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On Saturday Pope Francis appointed Dutch Msgr. Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan. A high-profile appointment, certainly for a Dutch priest. Msgr. Bert van Megen is a priest of the Diocese of Roermond, and that diocese’s Bishop Frans Wiertz considers the appointment “a great honour.” As Nuncio, he will be similar to a country’s ambassador in another country, maintaining contact with the government and also with the local Church.
Archbishop-elect van Megen was born in 1961 in the town of Eygelshoven and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, after studying at the diocesan seminary Rolduc, which produced more than one other bishop. After his ordination, Father van Megen was stationed in parishes in Nieuweinde and Schaesberg, both in the Diocese of Roermond. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service and subsequently worked at Nunciatures in Sudan, Brazil, Slovakia, Israel, the United Nations and most recently in Malawi, where he was chargé d’affaires.
Archbishop-elect van Megen joins a very select club, as he is only the fourth Dutch prelate to represent the Holy See at the highest level in a given country. The other members of this club are Archbishop Bernhard Gijlswijk (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1922 to 1944), Archbishop Adriaan Smets (Apostolic Delegate to Persia from 1922 to 1930) and Archbishop Martin Lucas (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1945-1952, Apostolic Internuncio to India from 1952 to 1959 and Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia from 1959-1961). There are currently two other Dutch-born bishops active abroad: Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, and Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane. In addition, six more are retired.
The Apostolic Nunciature to Sudan was established in 1972 and seven archbishops have preceded Msgr. van Megen there. The most recent was Archbishop Leo Boccardi, who was transferred to Iran in July of last year. Previous Nuncios to Sudan also represented the Holy See in other parts of Africa at the same time, specifically Eritrea and Somalia. While Somalia currently has a Nuncio assigned, Eritrea has not, so Msgr. van Megen may eventually also be assigned to that country.
The Catholic Church in Sudan is covered by two circumscriptions; the Archdiocese of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The archbishop of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako is 73, so Msgr. van Megen will very likely be involved in the appointment of his successor.
About 5% of the population of Sudan is Catholic, mainly in the south and in Khartoum. Officially there is freedom of religion, but socially there is a strong pressure against conversion from Islam to Christianity. The violence and civil war that has affected the country in recent years makes for an interesting first posting for a new Nuncio.
Msgr. van Megen will probably be consecrated soon after Easter, but the location is not yet known, although Rome seems likely. If so, Pope Francis or Cardinal Parolin may well perform the consecration. But Mgr. van Megen has also said that he hopes that the ceremony will take place in the Netherlands. In that case I can imagine that Bishop Wiertz will consecrate him. As archbishop, Msgr. van Megen will hold the titular see of Novaliciana, located in modern Algeria. Previous holders of this see were, for example, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain from 2004 to 2010, and Cardinal Achille Silvestrini when he was Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1979 to 1988
Former Dutch parliamentarian Boris Dittrich (pictured) has been treating several media outlets to the story of his visit to the Vatican and his conversation with Archbishop Müller. There are some serious problems with his comments, which I will try to address by fisking this article, which was written by Frans Wijnands and was published today on “meeting place for Christians” Het Goede Leven (all bold text in between square brackets are my comments):
The Pope does not decide the doctrine of the Church, says Archbishop Müller
Under the current Pope Francis there is no relaxation imaginable in the Church’s strictly dismissive opinion on homosexuality. So states the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is not the Pope who decides the doctrine, the dogmas of the Church [well, in the case of dogmas, it is]. Concerning doctrine, that is a matter for the Curia. That is the response that Dutch former (Liberal Democrat] politician Boris Dittrich received from Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when Dittrich suggested out loud that the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards homosexuals could change in a positive way under Pope Francis.
Dittrich was in Rome and the Vatican these past days on behalf of Human Rights Watch, a worldwide human rights organisation which, among others, strives for equal rights for homosexuals [including the right to change truth, it would seem]. Dittrich is its director for ‘rights of sexual minorities’.
Earlier he had explained the position of Human Rights Watch in a more or less open letter of twelve pages [talk about losing the point in words, perhaps?] With the letter, Human Rights Watch encouraged Pope Francis last month to denounce violence towards and discrimination against homosexuals and transsexuals, and to stand up to priests and other workers in the Church who support violence against and discrimination of sexual minorities [Because no Pope has done that before. I'll just share this link again; in it I quote some sources which state exactly what Dittrich wants].
