Mistake or misrepresentation? Bishop Liesen on the Christmas song confusion

Mgr. Jan LiesenYesterday, Bishop Jan Liesen, holding the liturgy portfolio in the Dutch bishops’ conference, wrote a letter about the confusion surrounding popular Christmas songs in the liturgy. In the piece, which was published in Katholiek Nieuwsblad and on the conference’s website rkkerk.nl, the bishop confirms what many had already suspected: Publisher of Mass booklets, Berne Heeswijk, and especially director Fr. Joost Jansen, spoke nonsense when they said that the bishops had forbidden the use of such songs as ‘Silent Night’ in the liturgy of Christmas.

Bishop Liesen writes:

“This statement is not true and has caused much unrest. […] The Christmas song question is not new. In 2001 the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship decided that liturgical songs in the vernacular need the approval of both the bishops’ conference and the Holy See. To properly introduce this measure a list of songs for the liturgy was created and at the same a period of transition was sought. On the request of and in consultation with publisher Berne the Dutch bishops received such a transition period: for two years a number of songs could be used in the liturgy, even if they were not (yet) included in the list. It was agreed with Berne that the publisher would abide by the approved songs. This agreement was signed, among others, by Fr. Jansen. To be clear: the list of approved songs is still in development and is continuously expanded with new songs; both theologians and musicians are working on this. Traditional Christmas songs are also suggested.”

He adds in a subsequent paragraph that all people involved in the publication of Mass booklets – among them Fr. Jansen (pictured below) – were informed in June of this year that the so-called ‘Christmas traditionals’ may now be printed in the back of these booklets.

joost jansenAll this puts the publisher’s earlier statements – that the bishops had forbidden the use of such songs, and that they had petitioned Rome to issue this ban – in a new light. Simply put: he was talking nonsense. There never has been a ban, and certainly not one planned by the bishops, and the traditional popular Christmas songs may still be used – in their proper place – on Christmas Eve.

Sadly, no correction is yet to be found on the publisher’s website… which makes me wonder: was this an honest mistake or a wilful misrepresentation of facts. For one in the business of publishing, such a misunderstanding of agreements made and signed is a very serious one…

Bishop Liesen concludes his letter as follows:

“Part of that treasure of songs, to which many faithful are justifiably attached, are many Christmas songs. The bishops, too, enjoy singing them and informed Berne on 21 June that these songs are very much suited to be published in the back of the Mass booklets, so that they may be sung at Christmas.”

Photo credit: [2] Jeroen Appels/Van Assendelft

A final word about the case of Fr. Huisintveld, painting a clearer picture of why Cardinal Eijk acted correctly

Questions from Katholiek Nieuwsblad to Cardinal Wim Eijk’s  spokesman, Hans Zuijdwijk, reveal that the cardinal has been far from the legalistic tyrant that the media and his opponents made him out to be in the case of Fr. Harry Huisintveld’s invalid Mass and the subsequent sanctions imposed on him.

rené dinkloBefore taking the steps to sanction to the Dominican priest, Cardinal Eijk  contacted the superior of the order in the Netherlands, Friar René Dinklo (pictured), and asked him to withdraw Fr. Huisintveld from the parish where the liturgical abuse took place, in order to spare him a dishonourable discharge by the cardinal. The Dominican superior refused to do so.

Explaining his motives further, Friar Dinklo declared to support Fr. Huisintveld in content, although he considers his actions to have been “tactically unwise”.

“In the runup to the Maundy Thursday celebration, Father Huisintveld, together with a small preparation group drawn from the faith community, searched in an authentic way how in the meaning of what we celebrate on Maundy Thursday could be made understandable for the churchgoers in the liturgy. […] That is a very valued approach.”

Ugh. If any more evidence was needed to show what’s wrong with the Dutch Dominicans… If there is a perceived need among the faithful to receive a better explanation of any given faith subject or doctrine, you fulfill that need by reflecting that topic or dogma truthfully and completely, as the Church has tasked you to do. You don’t go and change the content and language of it to fit your own personal opinions and needs.

In the meantime, Fr. Huisintveld has displayed his personal faith in the media, a faith that is really not Catholic, no matter what he personally thinks it is (for example, he stated that Christ did not die on the Cross “out of His own free will, or for our sins”. Mr. Zuijdwijk rightly commented that such a statement perplexes him as a Catholic). As I have said earlier in different contexts: we don’t  decide what’s Catholic, the Church does and has.

An ugly situation. Let’s hope this is the end of it, and that everyone will see the events as what they are: not some excessive expression of authority against a man’s personal freedom, but a necessary precaution to protect the liturgy of the Church and, most importantly, the content it expresses: our faith and salvation.

Photo credit: kloosterzwolle.nl

Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring?

A short while ago I wrote about my concerns about the Catholic voice in the media in the Netherlands. I especially focussed on the lack of unity and the tendency towards infighting which characterises the Catholic presence on  especially social media.

On Sunday, I was at the annual Catholic Youth Day in Den Bosch, where my concerns found some resonance and also an indication of the road towards a resolution. First there was  short conversation with Mr. Jeroen Goosen, director of Katholiek Nieuwsblad. Of course we briefly spoke about the tv appearance of that weekly’s editor Mariska Orbán de Haas, which sparked my initial blog post. And while I think that media training is a great asset for Catholics in the media, I also think that Mr. Goosen was right when he said that some media outlets are out to place the Church in a bad light, regardless of the intentions of what the person being interviewed brings to the debate.

Father Roderick Vonhögen later reminded me that it’s not merely about what we do, but that God works with us, literally. We are the tools He uses. And if He can work with me, who can’t He work with?

Lastly, there was the workshop I attended, organised by Amsterdam-based Leidenhoven College, about Catholic Voices. This initiative in the UK has managed to train Catholics for thoughtful, intelligent and positive media interventions and involvement on behalf and for the Church. This example is already being followed in several countries, and the Netherlands may soon be one of them. I think that Catholic Voices is just what we need. As I mentioned earlier, we have the talent and enthusiasm among Catholics in regular and social media. Over the course of Sunday and yesterday I have become increasingly enthusiastic about this, and I intend to try and do my part to contribute to what Catholic Voices aims to do.

Catholic Voices operates according to ten principles, organised in three sets, which are equally applicable in media settings as in social and family circumstances:

Set 1: core argument

1: Look for positive intention behind the criticism (reframing).

– Understand the case against the Church.
– Find the positive intention in the case (the concern that a person has in making the case).
– Agree with this positive intention.
– Start your response from here.

Set 2: Further content

2: Show, don’t tell. Use examples, not platitudes or slogans.
3: Think in triangles. Decide on three core points you wish to bring across in a conversation.

Set 3: Form

4: Shed light, not heat. Keep your calm, do not allow the conversation to turn angry.
5: People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel. Making good points in an arrogant way won’t win people towards your side.
6: Be positive.
7: Be compassionate.
8: Check your facts, but avoid robotics. Don’t just list facts like an automaton.
9: It’s not about you. It’s not personal, and it’s about God and His Church.
10: Witnessing, not winning. Making your points should be your focus, not winning the debate.

Beyond the initial goal of providing a positive and well-rounded Catholic contribution to media debates, Catholic Voices in the UK soon became more. From their website:

CATHOLIC VOICES began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010. Inspired by that visit, it has become much more: a school of a new Christian humanism; and the laboratory of a new kind of apologetics.

Photo credit: Eric Masseus

The Catholic voice

Yesterday I was thinking about how our Catholic voices appear in the media, and I can’t help but conclude that they don’t very well. After a television debate in which Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán de Haas (pictured) tried to defend the father-mother family construction, my Twitter page (and that of many others judging by her name being a trending topic for well into the net day) was inundated by, at best, critical comments about her performance and, at worst, serious personal attacks against her. And these did not only come from non-Catholic quarters. Most seriously, in my opinion, is the attack of self-styled Catholic media specialist Eric van den Berg, who was seemingly unable to present his possibly legitimate criticism without relishing in calling Mariska Orbán a “pearl-necklaced bitch” – a moniker admittedly coined by herself, but the use of which did set a certain tone.

I’m not writing this post to defend anyone. Criticism, after all, is not always bad, and can often be a helpful tool in bettering our conduct and performance. And when it comes to presenting our Catholic faith and the values we hold and consider important, we must learn from what critics level against us.

I am using “us” for a reason, because when it comes to situations like the one I outlined above, there is no visible sense of “us” among Catholics active in the media, in whatever form. Rather, we too often relish in the attack, personal or otherwise.

As Catholics we have something to say. But do we succeed in doing so? The Catholic voice in the media, social or otherwise, should be more unified and willing to offer constructive criticism. If someone fails in making the case that should be made, for whatever reason, there should be an effort in charitably correcting the mistakes, coupled with an openness in the other party to accept criticism.

When I consider the Catholics who are active in the media, on television, in newspaper, but also on the Internet, I see much potential in creativity, knowledge, bravery (which is sometimes indeed needed) and enthusiasm. But all that doesn’t always translate very well into the wider world of our secular society. Platforms like a television program which is a daily staple of many viewers, a major newspaper, but also new media that we ourselves can build, manage and develop, deserve a charitable and intelligent Catholic presence – charitable among ourselves and to others.

27 July: memorial of Bl. Titus Brandsma

Today we remember Blessed Titus Brandsma, who was persecuted and killed for defending not only the faith, but also the moral implications of that faith.

God our Father,
source of life and freedom,
through your Holy Spirit you gave the Carmelite Titus Brandsma
the courage to affirm human dignity even in the midst of suffering and degrading persecution.
Grant us that same Spirit,
so that, refusing all compromise with error,
we may always and everywhere give coherent witness
to your abiding presence among us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

On a related note, Katholiek Nieuwsblad reports that Rome is currently investigating at least three miracles granted on Blessed Titus’ intercession. One is needed for a future canonisation.

We’re not done yet

In fact, the problem may only be getting bigger in the immediate future.

After a plenary debate in Parliament yesterday, Justice secretary Ivo Opstelten will be asking the Church to look into what happened to young women and girls in the care of the Church. This after the investigation of the Deetman commission revealed the majority of abuse victims to have been male, Katholiek Nieuwsblad reports. Physical and psychological violence should now also be investigated, as well as the issue of babies put up for adoption on the insistence of Church workers.

Secretary Opstelten is said to be planning to ask Mr. Wim Deetman to also look into these new topics, which were not part of the initial investigation, as it focussed exclusively on sexual abuse of minors. Archbishop Eijk, in a meeting with Parliament members two weeks ago, said that bishops and religious superiros had spoken about including physical and psychological violence in the assignment given to the Deetman commission, but decided against it because of the difficulty of defining violence.

The Deetman commission itself, per its final report, is hesitant about the usefulness of such an investigation, and has emphasised the importance of investigating such forms of abuse, together with sexual abuse, child pornography, child prostitution and people trafficking as a social problem. The Samson commission is investigating the plight of children placed under the care of the government between 1973 and today, and has received 600 claims already. Mr. Deetman suggested awaiting the result of that investigation.

I tend to agree with Deetman’s suggestion. Why have two investigations into roughly the same issue, and why take a small sampling of society to get a big picture? After all, physical abuse took place in our society, not just the Church. Solving the problem in the Church does not solve it in schools, clubs and families. We must not bury our heads and the sand and pretend society as a whole knows no problems, that it is only the Church which does things wrong. Look at the whole picture, not just one or two details. By all means, the Church must look hard at her recent past and do what can be done to set things straight, but she by no means the only one who must do so.

Photo credit: Tweedekamer.nl

Bishop Liesen’s installation tomorrow: “sowing to take root and bear fruit”

“You don’t control the results, but that does not change the obligation to do the best we can. There is an essential element of freedom in there. You belong to the Roman Catholic Church because you want to, as conviction you gladly have. Many “enrolled” as children, but it must be confirmed at some point. If it isn’t, it remains something superficial and will not bear fruit. For the intended effect of sowing is for it to take root and bear fruit.”

Words from Bishop Jan Liesen, spoken in an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad, prior to his installation as bishop of Breda tomorrow. The installation Mass, which will be concelebrated by Bishop Liesen, his predecessor, Bishop Hans van den Hende, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch (where Msgr. Liesen has been auxiliary bishop), other bishops present, and members of the cathedral chapter. The new Nuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop André Dupuy, will not yet be present. Instead, the Holy See will be represented by Msgr. Habib Thomas Halim, secretary of the nunciature in The Hague.

With some 500 people invited, the Mass is closed to visitors, simply because of the relatively small size of the Cathedral of St. Anthony. Priority has been given to representatives of the parishes of the diocese, as well as various dignitaries. In addition to the bishops mentioned above, Bishop Wiertz, De Korte, Punt, Mutsaerts, Hoogenboom and Hendriks will also be present, as well as Bishops Bonny and De Kesel from the two Belgian dioceses that border Breda, and the emeriti Cardinal Simonis, and Bishops Ernst, Muskens and Van Burgsteden.

On a plaque in the cathedral, Bishop Liesen's name has been added to the lists of bishops of Breda

The Queen’s Commissioners in the provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant, the mayor of Breda and the governor of the Royal Military Academy, which is located in Breda, will also attend the Mass or the following reception.