For clarity – Pope Francis and female deacons

deacon ordinationPope Francis’ recent suggestion that a commission should be formed to study the form and fucntion of female deacons in the early Church (with, one would think, an eye on their possible re-introduction into the life of the Church today) has led to much enthusiasm and outrage, both for all the wrong reasons.

The papal comments came as an answer to the question if the permanent diaconate could not be open to men and women alike. It being a spontaneous question-and-answer session, the Holy Father obviously did not have all the necessary information at the ready, so he chose to share what he recalled from conversations with a Syrian theologian he used to meet in Rome, well before he became Pope.

And those recollections immediately point out some of the problems in equating male and theoretical female deacons. The latter’s role was found in sensitive and private situations between women: baptism, which at that time was performed by full immersion, but also cases in which a woman would have to present the physical evidence of an abusive husband! The differences with the duties of a male deacon – who has financial and charitable responsibilities, as well as clearly-defined duties in the liturgy of the Mass – are clear.

A 2002 study by the International Theological Commission, summarised here, also states this, and further reaffirms the unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders – the grades of deacon, priest and bishop. A deacon is, at least in theory, able to be ordained as priest and bishop. The Church only has the authority to ordain men, not women (as Pope Francis has pointed out more than once), so in regard to the sacrament, female deacons are not possible.

Many of the duties of a deacon can be performed perfectly well by a woman. In fact, as Father Dwight Longenecker points out, in many parishes, women are already in charge of finances and run the charitable efforts of the community. You don’t need to be ordained for that. Pope Francis is not wrong when he started his answer with the half-joke that the female deacons of the Church are the religious sisters.

That leaves the duties for which ordination is a prerequisite: the liturgy of Holy Mass, such as, for example, reading the Gospel and giving the homily. Here, the deacon or priest does not do anything for himself: he performs the duties of proclamation and teaching of Christ. He is an alter Christus. The Church teaches that this is no act or show, but a sacramental reality, which we are asked to acknowledge in faith.

Some have chosen to see Pope Francis willingness to look into this matter as evidence that he wants female deacons, which is a ridiculous conclusion to draw. By that reasoning, Pope St. John Paul II wanted the same thing when he asked to International Theological Commission to study the matter…

Pope Francis said he wants clarification in this matter, and a conclusion along the lines of the 2002 study is no less a clarification than one that says, yes, there can be female deacons. But, it has to be said, all signs indicate that we should not expect the latter conclusion to be drawn.

Advertisements

For Family Synod 2, Cardinal Eijk returns to Rome

synod of bishopsThe first group of participants in coming autumn’s Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been ratified by Pope Francis. Unlike for last year’s assembly, which was an Extraordinary one, the majority of members for this edition are elected by the bishops’ conferences of the world. The presidents of the conferences do not automatically attend, unless, as in the case of the Dutch bishops, he is elected to do so.

liesenCardinal Wim Eijk, who today coincidentally had a private audience with Pope Francis, will once again participate like he did last year, but should he not be able to do so, the bishops have chosen Bishop Jan Liesen (at right) to be his replacement. Bishop Liesen is no stranger in Rome, as he was a member of the International Theological Commission for a number of years.

The list of participants published today is far from complete. Many bishops’ conferences, such as the German, have yet to elect one of their own to go to Rome in October. The Belgian bishops likewise haven’t chosen , but they will wait for the appointment of a new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and President of the bishops’ conference, sometime in or after May.

Moving up – 6 Cardinal Deacons advance

In yesterday’s ordinary consistory, Pope Francis announced the ‘promotion’ of six cardinals. They were all cardinal deacons, created in Pope St. John Paul II’s last consistory on 21 October 2003. As that is ten years and a few months ago, these cardinals were up for a potential promotion from cardinal deacons to cardinal priests. Such a promotion has little effect on their day to day activities and duties, in part because four of the six are already retired, but mainly because it is largely ceremonial. They move up in precedence among their brother cardinals: as deacons they ranked under the cardinal priests, but they now move up according to the date the were created cardinals and the order in which they appeared on the list announcing the consistory.

And one cardinal loses a duty which put him in the world’s spotlight back in March of last year…

tauranmarchisano, herranz, lozano, nicora, cottier

Cardinals Jean-Louis Tauran, Francesco Marchisano, Julián Herranz Casado, Javier Lozano Barragán, Attilio Nicora and Georges Cottier were just six of an impressive 30 cardinals that St. John Paul II created in what would be his final consistory. With Cardinal Renato Martino, who for some reason is not ‘promoted’, they were the most senior cardinal deacons in the College of Cardinals. With their appointments as cardinal priests, they come before such famous prelates as Cardinals Scola, Turkson, Pell and Ouellet, and also all cardinals created by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (except for the cardinal-bishops and the eastern patriarchs made cardinals by the Pope emeritus).