Dittrich travelled to Rome to personally explain the letter, but did not get to speak with the Pope [Did he think of making an appointment, or did he just assume the Holy Father would make time for him on the spot?]. The former D66 member of parliament was at the weekly audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and was able to hand the letter to an assistant when Francis’ car stopped near him.
He did get to speak with Msgr. Müller (pictured), the head of the most important Vatican Congregation, that of the Doctrine of the Faith. Dittrich told Müller that he attended an opening of a campaign for more rights for homosexuals in Rio de Janeiro in 2008 and there spoke extensively with the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires: Msgr. Bergoglio, the current Pope. He told Dittrich that he was or is [odd and suggestive use of words] opposed to gay marriage, but could imagine that an alternative was possible, for example the legal recognition of homosexual relations. [Where did we hear that before? Oh, right: here.] A sort of cohabitation contract [as it exists in the Netherlands for both same-sex and separate-sex couples].
Cold and Stiff
To Dittrich’s suggestion that under the current Pope a relaxation of the Church’s strictly dismissive position was imaginable, Müller’s reply was that the Pope does not make policy, but that that was a task for the Curia.
“The entire conversation was cold and stiff. Very detached. Not a single sign of thinking along or sympathy, “says Dittrich. “I senses a tension, a sort of self defense.” [Probably because some research will show that the teaching of the Church is not subject to the personal opinions of whoever, and that Pope Francis is indeed a son of the Church, as he said himself].
In Rome and among Vatican watchers it is known that the public actions of Francis are not received well be everyone in the highest governing body. The Pope has repeatedly shown that he makes his own decisions and does not rely too much on the Curia. [On the other hand, Archbishop Müller and other Curial prelates have been confirmed in their jobs after careful consideration, a sure sign that Pope Francis supports them in their work].
He recently appointed Msgr. Pietro Parolin as new Secretary of State, as successor of Cardinal Bertone. Dittrich assumes that this new Secretary of State will loyally execute the Pope’s policies [Of course he will]. “That obviously creates tensions with the Curia [really?] Because it could lead to the influence and power of that Curia decreasing”, Dittrich assumes. [Dittrich should do a little less assuming and some more researching. Pope Francis was given a specific mandate to reform the Curia by the cardinals who elected him. Among them many Curial cardinals. Pope Francis' intentions to reform the Curia are hardly secret].
Shortly before resigning, Pope Benedict XVI appointed his former student, friend and confidant, Msgr. Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [well, shortly... nine months, and it was a decision most likely far longer in the making], an office that Pope Benedict held himself for years before being elected Pope.
In the conversation [which took place where and how, I wonder? Did Dittrich meet the archbishop by chance or did he have an appointment?] with Boris Dittrich, Msgr. Müller also strongly attacked the role of the media. According to him, these are, in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, continuously out to hit the Vatican. [Well, many media outlets are, that's a fact. Whether it's wise to accuse all media of that, if the archbishop did, is the question]
I can’t help but consider Dittrich’s comments somewhat untrustworthy. He displays a lack of understanding about how the Church works and what she teaches, and a lack of preparation for his attempts to share a letter with the Pope. Add to that his clear liberal agenda, and we get an artificial image of a Curia opposed to their Pope, and image which simply is not supported by reality. It’s like what Archbishop Gänswein said when it was assumed that he and Pope Francis did not get along because he was Benedict’s man: ”All nonsense”.
Pope Francis has been encouraging a more pastoral approach to and treatment of homosexuals (and anyone else on the margins of our lives, for that matter) in the Church, but that is not the same thing as changing the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis has never indicated any willingness to change those. Those teachings are also not the product of policy makers, but have been given to us and continuously explained by the Church. To say that Pope and Curia are, or even can be, opposed to each other as if they were two politicians in parliament is a gross misrepresentation of reality.
Photo credit:  Sebastiaan ter Burg,  Catholic.org
The European Citizen’s Initiative “One of Us“, which aims to collect 1 million signatures to block the financing of activities which require the destruction of human embryos, just reached its goal today.
With 1 million signatories from at least seven member states of the European Union, the Initiative organisers will now be heard by the European Commission and the European Parliament, before the Commission will formulate a response. The achieved goal is therefore not a guarantee that the EU will be taking steps to protect human life at all stages, but a chance for “One of Us” to be heard.
As part of the regulations for a European Citizen’s Initiative, a set number of signatures must be collected in every member state. This goal must be reached in seven states for the Initiative to be valid. “One of Us” reached that goal in Austria (almost 31,000 signatures), Germany (over 74,000), Spain (almost 62,000), France (almost 84,000), Hungary (almost 50,000), Italy (almost 360,000), Lithuania (over 9,000), the Netherlands (over 23,000), Poland (almost 160,000), Romania (almost 66,000) and Slovakia (almost 22,000). That’s 11 countries, while Portugal will most likely reach its goal in the next weeks.
”One of Us” has until 1 November to collect signatures and has stated the desire to collect 1,500,000 in total.
Haven’t signed yet? Do so here.
A force to be reckoned with for those with differing ideas, Juan Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez marks his 80th birthday today, leaving 113 electors in a College of Cardinals numbering 206.
The Mexican prelate was born as the oldest of 12 children (of whom nine survived into adulthood). As a 12-year-old, young Juan entered seminary in 1945 and eventually found himself in Rome. There, he was ordained a priest in 1957, and he also earned a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Returning to Mexico in 1961, Fr. Sandoval started a career at the seminary of Guadalajara, first as spiritual director, and later as teacher, prefect and eventually, in 1980, as rector. He also served as a member of the Presbyteral Council and Clergy commission of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.
In 1988, he was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of Ciudad Juárez, serving with Bishop Manuel Talamás Camandari, who retired in 1992. Bishop Sandoval then became ordinary until 1994, which means he spent more time in Ciudad Juárez as coadjutor than as ordinary.
In 1993, Archbishop Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara had been murdered in either a drug gang shootout or a politically motivated assassination, and Bishop Sandoval was appointed to succeed him. In the same year as this appointment, Archbishop Sandoval was created a cardinal, with the title church of Nostra Signora di Guadalupe e San Filippo Martire.
Cardinal Sandoval was no unknown in Rome, being appointed as Relator general of the Special Assembly on America of the Synod of Bishops in 1997, and President-delegate of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005.
In Mexico, Cardinal Sandoval often appeared on television, teaching the catechism on a national Catholic network. He also caused ripples in the political scene, being the subject of an investigation into alleged financial misdemeanors and being charged with defamation of character when he accused a politician of accepting money for supporting the pro-gay marriage agenda.
Cardinal Sandoval was rarely know for being subtle, ruffling the feathers of Protestants, women and homosexuals while pointing out serious problems relating to these groups. And sometimes he simply said things he shouldn’t have said.
Cardinal Sandoval was a member of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Although it had long been expected, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands today announced that she intends to abdicate in favour of her son, who will become King William Alexander, on 30 April. Her Majesty announced so herself in a prerecorded television broadcast. And with the new king, we will also get a new queen, and she is Catholic.
Princess Máxima hails from Catholic Argentina and still seems to be practising her faith. Although she will not be head of state, she will be the first Catholic monarch in the Netherlands, member of a royal house which rose to prominence in the fight against Spanish Catholic rulers.
In reality this will not mean a whole lot. As consort of the king, Queen Máxima has no political power, nor will there be any measures that need to be taken to satisfy constitutional demands. Those that did exist were tackled when the royal couple married in 2002.
The one question that remains is whether there will be a Catholic contribution to the investiture. Although Protestant, the royal family has for years had close personal contacts with former Catholic priest Huub Oosterhuis, who still sometimes pretends to be Catholic. But what religious form the investiture will take remains to be seen. We can, however, be sure that there will be protests at the mentioning of God in the oath that the king (“by the grace of God”) will be taking…
Photo credit: Erwin Olaf
If it weren’t for Blessed John Paul II, Józef Cardinal Glemp would have been the sole face of Polish Catholicism in the waning days of that country’s Communist regime. Yesterday he died at the age of 83.
Born in the Polish heartland in 1929, the life of young Józef was marked by war. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was employed as a slave labourer. Despite this, which undoubtedly marked his teenage years, he was able to continue his seminary education, culminating in an ordination to the priesthood in 1956. He belonged to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, although he initially worked in neighbouring Poznań. After two years, he was sent to Rome, to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. In 1964, Father Glemp earned his doctorate and also the title of Advocate of the Roman Rota. He also wrapped up studies in church administration, which no doubt prepared him for his future job.
Returning to Gniezno, Fr. Glemp took up work as chaplain to Dominican and Franciscan sisters and taught religion in a house for underage delinquents. He was also secretary of the Gniezno seminary, and had duties as notary for the Polish curia.
For fifteen years, starting in 1967, he was the secretary of Poland’s great wartime prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. This took Fr. Glemp to Rome and all over Poland and made him a familiar face among the Polish bishops. In 1972 he was made a Chaplain of His Holiness, conferring on him the title of Monsignor. In 1976, Msgr. Glemp became a canon of Gniezno’s metropolitan chapter.
