Guardian of unity – the papacy in Bishop Wiertz’s Lent message

In his message for Lent, which was read out in parishes in the Diocese of Roermond last weekend, Bishop Frans Wiertz discusses the importance of the papacy. It is a guardian of the unity of our Church, and as such it, and especially the way that Pope Francis fulfills his Petrine ministry, should serve as an example for the unity in our families, despite differing opinions and even arguments.

aa%20Staatsiefoto%20Mgr_%20Wiertz%201_06KLEIN“Brothers and sisters,

We often keep family photos on the walls of our living rooms. They are a sign of a close mutual bond. In churches and homes with a definitive Catholic identity a portrait of the Pope may often be found. As a sign of our close unity with him and, through him, with the inclusive “family bond” that we call Church.

Despite the solidarity in our families there are often tensions. As many opinions as there are people. Sometimes there are differences of opinion, various ideas, also abut very important matters. Mutual cohesion is sometimes at risk.

It is no different in the faith community of the Church. We still recall how much damage the polarisation of several decades ago has done to the Church’s credibility. The Church’s unity is one of the indispensable characteristics of the Church as intended by Jesus. Everything that detracts from that is a shame.

That is why the papacy, recently also often called the Petrine office, has such an important place in our Catholic faith community. To the Apostle Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, the Lord entrusted the task to watch over that unity. The Pope performs this duty in communion with the local bishops.

Peter was the first to officially make a confession of faith. He said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. He did not do so on his own, but out of the mercy of God. And Jesus answered him, “It was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 16:16-17). This confession has become the foundation – the rock – on which the Church of Christ has been built.

This witness of Peter and his successors became the guarantee of a reliable body of faith. Through the ages until today. This can be emphasised once more, also in our own time: the Petrine office within the Church is the guardian of unity in doctrine and life. It is the touchstone on which the Church community can always reassess her truth and truthfulness.

We can be grateful for the Popes who in recent times have gone ahead of us as holy shepherds in the faith. Especially through the road map of the Second Vatican Council, they have piloted the ship of the Church on the right course; sometimes in tumultuous and stormy times. We can be especially thank God for the, in every way exemplary, shepherd which He has given us in Pope Francis.

We are living in a turning point of time. Distances and borders are disappearing because of globalisation. In all, especially technological, progress we can not be blind to the shadow sides of this new development. It seems as all material wealth is accompanied by a great spiritual emptiness and indiffirence. The process of secularisation continues and challenges us, as faith community, to a renewed evangelisation.

Amidst this difficult situation the words and actions of Pope Francis remain an example. Within the Church and far beyond it. Tirelessly the Pope proclaims his message of the merciful love of God day after day; in simple words which touch the hearts of people and which are drawn, without many detours, directly from the source of our faith itself: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A proclamation which answers questions and problems of modern man; including with the teachings of the Church, especially her moral teachings.

Pope Francis avoids no question. He seeks an answers in the direct relationship with people in need, with the poor, where the Gospel of God’s  mercy is the first criterium. For that purpose, he goes unbeaten paths.

Not everyone in the Church is familiar with this approach. But Francis, the guardian of unity, continues his efforts to reform the Church. He looks for ways to achieve unity between the teaching that has been passed down and modern life. A difficult task, as he needs to take divergent religious and moral opinions in different cultures into account.

What matters in our families is not to avoid our questions, but – despite differences of opinion – to maintain the bond of solidarity. It is no different in the family that is the Church. Pope Francis guarantees unity.

In this Lent in the Holy Year of Mercy I ask your special prayer for Pope Francis. That he may continue leading our church with strength and wisdom; and that we – led by him as our shepherd – may follow, with conviction and of one mind.

+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

Pope Adrian VI comes home

Almost a year ago, I wrote about plans to erect a statue for the only Dutch Pope, Adrian VI, in the city where he was born: Utrecht. Out of 60 proposals, the design by Anno Dijkstra was chosen unanimously. It depicts the Pope, who held the see of Saint Peter for less than two years, as a simple pilgrim, wearing a cap and staff. The roughly life-sized bronze statue stands in front of the ‘Paushuize’, the house that Adrian had built for his retirement which never came.