The new cardinal priests keep their title churches, with the exception of Cardinal Lozano Barragán, who was cardinal deacon of San Michele Arcangelo, but is now cardinal priest of Santa Dorotea, a new cardinal title.

The biggest practical change comes with the promotion of Cardinal Tauran, who was the cardinal protodeacon, the most senior cardinal deacon. And as such it was his duty to announce the election and name of a new Pope, as he did in March of last year. The new protodeacon is the aforementioned Cardinal Renato Martino. But since he is 81, he will have no role in the proceedings of a future conclave (which should, admittedly, be still a long way off). Replacing him is Cardinal William Levada, and should we have a new Pope between now and two years, he will be the one announcing his name.

The appointments are also a sign of appreciation for their work done for the Church. Below are a few short overviews of the careers of the six new cardinal-priests:

Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran is 71, and was born in Bordeaux, France. From 1969 to 1990 he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Bordeaux (-Bazas), after which he was appointed as secretary in the department of the Secretariat of State that deals with the relations with other nations. From 2003 to 2007 he worked as archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and librarian of the Vatican Library. In 2007 he took up his current office: President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in which he is responsible for the ecumenical outreach of the Church.

Francesco Marchisano is 84 and hails from Italy. A priest of the Archdiocese of Turin since 1952, he became Secretary of the Pontifical Commission of Preserving the Church’s Patrimony of Art and History in 1988, and he remained so until 2003. During that time he also had several other tasks: he was President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology from 1991 to 2004; President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church from 1993 to 2003; President of the Fabric of St. Peter from 2002 to 2004; and Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica from 202 to 2006. His final office before retirement was as President of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See from 2005 to 2009. Cardinal Marchisano retired at the age of 80.

Julián Herranz Casado is also 84 and comes from Spain. He was ordained a priest from Opus Dei in 1955 and was appointed as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts in 1983. In 1994 he was appointed as the President of that same Council, a position he held until his retirement in 2007. Cardinal Herranz was also one of the cardinals entrusted by Pope Benedict XVI with the investigation into the VatiLeaks scandal.

Javier Lozano Barragán, from Mexico, is 81, and was ordained a priest in 1955. From 1979 to 1985 he was auxiliary bishop of Mexico and later the bishop of Zacatecas until 1996. In 1997 he came to Rome to become President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, a position he held until retiring in 2009.

Attilio Nicora, 77, comes from the Archdiocese of Milan, where he was a priest from 1964 to 1977. He became auxiliary bishop of Milan until resigning 1987. In 1994 he took on a new task, as Bishop of Verona, where he stayed until 2002. In that year he became President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See until retiring in 2011. In recent years he headed the Financial Information Authority of the Holy See.

Georges Marie Martin Cottier, lastly, is 92 and hails from Switzerland. He joined the Dominican Order in 1946 and was ordained in 1951. A distinguished professor and theologian, he was secretary of the International Theological Commission and has also been Theologian of the Papal Household.

“It’s better in Heaven…” – On the death of Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet

lescrauwaetLess than two weeks ago, a short tweet from a priest friend broke the news that Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet was coming to the end of his earthly life. That end came today. At the age of 90, the retired auxiliary bishop of Haarlem leaves a heritage of study, education and engagement in numerous fields, from Church politics to ecumenism. Bishop Lescrauwaet was the second most senior Dutch bishop, with only the emeritus Bishop of Breda, Huub Ernst, before him.

Joining the congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart after a youth in Amsterdam, young Jos Lescrauwaet followed his formation as a priest during the war; his philosophical studies in Stein, Diocese of Roermond, and his theology in Raalte, Archdiocese of Utrecht. His ordination in 1948 was followed by a doctoral thesis in 1957 on a topic that would mark the rest of his active ministry: ecumenism. As a theologian, he taught systematic theology at the University of Tilburg and various subjects at the seminary of his congregation, also in Tilburg.

Originally one of the contributing authors to the journal Concilium, Fr. Lescrauwaet followed the example of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar and started writing for the more orthodox Communio. He was one of the editors of the Dutch edition of that journal when it was launched in 1976.

Bishop Lescrauwaet’s theological expertise led to several high-profile appointments. In 1969 he became a member of the International Theological Commission. He was chairman of the council of the disastrous (though not disastrous through his fault) Dutch Pastoral Council (1966-1970) and secretary and expert during the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, called by Pope John Paul II to repair some of the damage done in previous years.

lescrauwaetThis latter function played a part in his appointment as a bishop later on as it did for most other priests involved, such as the later bishop of Rotterdam, Ad van Luyn. In 1983, Fr. Lescrauwaet (at right, pictured around that time) was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem and Titular Bishop of Turres Concordiae. He was consecrated by the Coadjutor Bishop of Haarlem, Msgr. Henny Bomers, appointed on the very same day as Bishop Lescrauwaet (Bishop Bomers was already a bishop, having been ordained in 1978 as Vicar Apostolic of Gimma in Ethiopia). Bishop Ernst of Breda and Bishop Jan de Kok, Auxiliary of Utrecht, served as co-conserators.

As auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Lescrauwaet was active in many fields, and not necessary always only within the Diocese of Haarlem. These activities were often ecumenical in nature. In the final years before his retirement, Bishop Lescrauwaet was a member of the board of the Dutch Council of Churches.

It is said that there have always been tensions between Bishops Bomers and Lescrauwaet, and that these were the reason for the latter’s frequent absence from the diocese. Some blame the bishop for this absence, but those who knew him personally cherished him for his pastoral acumen and his sense of humour, which was evident even when discussing the most difficult of theological concepts.

lescrauwaetBishop Lescrauwaet retired in 1995 at the age of 71, for reasons of age and health, and returned to the south, where he had worked and lived before his appointment to Haarlem. He moved into the diocesan seminary of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, the St. John’s Centre, and picked up his old job of teaching theology again. He also served as spiritual counsellor of the seminary. At left, he is pictured with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, during the celebration of his 90th birthday last year. Ultimately, in 2011, the bishop moved back to Tilburg, to live in the retirement home of his congregation.

The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam announces that Bishop Lescrauwaet’s  funeral will take place from the Basilica of Saint John in Den Bosch, the cathedral near which he spent most of the years since his retirement, on 23 November. The Mass starts at 10:30. The day before, faithful will have the opportunity to visit the late bishop at the St. John’s Centre, the diocesan seminary around the corner from the basilica.

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, [2] ANP – Cor Out, [3] Sint-Janscentrum

Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Nagy passes away

nagy

There has been little change in the composition of the College of Cardinals lately, but then suddenly one change follows another. One day after the 80th birthday of Belgian Cardinal Danneels (more on that later), the Church mourns the passing of Stanisław Kazimierz Cardinal Nagy.

The half-Polish half-Hungarian theologian was born in 1921 in the southern Polish town of  Bieruń Stary, which had been German until earlier that year.

In 1937, young Stanisław answered his religious calling and joined the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, better known as the Dehonians, named after their 19th-century founder, Fr. Léon Dehon. As a member, he was sent to study Catholic theology and philosophy at the renowned universities of Kraków and Lublin.

In 1945, Nagy was ordained as a priest of the Dehonian Congregation, and was appointed as seminary rector in Kraków and Tarnów. He continued his studies at Lublin and in 1952, Fr. Nagy received a promotion in moral theology. He remained at the university as a professor in the same subject.

Over the course of the years, Fr. Nagy’s theological career saw him as a member of the International Theological Commission, the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commission and the editorial staff of the Catholic Encyclopedia, all in the early 1970s.

He also authored several books on topics such as ecumenism and his countryman, Blessed Pope John Paul II. In recognition of his contributions to the field of theology, John Paul II chose to include Fr. Nagy in the College of Cardinals. He did so in the consistory of October 2003. Prior to this, Fr. Nagy was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Hólar.

Cardinal Nagy, already 82 at the time of his creation, became cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria della Scala. He never participated in a conclave, due to his age.

With the passing of Cardinal Nagy, and the 80th birthday of Cardinal Danneels, there are now 203 cardinals in the Church, of whom 112 are electors.

After the official statement, the bishops reflect

On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.

kardinaal-EijkCardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. […] I must say I have very good memories of him.

His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”

Mgr. Jan LiesenBishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”

hendriks-sBishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.

We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”

dekorte2Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”

Never alone – the sensus fidei

liesen pope benedictIn an address to the International Theological Commission a few days ago, Pope Benedict XVI (pictured at left with Bishop Jan Liesen, one of the Commission’s members) spoke about a difficult but important topic: the sensus fidei. This religious sensibility is something that we must recognise and cultivate in order to recognise what is and what is not the truth that has been handed down through the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.

What is especially important today, the pope said, is “to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.”

This passage says a lot about how we are called to live as faithful people, with an innate sensus fidei. In the first place, it is not an opinion. Secondly, it does not exists separately from the Church and the Magisterium which are equally given by God, like the sensus fidei. Thirdly, it can’t grow if we are not active participants to the fullest in the life of the Church.

But perhaps the most important lessons we can draw from this is that faith, our sense of it and therefore also our practice, is never solitary. We are never alone, but always live, act and believe with our fellow faithful. The Church is the combined body of those faithful, and that is why faith is lived with and in the Church, of which the Magisterium is an indispensable part. Just like the Apostles lived with Christ and according to His teachings, so we are called to live with our teachers and follow them in charity and obedience.

Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano