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).

 

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On Corpus Christi, Cardinal Woelki returns to the debate

The Church celebrated the feast of the Eucharist, Corpus Christi, today. She reflects on and celebrates the wondrous presence of Christ among us in the Blessed Sacrament He has given to the Church. In Germany on this day, it is hard not to think of the recent debates surrounding that sacrament, and especially the question of who can receive it. In Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, spoke about the situation at the end of the Mass he celebrated in the square in front of the city’s cathedral. He revealed what lies at the basis of his difficulties with the proposal to allow non-Catholics to receive Communion:

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“Some think, “What’s the point? That’s nonsense.” Others even think, “It’s a puppet show.” I think: This is about life and death. This is about death and resurrection. This is about eternal life, this is about Christ. This is about His Church and hence this is about the essence. And that is why we must fight for it and find the right way. Not just any way, but the way of the Lord, which He shows us, since He alone is the way and the truth and the life.”

We often, sometimes as a matter of course, say that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church. But when you really think about what that means, about what the Church teaches and professes about the true presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, the cardinal’s passionate words make a lot of sense.

In his homily, Cardinal Woelki called the Eucharist the greatest mystery of our faith, except for the Holy Trinity. He reminded the faithful in Roncalli Square that by receiving Communion they say “Yes and amen” to the Pope and to the bishop, to the sacramental structure of the Church and to the saints and their veneration. This makes Holy Mass not just “some event” which can be replaced by a Word and Communion service, “no matter how beautiful”. Also worth remembering, especially in the current debate, is this:

“In the first place, what matters is that, in the celebration of the Mass, we have something to give – namely ourselves to God – surrendering ourselves to Him.”

Looking back on the letter sent to Rome by him and six other bishops, Cardinal Woelki said:

“Much has been written and claimed. Among other things, I was said to have secretly turned to Rome, to have secretly written something. In the words of Holy Scripture, I say: I acted openly and freely and have written and said what had to be written and said, in all openness. I say once again: We in Germany do not live on an island of Blesseds. We are not a national church. We are a part of the great universal Church. All our German dioceses are incorporated in the great globe. We are all united with all other Catholic Churches around the world, united under the leadership of the Holy Father. That is why we approach Christ in unity with all other particular churches. In fidelity to the deposit of faith handed down to us by the Apostles.”

Another bishop who mentioned the Communion issue was Essen’s Franz-Josef Overbeck. He said that a “theologically responsible solution” had to be found, but also emphasised that when the salvation of souls in an interdenominational marriage is at stake, Communion must be allowed for both spouses. The question then remains, of course, when this would be the case, and if this isn’t yet covered by the options allowed under the current Code of Canon Law.

Photo credit: Ottersbach (DR)

The thin line of hope – After Syria, Bishop Bonny reflects on Easter

In February, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp visited Syria. Visiting Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, he saw firsthand the destruction wrougth by years of war and also the incessant work of the churches to help the people caught in the middle. For Easter, he looks back on his journey:

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I took the photo above in Syria, in the destroyed eastern part of Aleppo. What do you see? A background and a foreground. Two opposed images. In the background only destruction: no doors, no windows, no roofs, no transport, no life. The bombardments and fighting was exceptionally heavy in the final months of 2016. All means were employed, even chemical weapons. Until all the houses and streets were destroyed and all inhabitants had left. But, in the foreground, there is a red round water tank, which the government has recently placed there. A truck comes to fill it every day. Next to the water tank there are four children. They come to collect water in recycled plastic bottles. They will bring it to their mother, somewhere in the ruins. They are two opposite images. The dead stones and the living water. The ruins and the children. An between them: the thin line of hope.

What is Easter about? About death and life. And about the thin line of hope.

The background of Easter is dark and cold. Jesus was nailed to the cross and has died. Friends placed his dead body in a tomb. The disciples have lost all faith and hope. For can anything good come from a grave? What they have gone through with Jesus will fade to memory. Leaving seems their only option. How many people today do not have those feelings! They look out over ruins or a tomb. Little is left of their former joy or friendship. Life of fate has hit them hard. The injustice or irreversibility of what has happened to them weighs heavily. The stone has covered the entrance of the tomb.

But, the foreground of Easter is different. It happens in the early hours. At dawn, the women go to the tomb. They see that the stone is rolled away The tomb is empty.

Jesus is not dead, He lives! He is not gone, He has risen!

