As the rumours go, another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst?

franz-peter tebartz-van elstRecently there has been some confusion about Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. The erstwhile bishop of Limburg is rumoured to have been working in Rome since December, keeping the house in Regensburg where he has been living since leaving Limburg. More accurately, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who was forced to resign from Limburg because of financial mismanagementm is said to be working as a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

The way rumours go, this story has been alternating between confirmation and denial of the above. Initially, the Frankfurter Algemeine newspaper quoted Pope Francis, who seemingly said that he wasn’t considering any Curial appointment for the German bishop. The Passauer Neue Presse later reported that “usually well-informed Vatican sources” had stated that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst had recently participated in a three-day meeting of the New Evangelisation Council, in which he spoke about catechesis. This was later also confirmed to German Catholic news outlet Kath.net.

These latest rumours do fit with the narrative as we know it: when Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation was confirmed by the Holy See, the official announcement already spoke of future appointments. But there are also some questions.

Usually, new appointments are announced via the Holy See press office, especially when it is an appointment to a Curial dicastery. And although the appointment is said to have been made on 5 December, no such announcement has yet been made.

A new appointment for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst should be no reason for indignation. Instead of doing nothing in his home in Regensburg, he is once again tasked to be of service to the Church. This is no promotion, but a direct consequence of his being a bishop. As such, he will likely also have been given a titular see, as is standard for bishops in the Curia. But nothing is known about that either.

We known nothing for certain, but we can’t deny the possibility of some truth behind the rumours. And if there is a grain of truth, it would constitute another strange chapter in the story of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.

EDIT 8/2: The latest word, which has an increasing undertone of certainty, is that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst will not be a secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation (which already has two of those), but a delegate or member with a special focus on catechesis. Such functions are not usually announced in the daily bulletins of the Holy See press office, which would explain the lack of any official word.

Ad limina Wednesday: general audience, Interreligious Dialogue and St. Paul

hurkmans audienceOn Wednesday, the traditional day of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, all bishops continued with meetings. All, except for Bishop Antoon Hurkmans (pictured at right, seated at centre and discoursing with an unidentified bishop), who attended the audience and once again met the Pope, this time to give him an icon on behalf of the Dutch faithful. The meeting may be briefly seen here, at the 55:30 mark, the very end of the general audience. Afterwards, Pope Francis blessed and venerated the icon of the Year of Faith, that Bishop Hurkmans had also brought and which he will bring with him back home. It will subsequently go on a  tour to various parishes.

The other bishops, in the mean time, were received at the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care to Health Care Workers, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Bishop Jan Hendriks, part of the group visiting the latter two dicasteries, shares some words about the relations with Muslims, that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran shared during the meeting at the Interreligious Dialogue office:

“…we need a strong Christian identity, which is open at the same. The three great starting points of the dialogue are:

  1. You must confess your faith clearly, without hiding anything: Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. Accept the other as being different.
  3. Accept that God is at work in every person.

Christians often have too little conviction, and that is problematic for the dialogue; Because of it Muslims often experience society as Godless and resist it. Conversation is often difficult: a meeting is often good and cordial, and afterwards they retreat anyway.”

20131204_ad_limina_tauran-xl^Bishops Mutsaerts, van den Hende, Hendriks, van Burgsteden, Cardinal Tauran, Bishops de Korte and Woorts

Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden also attended that meeting, and in his daily “diary entry” he writes:

“The Roman Catholic considers positively the true, good and beautiful which is found outside the Christian community. She considers, after all, truth, goodness and beauty to be the work of God’s Spirit. Hence the willingness to enter into dialogue with other religions. Which, by the way, does not lead to relativism. Because in addition to every respect for non-Christian religiousness, the Church continues to proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Mass on Wednesday was offered at the grave of Saint Paul, in the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls. Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam was the main celebrant and also gave the homily. All homilies during the ad limina are available at this page of the Church province’s website, but since Bishop Punt usually speaks from memory (as shown in the photo below), his text is not yet available. It is said he spoke about the topic of mission.

punt homily st. paul-outside-the-walls

Photo credit: [1] RKK – Christian van der Heijden, [2] Bishop Jan Hendriks, [3] Ramon Mangold

An ‘Extraordinary’ start of Francis’ new Synod

synodIt seems that the Synod of Bishops has become the first curial body to undergo Pope Francis’ expected and announced reforms. Following the appointment of its new General Secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri in September, Pope Francis fairly soon afterwards announced the first major assembly of the Synod: an Extraordinary General Assembly titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.

Scheduled to take place from 5 to 19 November of next year, the assembly is styled ‘extraordinary’ to signify the pressing urgency that Pope Francis attaches to the subject. Unlike the general assemblies, there will be no process of selecting participating clergy:  the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Churches, the heads of the Curia offices in Rome and three members of religious institutes are the designated participants by canon law. The participants from continental northwestern Europe will therefore be Wim Cardinal Eijk from the Netherlands, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard from Belgium, Bishop Anders Arborelius from Scandinavia, and whoever the future president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be.

Archbishop-Bruno-ForteToday, Pope Francis selected the Relator General and the Special Secretary for the Extraordinary Assembly, which is only the third such gathering since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965. The Relator General opens the assembly and gathers the conclusions and results for the final message and ultimately the Post-Synodal Exhortation that Pope Francis will write. This task will be performed by Péter Cardinal Erdö, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The Special Secretary, who records the proceedings of the Synod, is Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (pictured) of Chieti-Vasto. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

With the next assembly on the horizon we are still expecting the final act of the previous one. The Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith closed in October of last year and the assumption then was that Pope Benedict XVI would publish its Post-Synodal Exhortation some time in 2014. Now that he has retired, and Pope Francis has begun his papacy, it will be the latter’s task to publish it. In June, he told the General Secretariat of the Synod that he would be writing much of the document in August and that it would be ready for publication before the end of the Year of Faith, on 24 November of this year.

“It is time to throw open wide the doors”- Abp. Fisichella on the new evangelisation

Just before the weekend, Archbishop Salvatore ‘Rino’ Fisichella delivered the closing remarks at Proclaim 2012, a three-day conference hosted by the bishops of Australia in Sydney. The text, which is available in my Dutch translation here, is not only full of enticing sound bytes, but also serves as an excellent primer for the upcoming Year of Faith and the new evangelisation. Not coincidentally, Archbishop Fisichella runs the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

There are several focal points in the talk, but the first, and most important one, is Jesus Christ being at the heart of the new evangelisation. His resurrection, and our proclamation of it, are what the whole thing is about.

“[W]e are called to renew the proclamation of Jesus Christ, of the mystery of his death and resurrection to stimulate people once more to have faith in him by means of conversion of life. If our eyes were still capable of seeing into the depths of the events which mark the lives of our contemporaries, it would be easy to show how much this message still holds a place of special importance. Therefore, we need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people’s existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith.”

Without divulging the entire contents of the text which you should just go and read for yourself, there is one remark which can be a good suggestion for catechesis:

“Central to the Year of Faith will be a focus upon the Profession of Faith. This will serve to return the Profession of Faith to its prominent place as the daily prayer of every Christian. To facilitate this, we have produced an edition of the Nicene Creed, which is the most familiar symbol to Christians due to its frequent usage within the context of Sunday Mass.”

The Creed, or Profession of Faith, is something we profess in every Mass we attend. But, as with all things we hear and say often, there is a risk of it losing its impact and meaning for us. Let’s dive into the Creed and analyse it step by step, line by line, word by word even, if need be. Just a suggestion for the Year of Faith.

The ship of the Church, headed towards new lands

Introducing the logo of the Year of Faith, as presented today by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.


The ship of the Church sets sail using the Cross of Christ for a mast and the sails formed out of the the letters IHC, meaning “In hoc signo” – “In this sign”, the trigram of Christ’s name.  The sun in the background, together with the trigram, refers to the Eucharist.

Together with the logo, a new website was also launched, which promises to offer all sorts of information on the Year of Faith.

Archbishop Fisichella’s address for the occasion is not yet available in English, but as soon as it is, you will find it here.

New jobs for new cardinals

In the run-up to the previous consistory, we’ve heard often that one of the duties of cardinals is to aid the pope in all manner of Church-related affairs. Exactly how that takes shape became clear yesterday, as the new cardinals have been appointed to seats on various congregations, tribunals, councils and committees. Here follows a list of the dicasteries and the new cardinals that were assigned to them.

  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Cardinals Alencherry, Filoni and Coccopalmerio
  • Congregation for the Oriental Churches: Cardinals Alencherry, Dolan, Muresan, Filoni and O’Brien
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: Cardinals Monteiro de Castro and Abril y Castelló
  • Congregation for Bishops: Cardinals Monteiro de Castro, Abril y Castelló, Bertello and Versaldi
  • Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples: Cardinals Tong Hon, Abril y Castelló, Bertello and Calcagno
  • Congregation for the Clergy: Cardinals Eijk and Braz de Aviz
  • Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Cardinals Duka and Versaldi
  • Congregation for Education: Cardinals Collins, Eijk, Betori, Woelki, Filoni, Braz de Aviz and O’Brien
  • Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura: Cardinals Coccopalmerio and Versaldi
  • Pontifical Council for the Laity: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: Cardinals Woelki and Coccopalmerio
  • Pontifical Council for the Family: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: Cardinals Duka and Bertello
  • Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”: Cardinal O’Brien
  • Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People: Cardinal Monteiro de Castro
  • Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers: Cardinal Calcagno
  • Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: Cardinal Tong Hon
  • Pontifical Council for Culture: Cardinal Betori
  • Pontifical Council for Social Communications: Cardinals Collins and Dolan
  • Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation: Cardinal Dolan
  • Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses: Cardinal Braz de Aviz
Both new to the Congregation for Education: Cardinals Thomas Collins and Wim Eijk

All the Church’s cardinals under the age of 80 (and some over 80) have one or more functions within the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. This is in addition to their regular duties as diocesan bishops or curial prelates. In practice it means that they’ll have to be in Rome a bit more often than before.

Our own Cardinal Eijk has been appointed to the Congregations for Clergy (responsible for all secular priests and deacons) and Education (seminaries and Catholic schools). He will than be in Rome for up to four times a year, as these dicasteries meet. Cardinal Eijk will not be needed in Rome for the day-to-day affairs of the Congregations and, even then, he will of course be able to do a significant amount of work from Utrecht.

These appointments form one of two steps that fully integrate new cardinals into the curia. The other step is the official taking possession of their title churches. This can take some time, sometimes up to a year after the consistory in which a cardinal was created.  Of the latest batch, only Cardinals Filoni and Grech have done so. Cardinals Becker, Monteiro de Castro and Tong Hon will take possession of their churches today, and Cardinal Coccopalmerio will follow on Thursday. The dates for the other cardinals are not yet known.

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

A four-day carrousel begins tomorrow

While Saturday is certainly the big day, the ‘Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals’ is in actuality a four-day event starting tomorrow morning. As a prelude to the creation of the new princes of the Church, the Holy Father has invited them, and the entire College of Cardinals, to spend the day in reflection and prayer. And the topic of that reflection and prayer will be the new evangelisation. The website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht informs us that Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, will be looking ahead to the Year of Faith as part of the day’s main subject.

The new design of the ring that the new cardinals will receive

Red Saturday will start at 10:30 Roman time with the liturgical celebration during which the new cardinals will receive their zucchetto, biretta, cardinal’s ring and the bull by which they’ll be assigned a title church or deaconry. In the afternoon, the new cardinals will be receiving well-wishers at various locations, with Cardinal Eijk being given a spot in the Paul VI Hall.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will be concelebrating a Mass with the new cardinals, starting at 9:30. On behalf of the new cardinals, Cardinal Filoni will address the pope.

On Monday, then, the pope will once more meet with the new cardinals to address them and their families, friends and other pilgrims.

The texts of the various addresses and homilies will be available in due time on the Vatican website.

In the Netherlands, the consistory and the Sunday Mass may be watched live via the homepage of the RKK.

Lastly, then, one can only guess at what must be going through the head of Archbishop Eijk as he is no doubt in Rome by now. Whatever thoughts and feelings he may have, they are sure to be tempered by a touch of Dutch level-headedness, as indicated by his reply to a reporter asking about his chances of becoming pope:

“The chance of that is by now less than one percent, what with an increasing number of cardinals from new Church provinces. But well, let’s first become cardinal and then we’ll see.”