisation by St. Boniface – the Church of Christ is faced for the first time with a young generation which has hardly learned anything (positive) about our faith and our Church at home and in school, and for the most part no longer knows what the good news of Jesus Christ is.
The piece further refers to the aged ‘revolutionaries’ of the Mariënburg club and the 8 May movement which sprung up in the wake of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, noting the disastrous results of decades of individualism and ill-informed protest. The final words of the article are attrubited to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata:
Blessed Mother Theresa was once asked what she thought should change first in the Church. He answer was, “You and I!”
*The parish of the intelligent, humble and over-so-sensibly Catholic Father Marcel Dorssers, a regular guest at the annual Credimus Bootcamp.
Photo credit: R.K. parochie St. Jan en St. Clemens