Jesus has begun a new story. We celebrate that divine event at Easter. As a sign of Jesus’ resurrection we light the paschal candle and bless the waters of baptism. New Christians are baptised with that water in the Easter vigil. The priest also sprinkles the faithful with that water, not a little, but generously. Water belongs to Easter: fresh water, as a first sign of new life and hope. Are there ruins to clear in your life?

Do you fear the future? At Easter, let yourself by sprinkled with newly blessed baptismal water!

The fresh splash does good. It startled. It breaks through resignation. It makes barren ground soft and fertile.

The photo from Aleppo is my photo for Easter. I had it enlarged and it now stands on my desk. It is not a nice photo. No plus Easter bunny or yellow chick. No pretty creation or decoration. It is reality. When I bless the baptismal water at Easter and sprinkle the faithful with it, I will think of the red round water tank in Aleppo and the children next to it.

Hope does not begin again in a grand scale. Hope beings again small.

Hope begins again where we can collect fresh water to live on. Does that clear the ruins? Does it ensure the future? Not immediately and not by itself. But life is given a new opportunity. We can begin a new story. The thin line of hope appears again.

In the Easter Gospel the women are the first to arrive at the empty tomb. There, they are immediately given a task from the angel: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you” (Mark 16:7). What lies in the heart of Galilee? Not a water tank, but a big lake full of water and fish. There Jesus awaits His disciples, as the Risen Lord.

There they can begin anew, with Him, as “fishers of men”.

What is my wish for you for Easter? That you may find the ‘living water’ and that you may share it, even if with a recycled bottle, like the children in the photo.

Flowers for the Vatican

Like every year, the flowers that will decorate St. Peter’s Square in Rome for Easter left the Netherlands. In the public flower garden Keukenhof Bishop Hans van den Hende sent them off with a blessing, saying:

“We pray and ask for blessing to thank God for creation, for growth and life, which we receive from God. And we ask God’s blessing for the journey, so that these flowers and plants, which have been the subject of so much work and expertise, may come to full bloom in St. Peter’s Square. At Easter we celebrate that Christ is risen. The colourful flowers, plants and trees emphasise that Easter is our most important feast, looking ahead to eternity with God.”

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Last year, the flowers were subject of several attacks by seagulls. While Bishop van den Hende recalled that gulls and flowers are part of the same creation, and assumed they would be able to settle things together, the Holy See and the Dutch florists seem less sure of that. The flowers will be protected by kites looking like birds of prey and – only when there is no one in the square – lasers. This is similar to methods used at airports to keep landing strips clear of birds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of St. Peter’s, other Dutch flowers are blooming in the Vatican gardens. The tulip bulbs were a gift from King Willem Alexander during his state visit last June, and these have now produced white tulips, Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, Prince Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, reports:

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Photo credit: [1] St. Willibrord parish, [2] Prince Jaime

A cordial first – Dutch king and queen on state visit to the Holy See

While previous visits of Dutch royals to the Pope (and, once, vice versa) were usually perfectly cordial, yesterday saw the first official state visit of the King and Queen to the Pope. Perhaps the time of Dutch political unease with full-blooded Catholicism is now finally completely behind us.

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King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima spoke with Pope Francis for 35 minutes about, according to the Holy See press release,  “certain issues of shared interest, such as the protection of the environment and the fight against poverty, as well as […] the specific contribution of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in these fields.” Migration, peace and security were also discussed. The Holy Father also enquered after the couple’s three daughters. As a family, they had already visited him in April of last year.

Another topic, which may have been discussed in the subsequent meeting with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was the ongoing kidnapping of Dutch television presenter Derk Bolt and his driver in Colombia. Foreign Secretary Bert Koenders, who also takes part in the state visit to Italy and the Holy See, has been in constant communication with his staff in The Hague and the Colombian government, and the local Catholic Church has also been involved in negotiations to free the two men from rebel movement ELN. Bolt was working to find the biological parents of a woman who was adopted by a Dutch couple, and was kidnapped earlier this week near the border with Venezuela.*

Back in Rome, meanwhile, the meeting between the Pope and the royal couple was noted for its cordiality. Like Pope Francis, Queen Máxima hails from Argentina and thus the three conversed in Spanish. It was noted how the conversation continued for a few more minutes at the doors of the audience chamber, after the official conclusion of the meeting. Pope Francis gifted the king and queen with a medal depicting Saint Martin of Tours and copies of Laudato si’, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia, and his 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace, while he received white and yellow tulips for the Vatican gardens.

