Serious questions about the guilt of Msgr. Ter Schure

A day after the news broke (or rather, was regurgitated) that former bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Msgr. Jan Ter Schure, had been one of seven Salesians who abused a boy in the late 1940s, serious questions about the truth behind the matter appear. Current provincial Herman Spronck gave a radio interview today in which he claimed that, during the time of the abuse, then-seminarian Ter Schure had been in Italy for his education:

“We have concluded that Jan Ter Schure was not yet a priest between 1947 and 1951. He was studying theology in Italy at that time. After his ordination in 1951 he was immediately put to work in The Hague. He was therefore not a regular brother at Ugchelen. He would have visited from time to time, but under what circumstances is not known.”

Fr. Herman Spronck

Spronck also raised another important issue regarding this case. He claims that the whole affair had been settled out of court in 2003, and that everything was kept quiet on the express request of the victim.

“That is very odd to me. For seven years he has said that he did not want [the story to become public]. In 2003 everything had been peacefully settled. There would be no more talk about it. We were convinced that we settled matters just fine, in a human and humane way.”

About the 16,000-guilder compensation paid to the victim, Fr. Spronck says: “That was a reparation to the victim, together with apologies. He granted us a final remission, which means that he would not undertake any further actions, neither to the press, nor to others.”

Whatever the truth, perhaps the above goes to show that keeping things quiet, something that is time and again claimed of the Church, is rarely the right solution. The truth will come out eventually, but what the truth is, remains to be seen in this case.

If Jan Ter Schure spent his seminary years in Italy he could hardly have been one of seven regular abusers at the boarding school Don Rua at Ugchelen. But what does the reparation paid in 2003 mean? Did the Salesians conclude that something untoward involving the future bishop had indeed happened? Was there an investigation, were people named?

Many questions remain, including some about the conduct of media and victim. After all, in our legal system, no one can be punished twice for the same crime, so why regurgitate something that had seemingly been settled, albeit out of court?

Dioceses to clear up their own legal standing

Prof. Lindenbergh, the chairman of the commission

Possibly in response to questions raised (especially in the United States) about the legal position of dioceses, religious orders, bishops, and the Vatican when it comes to child abuse cases, the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious have created a commission that will look into exactly that. The three-person commission consists of Prof. Mr. Siewert D. Lindenbergh (chairman), professor in Civil Law at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam; Mr. Jacqueline Meyst-Michels, a lawyer specialising in liability and injury law, especially in the medical field; and Mr. Joost Wildeboer, a lawyer specialising in injury and insurance law.

The new commission is tasked to take all relevant aspects of limitations, liability and damages according to civil and church law into account and come with an advice in early 2011. Until then, they will be working in private, being unavailable for the media until the aforementioned aspects have been considered.

An attempt to save skins, or to create clarity? The optimist in me favours the latter, and I think it has things going for it. Although the Netherlands is not (yet) a society as fond of the courtroom as the United States, the legal battles fought there do offer a lesson. How should the law treat a diocese or a bishop? Are they autonomous entities or employees of the Vatican or the local archbishop? Church law and customs have answers, but are these the same as the answers that civil law has?

The abuse crisis is not over. The accusations and stories of terrible crimes are being collected now. It remains to be seen how the legal battle turns out.

Ardent Christian sticks it to the man

For two years now, farmer Joop van Ooijen has been fighting the man. At the heart of the argument? The roof of his farm, and more specifically the letters spelling out ‘Jezus redt’ (Jesus saves). The man, in the form of the municipality of Giessenlanden, doesn’t like that text, saying it contrasts too much with the surrounding countryside. A court order was issued, saying that Mr. van Ooijen had to remove the bright white letters. Well, he did remove the white. By painting it red and orange.

And now the court has said that he is within his rights. Giessenlanden only ordered him to remove the white letters and didn’t say anything about red and orange ones. The monthly penalty payments have had to stop, and the municipality can start all over again.

Here’s to Mr. van Ooijen and his harmless expression of faith on his own roof. He probably will have to succumb eventually, but for now I applaud his tenacity.

To court!

The Volkskrant reports today that a homosexual Catholic, Mr. Robèrt Cooijmans is going to report Fr. Luc Buyens, the priest who denied Communion to an openly homosexual man last week, with discrimination. He states: “My church can’t exclude anyone. There is no ground for that in the Bible.” A statement that is evidently incorrect, and indicative of Cooijmans’ knowledge of his own faith. And I won’t even start about the ‘my church’ business.

Cooijmans bases his claim on the fact that he has always received Communion without problem and polls by pro-homosexual media are said to say that as many as 94% of priests make no issue out of it. Does that validate the claim of discrimination? Of course not. If anything, and if true, it indicts the priests in question for ignoring Church teachings. Sadly, that is all too common in this country. And it may be cause for problems for Fr. Buyens too. I highly doubt that any court will accept the case, but the fact that this has no become an exclusively gender- and sexuality-based affair is a bit problematic.

Denying Communion to practising homosexuals is simply an obligation for every priest. But the same goes for divorced person, or people who live together unmarried or anyone who lives in a state of grave sin. Making this an exclusively homosexual affair is therefore counterproductive and incorrect. Sadly, I think that both sides in the argument may be to blame for that. Fr. Buyens for not being consistent and the media for hyping it as discrimination.

In the end, though, I think the court will consider this a matter of Church law, and Church law is very clear on this.

The misunderstanding and violent need to be proven right becomes painfully clear in other parts of the Volkskrant article quoted above. “We want to see if Communion will also be postpone there [the cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch] if we are present,” says Giovanni Nijenhuis, chief of gay organisation Embrace Pink. “It is important for us all that the church acknowledges that homosexuality is a disposition, which has nothing to do with moral preconceptions”.

“We’ll totally confuse them,” he said about the planned protests.

This is not about intelligent debate, this is an emotional and childish need to be proven right, even if that is not the case.

What we Catholics should do is not lower ourselves to their tactics, but offer clear and concise explanations of the truth. That Communion is not a right, that excluding people from Communion is not  a matter of discrimination, that is not limited to homosexuals alone, that Communion is not the sole way of being part of the Church, and that the Church is neither a democracy nor a human club of which anyone, no matter what they do and how they live, can be a part. The Church, like any gathering of people, has rules that regulate it and improve its members. Denying those rules is like playing a football game and being upset when the referee calls foul when you don’t follow the rules of the game. “But football is for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to make their own rules!” That’s not football, that’s chaos.