Looking ahead at a new year

Midway through the last month of the year, it is a good time to look ahead to the new year. 2018 will undoubtedly feature its share of Catholic news, developments and, not least, opinions in social media. Every year since the launch of this blog has had had more than a few surprises, so a look at the future can’t be anything but incomplete, but there are a few things which we know will happen.

Algermissen2The retirement and appointment of bishops is pretty easy to predict, as bishops are legally bound to offer their resignation when they reach the age of 75. Locally, there are currently three dioceses without a bishop: Roermond in the Netherlands, and Hildesheim and Würzburg in Germany. In 2018, two more will likely join these: in Fulda, Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen (at right) will celebrate his 75th on 15 February, and in Namur, Bishop Remy Vancottem will do likewise on 25 July. A third likely diocese to fall vacant in Ghent. Bishop Luc van Looy will turn 77 on 28 September. Upon his 75th birthday, the diocese made it known that Pope Francis had requested the bishop stay on for two more years, and that extension is up this year.

Other predictable events include the 80th birthdays of cardinals, the age at which they cease their duties in the Roman Curia and are no longer able to participate in a conclave. In 2018, six cardinals will mark this milestone:

  • Antonio Maria Cardinal Vegliò on 3 February
  • Paolo Cardinal Romeo on 20 February
  • Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio on 6 March
  • Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro on 29 March
  • Pierre Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn on 1 April
  • Angelo Cardinal Amato on 8 June

Visita_de_Cardenal_Angelo_Amato_-_17792469768_(cropped)While all hold memberships in various dicasteries in the curia, two of these sit at the head of them: Cardinal Coccopalmerio is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and Cardinal Amato (at left) is the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn remains active as archbishop of Hanoi. All will undoubtedly retire upon their 80th birthday, opening up some interesting positions in the curia. Barring any deaths, the number of cardinal electors will stand at 114 by mid-2018. Possibly not low enough for a new consistory by itself, but considering the fact that a further 10 ill age out in 2019, Pope Francis may decide to be proactive and call a consistory in autumn for the creation of anywhere between 6 and 16 new cardinals.

World-Meeting-of-Families-2018Speaking about the pope, he will, despite the fact that he has no love for travelling, visit several countries in 2018. In January, he will once again return to South America, visiting Peru and Chile. Ireland is on the schedule in August, when the Holy Father will attend the World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin (logo at right). Visits not yet confirmed are to the Baltic countries in September and to Romania in December. A visit to India also remains an option, but as Pope Francis has just wrapped a visit to India’s neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh, it may not be at the top of the list.

synod of bishopsIn the latter part of the year, all eyes will be on the Synod of Bishops again, this while the reverberations of the last two assemblies of that body are still being felt. The October 2018 Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops while focus on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment”. To this assembly, each bishops’ conference will elect one or more (depending on their size) delegates, while the Pope will also make a personal selection of delegates. One of these personal choices has already been made: Sérgio Cardinal Da Rocha, the archbishop of Brasília, was appointed as Relator General of next year’s assembly. He will outline the theme at the start of the assembly and summarise the delegates’ speeches so they can be condensed into concrete proposals.

Photo credit: [1] Bistum Fulda, [2] Fotos Presidencia El Salvador/Wikipedia

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“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