Before their private audience with the Pope, the king and queen visited the Church of the Frisians near St. Peter’s Square. There, they were received by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, rector of the Dutch national church in Rome.

Concluding the one-day state visit, the king and queen received a commander’s baton which is claimed to have belonged to William of Orange. Won by the Spanish in the Battle of Mookerheide in 1574, it now belongs to a Jesuit monastery in Spain. It is now on loan to the National Military Museum, where it will be displayed next year. Jesuit Superiro General, Fr. Arturo Sosa officially handed the baton to King Willem-Alexander in the Apostolic Library.

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Photo credit: ANP

  • Mr. Bolt and his driver were released on Friday the 23rd of June.

Christus vincit! An Easter wish

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As ever, while Lent sometimes seemed to creep by, the holy days of the Easter Triduum passed in a whirlwind of events, activities and emotions. From the intimacy and promise of the Last Supper, via the agony in the garden and the horror of the Lord’s Passion, all the way to the unimaginable wonder of the empty tomb.

“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”

What we thought was an ending, what we still too often think as a conclusion, is in fact the very opposite: Jesus is risen, and thus something new begins. We have not reached the end of a story, but began a completely new one.

The tomb is empty, Christ is not there. Let’s not linger where life ended, but go forward to the fullness of life, victorious over death.

A blessed Easter!

“The protection of life to give way to autonomy?” Cardinal Eijk responds to the next slide down the euthanasia slope

It has made headlines abroad as well as in the Netherlands, and it seems that the general response is a negative, amongst people of faith and of no faith alike. I am talking about the proposal presented by members of the cabinet to allow people who feel that their life is complete to be killed. This is a further slide down the slippery slope which began by the liberalisation of euthanasia in the Netherlands, a slope that proponents assured use would never exist. Recently, Cardinal Wim Eijk said in an address to the Canadian bishops that a door once left ajar will always open more. This proposal only proves his assertion.

Yesterday saw the response of the Dutch bishops to the proposal (better late than never, I suppose). once again written by Cardinal Eijk, who is to go-to bishop when it comes to questions of medical ethics. The response was published as an opinion piece in daily newspaper Trouw. Below follows my translation.

Kardinaal%20Eijk%202012%20kapel%20RGB%204%20klein“Last Wednesday the cabinet announced their intention to develop a new law in addition to the existing Euthanasia law to provide for assisted suicide for people who deem their life to be ‘complete’. It concerns situations in which suffering is considered hopeless and unbearable, not because of a medical reason, but because the person concerned no longer considers his life to have meaning after the loss of loved ones, loneliness, decreased mobility or the loss of personal dignity and who therefore have a persistent and active wish to die. The cabinet thinks in this matter mostly about elderly people, without, by the way, indication an age limit.

With this new law the cabinet wants to do justice to the autonomy of people. The duty to protect life is to give way for this autonomy in a number of situations in which life for the people involved no longer has any value. This reasoning, the basis of the new law, is fundamentally wrong.

Man’s autonomy is relative. His autonomy does not include having the disposal over his own life. The human body is not a secondary, but an essential dimension of the human person and shares in his essential dignity, which is never lost, even when the person involved believes that this is the case. Man as a whole, physically and mentally, is created after God’s image and likeness. God and those created in His image are always a goal in themselves and never merely the means to a goal. By ending life to end suffering the body and thus the human person is degraded to a means to remove suffering.

Man having the freedom to end his life, or have it ended, assumes that freedom is a greater value than life. Thatb is also true, but life is a fundamental condition in relation to freedom: without life there is no freedom. Ending human life is also the ending of human freedom.

The new law that the cabinet has in mind will in a certain sense increase the autonomy of people with a death wish, but this is then the external autonomy, which means in relation to factors which limit freedom from the outside (authority figures, laws and social pressure).

But is the same true for inner freedom? Real inner autonomy is the inner strength that enables man to make difficult but ethically correct choices by himself, without it being imposed on him. This is especially true for the choice to continue living. That inner strength is undoubtedly necessary when people physically experience the difficulties and limitations of old age.

Besides, the extension of the external freedom can also be debated. When elderly people have the option to relatively easily stop living and when this would become a trend, it is not unimaginable that they would feel pressured to then make use of the option. When one becomes an ‘expense’ for the health care system, one would almost feel guilty for continuing living regardless.

In short, the duty to protect life should not give way for the respect for autonomy.

+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk”