Clear communication – Cardinal Eijk on the indissolubility of marriage

eijkKerknet, the website of the Catholic Church in Flanders, features a piece on Cardinal Eijk’s contribution to the 11 Cardinals Book, and reveal some more context to his arguments, which until now have only been shared in short quotes (at least for those who have not read the book, like your blogger). Such quotes out of context do little to accurately reflect the thoughts of the cardinal, and have generally been maligned in Catholic and secular media. How I wish Cardinal Eijk or those around him would be less hesitant (afraid even?) to share his arguments and his involvement in the Synod and related events (for example, it would have been good to hear or read some comments from the cardinal himself about his involvement in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last week – this is a high-profile Catholic event which draws attention from across the globe, and a more open and sharing approach would do much good, both at home and abroad).

Anyway, the Kerknet article:

In his contribution to the book that eleven cardinals published in relation to the Synod of Bishops on the family (Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family, pp. 45-55, published by Ignatius Press), Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk argues that the Church’s  teaching about divorced and remarried Catholics must be preserved unchanged. The long history of Church practice and repeated statements from the Magisterium that divorced and civilly remarried people can not be allowed to receive Communion, indicate clearly that this is an unchangeable doctrine, according to the Dutch Church leader. The Catholic Church can accommodate them pastorally by giving them a blessing, so that they not feel excluded.

Theological sources in Scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church are sufficiently clear, according to Cardinal Eijk. The passage from the Gospel of Matthew (“I tell you that he who puts away his wife, not for any unfaithfulness of hers, and so marries another, commits adultery”, Matt. 19:9), which is used by the eastern Orthodox Churches to allow a second or third marriage of someone who is divorced, can not be invoked to make a second sacramental marriage possible. “The magisterium of the Church has always been clear and resolute about the indissolubility of a marriage that has been consummated, as well as the absolute prohibition of divorce, followed by a new marriage.”

Cardinal Eijk does not believe that dissolution because of lack of faith, or a simplification of the procedures for the nullification of a marriage, is a pastoral way out. The Catholic Church should communicate the faith better and emphasise its basis more adequately and clearly, “something that was neglected in the past half century”. Couples preparing marriage should have “at least five to ten” sessions of marriage preparation and “priests should dare to ask couples who want a church wedding if they believe in the indissolubility of marriage. In the interest of the couples themselves they should be more selective about who they give access to the sacrament of marriage.”

“In Dutch dioceses those who want to are invited to come forward for Communion. Those who can not receive Communion are asked to come forward with their arms crossed, as a sign to be given a blessing.” The archbishop notes that this practice, which is especially common for Protestants attending a Eucharist and which helps avoid endless debates, can also be extended to those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

The Orthodox practice of allowing second and more marriages following divorce is treated extensively by Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ in the Five Cardinals Book published last year (Remaining in the Truth of Christ, also available from Ignatius Press).

weddingThe whole debate about nullification or dissolution of a marriage is an intricate one, and it should always be reminded that a marriage can not be nullified. It can only be established that it was null from the very beginning, to the effect that there never was a marriage to begin with. The reasons for this are many, but for the purpose of this blog posts it suffices to say that they establish the validity of the marriage. One of the most convincing for those outside the world of canon law and ecclesiastical courts is perhaps that a marriage must be entered into out of free will; there can be no coercion, for any reason. If someone was forced into a marriage, it can be established that the marriage was null, that it never existed.

In relation to this, there must be a greater focus on and recognition of the fact that the couple did share much, even if it was no marriage. Our eyes should always be open to reality. That is a first step towards mercy. People need recognition of themselves and their lives. But recognition can never be automatically equated to approval. It’s a fine line we must walk as Church, but isn’t that always the case when we are in the business of dealing with people?

Photo credit: [1] Reuters, [2] author’s own

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Cardinal watch: Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez turns 80

sandoval íñiguezA 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.

Guest blogger Ingrid on the March for Life

A first in my blog today: a proper guest blogger. Ingrid Airam, who usually blogs in Dutch about all kinds of Catholic topics, describes her experience of participating in a March For Life in The Hague and shares why she could do no less but participate. Her contribution starts underneath the photo.

The March for Life, something I had heard of once in a while, and by chance  read about on the website of the church of Saint Agnes in Amsterdam, about a week before the march would be held this year. Well, by chance… in some ways it obviously wasn’t. But considering the marginal attention (one can safely say none at all) offered by other parishes in the Netherlands it was. A march against a so-called medical procedure which is legal in the Netherlands. Theoretically only in emergencies, but that word proves to be very flexible in practice.

So why in Heaven’s protest against which is so commonly accepted in this country? Not even simply accepted, but something that is considered by many a right and a sign of civilisation. Essentially it’s very simple: I am pro-life in heart and soul, but also with a  considerably amount of sense. And although I really understand the difficulties of a woman faced with such a choice, I consider it barbaric, to quote one of our listeners. And when I am full of words about sanctity and worth of protection of life, wouldn’t it be weak not to participate in such a march? And so I considered it nothing more than my Christian, no, even my human duty to walk – even though it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, least of all in politics – even though, as a student, I have little money to spend and traveling costs money, after all. I simply couldn’t do anything less.

And so,this Saturday, 11 December 2010, I stood on the Plein in The Hague. A fair number of Catholics had attended a traditional Mass beforehand and had come to the Plein from there. It wasn’t an enormous number, but still a fair number of people. And so many different people: from children to elderly, many young people, Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics… Beforehand some words from Minister Dorenbos, as far as I know one of the initiators, although I am not sure, encouragement from a Belgian pro-life movement (Catholics, as I found out later when we were walking right behind them, and all of them young), and some testimonials. One of them from an elderly lady who had undergone an abortion, and a younger woman of, I would say, about my age. Impressive and certainly encouraging. By then many people had their placards in hand, with texts as ‘Stop abortion now’  and ‘Jesus forgiver’. hen we left. I don’t know the exact route anymore, since I’m not at all familiar in The Hague, but I think we generously avoided the Binnenhof [seat of the Dutch parliament – MV]. I was somewhat surprised at how quiet it was along the route. Apart from a shouting woman, a few signs and two troublemaker it was quiet. My tension abated somewhat, and armed with a rosary and police around us (honestly, compliments for them on this day) we walked the route in relative quiet. Passers-by stopped, often with surprised looks, taking pictures.

Back at the Plein there were speeches. They started well, powerfully. Among them a man from America who hadn’t been supposed to be born according to his mother and the doctors: but the abortion failed. Another proclaimed that we, in the Netherlands, of whatever denomination, should make this a priority in our prayers, to stand up for life.

I don’t recall the later speakers as much, it was too much. But the fact that these people were so clear… I wish our bishops and priests would join this, and make this an important point on the agenda. Because, although there was a decent number of Catholics, there was all of one bishop (Msgr. de Jong, who deserves all accolades, and who also said a few words), two priests from the FSSP and one from the SSPX, it was a very meager showing. Granted, it is an originally Protestant march, but that does not diminish the importance of the march and the common goal. The Catholic Church offers clear teachings about this, a message of love. And so we should join our forces for this. Christians in the Netherlands, in Flanders… let’s unite, pray… and be on the Plein next year with a much larger number!

Photo credit: Bryan Kemper for Jeunes pour la Vie

Two points of view on the abuse case, and further developments.

In all affected countries there has been a lot of discussion about the abuse of minors committed by priests, religious and employees of Catholic institutions. Cardinals Kasper and Schönborn have both called for a thorough investigation and a review of the education and formation of priests, respectively. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg im Breisgau, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference is in Rome to confer with the Holy Father.

Closer to home, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam has written a pastoral letter to all the faithful in his diocese, explaining the situation and the decisions made by the bishops’ conference. He points out that the issue is not exclusive to the Church, that it is symptomatic of the excessive sexualisation of society, but he understands society’s need to first look to the Church in this case. He hopes that the victims of abuse in non-ecclesiastic contexts may also be heard.

The bishop’s letter is available, in my translation, here.

In the mean time, the media is abuzz with all kinds of reports. A lawyer wishes to prosecute the Archdiocese of Utrecht as a criminal organisation, two men in Limburg have expressed the desire to financially undress the Church… all understandably emotional responses, but hardly constructive.

From the Protestant side, Dr. A.H. Veerman, preacher in the protestant community in ‘t Harde, offers some thoughts as well. He sees the abuse issue as damaging for all churches. “Most people don’t make a distinction between Catholic and protestant. This is greatly damaging to the Name and case of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Veerman  was promoted in 2005 on a case study on sexual abuse among preachers. “We really can’t say that sexual abuse occurs more in the Roman Catholic Church than in protestant churches. It is true that the abuse that is now revealed in the Roman Catholic Church more often concerns children and young people. In protestant churches it is more about preachers who are sexually out of line towards adults.”

He says that research shows that abuse does not happen more often within churches than without. “But not less either. But that is no excuse – because it shouldn’t happen in the church at all.”

Veerman also says that the structure of the protestant church prevented much serialised abuse. The structure of Catholic boarding schools, for example, meant that one person could do a lot of damage.

When asked if he thought that the celibate life of a priest is one of the causes, he said: “No, not celibacy in itself. I once read somewhere that celibacy is not wrong, but the fact that people with a problematic sexuality use celibacy as an excuse to not work on their problems. That is certainly true. I don’t see celibacy in itself as the cause of this kind of derailment. In protestant churches for example, there are many narcissistic preachers. That is not because of the preacherhood, but of the character of people abusing the preacherhood.”