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Pope Adrian VI is depicted according the simple life style he maintained while in Rome. In many ways, Adrian was not unlike our current Pope Francis: wary of luxury and aware of the pressing need for reforms in the Curia and the Church. Unlike Francis, Adrian was never popular among the Romans, who considered his frugality and reform-mindedness was too excessive. The Dutch Pope never had the chance to accomplish his desired reforms, passing away eighteen months after his election.

The statue, testimony to an unknown part of Dutch history, was revealed by the mayor of Utrecht. Also present, I have since found out, were Cardinal Wim Eijk and Bishop Herman Woorts. It is good to have an official representation of the Church at such an event: Adrian VI was a son of Utrecht, but also a Pope of the Catholic Church.

Photo credit: RTV Utrecht

At St. John Lateran, the real Ad Limina

The feast day of the dedication of the basilica of St. John Lateran is already a week ago, but on the occasion of their Ad Limina visit, the German bishops celebrated Mass at the papal basilica yesterday, and Archbishop Ludwig Schick gave the homily, in which he emphasised the significance of this particular church.

Here is my translation.

archbishop ludwig schick“Dear brothers!

It is not an obligatory part of the program of an Ad Limina visit to visit the Lateran basilica and celebrate Holy Mass here. But it makes a lot of sense to make a pilgrimage to this place, to give the Ad Limina visit its actual meaning and enrich the purpose of it. In the end it is about uniting ourselves closer to Christ, the saviour of the world. Here in the Lateran basilica this can be sensed and achieved most profoundly.

Why and how?

In the ciborium over the main altar of the Lateran basilica the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul are venerated. Ad Limina Apostolorum – here at the Lateran we find them both. Here, like nowhere else, they both point towards Him for whom they gave their lives – towards Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. Here Saint Paul reminds us, “Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would be a positive gain” (Phil. 1:21). And Peter invites us to confess with and like him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). We come to the limina – the thresholds – of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and they lead us to Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, “the bishop and shepherd of our souls”. Christ is what the Church is about. He is the heart.

This church is consecrated to the Saviour, and is called “mater et caput omnium ecclesiarum urbis et orbis“. All churches, the buildings and the local churches are to service the saviour. This Ad Limina visit intends to renew us in the conviction and duty of serving Christ, HIM and His Kingdom of justice, of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (cf. Letter to the Romans).

Here at the Lateran we also symbolically meet the Pope, sign and instrument of unity. The original papal see is here. The most important task of the Pope to maintain the unity of the Church is to root that unity in Jesus Christ and serve HIM in unity. In this respect I recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI from the Encyclical Deus caritas est, words that have become proverbial and which have often been quoted by Pope Francis: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

saint john lateran

Today we celebrate a German mystic: Gertrud of Helfta. With Saint Mechthild of Hakeborn and Saint Mechthild of Magdeburg she is one of the great holy women of the Church. Her mysticism was directed at Christ, concretely the Heart of Jesus. Christ became man, the “Saviour of man”, not to atone for the debt of sin (satisfaction theory of atonement), but to re-establish the bond of love between people and God. In the bond of love with God in Jesus Christ, man turns to his neighbours, especially the poor and needy!

Dear brothers!

Ad limina apostolorum! To come, with the Apostles, to Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Ad limina apostolorum! To understand with them the Church, which is built on the foundation of the Apostles, which is much more than an institution, the Body of Christ, People of God, House that provides, promotes and guarantees communion with God and each other.

Ad limina apostolorum! To serve the people of God with them and like them, to proclaim and advance the Kingdom of God with a new zeal.”

In Utrecht, a statue for a Pope

Pope Adrian VIAlmost 500 years after his death, the only Dutch Pope will be getting a statue in his native city of Utrecht. Out of an initial sixty, three sculptors will be invited to make a design that will eventually be turned into a full scale statue. As a possible location the Pausdam in the old centre of the city is being considered, although the sculptor will have a say in that.

Pope Adrian VI was Pope for less than two years, in 1522 and 1523. Although he was born in Utrecht, there is some debate about whether he can be considered a Dutchman. The city was the heart of the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, part of the Burgundian Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire. There was no sovereign Dutch state to speak of at the time, so Adrian VI can also be considered a German Pope. Whatever his nationality, he was the last non-Italian Pope until Pope St. John Paul II.

Before becoming Pope. Adriaan Florensz, as his birth name was, worked his way up in the world. Vice-chancellor of Louvain University, personal advisor to the governess of the Habsburg Netherlands, tutor to the future Emperor Charles V. Heading to Spain in 1515, he was made Bishop of Tortosa  and Inquisitor General of Aragon in 1516. He was created a cardinal in 1517. During Emperor Charles’ minority, Cardinal Adriaan was co-regent of Spain, and regent when the adult Charles was in the Netherlands in 1520.

In 1522, Adriaan was elected to the papacy as a compromise to break the deadlock between Spanish and French candidates. The new Pope arrived in Rome in August of 1522, more than seven months after his election. Wanting to be a peacemaker  to unity the European princes against the Turks, Pope Adrian VI is perhaps most notable today for seeing the need to reform the Curia, which he privately considered part of the reason for the Protestant revolt. He died in September 1523 and is buried in the Santa Maria dell’Anima church in Rome.

paushuizeIn Utrecht there are few reminders of Pope Adrian, but most visible is the house he had built there for his retirement when he was still a cardinal. Of course, he never lived there because of his election to the papacy. The house is used today as a presentation space for the King’s  Commissioner and the provincial government. In 1985, Pope St. John Paul II visited the house.

A statue commemorating the only pontiff to hail from what would one day become the Netherlands would certainly be a fitting addition to the city where he was born. A further valuable addition would be a renewed recognition of the role Pope Adrian VI played in Europe and in the Church.

The talk not given – Pope Francis to the bishops

First, now that all bishops have arrived in Rome, the group shot:

bishops st. peter's  square

As is typical of Pope Francis, the Dutch bishops were not treated to his prepared speech, but to a 90-minute heart-to-heart. This audience, which for the Holy Father was preceded by a meeting with the Israëli prime minister, and for the bishops by one with Archbishop Beniamino Stella, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (of which Cardinal Eijk is a member), was widely anticipated by the bishops, and that anticipation was justified, considering their reactions afterwards (more on that in a later post).

While Pope Francis chose not to give his talk, he did hand the text out to the bishops at the end of their meeting. I present it below in English:

Dear brothers in the episcopate,

In these days in which you are making your ad limina visit, I greet each of you with affection in the Lord, and assure you of my prayers, so that this pilgrimage may be full of mercy and fruitful for the Church in the Netherlands. Thank you to the dear Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk for the words he addressed to me on behalf of you all!

Let me first express my gratitude for the service to Christ and the Gospel which you perform, often in difficult circumstances, for the people entrusted to you. It is not easy to maintain hope in the challenges that you are facing! The collegial exercise of your office of bishop, in union with the bishop of Rome, is necessary to grow in this hope, in true dialogue and effective cooperation. You are doing well to consider with confidence the signs of vitality which appear in the Christian communities in your dioceses. These are signs of the active presence of the Lord amid the men and women in your country, who expect authentic witnesses of the hope which gives life to us, the hope which comes from Christ.

With maternal patience the Church continues her efforts to answer to the needs of many men and women who, confronted with the future, experience anxiety and discouragement. With your priests, your co-workers, you want to be near to people who suffer from spiritual emptiness and who are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they do not always know how to express this. How else could you fraternally accompany them in this search, than by listening to them and share with them the hope, the joy and the means to go forward which Jesus Christ gives us?