In 1979, Msgr. Glemp became bishop of Warmia, but he wouldn’t stay there long. In 1981, his longtime mentor and collaborator, Cardinal Wyszynski, died. The cardinal was archbishop of both Gniezno and Warsaw, and Bishop Glemp succeeded him in both sees, in part as a reflection of their respective importance: Warsaw as Poland’s capital, and Gniezno as Poland’s primatial see. Archbishop Glemp therefore became Primate of Poland. This gave him the right to wear a cardinal’s red zucchetto, although he wasn’t a cardinal yet.
In 1983, Archbishop Glemp became Cardinal Glemp, with the title church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. I 1992, Pope John Paul II decided to dissolve the union “ad personam“ between Gniezno and Warsaw. Cardinal Glemp remained as archbishop of Warsaw alone, but he held the title of Primate until his 80th birthday in 2009. After that date, the title reverted to the archbishop of Gniezno.
Cardinal Glemp was president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference from 1981 to 2004, and was also ordinary of the Eastern-rite Catholics of Poland from 1981 to 2007. Following th sudden resignation of his successor in Warsaw, Archbishop Wielgus, Cardinal Glemp served as Apostolic Administrator of Warsaw for three months in 2007. Until his retirement, he was a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal Glemp’s time as archbishop was marked with few controversies, chief among this perceived anti-Semitism. He later regretted that he was perceived as such. In the Cold War years, he worked with future president Lech Walesa, and was a careful intermediary between Church and Communist leadership. He was not a violent man, and never supported violent opposition to the regime, stating that his duty was the preservation of the Church, not the overthrow of the government. Although he urged restraint from the faithful, he expected the same from the Communists.
Cardinal Józef Glemp passed away afer a battle with lung cancer. He leaves a strong Catholic identity in Poland, having successfully averted the tides of secularism in his time.
The College of Cardinals remains with 119 electors out of 210 members.
Because of its importance, remaining at the top of the blog for now: what the pope really said in his Christmas address to the Curia.
In the Dutch media today, the first reports came in that the pope didn’t actually say anything about homosexuals or gay marriage. This after gay rights association COC asked the government to take steps against the Holy See, a number of Catholics quite loudly announced they were now ‘de-baptised’ and some even suggested we should stop sending flowers to the Vatican for Easter…
Much damage has been done, not least in the hearts of people, faithful and others, who assumed they could take media reports seriously… Sadly this was not so, as preconceptions and agendas took precedence over factual reporting. As the issue remains current (strikingly enough, mostly in the Netherlands), this post will remain at the top of my blog, in order to easily access the text of Pope Benedict’s address.
Edit [3 January]: Although most of the initial debate and outrage has died down, it is clear that much ignorance about what the pope actually said, coupled with unawareness of the meaning of what he did say, still exists. In part, this is due to people, unavoidably, forming opinions which they have no reason to change, but a significant cause is also the failure of the Church herself to be clear or to clarify, or, if necessary, to protest strongly. I don’t think the Holy See should have come out with any fo the kind since the outrage is quite exclusive to the Netherlands. But the authorities within the Netherlands should have done more than a single five-line statement with links to the English text and the Dutch translation available at rkdocumenten.nl. While availability of the texts is important (hence my own translation linked above), it is not enough to explain and clarify the lies and faulty assumptions in media reports.
I found that many people still act surprised when informed that the media reports were, in fact, completely incorrect. A sure sign that not only we, as Catholic faithful, must enter into debate and conversation about these topics, but that the institutional Church as a whole should do likewise. I think the latter dropped the ball here.
A humpback whale stranded alive on an uninhabited island southwest of the Dutch island of Texel, earlier this week. Despite much effort, rescue workers were not able to return the beast to sea and it was eventually killed to end any further suffering.
The result? People suggesting there should be a silent march for the animal. Rescue workers being threatened with bodily harm for failing to succeed. A politician treating this as a national tragedy.
In the meantime, killing unborn children remains fully accepted. Few march for them or mentions them in parliament. Families remain in poverty, even in this country, and food banks keep struggling to provide them with basic necessities. Super markets, in the meantime, throw away tons of unsold produce every day. Elderly people can be killed with full support from government and populace. No one thinks to suggest this should not be so. Coffee shops selling marijuana can continue to set up shop near schools, where children increasingly smoke it in between classes. These same children become sexually active at younger and younger ages, since everything is allowed, after all… I could go on.
Whales dive deep for their food. Our society seems to be sinking equally deep, but there is no sustenance waiting there…