Lastly, Drs. Wim Deetman, the former cabinet secretary and mayor of The Hague, has spoken today about his task as head of the committee to investigate abuse in the Catholic Church. Some statements:

“My work will focus on the following targets: formulating the research question; establishing methods and fields of investigation; manning the eventual committee; establishing a timeline and guaranteeing an independent, careful and transparent investigation.”

“To achieve these goals I will call on external expertise. In the past days several people have already offered this expertise. That is understandable, but not decisive in the choice that will be made. This phase too will be independent.”

“I expect to finish my work in six to eight weeks. Until that time there will be no further statement to the press.”

About the decision to choose him for the role of principal investigator he said: “I am the right person for this role? I am not Catholic. In Catholic circles there are people with much more knowledge. But the wish to emphasise independence is more important. There is a lot of pain, a lot of sorrow. In such a case, you must have a very good reason to say no.”

Sources: Reformatorisch Dagblad, RKK.nl and Rorate

Elections: weighing the options

Next week I will be casting my vote for the city council of Groningen. I have yet to decide which party will be getting my red-pencilled ballot paper, so some research into the various parties is in order. The question I am trying to answer is: what party best represents my own views as a Catholic, and which party has the best chance – via strategic coalitions, for example – to turn those ideas into policy?

I have a choice between eleven parties, or twelve if I count the option to cast a blank vote. But I’ll only do that if I draw the conclusion that I have no confidence in any party (or if I really don’t care, but that’s unlikely). Some parties are not really options for me, of course: some of the local or one-issue parties don’t speak for me, for example. Neither do the liberal parties VVD and D66. My choice is between the left and the conservative, to simplistically delineate them. PvdA (social-democrats), SP (socialists), GreenLeft, CDA (Christian democrats) and ChristianUnion (social Christian democrats). The first three and the last two have connected lists, which means they’ll form and speak as a block in the council together. All have extensive social programs, with the left focussing on the individual and the conservatives on society as a whole.

The Christian point of view is an important one for me, and I think it should be heard in politics. Of the five parties above, only the ChristianUnion is outspokenly Christian. The CDA is as well in name, but reading through their program their Christianity is far less clear. I also don’t really like their overly blunt approach towards beggars and addicts in the city. But they are a major and thus influential party, having had  many seats in the past and they’ll probably continue to have a significant number after the elections as well.

The downside of the ChristianUnion is that they are very much Protestant, which leads to a limited approach and relation to the faith. Their founding documents which consider the Catholic faith idolatry is also an obstacle. Their advantage is stability. The ChristianUnion does not water down its beliefs, but is also not limited by them, and I think that such clarity can do much good.

There are no clear Catholic choices in these elections. Is the ‘least bad’ option good enough? Voting is always better than not voting. And perhaps a vote for any Christian party will open the door for more openly Catholic politicians in the future… I am still undecided. Online election guides keep directing me to the CDA or the SP, so until 3 March I’ll probably keep weighing the options.

Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of ecumenical approach

Last Tuesday Bishop Gerard de Korte spoke at a press conference to signal the start of Refo500, a series of activities leading up to 2017 and the celebration of 500 years of Reformation. Msgr. de Korte is a member of the project group of the Catholic Society for Ecumenism that participates in Refo500 on behalf of the Catholic Church.

I shared my thought about the Catholic participation in Refo500 in an earlier post and in his address, Msgr. de Korte raises some similar points concerning the importance of not ignoring the things that still separate us and, at the same time, of working with those things we share. Another interesting point raised below is the ‘smell of home’, of Christianity as a cultural and social mark.

Refo500 and the ecumenism discussed here is sometimes particularly Dutch. The bishop’s references to ‘Gristus’ and ‘Kristus’, for example, refer to the particular pronunciation in Dutch of the name of Christ: most Protestant use the throaty [x] sound, whereas Catholic use the Latin version [k]. They’re minute differences that carry a raft of social and cultural connotations.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past half century a lot has happened in ecumenism. The old walls between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have been increasingly demolished. Yesterday’s papists and heretics have today become brothers and sisters in the one Lord. Personally I see this development as the work of God’s Spirit.

Of course there still are theological differences. Personally I think that many differences are concentrated around the topics of ‘sacramentality’ and especially around the concept of de Church, the sacrament, holy orders and Mary.

Besides theological differences the differences in the ‘smell of home’ are equally important for the average parishioner or the average community member. Our subcultures often still encourage mutual alienation. When a Protestant Christian speaks of ‘Gristus’ instead of ‘Kristus’ a Catholic senses a major distance. Likewise, Catholic usage of ‘Our Lord’ will be difficult for many Protestants.

It is not appropriate to deny or ignore all this. But we realise more and more our calling to search for unity. Only so do we answer the Lord’s desire that all His followers be one (cf. John 17). In th past half century we preferred to emphasise those things that Rome and the Reformation share instead of the things that still divide us. As a common heritage I mention Holy Scripture and the bond with God via the Scriptures; the Ten Commandments; the relationship with Jesus Christ, in Whom God revealed Himself in the fullness of time; the confessions of faith of the early Church; the confession of the Triune God and the theological and spiritual heritage of the first 1,500 years of the Church.

I consider the Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of the ecumenical movement. 500 years ago Roman Catholics and Protestant were often violently and irredeemably opposed. We even both used violence in name of our faith. But luckily we can now look back on the origins of Reformation in a more irenic atmosphere.

Historian and theologians from different traditions try to get a new and less biased  viewed on the time of the Reformation. En route to the Luther year in 2017, I hope to see many new historical and theological publications. In that way we can work on what Pope John Paul called “the purification of memory”.

But hopefully Refo500 won’t be just for historians and theologians. A clear view on the past can help every Christian in furthering ecumenical dialogue. In the Netherlands we live in a secular culture of the majority. Confessional Christians have become a minority. This further increases the importance of the ecumenical meeting between Christian of different backgrounds. Only when we continue to overcome our mutual divisions can we give a believable witness of Christ and His Gospel. We are facing the challenge to show that living in friendship with Christ make a real difference.

Msgr. Dr. G.J.N. De Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

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The above words were spoken at a press conference intended to promote Refo500, so they are naturally rather general and focussed on cooperation. I am personally quite interested to see how the Catholic identity becomes visible in the events. There are plans, it seems, for an exhibition about the Council of Trent, called in response to the Reformation and still very influential in the modern Church. That would be a very good element to include for the sake of creating a complete picture.

Mixing up words, a pet peeve

After a discussion last night (which started with an analysis of Psalm 111 of all things) I got to thinking about a strange and undesirable habit among many Dutch Catholics: the adoption of Protestant terms for Catholic concepts and the urge to hide their Catholic identity, which is a result of that.

In Dutch we have a specific term for a priest who is responsible for one or more parishes: he is a ‘pastoor’. The word clearly derives from pastor, meaning a spiritual shepherd of a congregation. A priest who is not in charge of a parish, but does work in one, used to be called a ‘kapelaan’, or chaplain. In the south of the Netherlands that word is still used without problem. In the north, the area where I live, however, the word ‘kapelaan’ has fallen out of use. Perhaps this is due to the shortage of priests: there is no need to distinguish between two priests in one parish, because there usually only ever is one (if the parish is lucky). In parishes where there is no priest, or he is also responsible for a handful of other parishes, lay people are often appointed to lead prayer services and perform some pastoral duties. These are pastoral workers, not ordained, often married with a family and a job on the side.  They assist the priest in his work and make life just a bit more manageable for him.

But here is the problem. It has become habit for these pastoral workers to refer to themselves as ‘pastor’. A word awfully close to ‘pastoor’, and often the ‘o’ and ‘oo’ sounds are hard to distinguish in speech. Chaplains, too, have taken to this title. The distinction between ‘pastoors’, chaplains and pastoral workers becomes muddled, and not just in their titles, but also in their identity. I would not want to feed the people who claim their pastoral worker is actually a priest who should be allowed to offer the Eucharist, or the people who couldn’t tell you why that is not so.

Making matters worse, certain Protestant ministers have also taken to this title of ‘pastor’.

I often wonder about this apparent need to invent a new term when there is a perfectly clear one available? Is it lack of knowledge or sheer thick-headedness (something which we Dutch excel at)?

In the first paragraph I referred to the adoption of Protestant terms. An example is the use of the name for someone who leads a service, be it a prayer service or Mass: ‘voorganger’, literally someone who leads the congregation. Even in Catholic media this very Protestant word has been used to refer to priests. “Father so-and-so will be the ‘voorganger’ in this service” instead of “Father so-and-so will offer (or celebrate) this Mass.”

It may sound trivial, and seen from a purely practical view it may be. But this is the tip of an iceberg of ignorance. If even the media do not use the terms that directly refer to a person or object’s Catholic identity, how are people going to know this identity, how are they going to be urged to be aware of this identity?

Priest are not lay people, lay people are not ordained, Protestant ministers are not Catholic: these people are not the same, not in their faith, their duties, their vocation, their ordination (or lack thereof)… In the end it comes down to this: the Catholic identity is slowly becoming invisible.

I don’t have any solutions to reverse that trend, but perhaps a good start would be to rediscover our Catholic identity in the words we use. Talk about ‘pastoors’ and ‘kapelaans’, pastoral workers and ‘dominees’, but don’t pretend the one is the other. I’d even be all for introducing the Orthodox and international Catholic tradition of calling our priests ‘Father’.

This little piece of writing is also available in Dutch at Catholica.