In a recent interview for a documentary broadcast on Monday in Germany, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück seemed rather ahead of events. The documentary discussed the future of the Church when there is a shortage of priests, and Bishop Bode spoke about the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, scheduled for next year. One of the expectations for that Synod is that it will discuss the option of ordaining married men to the priesthood, as the shortage of priests is also a problem in the Amazon, where settlements are often few and far between, and faithful sometimes have to make do with one Mass per year. Ordaining married men would, the supporters of the idea, say, alleviate that problem, as it makes more men available for ordination. If there will actually be more men presenting themselves at seminaries remains a good question, though.
What that idea in mind, Bishop Bode said that, if the Synod would decide in favour of ordaining married men, the German bishops would also ask for that option to be implemented in Germany. “If it is possible in principle,” he explained, “it should also be in situations where the need is different.”
The Catholic Church maintains that priests should live celibate lives. That is obviously incompatible with marriage, although married priests do exist in the Catholic Church. Usually these are former Protestant ministers who converted and later became priests. These are exceptions which take into account the specific situation of these men. The Church is not going to say they are no longer beholden to the obligations of marriage when she recognises the validity of their vocations to the priesthood. She takes marriage serious enough to prevent that. In such cases the Church is able to allow a dispensation from the law on celibacy, since it is not a divine law. Currently, she does so on a case-by-case basis, so there is no general law allowing dispensation from the obligation of priests to live celibate lives.
What Bishop Bode is hoping the Synod on the Amazon will allow is exactly such a general law, and he is not wrong when he says that if it can be done for a diocese in Brazil, it should also for one in Germany. But will it truly solve the problem? Maybe the bishop knows of throngs of married men wishing they could be priests, but I somehow doubt it. I think that the shortage of priests is tied to the shortage of active faithful and the lacking visibility of the Church. Bishops are struggling to counter these trends by merging parishes and giving parish priests responsibility for wide swathes of territory, but that is merely fighting the symptoms. The heart of the problem lies in clear teaching, visible charity and honest devotion. In the end, men must be attracted to the priesthood because of these, and not by the problems that will arise if they do not come.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx is planning to introduce a way of managing parishes in his Archdiocese of München und Freising which is, out of necessity, already being practiced elsewhere in Europe, La Croix reports.
Whil it is standard that a parish is led by a parish priest, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in his parish (or parishes, federation or parish cluster), Cardinal Marx wants to see if that responsibility could not also be held by lay faithful. This decision stems from the dwindling numbers of priests. While some dioceses, for example in parts of Germany and the Netherlands, cluster and merge parishes to make sure that there is still at least one priest per parish, Cardinal Marx does not believe that is the way forward.
An enlarged parish, created out of a cluster of smaller parishes, would require its sole priest to travel greater distances, and possibly, as financial means are stretched, churches to be closed and active parish communities to be similarly merged. A weekly Sunday Mass in every church in the new parish would no longer be a matter of course. Cardinal Marx believes that this withdrawal of the Church from her territorial roots will lead to increasing local invisibility.
By appointing lay faithful to take on the responsibility for parishes where there is no priest, at least not frequently or regularly, the local church could continue its activities and remain visible. And there is no real reason to not invest lay faithful with such responsibility. It is not as if one needs to be ordained in order to wield it. Some ordained priests, the cardinal says, are not particularly suited to lead parishes, but do wonderful things in other areas, such as pastoral care and liturgy.
There is an element of responsibility that comes with ordination, and that is the responsibility of the shepherd. Priests remain indispensible in the life of the Church, but they are also people, with their limitations. None can be in two places at the same time (barring those holy priests given the grace of bilocation) and there are practical limits to the size of a parish that one man can be responsible for in the way expected of a parish priest. Cardinal Marx’s plan includes an active role for his three auxiliary bishops and himself in selecting teams of lay leaders and reflecting on parish structures and organisation.
Cardinal Marx’ proposal is a response to a problem that many bishops in Northwestern Europe face: dwindling numbers of faithful, and subsequently diminishing financial means to allow for the upkeep of (sometimes ancient and monumental) buildings and pastoral networks. If it is the right response is for the future to reveal.
First, now that all bishops have arrived in Rome, the group shot:
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.
Simply because it’s always good to read something by the great Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, I have translated an interview he gave to Belgian magazine Knack. The interview was conducted by Walter Pauli and subsequently shared in full on Facebook by Fr. Felix van Meerbergen, and covers such topics as foreign priests, Catholic funerals, the archbishop’s efforts to be everywhere in his archdiocese, the attacks on him by Femen and other leftwing loonies, homosexuality (of course), Pope Francis (including a theoretical papal visit to Brussels), and more.
A good read which shows some unexpected sides of the archbishop. Who knew he is apparently a good entertainer, and you have to admire his attitude towards the attacks against him, which I shared on Facebook yesterday:
“The Femen attack was the most enjoyable: I only got water on me. The pie I got in my face in the cathedral in 2010 was decorated with strawberries, and that tasted nice. Only in Louvain-la-Neuve it was mostly unpleasant: those pizzas were really greasy. Terrible.”
It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.
The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.
For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.
But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:
Gathered at Roermond’s Rolduc seminary for a two-day symposium on the new evangelisation, the seminarians of the Netherlands today heard lectures from Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong, ordinary and auxiliary of the Diocese of Roermond respectively, and Professor Karl Wallner, rector of Austria’s Heiligenkreuz monastery.
Although the full texts are (not yet) available online, the live report supplied via Twitter by two seminarians offered a good general idea of what was said. Bishop de Jong, the day’s final speaker, offered a summary of his experiences at the Synod of Bishops, including his own intervention, in which he emphasised the importance of prayer to the Holy Spirit and the angels.
Bishop Wiertz, the first speaker (pictured), suggested we may find a road map for the new evangelisation in the Acts of the Apostles. He emphasised the important role of the laity; they should be given the chance to develop initiatives, without the immediate involvement of the clergy. What we see today, he said, is that when a priest becomes indisposed or unavailable, the initiative also dies. The bishop also advocated trust in the Holy Spirit: if an initiative does not come from the Spirit, it will vanish regardless. An example of a strong lay movement in the Church is Korea, Bishop Wiertz said. Without priests and bishops, for centuries the lay faithful kept the faith alive.There must be a new balance between the people’s Church and the new initiatives.
Professor Wallner, speaking in between both bishops, said that we should not focus on the problems of the faith. The experience of faith is what matters: quantity will come from quality. And prayer must have a prime place in this. We must share what we receive, Professor Wallner said. Faith is mission, and this is contained in the final words of the Mass: ite missa est. The priest, too, is mission personified, so his duty is not his private concern. Like Bishop Wiertz, Professor Wallner also linked the new evangelisation to the Acts of the Apostles. We need places where we can experience the Holy Spirit like the Apostles did at the first Pentecost. Other points touched upon where the fact that we need a holy audacity as there is no place for false modesty in Christian life; the lack of emphasis on the most powerful sacrament of Confession; the new media which need to be used much more (it is a disgrace that there are still dioceses without a website!) and in an honest and true manner – show the world who you are. Regarding the role of the laity, Professor Wallner also reminded his audience that there should not be any form of competition between the laity and the priest. Both have their tasks, after all.
A good start for the symposium’s first day, it would seem. The new evangelisation is introduced as an important topic for the future priests in our country. I hope to be able to present a translation of at least Bishop Wiertz’s words soon, because the topic deserves a broader audience.
Concerning that, it is a shame that such events are not more widely covered by Catholic media or better present by the Church province or other organisers. Considering, for example, that the autumn assembly of the American bishops, taking place now, is streamed live, there is certainly much progress to be made. In that light, the live Twitter coverage by Jan-Jaap van Peperstraten and Henk van Hamersveld was all the more welcome.
Bishop Aloys Jousten of Liège has tendered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. He celebrated his 75th birthday on Friday, thus reaching the mandatory age on which bishops must offer their resignation to the Holy Father, formally requesting the appointment of a successor. The day of such an appointment may well be quite a while off since there is no rule that the pope must accept a resignation when he receives the request for it.
Bishop Jousten is Liège’s 91st bishop, part of a lineage that dates back to the early eighth century. As far as age is concerned, he is the most senior active bishop of Belgium.
Liège is the oldest diocese of Belgium, if we take it for the rightful successor to the suppressed dioceses of Maastricht and Tongeren. Established in 720, it was never suppressed, although it did lose and gain territory over the centuries. It is centered around the cathedral of Saint Paul and is home to three minor basilicas, the Marian shrine of Banneux and the former cathedral of the suppressed Diocese of Eupen-Malmedy, in which circumscription Bishop Jousten was born and worked as a priest and later dean before his appointment as Liège’s 91st bishop in 2001.
Under Bishop Jousten’s leadership, the Catholic population of the diocese remained steady at 68.4 %, although the number of priests dropped with about 100. The number of permanent deacons remained around 75.
By word of the diocesan vicar, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch has released an open letter, addressed to the “parishioners of Someren and Lierop and other interested parishioners elsewhere”, about ecumenism. The aforementioned parishes had earlier cancelled a planned ‘ecumenical Eucharist’, after the diocese said that something like that is not allowed. The explanation offered by Fr. Ron van den Hout (pictured below)should not come as a surprise to anyone with some understanding of what the Church teaches about ecumenism and the nature of the Eucharist.
Below I have translated the core passages of the letter, which can be read in full, and in Dutch, here.
“The Catholic Church encourages ecumenical contacts with Protestant communities. They should get to know each other; they can undertake social activities together; they can listen to the Word of the God and pray together. It is however not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist or Last Supper together. That prohibition has been repeated time and again by the Popes, but also by the Dutch bishops. Why is it not permitted? Because Last Supper and Eucharist, although they both refer back to the institution and assignment of the Lord, are not the same. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made sacramentally present, and that bread and wine truly and permanently become the Body and Blood of Christ. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, this Eucharist is source and summit of the Church’s life. According to Catholic understanding only a validly ordained priest can consecrate the Eucharist. Protestants don’t have validly ordained priests. They do not believe in the true transformation of bread and wine and have a more symbolic understanding of this sacrament. That is the reason why the Church does not allow a joint celebration. She also does not allow non-Catholics to receive Communion and Catholics to take part in the Protestant Last Supper. This in order to prevent confusion regarding this sacrament which for us is the heart of faith.
Misguided ecumenical actions, such as joint celebration of the Eucharist/Last Supper, hurt the unity and do not advance ecumenism, on the contrary. Unity is then no unity of faith, but a unity in feeling. What matters is that we as church communities, and so not so much as individual parishes and communities, learn to discover, through discussion, conversation and study, what the Lord truly intended with His Church and the sacrament of unity. In the meantime we pray in parishes and communities for the Holy Spirit’s help. Only He can bring true unity closer, step by step.”
The diocese’s letter comes in the wake of some discussion which mostly focussed on the perceived authoritative stance of the diocese. Several media have published this letter as a press release, much like it earlier published a critical letter on a local newspaper’s front page.
The parish councils of three parishes in the Diocese of Roermond have come up with a solution for the increasing demand of funeral services in a church, but without all the trappings of a Mass. Upon enquiries from the diocese, the parish priest, Father Ralf Schwillens has emphasised that the services will retain an “ecclesiastical character”, but the proposal remains that families can rent a church for a funeral service without a priest (and without Communion, it must be said), and have great liberty in the choice of rituals, music, poems and speeches.
The diocese is not in favour of this “new form” which aims to lure people, who otherwise would limit their funeral service to crematorium or cemetery, back to the Church.
While the goal of getting people back into the church is a lofty one, I have my doubts if this proposal is a good idea. Despite the aforementioned promises of the parish priest it gives the family of the deceased enormous freedom in choosing things that are not necessarily compatible with the location (although they may, admittedly, choose things that are compatible, of course).
A Catholic church is not merely a building. While it may sometimes be used for other purposes than the celebration of Mass or the administering of the sacraments, its uses must always be in accordance with the Catholic identity of the building.
It is a sad fact that there will not always be a priest available to offer a funeral Mass, and neither will the deceased or his or her family be wanting a funeral Mass. That does not mean that everything is allowed or desirable. A funeral in a Catholic church should, by that fact, be Catholic, even if there is no priest available and therefore no funeral Mass possible. And since it must be Catholic, it must elevate and educate those present in their Catholic identity. Everything Catholic is, in a way, educational, after all. It all prepares us for the reality of the encounter with God.
I don’t think that giving prospective users of a church building complete freedom of choice will achieve that. It’s not a priest or Catholic community’s duty, either, to allow anything that merely feels good. But that is a risk that this proposal presents.
Ever since the announcement of the Year of Faith, which starts in October, the Dutch dioceses and bishops have been planning and organising a number of events to mark the occasion. Here follows a short list, sorted by date, of events and announcements concerning the Year of Faith:
3 July: The Diocese of Breda publishes a special diocesan magazine about the Second Vatican Council, including an informative poster (front page at right).
4 July: The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam will offer several courses in the vein of the Year of Faith throughout 2012 and 2013. Courses include ‘What is faith?’, ‘the Second Vatican Council’, ‘Christian art’, ‘Theology of spirituality’ and and an impulse day on the missionary Church.
5 July: The Dioceses of Rotterdam and Breda announce a joint magazine on the new evangelisation. Publication will be in the summer in Breda and around Christmas in Rotterdam.
18 July: The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch present its two-year course ‘Growing in faith’ in the light of the Year of Faith, as a means to rediscover the joy of the faith.
19 July: The Archdiocese of Utrecht sends the informative poster about the Second Vatican Council, that was created by the Diocese of Breda, to all her priests, deacons and pastoral workers. In his accompanying letter, Cardinal Eijk writes, “I hope that you, also in your own parish, will be willing to give form to the Year of Faith in a suitable way.”
September, October, November: The diocesan magazine of Haarlem-Amsterdam will devote issues to the Year of Faith.
11 October: The Diocese of Breda opens the Year of Faith with a pontifical High Mass offered by Bishop Liesen. The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam will do likewise at the Shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. Clergy and pastoral workers are afterwards invited to attend a lecture on faith in postmodern times.
12 October: The Dutch Bishops’ Conference organises a symposium on the Second Vatican Council, focussing on the four Apostolic Constitutions, in Utrecht. Clergy and pastoral workers throughout the country are invited. Preceding the symposium is a pontifical High Mass, and a Vespers celebration will close the day.
14 October: The Year of Faith will be opened in the Diocese of Roermond with a pontifical High Mass.
12 April: A study day on the Second Vatican Council will be held at the Tiltenberg in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. Auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will contribute.
While this list is far from complete (much may be added in the coming months), one thing is striking: much is aimed at priests, deacons and pastoral workers. Events for lay faithful, while present, are much less in evidence. This may point at two things: firstly, that clergy and pastoral workers are expected to communicate the content to the faithful in the pews, and secondly, that it is the clergy and the pastoral workers who need the Year of Faith just as much, if not more, as we lay faithful do.
And although many more events may (and should) be organised for and by Joe Faithful, this last option may not be that far-fetched…