That is why the Church wants the present the faith in an authentic, understandable and pastoral way. The Year of Faith was a good opportunity to show how much the content of faith can unite all people. Christian anthropology and the social teaching of the Church are part of the heritage of experience and humanity at the root of European civilisation, and they can help to reaffirm the primacy of man over technology and structures. And this presupposes openness to the transcendent. When the transcendent dimension is suppressed, a culture becomes impoverished when it should display the possibility of a constant and harmonious unity between faith and reason, truth and freedom. The Church, then, does not only offer unchanging moral truths and attitudes that go against the ways of the world, but offers them as keys to good human and social development. Christians have a special mission to answer this challenge. The formation of conscience becomes a priority, especially through the formation of the ability to judge critically, all with a positive approach to social truths, so that you avoid the superficiality of judgement and the withdrawing movement of indifference. So this requires that Catholics, priests, consecrated persons and laity, are offered a thorough and high quality education. I strongly encourage you to join forces to answer to this need and so enable a better proclamation of the Gospel. In this context the witness and dedication of lay people in the Church and society are important; they have an important role and should be strongly supported. All baptised Christians are invited to be disciples, missionaries, wherever they are!

I encourage you to also be present in public discourse in your society, heavily characterised by secularisation, in all fields where it is suitable for man to make Gods mercy and His grace for all creatures. In today’s world the Church has the task to repeat the words of Christ without ceasing: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:38). But let us ask ourselves: whom of those we meet, meets a Christian, sees something of Gods goodness, of the joy of having found Christ? As I have said often, the Church grows through an authentically experienced episcopate, not through proselytising, but through attraction. She is being sent all over the world to shake up, shake up and maintain hope! Hence the importance of encouraging your people to grab the chances for dialogue, by being present in the places where the future is decided; where they can contribute to the debates about the great social crises concerning, for example, family, marriage and the end of life. Today more than ever we feel the need to go forward on the way of ecumenism and to invite to a true dialogue seeking the elements of truth and goodness, giving answers inspired by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit encourages us to go beyond ourselves and towards others!

In a country that is rich in so many ways, poverty affects a growing number of people. Increase the generosity of the faithful to bring the light and grace of Christ to the places where people are waiting and especially to those most marginalised! The Catholic school, offering young people a decent education, will continue to promote their human and spiritual formation in a spirit of dialogue and companionship with those who do not share their faith. It is important, therefore, that young Christians receive quality catechesis which maintains their faith and brings them to an encounter with Christ. Sound education and an open mind! That is how the Good News continues to be spread.

You know very well that the future and vitality of the Church in the Netherlands depends also on the vocations to the priesthood and religious life! It is urgently needed that an attractive vocations ministry be set up, and the road towards human and spiritual maturity of seminarians be guided, so that they can experience a personal relationship with the Lord which is the foundation of their priestly life! Let us also feel the urgency to pray to the Lord of the harvest! The rediscovery of prayer in many forms, and especially in Eucharistic adoration, is a source of hope for the Church to grow and take root. How important and essential it is that you are close to your priests, available to support them and lead them when they need it! Like fathers, take the time to welcome them and listen to them when they ask for it. And also do not forget to find those among them who do not come; some of them have sadly forgotten their obligations. In a  very special way, I want to express my sympathy and assurance of my prayer to everyone who is a victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue supporting them on their painful road to healing, which they are travelling bravely. Be considerate in responding to the desire of Christ, the Good Shepherd, have the intention to protect and increase the love for the neighbour and the unity, in everything and among everyone.

Lastly, I want to thank you for the signs of vitality with the Lord has blessed the Church in the Netherlands, in that context which is not always easy. May He encourage and strengthen you in your delicate work of leading your communities on the road of faith and unity, truth and love. Be assured that the priests, religious and laity are under the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. I gladly impart to you my Apostolic Blessing as a sign of peace and spiritual joy, and ask you in fraternity not to forget to pray for me!

Catholic TV station RKK supplies the following footage of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis, Cardinal Eijk’s address, and the end of the meeting.

Photo credit: Bisdom Roermond on Facebook

A rebellion developing in Germany?

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

Hot topic, or how the Church does, in fact, not promote violence

andrée van esAt a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.

“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.

Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.

To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.

However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.

That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.

The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.

All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.

When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed

“the attempts made in the statement on human  rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General  Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against  homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an  end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].

In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:

“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].

Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.

Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam