“A defeat for humanity”? The wisdom of the cardinal’s words

parolinCardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has commented on the Irish referendum which resulted in a major vote in favour of same-sex marriage, and called it a “defeat for humanity”. Was that the wise thing to say?

The Irish vote was certainly a defeat for the Christian argument, if such simplistic wording can be properly used in this context. Seen from the Catholic position, the very nature of marriage is being redefined, changing its essential role in building healthy societies. It is being downgraded to a mere legal acknowledgement that two people love each other and want to be together, with no eye for their duties towards society and future generations (duties that are also increasingly being forgotten in marriages in general, it must be said). The complementarity of man and woman, which finds its ultimate expression in marriage, is deemed unimportant enough to deny it its defining place within the concept of marriage. In essence, it is being said that marriage need not have all the defining characteristics in order to be marriage.

As hinted above, same-sex marriages can have worthy elements that we also find in true marriage, such as love and responsibility, but it lacks other elements: the openness to new life as a product of the (physical and emotional) love of the spouses, and the ability for full complementary love which flows forth from their identities as man and woman (more than just a physical characteristic).

Many critics will say that many heterosexual marriages are equally closed to life and fullfilment, and they are right. Married partners have an obligation to love and take care of each other and raise their children in that same love and care, and when they refuse that, for whatever reason, marriage becomes a mockery of itself, denied to be what it is called to be.

The wisdom of the phrase “a defeat for humanity” can be debated. I am not too keen on getting overly dramatic about every setback, but as humanity consists of men and women who are called to find fullfillment in each other and so contribute to humanity as a whole (marriage, after all, is not only for the spouses), I can understand the sentiment expressed by the cardinal.

Is it wise, then, to use these words in the public debate? I don’t think so. While Cardinal Parolin can’t be faulted for being clear, his words are so easily distorted, misunderstood, taken out of context and presented as nothing but a blunt attack. Cardinal Parolin is right in disagreeing with the vote, but I have already seen his words being used to contrast the cardinal with Pope Francis, who has also been quoted and understood out of context on this subject more than once. The cardinal also stated that the result of the referendum must be an invitation for the Church to do more in the field of evangelisation, and that is certainly necessary. In order for the Church to be understood, she must make herself understood. Headlines have their use, but not when they don’t invite to further reading. Any discussion about marriage must either presume knowledge about Catholic doctrine, or explain it.

In this debate, I think that one element is being forgotten: holding on to the traditional definition of marriage is not in any way an invitation to discriminate. When it comes to equal rights in work, income, finances, housing and other opporunities, sexual orientation can be no reason to deny people anything. Even when two people of the same sex decide to share their lives, we should support their equality. We may not agree with it, but it’s  really not our place to refuse basic social rights and opportunities. But society as a whole, as well as children, also have their rights and opportunties. Marriage, however, is more than rights and opportunities. It is the God-given way in which men and women find each other and themselves and in which children receive the home and basis they need to be raised in.

In the end, any debate on topics like this must be based on reason, as it has strong emotional connotations for many. We must acknowledge and understand the emotion, but also know that emotion alone won’t lead to an understanding, a solution or willingness to learn and grow.

For the Ukrainians, a new diocese

Following a flurry of interesting appointments (among them the appointment of a coadjutor archbishop for Ireland’s premier see and the confirmation of a new patriarch for Egypt’s Catholic Copts), there was also a creation that affects the Ukrainian Catholics in our part of the world.

borys gudziakThe Apostolic Exarchate of France, which also covered Switzerland and the Benelux was elevated as the Eparchy, or Diocese, of St. Vladimir the Great of Paris. Bishop Borys Gudziak (pictured), appointed as apostolic exarch only six months ago, becomes the first bishop of this new diocese. He is now a full ordinary and therefore no longer the titular diocese of Carcabia. Many responsibilities that previously were held by the Holy See, now fall under the bishop, and the new diocese falls directly under the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The diocese is home to some 20,000 Ukrainian Catholics spread over five countries. It’s home base is the Cathedral of St. Vladimir the Great in Paris. The vast majority of faithful reside in France and Belgium. There seems to be little to no organisation in the Netherlands, although the territory does belong to the new diocese.

A day before, the Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain become the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, leaving only the Apostolic Exarchate of Germany and Scandinavia as the only Ukrainian jurisdiction in Europe that is not (yet) a diocese.

Photo credit: Yaryna Brylynska

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80

The first archbishop of Westminster to have retired, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turned 80 yesterday, bringing the number of cardinal electors down to 118 and leaving England and Wales without a cardinal elector able to participate in a future conclave.

Born of Irish parents in Reading, young Cormac was one of four children. After a school career in Reading and Bath, he went to Rome in 1950 to study for the priesthood at the Venerable English College. He earned a degree in theology there, and went on to earn licentiates in philosophy and sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1956, he was ordained.

As a young priest, Father Murphy-O’Connor worked in Portsmouth and the surrounding area until 196, when he became the private secretary of Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouth. In 1970 followed an appointment as parish priest in Southampton, followed in late 1971 by a return to the Venerable English College, where Fr. Murphy-O’Connor became the new rector. With this appointment came the title of Monsignor in 1972.

In 1977, the aging Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Murphy-O’Connor as bishop of Arundel and Brighton. In his time as chief shepherd of that diocese, he worked much towards unity with the Anglican Church, which lead to him being awarded a Degree in Divinity by then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. He later came under scrutiny regarding the presence of an abusive priest working in his diocese. In early 2000, Bishop Murphy-O’Connor became the tenth archbishop of Westminster, which led, one year later, to him being created a cardinal, with the title church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See and the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for Culture. His most notable recent function was that of secretary of the Vox Clara commission which crafted the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Another high-profile task he was given was to oversee the  recent Apostolic Visitation of the Archdiocese of Armagh and its suffragans in Ireland, in the wake of the abuse crisis breaking in that country.

In 2009, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor retired, the first archbishop of Westminster to live long enough to do so.

Photo credit: The Papal Visit on Facebook.

“In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims.”

Cardinal Ouellet and Archbishop Brown at Lough Derg

Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and these days the papal delegate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, yesterday apologised once again for the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. He did so in a homily given at Station Island in Lough Derg, an ancient pilgrimage site in the north of Ireland.

Prior to the Mass and homily, Cardinal Ouellet met for two hours with various victims of sexual abuse, which was a deeply moving encounter, as the cardinal said. He stayed overnight at the island, together with Archbishop Charles Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, and Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, the diocese in which Lough Derg is located. At the time of his ordination, in July of 2010, Bishop MacDaid said about the abuse crisis, “We [the church] have been brought to our knees but maybe that is no bad thing,”  which is exactly what the delegation did at Station island. They fasted and joined other pilgrims in acts of penitence.

Following the homily, the following intercessions were prayed:

  • For the Church: that its leaders be bestowed with wisdom and courage to strengthen people’s faith and nourish them on their journey. Lord, hear us.
  • For all of us here present: that we may be the salt of the earth for those around us and a light to guide people on their pilgrim way. Lord, hear us.
  • For the failure to love, respect, nurture and cherish young people, particularly the most vulnerable, we ask your forgiveness. Lord, hear us.
  • For the crimes and sins of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated against children and young people, especially in Church-run institutions, by clergy and other servants of the Church. Lord, hear us.
  • For the inadequate response often given by Church leaders when abused people told their stories, we ask forgiveness. Lord, hear us.
  • That all whose lives have been broken by abuse of any kind may experience support and lasting healing. Lord, hear us.
  • For personal intentions, for intentions of other pilgrims and for all who are sick. Lord, hear us.
  • For all who have been bereaved, and for our dead, especially family members and other loved ones; for those who died recently, all who have been pilgrims to Lough Derg and for those who died tragically or through violence. Lord, hear us.
  • Lord God, through the intercession of Patrick our Patron, hear the prayers of your people gathered here in faith and hope.  As you nourish us with your word, give us also the bread that gives us life – Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

On the world stage, Cardinal Ouellet is becoming the Church’s point man when it comes to personal account with victims and internal reparation for the sins committed. In February, he led a penitential liturgy in Rome, and as the responsibility of bishops in cases of sexual abuse is ever under scrutiny in and outside of the Church, it is sensible for the prelate in charge of appointments of bishops to be closely involved.

A translation of the Cardinal’s homily is available here.

Photo credit: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Finishing the first chapter – final report on the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland

More than two years ago, the abuse crisis started to explode in Europe. One of the first, and still one of the most significant, steps taken by the Holy See was the organisation of a thorough inspection of the Church in Ireland. Soon afterwards, countries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands were forced to deal with the similar abuse cases from the past, but none of these countries has been subjected to a process like Ireland has. Here, the pope wrote an unprecedented letter to all the faithful of Ireland, bishops were fired and five foreign prelates from the Irish diaspora were appointed to lead the Visitation and the country’s four Metropolitan Archdioceses and the seminaries. Further visitators were appointed for the religious communities in Ireland.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh and Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown at yesterday's press conference

Yesterday, the findings of the Visitation, which was inherently pastoral in nature, were published. Although it recognises the progress that has been made in recent years, it does call for further unification of the programs of formation, continued cooperation with state-appointed officials, and generally more control, both from the laity up as from the bishops, even Rome, down.

Like the letter that Pope Benedict wrote to the Irish Catholics in 2010, these findings may also be considered an example for the Church in other abuse-hit countries. Hence my decision to offer a Dutch translation.

Photo credit: Irish Episcopal Conference

Papal trip number 24: Mexico and Cuba

On Friday, Pope Benedict will be departing on his 24th apostolic journey, during which the total number of countries he has visited will rise to 23. It will be the first of as many as five journeys the almost 85-year-old pontiff may undertake over the course of this year*. The weeklong journey to  Mexico and Cuba will be the first time that the Holy Father visits these countries, and only his third visit to the New World.

The visit to Mexico and Cuba will start on Friday, with the papal plane expected to arrive in the afternoon at Guanajato International Airport, which will be the only official event of that day. The pope will remain in Guanajato and nearby Léon until Monday morning. Besides the regular courtesy visit to the president and the celebration of public Mass (on Saturday and Sunday respectively), the Holy Father will greet children on Saturday evening and celebrate Vespers with the bishops of Mexico and other parts of Latin America on Sunday.

On Monday morning, the papal plane will depart for Cuba, with a scheduled arrival at the international airport of Santiago de Cuba at 2pm. In that city, the pope will celebrate an early evening Mass to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the ‘Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre’, the patroness of Cuba, whose shrine he will visit on Tuesday morning, just before his departure for Cuba’s capital, Havana. There, the Holy Father with meet with the president and the council of ministers of Cuba, as well as the Cuban bishops later in the afternoon. A meeting with Fidel Castro is also said to be expected, depending on the latter’s health. On Wednesday, the last full day of the visit, Pope Benedict will be celebrating a public Mass, while the rest of the day is spent on preparation for the return home.

At a street stall in Léon, paper figurines of Pope Benedict XVI are displayed for sale

The visit to Cuba, especially, is rather politically charged, since the country is officially Communist. While the pope will be meeting with president and government, there is no planned meeting with dissidents scheduled, although the latter have been calling for it. But, as we have seen in previous papal journeys, there is always the possibility that time will be made for unscheduled events.

*Other apostolic journeys this year may be a visit to Ireland in June, although that seems highly unlikely; to Lebanon and possibly Syria in September (Lebanon is already confirmed, and a visit to Syria depends on the situation in that country); and to Monaco and the Ukraine.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mario Armas

Predicting the title churches of the new cardinals

A week from now, the Catholic Church will gain 21 or 22* new cardinals, and they in turn will each get a cardinal title or a cardinal deaconry. In an earlier blog I explained that cardinals who are ordinaries of a diocese will usually be made cardinal priests with a title church, while cardinals in the curia will be cardinal deacons with a deaconry. But we won’t know which cardinal will receive which title or deaconry until the actual consistory, when they’ll receive them together with the ring and the red biretta.

But all of the above certainly does not mean we can’t guess, of course…

San Giacchino ai Prati di Castello, future title church of Cardinal Eijk?

Ten of the new cardinals will be cardinal priests. They are the heads of major (arch)dioceses and, in one case, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Cardinals-designate Santos Abril y Castelló, George Alencherry, Thomas Collins, Dominik Duka, Wim Eijk, Giuseppe Betori, Timothy Dolan, Rainer Woelki, John Tong Hon and Lucian Muresan will receive one of the following 13 title churches, listed in the order in which they became vacant.

  • Sant’ Atanasio. Entrusted since 1872 to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, a fact that may well be reflected in the choice of cardinal-protector. Cardinals-designates Alencherry and Muresan seem likely, as they are both archbishop in a non-Roman rite Church. Saint’ Atanasio has been vacant since 1984.
  • San Callisto. Vacant since 2003, but with a long history as a titular church. Past cardinal-protectors came mainly from Italy, but also included cardinals from other European countries.
  • Nostra Signora di Guadalupe a Monte Mario has been vacant since 2008. Named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the Americas, a future cardinal-protector may come from either North or South America. Likely, then, are Archbishops Collins or Dolan.
  • San Felice da Cantalice e Centocello was only held as a title once before, by South Korean Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, who died in early 2009.
  • San Patrizio. A national church of Ireland, a future cardinal-protector will very likely come from that island. It will remain vacant for a while longer, then.
  • San Giacchino ai Prati di Castello. Previously held by Cardinal Alfrink, one of the mere two previous cardinal-protectors, will this title be given to Archbishop Eijk?
  • San Bernardo alle Terme. Another title church with a long history as such. Its edifice and annexed monastery are maintained by the Cistercians, which is no clue to the identity of a future cardinal-protector, since there are no Cistercians in next week’s consistory. The previous cardinal-protector was Cardinal Vithayatil, so his successor as Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabarese Church, Mar George Alencherry, could conceivably be given this title as well. But then again, he may just as likely not.
  • San Marcello. A long history of 63 previous cardinal-protectors from all over the world reveals nothing about the identity of its future cardinal-protector.
  • San Giuseppe all’ Aurelio is a fairly recently created title church, held by only one cardinal-protector,. He was Berlin’s Cardinal Sterzinsky, so Archbishop Woelki has a decent shot at this.
  • San Gerardo Maiella was the title church held only by Cardinal Swiatek, so perhaps another Slavic cardinal will succeed him, in the person of Archbishop Duka.
  • “Regina Apostolorum” has been vacant since last July. It’s three past cardinal-protectors have all been Italians, but most of the older title churches have a strong Italian history when it comes to cardinals assigned them.
  • Santi Marcellino e Pietro is yet another ancient title church with cardinal-protectors from various nations. It has been vacant since August.
  • Santissimo Redentore e Sant’ Alfonso in Via Merulana, vacant since the death of Cardinal Bevilacqua a few weeks ago, has a New World history, having been held by two Americans and a Bolivian cardinal. Collins and Dolan again come into view.

So we can make some educated guesses, but nothing is certain when it comes to the assignment of title churches. The Holy Father is also free to create new titles churches.

Interior of the Basilica of Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio

The same really goes for cardinal deaconries, to be assigned to cardinal deacons. Of these, there are  11 or 12* on the list of the consistory: Fernando Filoni, Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Antonio Vegliò, Giuseppe Bertello, Francesco Coccopalmerio, João Bráz de Aviz, Edwin O’Brien, Domenico Calcagno, Giuseppe Versaldi, Julien Ries, Prosper Grech ( and possibly Karl Becker). Currently, there are 11 vacant cardinal deaconries, so if the list of names in the previous line is correct, all will be assigned (and a new one may even be created). We must also not forget that the Holy Father will decide to create one or more of the assumed cardinal deacons as cardinal priests instead, or vice versa. Anyway, whatever may happen, let’s take a look at the vacant deaconries:

  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin. An ancient basilica that has been vacant since 1967. It has had no less than 64 cardinal deacons that we know of.
  • San Giovanni Battista Decollato was ever only the deaconry of one Italian cardinal and has been vacant since 1988.
  • San Teodoro is an ancient church which is also used, by papal permission, by the Greek Orthodox community of Rome. Maybe its future cardinal deacon, its first since 2000, will have some link with the Orthodox?
  • Santissima Annunciazione della Beata Vergine Maria a Via Ardeatina vacant since 2006, has had a single Italian cardinal deacon.
  • Nostra Signora di Coromoto in San Giovanni di Dio has had a single Venezuelan cardinal deacon and has been vacant since 2007.
  • Sant’ Elena fuori Porta Prenestina, vacant since 200, has had two cardinal deacons, one from Ghana and one from Canada.
  • Santi Vito, Modesto e Crescenzia has been a titular church since 1011, switching several times between a deaconry and a title church. Vacant since 2009, it has been assigned to 35 cardinals.
  • San Ponziano is another deaconry which has had a single cardinal deacon. It has been vacant since November of 2010.
  • Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio is held by the Salesians and is connected to a boarding school for the arts and industries. One of its two past cardinal deacons was Belgian, so maybe Archbishop Ries will get this title.
  • San Cesareo in Palatio, once the title of the future Pope John Paul II. It has been vacant since September.
  • San Sebastiano al Palatino has been awaiting a new deacon since the death of Cardinal Foley in December.

The cardinal deaconries are much harder to predict than the title churches of cardinal priests. But the title churches together form a living memory of the rich history of the Church in Rome. As titular priests and deacons of these churches, the new cardinals are part of this history, which is also a history of the Church’s unity with the pope as the visible sign.

* We’ll probably have to wait and see if Fr. Karl Becker is among the new cardinals on the 18th, as reports about his health are conflicting, as is his attendance at the consistory.