The added value of bishops resigning

In the final weeks of last year, at least two prominent Dutch politicians – Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen (a Catholic, pictured)  and SGP party leader Kees van der Staaij (Reformed Protestant) – have suggested that it would be a good thing if one or more Dutch bishops would resign in the wake of the Deetman report. While both men received a certain amount of criticism for a perceived breach of the separation of Church and state, I think it’s more interesting to take these sentiments seriously. Not to say that I agree with them (I don’t), but they are interesting to look into.

We’ve seen it happen in Ireland, where several bishops resigned following conclusions about their conduct in handling abuse cases under their jurisdiction. These things are not unprecedented, but neither are they without context and reason. Although, as the Dutch bishops have confirmed, a bishop inherits a certain responsibility from his predecessor because of the fact that he is a bishop, they, like everyone else, can not be held responsible for the actions of another man. If one bishop mishandled specific cases of abuse, another bishop can’t be legally blamed for it, although he has a moral responsibility as shepherd and prelate of the Church.

A hypothetical resignation of any Dutch bishop, to atone for actions that were or were not taken under another man’s watch, would be meaningless, in my opinion. Other acts of atonement for the Church as a whole, or the diocese of which a bishop is the shepherd, can be far more effective and meaningful.

Simply looking at the numbers, it is unlikely (though of course not impossible) that any of the sitting bishops in the Netherlands will be found guilty of gross misconduct. The vast majority of them were not bishops when the peak of the abuse cases occurred. This is something that the media often seems to forget, that the bishops of the 1960s and 70s are not the same men as today.

A far more important consideration in this matter is that a bishop can be far more effective in working towards a solution if he stays in office. And here we must consider what a bishop is. Unlike what many want us to believe, he is not the CEO of a major company. A CEO may, sometimes even should, resign if stocks fall, production drops and profit plummets. A bishop is a father for the faithful in his diocese. And, to borrow a simile from somewhere else, who has heard of a father severing all contact with his family when some disaster happens? Exactly then it is a father’s duty to stay with his family, protect them, and help them in dealing with whatever horror has afflicted them (and him as well, of course). That is also what Bishop Gerard de Korte said in an interview on 17 December:

“I don’t think the victims are waiting for the resignation of a bishop, but rather that the current bishops act in such a way that they will be helped. What matters now is that we try to stand by the victims and act adequately.”

If a bishop were to resign, we should have a good answer to the question “why?” And then we must ask what good this resignation will bring. In the meantime, we must ask, inspire and pray for our bishops to do what is right, as fathers of the local church.

Photo credit: ANP

Accident or secret agenda?

At the cost of 5 million Euros the European Union has distributed some 3.2 million calendars over more than 21,000 schools. The calendar’s purpose is to inform children between 12 and 16 about EU policies, and  next to that, like virtually all calendars, it contains the important dates of the year: holidays and religious feasts and the like. All, except for all Christian holidays and feasts.

Eid ul Fitr is there, as are Sukkot, Divali and other Muslim, Jewish and Hindu feasts. Dutch Christian MPs have expressed their amazement on Twitter, with ChristenUnie head André Rouvoet tweeting: “What would the EU agenda be with distributing school agenda listing all holidays except the Christian? Unbelievable!” SGP chair Kees van der Staaij shared that he has sent questions about this, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling it “no mistake, but the world upside down”. Twittering priest, Fr. Ruud Verheggen, concludes that “it shows where [they] stand”.

It would be a pretty remarkable mistake to make: to go and take the effort to list all major religions’ holidays and completely missing the Christian ones. It’s not as if Christians are a minority in the EU, after all. A conscious decision, then? It would fit with the attempts from the EU to curtail the rights of religious expression in its member states (classroom crosses in Italy, anyone?), but surely the EU, with all its talk about democracy and freedom, won’t skip over the religion and the rights of the vast majority of its citizens? Right?

It’s only a calendar, you might say. Yes, but it is one that is used by the EU to present itself to a couple of million school-going children. What does this then say about how the EU sees itself and its values?

Political support from an unexpected corner

The disruption of Mass in Den Bosch has not gone unnoticed in parliament. Of course, PvdA chair Lilianne Ploumen and local representatives of the same parties called for these disruptions (so inciting an unconstitutional act), but other parties remained very quiet. But now the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, the SGP, spoke up in defense. Remarkable, since the SGP is hardcore Protestant and traditionally quite anti-Catholic. But now they intend to ask questions in a general Christian context. After all, who’s to say that it’ll end with disrupting Mass? Protestant services run the same risk.

On the party’s website are the questions that MP Kees van der Staaij has sent to the Justice and Home secretaries. He specifically focusses on the protests as criminal acts according to Article 146 of the criminal code, which states:

Below are MP van der Staaij’s questions to the secretaries:

1 Did you take notice of reports that protesters disturbed a church service in ‘s Hertogenbosch and intend to protest more often like this?

2 How do you judge such forms of protest? Is the government willing to distance itself forcefully from utterances sich as demonstrative hand clapping and loud protests that disturb church services?

3 Does the Public Prosecutor, also in light of article 146 of the criminal code, intend to take steps against these church service disruptions? If not, why not?

4 To what extend can calling for protests at or during church services with the risk of actual disruptions of church services be tackled according to criminal law?

5 What options do justice and police, or mayors have to undertake anything against threatening disruptions of church services? What will the government undertake to prevent a repeat of such disruptions?

6 Are you willing to answer these questions as soon as possible?

Good questions, although I am skeptical about the answer to them. I sadly doubt that this is a priority for any other party.