The faith in Africa grows because its people are backwards, German editor insists

In the margins of Pope Francis’ current apostolic journey to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, an opinion piece on Katholisch.de by editor Björn Odendahl has caused a stir, and not without reason. It betrays a simplistic, even derogatory attitude towards African faithful, and has caused some to accuse Odendahl of outright racism.

Odendahl discusses Pope Francis’ well-known focus on the margins of society, be it nearby (the homeless, sick and elderly of western society) or further afield (the booming Church communities in Africa, for example), and he contrasts these with the centre, struck as it is with complacency, wealth, defeatism even. But, Odendahl says, the Pope is not always right in these comparisons, and displays a romantic view of poverty.

His view on Africa, Odendahl explains, is an example of that romantic view. The paragraph in question:

“Of course the Church is growing there. She grows because the people are socially behind and often have nothing but their faith. She grows because the level of education is generally low and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith). Answers like those from Guinean Cardinal Sarah. And the increasing number of priests is not due solely to missionary power, but it is also one of the sole means of social security on the black continent.”

The tone of the passage is insulting enough, and the big question is if any of this is accurate. Pope Francis is currently in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and will soon depart for Kampala in neighbouring Uganda. Neither city fits the image that Odendahl paints in his article: they are major cities, the economic hearts of their respective countries, with major companies, facilities and educational institutions. Granted, like their western counterparts, Nairobi and Kampala have their share of poverty and marginalised people. But in Odendahl’s mind, it seems, many of their inhabitants should be backwards, socially helpless and simple-minded, because they are enthusiastically and faithfully Catholic. Which is, quite frankly, an insult.

12301742_1101254663219470_1520784383819157554_n

^A group of backwards, simplistic people await the arrival of Pope Francis in Kenya. Note: this may not be a realistic and truthful description.

In addition to this opinion on African Catholics, there is another strange tendency in Odendahl’s piece: he seems to equate the growth of the Church and the adherence to faith with social backwardness and lack of education and development. In modern societies, like Germany, faith is unavoidably disappearing because people are intelligent and socially progressive, we are apparently asked to conclude.

In short, Odendahl’s piece is simplistic, backwards (exactly what he accuses the African faithful of) and insulting to an extreme.

The opinion piece, in which an author must, by definition, have a certain measure of freedom, was published on Katholisch.de. This is the Internet portal of the Church in Germany which cooperates with the German dioceses, religious orders and other institutions, although it is not the official mouthpiece of these. It employs editors and reporters and makes use of the freedom of press to inform, report in depth and give opinions. It is not run by the bishops (who have the website of the bishops’ conference, dbk.de, for that), but they do work closely with them, making Katholisch.de one  of the major exclusively Catholic voices in Germany.

Can the bishops be held responsible for this piece? No. Would it be wise for them to denounce it? Yes, very much so.

Advertisements

Shepherds for life – the Church’s longest-serving active bishops

Recently, I read about the appointment, in the United States, of Bishop Salvatore Matano as Bishop of Rochester. He succeeds Bishop Matthew Clark, who headed the diocese since his appointment in 1979. In other words, Bishop Clark held that see for almost exactly my entire life until now. That is quite a long time for a bishop to remain in one place, although there may be much to be said for a shepherd to lead one flock for as long as he can.

The above made me wonder what other bishops have such a long time in a single see behind them. A little bit of reasearch resulted in the top 10 I present below. I have only looked at bishops who are still in office, and I have taken their date of consecration as the starting date of the office (if they were consecrated before being appointed to their current sees, I took the date of appointment as a basis).

10. Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai
Bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho
Consecrated on 2 April 1978

At 84, Bishop Khoarai is well past retirement age, but continues in office as ordinary of Mohale’s Hoek. He became the first bishop of that diocese when it was split off from the Archdiocese of Maseru in 1977.

9. Bishop Philip Sulumeti

philip_sulumeti1

Bishop of Kakamega, Kenya
Appointed on 28 February 1978

Also past retirement age, at 76, Bishop Sulumeti was auxiliary bishop of his native Diocese of Kisumu (today an archdiocese) from 1972 to 1976, and bishop of the same circumscription from 1976 to 1978, before being appointment to Kakamega when that diocese was split off from Kisumu.

8. Bishop Jean-Claude Bouchard

bouchard

Bishop of Pala, Chad
Consecrated on 1 May 1977

Canadian-born Bishop Bouchard is the third bishop of the Chadian Diocese of Pala. He is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary society, which explains his appointment to the central African country.

7. Bishop Howard James Hubbard

Hubbard_Howard_J

Bishop of Albany, United States
Consecrated on 27 March 1977

A few weeks into the retirement age of 75, Bishop Hubbard may not have to wait overly long before ending his 36 years as bishop of Albany. He is the longest-serving American bishop and also the longest-serving western ordinary.

6. Archbishop Hieronymus Herculanus Bumbun

Bumbun

Archbishop of Pontianak, Indonesia
Appointed on 26 February 1977

After two years as Pontianak’s auxiliary bishop, from 1975 to 1977, Archbishop Bumbun became the archdiocese’s first native ordinary. At 76, the Capuchin bishop is also past retirement age.

5. Bishop Gilbert Guillaume Marie-Jean Aubry

aubry

Bishop of Saint-Denis-de-la-Réunion
Consecrated on 2 May 1976

A native of the French possession of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Bishop Aubry was appointed at the fairly young age of 34.

4. Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis

papamanolis

Bishop of Syros (e Milos), Greece
Bishop of Santorini, Greece
Ordained on 20 October 1974

Bishops in Greece tend to stay in office for a long time, and new appointments are rarely made, which explains the presence of two Greek ordinaries in this list. Capuchin Bishop Papamanólis is the ordinary of two dioceses and also Apostolic Administrator of Crete.

3. Archbishop Nikólaos Fóscolos

Foscolos

Archbishop of Athenai, Greece
Consecrated on 12 August 1973

The archbishop of Greece’s capital came to the see at the age of 36 and continues still at almost 77.

2. Archbishop Hovhannes Tcholakian

tcholakian

Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Istanbul, Turkey
Consecrated on 5 March 1967

The Armenian Catholic Church does not know a mandatory retirement age, which is why Archbishop Tcholakian is still in office at 94. He is considered the oldest serving ordinary of the Catholic Church, but not the oldest non-retired bishop…

1. Bishop Dominik Kalata

Kalata1

Bishop
Consecrated on 9 September 1955

That honour goes to Bishop Kalata, the Polish-born prelate who is not an ordinary, and never has been. One of the eastern European clerics consecrated bishops in secret during the Cold War, Bishop Kalata was given a titular see, Semta, in 1985, when relations between east and west were warming, but the Holy See never got around to appointing him to a regular see, unlike some other bishops who were consecrated at the same time. The Jesuit bishop now resides in Germany and does pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau.

End of mission – Bishop Willigers passes away

The Diocese of Roermond reports the passing of Bishop Joseph Willigers, the Mill Hill missionary who was born within the diocese and rose to become the first bishop of Jinja in Uganda. He was 81 years old and had been living in the Mill Hill house in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, since his return from Uganda earlier this year.

Joseph Bernard Louis Willigers entered St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill when he was 19. In 1955, aged 25, he was ordained in London by Cardinal Bernard Griffin and sent to Rome to study Canon Law. Upon his graduation in 1958 he left for Africa to work in the mission. He worked in education and basic pastoral care in Uganda and Kenya and in 1965 as vicar general of the Kenyan Diocese of Kisumu, under the Dutch bishop Jan de Reeper. In 1967 Msgr. Willigers was appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Jinja, east of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. His consecration was performed by Uganda’s first cardinal, Emmanuel Nsubuga. For an impressive 42 years, Bishop Willigers led the faithful of his diocese, until he retired in March of 2010. As bishop, Msgr. Willigers was inspired by the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and was characterised as intelligent, hospitable and warm.

In 2009, he participated in the Synod of Bishops’ Assembly on Africa. His contacts with his native diocese of Roermond continued through the years, as Roermond financially supported projects in Jinja, and as Bishop Willigers had family back home.

Returning to the Netherlands in ill health, Bishop Willigers took up residence in the Vrijland mission house in Oosterbeek, where he passed away in the early morning yesterday, in the presence of his sister. His funeral will also take place from there, on 5 October.

Photo credit: Missionaries of Mill Hill

Revelations trigger revelations – further developments around Bishop Cor Schilder

Last year, Dutch missionary bishop Cor Schilder, formerly of Kenya’s Diocese of Ngong, was at the heart of the publication of accusations of sexual abuse, leveled against him in 2009. That matter was then settled between the Holy See, the Society of Mill Hill Missionaries, to which Bishop Schilder belongs), and Michael Ole Uka, the victim. Said victims lodged no official complaint with the secular authorities, so no legal process was started.

But Uka’s story, as such stories have the potential to, gave another man, Emmanuel Shikuku, the courage to come forward with his story. The details may be found on various media websites, but come down to Shikuku claiming to have been abused by five clerics, one of whom is said to have been Bishop Schilder, who now resides in a Mill Hill house in the Netherlands, having been removed from his position following the earlier accusations.

The case came to the attention of Interpol via the Irish police, who informed authorities in the UK and the Netherlands. Much detail is still unknown, as the investigation of the case is still in early stages. An Interpol spokesman says that some information may even be kept secret by the Public Prosecutor for ‘tactical reasons’.

And since much is unknown, it is hard to conclude anything about what may or may not have happened. It is certainly not unheard of that victims of sexual abuse take courage from the stories of other victims and then come forward. That is also, I think, evident in the large number of abuse claims that were made in the Netherlands in the past year, although there are also, sadly, many fake claims among them, of course.

