“Counting on God’s forgiveness” – Cardinal De Kesel’s homily at the funeral of Cardinal Danneels

In the presence of some 1,000 people, including priests and bishops from Belgium and abroad, as well as King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, Cardinal Godfried Danneels was laid to rest on Friday. The funeral Mass took place in Mechelen’s cathedral of Saint Rumbold and was led by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel. In his homily, the current archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel referred to Cardinal Danneels’ motto and spoke about the humanity of God. He characterised Cardinal Danneels as a good shepherd who desired and tried to renew and reform the Church as he felt Vatican II called for.

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“Good friends. In the final days of 1977, Cardinal Danneels was ordained a bishop in Antwerp. It was the third Sunday of Advent. A few days later it was Christmas. In the liturgy the Letter of St. Paul to Titus is read about God’s kindness and love. We have just heard this reading. Cardinal Danneels took his motto from this reading: Apparuit humanitas Dei nostri, the kindness and love of God has appeared. Those few words introduce us to the heart of the Gospel. And they also show us how the cardinal has lived his vocation as priest and bishop, all those many years.

“The kindness and love of God has appeared.” It has been translated into Latin so beautifully and so right: humanitas Dei, God’s humanity. God who is not only motivated by a great love for His people, but who has also become man Himself. And thus treats us so humanely. Not demanding, not enforcing, not judging. He has saved us, it says, “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.” Many of our contemporaries are under the impression that faith and religion limit people in freely finding their happiness.  They feel that it is always about having to or not being allowed to.

Of course, being human is serious business and love can be demanding. Yet the Gospel is the good news of God’s love. This one thing is promised to us in every way: that God is attuned to humanity, that we are known and loved by Him, and radically accepted, even in our fragility and finitiness, even in our sin. Yes, the kindness and humanity of God has appeared. It is our joy and our salvation. That is why we are not without hope. And that is why the Gospel is for all who want to hear it a call to true humanity. The fact that Cardinal Danneels chose precisely these words for his episcopal motto characterises him. It is the way in which he has been a good shepherd through all those years.

We have received the same good news of the kindness and humanity of God in the gospel reading that we have just heard. It tells about the beginning of Jesus’ mission, when, in the synagogue of Nazareth, He is asked to read Isaiah’s prophecy, which says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news.” Jesus recognised Himself in these words from Isaiah and discerned His own mission. Here we find the first reference to a “gospel”. It has become a key to understanding all of His mission. He did not come to judge but to save. We are known and loved by God as we are. This is, as Pope Francis says, “the joy of the Gospel”.

To the proclamation of this gospel, Cardinal Danneels dedicated his life. As He did on Jesus, the Spirit also came down on him and he too was consecrated by anointing. He received this Spirit in abundance. With the gift of the word which he had, and always with the simplicity of heart which is the mark of a disciple of Christ, he touched so many people, here and in the world Church. The long years in which he was a priest and a bishop represent, in many respects, a decisive turning point for both the Church and for society. It was the end of an era and the beginning of an unknown  and uncertain future. It was not easy to be a guide and pastor in these times. But he was. With courage and authority, but always without “breaking a bruised reed or quenching a dimly burning wick”. His words about King Baldwin at the latter’s funeral also apply to him: “There are kings who are more than king; they are the shepherds of their people.”

The cardinal had the gift of the word. Through that word, spoken and written with so much passion, he touched the hearts of many. Through that word he always led us to the source. He was not nostalgic about the past. And, loyal to the Second Vatican Council, he was fundamentally convinced about the need for renewal and reform in the Church, in her head and members. An open Church which does not elevate herself above the people, but sympathises with the joy and the hope, but also with the grief and the fear of the people.

Renewal and reform. He really desired these. But not without resourcement, not without spirituality, not without a thorough liturgy, not without prayer. That concern for the interior always took priority amidst all structural reforms. He also knew that there was no future for our Church without the other Christian churches. Ecumenical dialogue was important to him, just as he was convinced of the importance of interreligious dialogue and of other religious traditions in our country.

At a funeral one does not honour the deceased by praising him to high heaven. At a funeral one prays for mercy and consolation. That is no less true for Cardinal Danneels. When he reached the age of 75 and he was asked in an interview about what he would ask for when he would ultimately stand before God, he answered, “For mercy for what I did wrong.” When his biography was presented a few years ago, he spoke publicly for the last time. At that time the Church was much confronted with sin and weakness because of abuse in her own circles. And then, too, he said: “where I fell short, I count on God’s forgiveness.”

That is our prayer today. With a heart filled with gratitude and a deep love. Have mercy, Lord, for him who served You with so much love, and receive him with love in Your house.”

Photo credit: Hellen Mardaga

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2019: A look ahead

A new year, so a good time to look ahead to what 2019 may bring. The year will undoubtedly have its share of surprises, but there are always some things we can know for sure.

Among these is the inevitable progression of time, and thus the aging out of cardinals. In 2019, ten cardinals will celebrate their 80th birthday and so lose their right to participate in a conclave for the election of a new pope, as well as any duties they may have in the curia. The umber of cardinal-electors will drop from 124 to 114. Still a sufficient number, but Pope Francis has shown that he wants to keep the electors as close to their theoretical maximum of 120 (or over it, as the case is now), so a consistory may be in the books sometime towards the end of the year, or at the start of 2020.

The cardinals aging out are:

  • jrkruk_20130907_kard_stanislaw_dziwisz_wislica_img_3893b30 January: Alberto Cardinal Suárez Inda, archbishop emeritus of Morelia, Mexico
  • 11 March: Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, Philippines
  • 8 April: Edwin Frederick Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
  • 27 April: Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Kraków, Poland (pictured at right)
  • 31 July: John Cardinal Tong Hon, bishop emeritus and apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, China
  • 16 August: Seán Baptist Cardinal Brady, archbishop emeritus of Armagh, Northern Ireland
  • 7 October: Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop emeritus of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • 11 October: Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • 14 October: Edoardo Cardinal Menichelli, archbishop emeritus of Ancona-Osimo, Italy
  • 15 October: Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo, archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, India

Who may replace these cardinals among the electors is guesswork, as Pope Francis has never felt bound to pick his cardinals from the traditional places. Still, the list above could give some hints and we may assume that the Holy Father will choose cardinals for countries who no longer have any. That said, possible candidates could be Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Kraków, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa. Another source of new cardinals are the papal visits Pope Francis makes. He has made some of hosts cardinals in the past before. It may therefore be possible that we may see new cardinals from Panama, the Arabian peninsula, Morocco, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania (all confirmed visits), and perhaps Japan, Mozambique and Uganda (rumoured visits).

Closer to home, a number of dioceses will be looking forward to new bishops this year. In the Netherlands, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam has just received a coadjutor bishop, although the sitting ordinary, Bishop Jos Punt, expects to remain in office until his 75th birthday in 2021. Health permitting, of course.

luc van looy gent - bisdom genrt_0In Belgium, Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent (pictured at left) has already had his retirement accepted. At 77, he completed a two-year extension to his mandate last year. He is to remain in office until the appointment and installation of his successor. Namur’s Bishop Remy Vancottem is, at 75, also past retirement age, so the southeastern diocese may see a new bishop before the year is out as well.

In Germany, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg will turn 75 in June. Among the country’s auxiliary bishops, there is room in Freiburg im Breisgau where erstwhile auxiliary Bishop Michael Gerber was appointed to Fulda in December.

In the headline-making department, there is of course next month’s meeting of the heads of all the bishops’ conferences in Rome, to discuss a unified Church response to the abuse crisis. Among the participants will be Bishop Hans van den Hende for the Netherlands, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel for Belgium, Cardinal Reinhard Marx for Germany and Bishop Czeslaw Kozon for Scandinavia.

Currently gearing up in Panama, the World Youth Days will take place from 22 to 27 January. The first group of Dutch pilgrims have departed for the Central American country today, with more to follow. Among them will be Bishops Everard de Jong and Jan Hendriks. Bishop de Jong is again replacing Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who has decided to stay at home as he is recovering from unplanned – and not further specified – surgery. Last year, Bishop Mutsaerts elected not to take part in the Synod assembly on youth and vocation in Rome. Bishop de Jong went in his stead.

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422In October, the Synod of Bishops will gather again for a special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region, to discuss the specific challenges for the Church there. The expectations are high, as many assume to what will be decided there, especially on the topic of married priests, will have global consequences. Participation in the special assembly is limited to bishops from the area, which means there is a minute Dutch link, at least when it comes to language, in the person of the bishop of Paramaribo, Msgr. Karel Choennie. Bishop Choennie is a member of the pre-synodal council preparing the special assembly in cooperation with Synod of Bishops’ general secretariat.

