Another crisis? Thoughts on pope versus pope

There is an enormous crisis in the Catholic Church. Does it have to do with sexual abuse or something equally terrible? No, far worse. Pope Francis is being sneakily attacked by his predecessor. Obviously, the entire foundation of the Catholic Church is being rocked by this.

This, if more than a few Vatican watchers and commentators on social media are to be believed.

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422What happened? Today, the upcoming publication of a book was announced. A study of the priesthood amid the challenges of today, co-authored by Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Each contributing a chapter, both men underline the value of mandatory priestly celibacy and urge Pope Francis not to make it optional for priest in specific parts of the world. I won’t go into the theological reasoning here, as I don’t know enough about that to make a meaningful contribution. But that’s not the point of my blog post, really.

Much of the debate revolves around this fact, that the cardinal and pope emeritus have stated their thoughts about mandatory celibacy, and don’t think there should be exceptions. Critics of the book claim that that is contrary to what Pope Francis wants, and so this book must be an attack against him.

Upon his retirement, the pope emeritus said he wanted to spend the remainder of his life in prayer and solitude. Now that he has made a publication, his critics call him out for breaking his promise to remain hidden and quiet. But, the pope emeritus remains a private person with all his rights, and he is not bound by any law that should keep him quiet. He is free to state his thoughts, and this in itself should never be understood as an attack against anyone. To do so is dishonest and, to be fair, fantastical.

The problems that too many commentators have with the book, which is yet to be published, revolve around the idea that Pope Francis is open to relaxing the rules surrounding priestly celibacy. This contrary to his own statements that he is not. Rather, it was the (presumed) majority of synod fathers in the latest Synod of Bishops assembly on the Amazon, who pushed for the option that certain married men be ordained in areas where priests are largely absent. In his closing remarks, Pope Francis said nothing on the topic, and he is yet to issue any decisions on the matter

I found it striking that the vast majority of critical comments against the thoughts of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah seem to carry an undertone of imagined rivalry: good Pope Francis against sneaky Pope emeritus and cardinal. This despite the fact that the foreword to their book emphasis fidelity to Pope Francis, and nothing in past actions and publications presents any evidence to the contrary. Although to proponents of imagined rivalry it does.

In recent years an unhealthy development has taken place, strictly contrary to the synodality advocated by Pope Francis (whatever form that may ultimately take). Any real or imagined criticism against Pope Francis’ words, writings or actions must be automatically denounced and shut down, and the some goes for the persons doing the criticising. And often there is no criticism at all. Asking questions is not criticism, and neither is the deeper exploration of ideas and practices.

Pope Francis is the pope. He not only deserves our obedience, but we must also assume his good intentions. That’s normal. But that’s something different from frantically attacking anything that may possible be seen as an affront or critique. But that is what is happening. It does a disservice to both Pope Francis and to those who are forced into opposition against him by media and commentators who cling to a simplistic world view of good versus evil, conservative versus liberal. Pope Francis is neither, and nor is the pope emeritus or Cardinal Sarah. Reality is not black and white, and our faith and Church allows for different approaches, thoughts and ideas.

Agree or disagree with Pope Francis, or with the pope emeritus. Fine. But let’s do ourselves, our readers and the leaders of our Church the courtesy of taking them seriously.

Luxembourg in an international sea of red hats

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A joyful photograph reflecting the historical changes at the top of the Archdiocese of Luxembourg. Last week, Bishop Leo Wagener (left), became the archdiocese’s first auxiliary bishop, and yesterday Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich (right) was created the first cardinal in the country’s history.

Cardinal Hollerich, who also leads the Commision of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), consecrated Bishop Wagener on 29th September. The latter’s appointment is undoubtedly related to Cardinal Hollerich’s European duties, while the red hat is at least in part a sign of support for the Catholic community in the small grand duchy. The developments of the last week were certainly momentous.

As of yesterday, each country in the Benelux has its own resident cardinal: Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels and now Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg. The latter two were created by Pope Francis, while Cardinal Eijk’s red hat was given to him by Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Hollerich was one of 13 cardinals created yesterday. The College of Cardinals now has 225 members, of which 128 are under the age of 80 and will thus have duties in Rome and can take part in a conclave for the election of a new pope. The newest cardinals, with their title churches, are:

  1. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, Cardinal-Deacon of San Girolamo dela Carità
  2. José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Domenico e Sisto
  3. Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Cardinal-Priest of Spirito Santo alla Ferratella
  4. Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Aquila e Priscilla
  5. Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Cardinal-Priest of San Gabriele Arcangelo all’Acqua Traversa
  6. Jean-Claude Hollerich, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Crisostomo a Monte Sacro Alto
  7. Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Evangelista a Spinaceto
  8. Matteo Maria Zuppi, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Egidio
  9. Cristóbal López Romero, Cardinal-Priest of San Leone I
  10. Michael Czerny, Cardinal-Deacon of San Michele Arcangelo
  11. Michael Louis Fitzgerald, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria In Portico
  12. Sigitas Tamkevicius, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Angela Merici
  13. Eugenio Dal Corso, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Anastasia

In the past there has been no hesitation to create new cardinal titles despite the availability of existing ones, but this time around only one new title church has been added: Sant’Egidio for Cardinal Zuppi. A sensible choice as the cardinal is a member of the movement with the same name. Other notable titles given are Sant’Anastasia for Cardinal Dal Corso – until this year the title of Cardinal Godfried Danneels – and Santi Aquila e Priscilla – Cardinal García Rodríguez is the archbishop of Havana, and the previous holder of the title church was his predecessor in the Cuban capital. Cardinal Hollerich’s title church was most recently held by Cardinal José Pimiento de Rodriguez, for a while the oldest cardinal in the world.

Considering Pope Francis’ habit of choosing cardinals from the peripheries, from countries with small Catholic communities or on the fringes of global affairs, the list of nationalities of cardinals has become a lenghty one. Most cardinals are the only ones from their country, while others have a fair number of countrymen in the College of Cardinals. Starting with the countries with the largest number of cardinals, the list is as follows:

  • Italy: 42 cardinals
  • Spain, United States: 14
  • Brazil: 10
  • Germany: 8
  • France, Mexico, Poland: 6
  • Portugal: 5
  • Argentina, Canada, India: 4
  • Chile, Nigeria, Philippines: 3
  • Angola, Australia, Colombia, Congo-Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Vietnam: 2
  • Albania, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Tonga, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay: 1

So the Italian influence in the College of Cardinals is still great as is that of Europe in general, but this is balanced in the first place by the cardinals from North and South America, but also by the increasing number of far-flung countries from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Pope Francis aims to make the College of Cardinals, which not only elects his successor, but also works with him in the Roman Curia for the global church, to be a reflection of that world. With today’s consistory, he has taken another step in that direction.

Photo credit: Église catholique à Luxembourg – Kathoulesch Kierch zu Lëtzebuerg

Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

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Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

On the death of the world’s oldest cardinal, two days in a row

Over the past two days, the Church lost it’s oldest cardinal. Twice.

web3-carcianl-pimiento-rodriguez-colombia-cec.org_.co_Tuesday saw the passing of Cardinal José de Jesús Pimiento Rodríguez. The 100-year-old Colombian prelate was the emeritus archbishop of Manizales and was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015. In a telegram to the current archbishop of Manizales, Pope Francis recalled Cardinal Pimiento’s work for peace and the common good.

etchegarrayUpon Cardinal Pimiento’s death, the title of oldest cardinal fell to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, only for him to pass on that title the next day. The 96-year-old French cardinal-bishop served as archbishop of Marseille before taking on duties in Rome, heading the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and “Cor Unum”. Even after retiring he was an active advocate for peace in the world, as recalled by Pope Francis in a second telegram. Cardinal Etchegaray was created a cardinal in 1979 and appointed to the highest rank of cardinal-bishop in 1998, with the title of Porto-Santa Rufina.

The oldest living cardinal is now Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, also 96, but the late Cardinal Etchegaray’s junior by almost a year. Cardinal Vanhoye, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, was the rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Although there are no centenarians in the College of Cardinals, no less than 23 cardinals are in their 90s. Clearly a job in which one has a fair chance of growing old.

Photo credit: [1] Cec.org.co, [2] Diocese de Bayonne

Strengthened in concern – Cardinal Woelki’s visit to the USA

Returning once again to Cardinal Woelki’s summer holiday visit to the United States, the Kirchenzeitung of the Archdiocese of Cologne shares an interview with the cardinal looking back on said trip. Next to relating about friendly visits with American prelates and religious communities and finding inspiration for Church life back home, the cardinal also speaks about how the Church in Germany is seen abroad. This especially in light of the independent approach to perceived liberties allowed under the current papacy.

Cardinal Woelki says:

Kardinal_Woelki_-_Weg_zum_und_Mittagsgebet_im_Kölner_Dom-3210“I was surprised by how closely my conversation partners are following the situation of the Church in Europe and especially in Germany. Everywhere I was struck with the concern about current developments in Germany. A noticeable concern in many encounters was that the “synodal path” is taking us on a specifically German path, that, at worst, we are putting the communion with the universal Church at risk and are so becoming a German national church. That is not something that anyone should want, and we should take that warning very seriously. Many of my conversation partners expressed their disbelief that in Germany we appear to be willing to change the deposit of faith entrusted to us, just because this is loudly demanded of us. The fear that this could lead to a split in the universal Church, or even a split in the German Church, was openly expressed. Of course the dioceses in America are also not immune to the questions which concern us. But I am under the impression that there they are providing answers based on the faith of the universal Church, and not in the form of independent national action or some form of theological overconfidence.”

Cardinal Woelki has, of course, been one of the German bishops most critical of the synodal path promoted by his brethren. His visit to the USA strenghtened him in that.

“I feel supported in my position. I believe that the path which is currently being sought in Germany contains grave dangers – especially the risk of a split in the German church. In his letter the Pope has clearly urged us to maintain the “Sensus Ecclesiae“, the “sense of faith of the Church” and remain in communion with the universal Church and the faith of the Church. I return home encouraged and have sensed on this journey, in a very concrete way, what it means to belong to the Catholic world Church. This unity acriss all national boundaries is very valuable, especially for us Germans. We should hold fast to that.”

Topping up – new cardinals announced for October

Pope Francis yesterday surprisingly announced that he will create 13 new cardinals on 5 October. Surprisingly, because the numbers do not really suggest the ned for a consistory at this time. There are currently 118 electors, cardinals who are active in the Roman Curia and who can vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope, with only 8 aging out between now and the end of 2020. It is clear, however, that Pope Francis prefers having too many rather than too few cardinals, and so habitually ignores the rule that there can only be a maximum of 120 electors (he’s not the only Pope to have done so, however: Pope St. John Paul II once expanded their number to a massive 135).

And, as ever, he also aims for a representative College of Cardinals. In this round, he selects prelates from Luxembourg and Morocco, countries which have never had a cardinal before, but also more traditional cardinalatial sees such as Bologna, Havana and Kinshasa.

And again we see the fallout of recent papal visits abroad. Hence cardinals from Lithuania (visited in September of 2018) and Morocco (March 2019).

After 5 October, there will be 215 cardinals, with 128 electors. Two days later, the latter number will drop again, as Cardinal-designate Ambongo Besungu’s predecessor in Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, reaches the age of 80.

Below a list of the new cardinals:

  • Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot (67, Spain)
    • President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Prefect of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.
  • José Tolentino Medonça (53, Portugal)
    • Librarian of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives.
  • Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo (69, Indonesia)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Jakarta, Military Ordinary of Indonesia and President of the Episcopal Conference of Indonesia
  • Juan de la Caridad  Garciá Rodríguez (71, Cuba)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of La Habana
  • Fridolin Ambongo Besungu (59, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Kinshasa and Vice-President of the National Episcopal Conference of CongoHollerich-Comece-klein-kna-800x450
  • Jean-Claude Hollerich (60, Luxembourg) (pictured above)
    • Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community
  • Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri (72, Guatemala)
    • Bishop of Huehuetenango
  • Matteo Zuppi (63, Italy) zuppi(pictured at left giving a homily at the Church of the Frisians in Rome in 2015)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Bologna
  • Cristóbal López Romero (67, Morocco)
    • Archbishop of Rabat
  • Michael Czerny (73, Canada)
    • Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
  • Michael Louis Fitzgerald (82, United Kingdom)
    • Apostolic Nuncio emeritus to Egypt and Delegate emeritus to the League of Arab States
  • Sigitas Tamkevicius (80, Lithuania)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop emeritus of Kaunas
  • Eugenio Dal Corso (80, Angola)
    • Bishop emeritus of Benguela

Of these, cardinals-designate Fitzgerald, Tamkevicius and Dal Corso, being 80 or older, are ineligible to participate in a conclave. Their selection must therefore be seen as a recognition for their work for the Church and the people in their pastoral care.

Cardinal-designate Czerny is also the first elector who is not yet a bishop upon his selection. Priests who are not (yet) bishops can be made cardinals, but this usually only happens for non-electors. As a Jesuit, Msgr. Czerny will probably request dispensation to not be ordained as a bishop before his creation as cardinal. This is par of the course for Jesuits who are not yet made bishops for other reasons (such as Pope Francis, who was ordained a bishop in 1992 to serve as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires).

A new “travelling Pope”

f96763944f2eb5b73f91fea96bbf01a4-690x450Pope Francis returns from his visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia today, and so concludes his 29th international journey. He has visited all continents except Oceania and Antarctica (hey, if the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow can do it…), and more than a few of his travels have been the first papal visits to the countries in question. And with those data, it is clear that the title of “Traveling Pope” should now be given to the current pontiff.

Pope John Paul II Visit to Ireland, Shannon Airport

Pope Saint John Paul II is the traditional holder of the moniker, and not without reason. In the 31 years if his papacy he made 104 international visits to 129 different countries. Pope Francis has been pope for a little more than six years, so any useful comparison must take that into account. Comparing it with the first 6 years (and two months) of St. John Paul II’s papacy, Pope Francis comes out on top, with 29 visits, five more than the late pontiff’s 24 (Pope Benedict XVI, in comparison, made 20 international visits in the same timespan).

Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis immediately struck out far abroad, with visits to Brazil, Israel and South Korea before visiting a country closer to Italy, Albania, on his fourth visit. St. John Paul II went to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas before heading to a European destination (in his case Poland), although those first three countries were visited on a single trip, whereas Francis made three separate journeys. Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, first focussed on Europe, visiting Poland, Spain and Germany (twice) before visiting Turkey and Brazil.

Both Benedict XVI and Francis inherited their first papal visit from their predecessor, and both were made in the context of the World Youth Day. Benedict XVI visited Cologne and Francis Rio de Janeiro.

Unlike his two predecessors, Pope Francis did not include his native country among his first visits. In fact, he is yet to visit Argentina. St. John Paul II visited Poland on his second visit and Benedict XVI went to Germany on his very first, although, as mentioned above, he inherited that visit from St. John Paul II. His fourth visit was again to Germany.

In comparing Popes Francis and St. John Paul II, one more thing must be noted: their age. St. John Paul II was between 58 and 64 in his first six years as pope. Francis was 76 when elected, and is now 82. That makes him being the new “travelling Pope” all the more remarkable.

Photo credit: [1] AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, [2] Tim Graham/Getty Images

 

Popes opposed? Some thoughts about the negative reactions to Benedict XVI’s essay

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s essay on what he perceives to be the causes for the sexual abuse crisis in the Church (and beyond) is causing much discussion on social media, which can be divided in two debates: the first on the content, and the second on the author.

I want to share some thoughts on that second debate. There are those who believe that a pope emeritus should never be heard from. And should he be heard from, that means he is undermining the policies and pastoral activity of the current pope. That is an untenable position in the case of Benedict XVI’s essay, as he is not proposing any policies or criticising anything that Pope Francis has said or done. Benedict writes that he informed both Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin about the essay before publishing it in a minor periodical for Bavarian clergy. All involved, however, must have known that the essay, coming from the retired pope, would not remained limited to the audience of that publication for long. It is a safe assumption, therefore, that both the pope emeritus and the current pope are at peace with the essay being read across the world.

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To claim that this text is an attack or criticism on Pope Francis is symptomatic of the politicising happening in the Catholic Church. Everything, it seems, has to be seen as either right- or left-wing, with the pope emeritus being taken as a spokesman for the right and Pope Francis as one for the left, This is not only a simplification, but also seriously harmful. If we take successive popes as being automatically contrary to each other, the conclaves and the papacies of each vicar of Christ become nothing but political spectacles. The papacy has its political elements, sure, but it is in the first place a pastoral ministry, if at a global scale. And that ministry has its continuity, although the person exercising it periodically changes. What Pope Benedict XVI said and did is not by definition contrary to what Pope Francis says or does, even if both men, having different personalities, focus on different elements and express themselves differently. The continuity remains, and that is why it is also entirely irresponsible to see what one pope says and does in isolation from what his predecessors did and said (and from the deposit of the faith in which they stand and act). If that happens, you get radically different (mis)interpretations, the likes of which we have seen on an increasing scale in recent years.

The knee-jerk reactions I see in the wake of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s essay reveal that there is a strong tendency among many to place him in automatic opposition to Pope Francis, and whatever they see the latter standing for. This is not only unjust, but also dishonest.

Photo credit: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

German bishops speak out in favour of celibacy

Despite assurances to the contrary, the German episcopate as a body continues to be seen by many as plotting a course independent of Rome when it comes to questions about the sacraments, the priesthood and synodality. That said, several bishops have recently spoken out in defence of one topic which, certain circles claim, should be abolished if the Church is to change for the better: mandatory celibacy for priests.

HOP_9503.jpg_1287107163The main contribution, certainly in word count, comes from Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, auxiliary bishop of Cologne, who wrote an article about the topic for the Tagespost (subsequently also published on Domradio), with a focus on the issue in the context of the abuse crisis. Identifying the call to abolish celibacy as conservative because it is, by now, a somewhat old-fashioned position, the bishop asks, “Why is my celibate way of life always criticised so strongly by people who don’t have to live it at all? Didnt I make that choice, not you?” He adds that no one forced him to choose to live celibate. Bishop Schwaderlapp explains the value of celibacy for a priest:

“It is not just a fitting oneself into the order of the Church. Celibacy is not limited to a – sometimes painful – denunciation of an exclusive two-way relationship of one’s own in order to have time and space for the many. And as such it is more than “just” the adoption of Jesus’ lifestyle – it is after all Him whom the priest is to make tangible in his life. Celibacy means a self-giving to Christ. with body and soul. And with and through Christ it means a self-giving to the people. It is about making the open heart of Jesus tangible through the celibate way of living. Being a priest is a matter of the heart, otherwise it becomes a caricature.”

The bishop likens this act of self-giving, which includes the priest sexuality, to what a husband and wife do in marriage. Rather than giving themselves to each other, with body, soul and sexuality, a priest gives himself to God.

Not blind to the challenges facing the Church and society, Bishop Schwarderlapp nonetheless concludes that allowing priests to marry is not an answer.

“This charism makes the purpose and mission of the priest “physical”: to make Jesus Christ visible, audible and tangible in this world. Incidentally, celibacy is always outdated because it refers, across time, to the one who was, who is and who will come. It is fatal if this charism is put up for discussion, and when we bishops take part in it. There are no new factual arguments against celibacy. [Abolition]  would not serve as a remedy to abuse, nor as an impetus to the – much needed – inner renewal of the Church. There has never been renewal by less, but always only through more devotion.”

helmut_dieser_40840234Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen expresses himself in similar words. He too emphasises that celibacy is not something negative, nor something that is forced upon a priest. It is, he states, “a Biblical way of life in imitation of Jesus, a charism”. However, he also says, should a situation exist when there are no men choosing celibacy, the Church should keep “suitable married men” in mind. This openness to the practical situation, which at this time does not exist in Germany, is echoed by Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau. His position in an interview, which he shared on his website, caused some confusion as it appeared as if he was in favour of loosening the celibacy rules. “I am not, even when I consider it possible,” he tersely explains. Bishop Oster also explains that there is room to discuss the question of celibacy: “The question is not dogmatic. Unlike with sexual morality there is more leeway, and the pope has already encouraged the search for new ways in this regard.”

About celibacy itself, the bishop says:

oster1130“Celibacy is the way of life of Jesus and as such a great spiritual treasure, which is worth fighting for. But I do not rule out the possibility (of a loosening of the celibacy rules). When the majority of priests say that it is no longer possible to live celibately in this time and society, then it becomes difficult. On the other hand I do not want the priest who is already struggling with his way of life, but who has made an oath, now reading, “the bishop also says that it is difficult, so I’ll also give it up.” I do not want to demotivate, I want to say: the struggle is worth it.”

The new bishop of Fulda, Michael Gerber, who will be installed today, has also said that he is opposed to abolishing mandatory celibacy, and prefers to focus instead of assuring that priests remain part of a ‘network’, thus preventing any of them from falling prey to loneliness.

Other bishops, such as Peter Kolhgraf of Mainz and Georg Bätzing of Limburg, have expressed their support for voluntary celibacy, showing that, if anything, the German episcopate is no monolith.

Photo credits: [1] Erzbistum Köln, [2] Elisabeth Schomaker/KNA, [3] Bischöfliche Pressestelle Passau

For Archbishop van Megen, with Kenya comes South Sudan

imgAs expected, following his February appointment to Kenya, Archbishop Bert van Megen was today also appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya’s northern neighbour: South Sudan. The Dutch archbishop’s appointment follows those of Archbishop Charles Balvo, who also served in both countries as nuncio from 2013 to 2018.

Flag_of_South_Sudan.svgSouth Sudan is a fledgling country which has developed friendly links with the Vatican. President Salva Kiir visited the Vatican last week, and Pope Francis has expressed his wish to visit the country several times. Earlier plans for an ecumenical visit, together with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, were shelved for security reasons. On the occasion of President Kiir’s visit, the Holy Father repeated his wish “that conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan might be met, as a sign of closeness to the people and encouragement to the peace process”(Source).

South Sudan has seven dioceses, of which three are vacant, and two more have bishops aged 75 or older. Like in Kenya, Archbishop van Megen will have a fair number of files on his desk related to the appointment of new bishops. But perhaps most immediately interesting is related to the above papal wish to visit the country. As Nuncio, and especially ina  country with so few resident bishops, Archbishop van Megen will undoubtedly be entrusted with some role in the preparations, not least in the contacts between the South Sudanese government and the Holy See.