Whether Mr. Shikuku’s belongs to the former or the latter category remains to be seen. Things, at the moment, certainly do not look positive for the 70-year-old Bishop Cor Schilder.

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19)

In the aftermath of my post on Bishop Schilder, I wondered how many other Dutch bishops are serving abroad, or, at least, are still alive. In a twist of irony, the Netherlands was at one time something of an exporter of missionary priests and religious and some of those ended up climbing the ranks to become bishops of a diocese on another continent.

A glance at the unrivaled repository of all things bishop that is Catholic-Hierarchy, I found a list of all living bishops who in some way have something to do with the Netherlands. Among them the bishops who were born here but who put on the mitre somewhere else. There are twelve of them. Eight have already retired, and four are still active.

They are the following:

  • Monsignor Everardus Antonius M. Baaij, S.C.I. 89 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Aliwal, South Africa. Ordinary from 1973 to 1981
  • Monsignor Wilhelmus Josephus Adrianus Maria de Bekker. 71 years old. Bishop of Paramaribo, Suriname. Ordinary since 2004.
  • Monsignor Wilhelmus Joannes Demarteau, M.S.F. 94 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Banjarmasin, Indonesia. Ordinary from 1961 to 1983. From 1954 to 1961 he was the Vicar Apostolic of Banjarmasin, then not yet a diocese.
  • Monsignor Henk Kronenberg, S.M. 76 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Ordinary from 1999 to 2009.
  • Monsignor Herman Ferdinandus Maria Münninghoff, O.F.M. 89 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Jayapura, Indonesia. Ordinary from 1972 to 1997.
  • Monsignor Joseph John Oudeman, O.F.M. Cap. 69 years old (exactly 69 today, by the way). Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Australia. Auxiliary since 2002.
  • Monsignor Cornelius Schilder, M.H.M. 69 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Ngong, Kenya. Ordinary from 2002 to 2009.
  • Monsignor Andreas Peter Cornelius Sol, M.S.C. 95 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Amboina, Indonesia. Appointed Coadjutor Bishop in 1963, ordinary from 1965 to 1994.
  • Bishop van Steekelenburg

    Monsignor Johannes Henricus J. Te Maarssen, S.V.D. 77 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Kundiawa, Papua New Guinea. Ordinary from 2000 to 2009.

  • Monsignor Theodorus van Ruijven, C.M. 72 years old. Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte, Ethiopia. Appointed Prefect of Jimma-Bonga in 1998, Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte since 2009.
  • Monsignor Hugo María van Steekelenburg, O.F.M. 73 years old. Bishop of Almenara, Brazil. Ordinary since 1999.
  • Monsignor Vital João Geraldo Wilderink, O. Carm. 79 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Itaguaí, Brazil. Appointed Auxiliary BIshop of Barra do Piraí-Volta Redonda in 1978, ordinary of Itaguaí from 1980 to 1998.

All but one of these bishops belong to religious orders or congregations, indicated by the abbreviations behind their names, evidence that all of them once joined the mission as priests. The twelve also represented at least two distinct generations. The first in the late 80s and 90s, and the second, still serving for the most part, in their 60s and 70s. The youngest, Bishop Oudeman, being 69, does show that this Dutch presence among the bishops of other nations is slowly coming to an end. After all, it is not unheard of that priests in their 40s or 50s are appointed bishops, but these men are well beyond that age. Besides, most of the countries named above are now ‘homegrowing’ their own bishops, so there is less need to fall back on the mission.

But, as it is, these twelve men of God remind us of a part of the recent history of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands which seems quite unusual to our modern eyes.

Dutch missionary bishop in the dock

Accusations of sexual abuse have appeared against another bishop of Dutch descent. Details are still lacking, but it seems that Msgr. Cor Schilder, emeritus bishop of Ngong in Kenya, is accused of sexual abuse committed while he was still a  priest. Father Fons Eppink of the Missionary Society of Mill Hill to which Bishop Schilder belongs, has confirmed this. A 32-year-old Kenyan man claims to have been raped when Schilder was still a priest. The accusation was sent on to Rome where, eighteen months ago, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, forbade the bishop from offering Masses in public and performing any pastoral tasks.

So while the Church took steps to remove the accused from where he committed his alleged crimes, there has been no police investigation yet. Father Anthony Chantry superior general of the Mill Hill society, has promised full cooperation with any investigation. The Public Prosecutor in the Netherlands has already asked for a full report from Mill Hill. It seems that the bishop may also be prosecuted here, but on what legal grounds is unknown to me.

It must be noted that, while the Church has seemingly drawn some conclusions, The doings of Bishop Schilder have not yet been legally investigated. Why the police were not informed by either the victim, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples or the nuncio in Kenya remains to be seen.

Bishop Schilder served as bishop of Ngong from 2002 to 2009, when he was sent on early retirement ‘for health reasons’. There is, as of yet, no new bishop in Ngong.

Source.