2019 will undoubtedly bring much to be discussed in (social) media, and there is still plenty being carried over from previous years. Keeping track of everything, let alone formulating thoughts and responses can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s probably a good idea to remember that not finding words or timely responses does not mean one does not care. There are many opinions, and many eloquent ones at that, to be found everywhere. And, perhaps more importantly, there are also answers to be found in the past. After all, what was true and good in the past remains true and good now. That is something to remember when we are confronted with questions and developments which seem to challenge our beliefs, understanding and even faith. We have a deposit of faith and exegesis to fall back on, and many of today’s questions and challenges are not new ones.

Photo credit: [1] Jarosław Roland Kruk / Wikipedia, licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0, [2] kerknet.be

On abuse, the pope calls the bishops to Rome

synodIn February of next year, Pope Francis will receive the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss the “protection of minors”, as today’s press communique states. It is obvious that this announcement, originally proposed by the Council of Cardinals who concluded their 26th meeting today*, comes in the wake of, and is a reaction to, the events of the past weeks.

Some think that February’s meeting, which has not been identified as an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, as the participation of conference presidents only suggests. comes rather late. After all, the crisis is happening now, but it would be foolish to think it will be gone when the new year rolls around. The current crisis was triggered by investigations by a grand jury in the American state of Pennsylvania, but at this time, the attorneys general of six more states have either already subpoenaed dioceses in their states, have announced that they will do so, or, in some cases, dioceses themselves have invited AG’s to study their paperwork. This, and similar procedures in other countries, including Germany, assure that the abuse history of the Church will be with us for a long time to come. Things will not have blown over by the time the bishops meet in Rome.

That said, the Church, from the Pope on down, does not have the luxury to sit back and do nothing until February. Too many high ranking prelates, including the pope himself, have been implicated or somehow included in accusations of silencing victims, hiding abusers, and not reporting crimes. The crisis has by now, rightly or wrongly, involved so many people, and high ranking ones at that, that proper action has become not only unavoidable, but extremely necessary.  And continued silence is not that proper action.

Finally, as some have rightly pointed out, while the prevention of abuse of minors  and the identification and punishment of perpetrators remains high on the list of priorities, the current crisis in the Church is not only about that. The victims have not solely been minors. In the case of Archbishop McCarrick, they were seminarians, so young adults, and the abuse was later covered up by other priests and bishops. It is to be hoped that February’s assembly will recognise and discuss that aspect too.

DSC_2699_31481e79b67ab70c5ca711c62299f166While Pope Francis is free to appoint other delegates to the assembly, and he would be wise to do so, the presidents of the bishops’ conferences are expressly invited, or, if you will, summoned. There are 114 Roman-rite conferences in the Church, and a further 21 of Eastern rites. The presidents of these are elected by the members of each conference, and they need not be a cardinal or archbishop (metropolitan or not). The president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference is the bishop of Rotterdam, Msgr. Hans van den Hende (pictured), while the Belgian bishops, on the other hand, are headed by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, and the Germans by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The Nordic Bishops’ Conference then, made up of bishops from five countries, have the bishop of Copenhagen, Msgr. Czeslaw Kozon, as their president. It is unknown if bishops from dioceses which do not belong to a conference, such as Luxembourg, will be invited as well.

*And not on Monday, as I wrote earlier. Thanks for the correction sent by e-mail, David Cheney of Catholic Hierarchy!

**A detailed investigation of several years has revealed, media suggest, almost 4,000 victims of abuse over the course of 6 decades. The official report is to be published in two weeks time.

Photo credit: [2] KN/Jan Peeters

Hidden dangers – Bishops of Belgium on decriminalising abortion

logo bc_0As Belgian politics are once more on the verge of discussing the topic of abortion and whether or not it should be decriminalised, the bishops of Belgium warn against the risks of doing so. Their concerns are not unrealistic, as recent developments in other countries have shown. The slippery slope of further liberalisation, actively sought out or not, is real, When abortion comes to be seen as a right, the room to disagree, to conscientiously object, starts to disappear. The bishops write that there are only ever losers in these cases, especially when abortion is considered as a normal procedure.

“In our country, abortion has been legalised under certain circumstances for quite some time now. Several proposal have now been presented to the Belgian parliament to completely depenalise abortion. Current practice will perhaps not change much because of it, but it is nonetheless a serious decision with a strong symbolic meaning. The opinions on the termination of pregnancy will fundamentally change. And the consequences are significant. Hence, we ask ourselves questions. These are questions which transcend ideological boundaries.

In a democracy the criminal code guarantees the protection of human dignity and the physical integrity of every person. Can this protection be disregarded when it is about human life developing before birth? The life that many people desire, which many protect and fight for, for which medicine makes the greatest progress, that precious life. Why should that life in its earliest beginnings not be protected as if it isn’t life yet?

Abortion will never become commonplace. Not even when it is removed from the criminal code. It will never become a normal ‘operation’. It will never happen gladly. There are only ever losers. Certainly, circumstances can make people desperate and hopeless. Exactly then man is so distraught en lonely. If the law would then only suggest that it is a normal operation, no justice is done to what those involved experience and go through. Why then look for advice or assistance? The requests themselves run the risk of not being taken seriously from the start. It will only increase the desperation and loneliness.

That is the danger we wish to point out: when abortion is removed from the criminal code, there is the risk that it becomes a normal medical intervention like any other. It is no longer an infraction in those cases provided for by the law. It becomes a right. Those questioning it or refusing abortion, will then have to justify themselves. And that is true for both the doctor and the woman involved. Even when the clause of freedom of conscience is maintained, it will be able to be invoked increasingly less. A medical intervention requires a medical decision, after all, and not so much a decision of conscience.

Our society increasingly struggles with everything that blocks our plans, with everything that disrupts our way of life. That goes for people who are old or sick, for people with physical disabilities, for the poor, strangers or refugees coming to us. It is also true for unborn life. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says that this is all connected: “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (n. 120).”

Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and the bishops of Belgium

By acknowledging that abortion is never considered gladly, never becomes normal, and that those seeking it out are often desperate, seeing no other option, the bishops show the way in how to deal with such situations. Not by presenting abortion as just another medical operation, but by acknowledging the pain and loneliness felt by the people involved, and by finding new ways of alleviating that. Not by killing an innocent person, but by standing with the parent or parents (because too often the mother stands alone in these situations).

 

From Bruges, new auxiliary bishop for Mechelen-Brussels

One year after the death of Bishop Léon Lemmens, the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels receives a new auxilary bishop, the first such appointment under Cardinal Jozef De Kesel.

koenThe new bishop, appointed as episcopal vicar for Flemish Brabant and Mechelen, is Msgr. Koen Vanhoutte. The new bishop comes from the Diocese of Bruges, where Cardinal De Kesel was bishop before being appointed to Mechelen-Brussels in 2015. The bishop-elect has served as vicar general of Bruges since 2010, and has been diocesan administrator of that diocese twice: first, in 2010, between the forced retirement of Roger Vangheluwe and the appointment of then-Bishop De Kesel, and then, for the major part of 2016, between the departure of the De Kesel and the appointment of Bishop Lode Aerts.

He has been considered a likely candidate to succeed either Vangheluwe or De Kesel in Bruges, but evidently a position as auxiliary bishop was in the cards first.

Cardinal De Kesel obviously knows Msgr. Vanhoutte well, having appointed him as his vicar general when he came to Bruges in 2010. The cardinal writes:

“When I was appointed as bishop of Bruges, Koen Vanhoutte became my vicar general. I worked with him for several years. He has great experience in both formation and the management of a diocese. […] He is very dedicated person, a hard worker, with much faith and very concerned with people and the faith communities.”

The new auxiliary bishop will wrap up his duties in Bruges over the next month and move to Mechelen in July to join auxiliary bishops Jean Kockerols and Jean-Luc Hudsyn in the archdiocese. His consecration is scheduled for 2 September in St. Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen. Cardinal De Kesel will be the main consecrating bishop.

About his appointment, Msgr. Vanhoutte writes:

“When hearing about my appointment, God’s word to Abram spontaneously came into my mind: “Leave your country…”Not an easy thing, but when God asks it of me through His Church, I will gladly do it.”

As episcopal motto he chose “Veni sancti Spiritus” (“Come Holy Spirit”). The new bishop explains:

“Living in service in the spirit of the Gospel, in the mindset of Jesus, requires extra strength which the Spirit can give us. That is why I chose for my bishop’s motto the opening words of a hymn sung in the liturgy of Pentecost: “Come Holy Spirit, Veni, Sancti Spiritus”. It is good for the Church to invoke the Spirit, as a source of strength and renewal. That Spirit grants diverse gifts, but also makes us grow in unity and community.”

Bishop-elect Vanhoutte has been given the titular see of Thagora, in modern Algeria. He is the tenth titular bishop of that diocese, with Bishop Giuseppe Marciante, now of Cefalù and then an auxiliary bishop of Rome, as his immediate predecessor.

 

New cardinal appointments reveal papal focus

Yesterday, some of the new cardinals created by Pope Francis in his latest two consistories (November 2016 and June 2017) were given their duties in the Roman curia. More than simply an honorary title (although it sometimes is just that), a cardinal is expected to sit on various councils and congregations and so assist the Pope in running the affairs of the world Church. They are expected to be in Rome regularly to facilitate this, which, I imagine, does little to make life easier for some. Cardinal Mario Zenari, for example, serves in daily life as the Apostolic Nuncio to war-torn Syria. He has now been assigned to serve as a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches as well.

763Among the cardinals in question are Jozef Cardinal De Kesel (at left), archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, and Anders Cardinal Arborelius, bishop of Stockholm. They have been appointed as members of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, respectively.

The appointments of both cardinals are logical ones. Cardinal De Kesel has spoken out on numerous occasions on the role of the laity in the Church, and the dignity of human life. His appointment will undoubtedly herald his continued role in the debate about these topics, not least in the context of the Amoris laetitia its interpretation. Cardinal Arborelius has long since been involved with ecumenism, which is unavoidable in a country like Sweden. The Catholic Church is small but growing and has to relate to the secular society of the country and its Lutheran background.

The dicastery to gain the largest number of new members is the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. With five members (Cardinals Patrick D’Rozario (Dhaka, Bangeldesh), Maurice Piat (Port-Louis, Mauritius), John Ribat (Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea), Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun (Vientiane, Laos) and Gregorio Rosa Chávez (auxiliary of San Salvador, El Salvador), all from Pope Francis’ favoured ‘peripheries’, it perhaps shows the importance he attaches to the dicastery which he established at the start of this year.

Photo credit: Reuters

 

A great heart goes home – Bishop Lemmens passes away

This morning brought the sad news of the death of Bishop Leon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, after a struggle with leukemia. The bishop had laid down his duties towards the end of last year and was admitted to hospital in October of 2016, which is where, at the university hospital in Louvain, he passed away last night.

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Bishop Lemmens was an auxiliary bishop of the sole Belgian archdiocese since 2011, when he was appointed as such together with Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn and Jean Kockerols. He was appointed for the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen, and wuithin the bishops’ conference he was responsible for the pastoral care to prisoners, contacts with the other Christian churches and  contacts with the Muslim community. The late bishop was also member of the Community of St. Egidio. Speaking on behalf of that community, historian and member Jan De Volder characterises the bishop as follows:

“Leon Lemmens was an extraordinarily cultivated man, a polyglot, who left an impression because of his stature and sincere cordiality, also on the young people he met. He possessed a robust faith and a great heart, especially for the poor, the homeless, the refugees.”

The titular bishop of Municipa was a priest of the Diocese of Hasselt since his ordination in 1977. He studied moral theology in Rome, after which he served as parish priest in Genk in the early 1980s. A professor at the diocesan seminary since 1984, he rose to its leadership in 1997. In 1998 he was appointed as vicar general of Hasselt. In 2004, Msgr. Lemmens went to Rome, to serve as rector of the Romanian College, and in 2005 he also started working at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. In 2011, he was one of three priests called to serve as auxiliary bishops under the then recently-appointed Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels. In 2015, shortly before being forced to relinquish his duties, Bishop Lemmens accompanied Bishop Guy Harpigny and the later Cardinal Jozef De Kesel on a solidarity mission to northern Iraq.

Aboput his final months and weeks, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt, Bishop Lemmens’ home diocese, says:

“We knew that he was ill and we visited him regularly. I spoke with him over the phone only last week. He bore his illness in full faithful surrender.”

The funeral Mass for Bishop Lemmens will take place on Saturday 10 June, in the Cathedral of St. Rombald in Mechelen.

Quoting the wish from the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen: “Let’s remain united in prayer with him, and ask the Lord to embrace him with great affection and grant him eternal life.”

Photo credit: Philippe Keulemans