The cesspool is deep, but where exactly is it deepest?

Media reports aplenty today about the protection given by Cardinal Ad Simonis to a convicted pedosexual priest during his tenure as archbishop of Utrecht. One such news report can be read in Dutch here. The first thing I thought, after the unpleasant sinking of my stomach, was “how strange that the title of the piece (‘Cardinal Simonis protected pedo-priest’) is presented as a quote, while the piece itself does not contain a source”. The only conclusion: it’s not a quote, but the conclusion of the author given some semblance of authority…

Anyway, that’s just a question that popped into my head. Here’s the case.

In 1991, the cardinal appointed a priest from the Diocese of Rotterdam to parishes in the town of Amersfoort. The priest’s bishop, Msgr. Ronald Bär of Rotterdam, allegedly wanted to get rid of the priest after it became clear that the latter had abused underage boys in his previous parish in Zoetermeer. So the Archdiocese of Utrecht claims. Cardinal Simonis chose not to inform the faithful of Amersfoort about their new priest’s history. He says, “That was part of the privacy of the priest involved and was no longer an issue because of restored trust. I did not offer him protection, but treated him based on a serious psychological advice. I would therefore not know what consequences I should personally attach to this question.” The cardinal also said that “a renowned development psychologist had concluded that it was responsible to give the priest a new appointment.’

Victims and parents of victims claim to have been brushed aside by the cardinal when they raised the issue, saying that ‘these things do not happen in the Catholic Church’.

Cardinal Simonis released the following statement after the news broke:

“At the time of the appointment of the priest R. in 1991 the archdiocese was aware of his history. Therapy and serious psychological advice in writing seemed enough of a basis for a new appointment. No signal about repeat offenses has ever reached the archdiocese from Amersfoort. The archdiocese has never been aware of any police investigation, neither via the victims, nor via the priest, nor via the priest R. himself. I myself heard about this for the first time yesterday.

For the victims it is seriously regrettable and I take their suffering seriously. Of course I was asked if I acted carefully enough at the time. From what I knew then: yes. Based on the then available facts action was taken after careful internal consultation. When new facts appear now, it is not easy to judge the actions of the past. We acted on what we knew then. Should it become clear now we didn’t act careful enough, based on insufficient information, that is highly regrettable and should still be remedied.”

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch also felt called to release a statement, following rumours that priest R. had worked in a parish in Eindhoven in 2005:

“The priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht never had an appointment in a parish in the Diocese of Den Bosch, where he assisted on his own request. When the bishop of Den Bosch, in 2010, heard from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that there were issues with the priest, he informed the priests of the diocese that the man was no longer allowed to work in the Diocese of Den Bosch.l he then left the diocese.”

After Cardinal Simonis was succeeded by Archbishop Wim Eijk, the priest received a canonical punishment, being forbidden to perform any pastoral tasks in the archdiocese.

Lastly, for now, here is a translation of a short telephone interview with the priest in question, conducted today by


Have you ever abused children?

“I have never used or abused people. I admit that I did do something impermissible during my time as pastor in Zoetermeer, which I regret. I was convicted for that and received a conditional sentence for it. The court documents mention an assault, but it was no more than a touch. It was no assault, I know what happened.”

Are you a pedosexual?

“That is a hard term. I am attracted to boys of around 14 years of age. I can not help it.”

How did you deal with your feelings?

“I was unaware of my feelings in seminary. That only happened after my ordination. I have been able to control myself very well for the past 16 or 17 years. I stick to the rules.”

The article in NRC also included words from a victim. What is your reaction to the word ‘victim’?

“That is terrible. But it is his experience and I have to respect that. I did indeed approach the person mentioned. But he refused. But I did not continue. For me it was a friendship. That friendship continued, also after he had grown up. But he ended that friendship for reasons that are unknown to me.”

What did Cardinal Simonis when he knew of your past?

“The archdiocese sent me to a psychological institution, which the Church used more often. There it became clear that I no longer posed a risk.”

In 1998 the Ministry of Defence appointed you as chaplain. Apparently you passed the screening.

“At my application to the armed forces – I no longer had a criminal record – I did tell them that I had been convicted. But they did not consider that a problem then, because I was appointed as chaplain to the army. The Archdiocese of Utrecht, where I am incardinated, loaned me to the military ordinariate.”

How do you see your future?

“In all honesty? I hope I’ll get an acute cardiac arrest. What else can I do? I will not kill myself, but I will not judge people who do. I am glad I helped by good friends and former colleagues at this time.”


A cesspool, but where is it deepest? With Cardinal Simonis, with the archdiocese, with the military ordinariate? Somewhere else entirely? Above are the facts. In them I do detect the naiveté that has plagued the episcopate, and still does, to an extent. On the other hand, it is not as if Cardinal Simonis did nothing with the facts he had. He put his trust in psychology, as did the Defence Ministry. The cardinal’s took the steps he could, barring the priest from working in the archdiocese. The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, too, immediately limited to potential damage the priest could do once they heard about his past. Legal steps need to be undertaken by the court, not any bishop.

And the accused himself? A man who needs help, who admits he did wrong, but perhaps has a skewed picture of it. Let the facts be proven, let the guilty parties be punished, but also let’s keep the old truth in mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.


Accident or secret agenda?

At the cost of 5 million Euros the European Union has distributed some 3.2 million calendars over more than 21,000 schools. The calendar’s purpose is to inform children between 12 and 16 about EU policies, and  next to that, like virtually all calendars, it contains the important dates of the year: holidays and religious feasts and the like. All, except for all Christian holidays and feasts.

Eid ul Fitr is there, as are Sukkot, Divali and other Muslim, Jewish and Hindu feasts. Dutch Christian MPs have expressed their amazement on Twitter, with ChristenUnie head André Rouvoet tweeting: “What would the EU agenda be with distributing school agenda listing all holidays except the Christian? Unbelievable!” SGP chair Kees van der Staaij shared that he has sent questions about this, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling it “no mistake, but the world upside down”. Twittering priest, Fr. Ruud Verheggen, concludes that “it shows where [they] stand”.

It would be a pretty remarkable mistake to make: to go and take the effort to list all major religions’ holidays and completely missing the Christian ones. It’s not as if Christians are a minority in the EU, after all. A conscious decision, then? It would fit with the attempts from the EU to curtail the rights of religious expression in its member states (classroom crosses in Italy, anyone?), but surely the EU, with all its talk about democracy and freedom, won’t skip over the religion and the rights of the vast majority of its citizens? Right?

It’s only a calendar, you might say. Yes, but it is one that is used by the EU to present itself to a couple of million school-going children. What does this then say about how the EU sees itself and its values?

Archbishop Listecki’s reminder

With the news that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the United States, has filed for bankruptcy in order to continue to be able to compensate the victims of clerical sexual abuse and “continue the essential ministries of the Church”, ordinary Archbishop Jerome Listecki reminds us about the true reason for the crisis his diocese – and the Church as a whole – is in:

“For those of you who may feel anger and resentment that we have come to this moment, STOP. We are here because of one reason: Priests sexually abused minors.”

The temptation to look scornfully at the victims who are now coming forward and request some form of acknowledgement and compensation (financially or otherwise) is strong, and made even stronger by the many dubious claims among the honest ones. But in the end, the reason for the current situation is a simple one: priests abused minors. It happened. No matter how often it happened, even once is too much.

Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1767-1769

Today the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While the words are not unfamiliar, many people assume that they refer to the birth of Jesus, who was ‘without sin’. In reality, though, the sinless one in this case is His mother.

Father Dwight Longenecker explains the Catholic teaching about “Mary, full of grace” in his blog:

“Protestant says, “You Catholics hold to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it’s totally un-Biblical.” So we refer them the story of the annunciation where Mary is greeted with the term ‘full of grace’. (Luke 1.28) We conclude that if she was ‘full of grace’ then she had no sin for the Biblical definition of sin is to “fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) If she was “full of grace” then we only have to ask when this fullness started and we conclude logically that it must have started when her life started, and life starts at conception so she must have been conceived without sin.” [More at Standing On My Head]

Msgr. Léonard’s small mistake?

Despite the ever-present risk of one’s words being taken out of context in today’s media, Arcbishop Léonard of Brussels consciously decided to not change some of the words in a new book of interviews with him. The book in question is titled ‘Mgr. Léonard – gesprekken’ (Msgr. Léonard – conversations), and was written and compiled by two Belgian journalists.

In one of the conversation, Msgr. Léonard speaks about the AIDS epidemic. He says, “So I do not see this epidemic as a punishment, but at the most as a sort of immanent justice, sort of like how, in ecology, we are faced with the consequences of what we are doing to the environment.”

The conclusion made here and there is, predictably, that Msgr. Léonard sees AIDS as a form of justice. But that’s too simple a conclusion. I think, upon reading these words, that the archbishop most of all wanted to say that the epidemic is (at least partly) a result of our own actions. And in that way it can be seen as justified. We made it possible, after all.

Léonard’s spokesman, Jürgen Mettepenningen, was hesitant about these words, as he explained on radio today. “I wouldn’t have said it like this. [The archbishop] left the sentence unchanged because he says that he can’t write anything but what he thinks. […] I shouldn’t be saying what he should think. I am the spokesman, not a decider of words.”

Maybe the exact wording was not wise to use, but they do deserve to be read for what they are: an acknowledgement of our responsibility when it comes to the spread of AIDS and not some divine punishment.

Papal soundbytes, part 1 (16 September)

Below is a selection from the official addresses and homilies made by Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to the United Kingdom last week. They are a strictly personal selection of passages which I think are either important to consider or which reflect the general topic of the various speeches. A full collection is available via the Vatican website. Below are my choices from the first day of the visit, 16 September.

The pope speaks to reporters onboard the plane en route to Scotland

Interview during the flight to the UK

“One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ.”

“The priest, at the moment of ordination, a moment for which he prepared for years, says “yes” to Christ, in order to be his mouth, his hand and to serve with all his being so that the Good Shepherd who loves us, who helps and guides us to truth, may be present in the world. How a man who has said and done this can afterwards fall into such perversions [sexual abuse of minors] is difficult to understand. It is a great sadness, a great sadness also that Church leadership was not sufficiently vigilant and sufficiently swift and decisive in taking the necessary measures.”

“Naturally the fact that, from a juridical point of view, this is a State visit, does not make my visit a political reality, because if the Pope is a head of State, this is just an instrument that guarantees the independence of his message and the public character of his work as Pastor. In this sense the State visit is substantially and essentially a pastoral visit, a visit made in responsibility for the faith, for which the Pope exists.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI greet guests in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Audience with Queen Elizabeth II and state reception

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).”

Homily at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow

“The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.”

“Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation.”

“Just as the Eucharist makes the Church, so the priesthood is central to the life of the Church.”

“There are many temptations placed before you every day – drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol – which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.”

Catholic bloggers and the Magisterium

In an address given on 3 June at the annual Catholic Media Association convention in New Orleans, Bishop Gabino Zavala spoke about what it means “to be a faithful Catholic media organisation in the 21st century”. In the National Catholic Register, Matthew Warner highlights a passage in which the bishop speaks about bloggers.

“As I talked with brother bishops in preparation for this presentation, there was consistent agreement that one aspect that is most alarming to us about media is when it becomes unchristian and hurtful to individuals. For example, we are particularly concerned about blogs that engage in attacks and hurtful, judgmental language. We are very troubled by blogs and other elements of media that assume the role of Magisterium and judge others in the Church. Such actions shatter the communion of the Church that we hold so precious.”

Many popular Catholic blogs, by clergy and laity alike, consider it a duty to write honestly about all kinds of developments within the Church. And there is much that is cause for concern and often that concern leads to contrary opinions and disagreements between people. Elsewhere in his address, Bishop Zavala discusses this in relation to the media in general, and he says that the bishops of the United States and Canada look for several things when Catholic media addresses such topics.

The first is to adopt a basic principle of “Speak the truth in love.” Speak the truth out of a love for the Church, and a love for the people of God. There also has to be a place for mercy. All too often, secular media seems to seek the destruction of individuals when they are caught in a mistake. This is not what our Lord taught us. And so this is something Catholic media can teach the secular media – how to report divisive or scandalous stories in a spirit of love and mercy. To do this, we have to have a “nose for grace” and a conviction that God turns everything to the good. So even in the midst of dark and depressing stories Catholic media can be asking, “What is the potential for good in all of this?”

As Catholics active in (new) media, we bloggers must keep our faith, so to speak. We must defend it, certainly, but not in such a way that it shatters the communion of the Church, to paraphrase Bishop Zavala. That is something to always be mindful about, I think. It is so very easy to  only focus on what the other does or thinks wrong, to have that lead or behaviour and our writing.

Bishop Zavala also warns against bloggers (and I would imagine other media as well) assuming the role of the Magisterium and so judging others. The Magisterium is the Church’s teaching authority, made manifest in those people appointed to it and endowed with the gift of authority – a gift from the Holy Spirit given through consecration. The Magisterium consists of the pope and the bishops in union with him. Their authority does not belong to man, but to God, although men can wield it, so to speak. It is not an authority that belongs to everyone, and we must not pretend it does. A blogger who claims to live and act in unity with the Church can certainly speak truth, even has an obligation to do so. But he (or she) should not attack or use “hurtful, judgmental language”. You are not the Magisterium (unless you are a blogging bishop, of course).

The Magisterium is one of the things that maintains the communion of the Catholic Church. If we take the role of the Magisterium on our own shoulders, that communion shatters. That is also not what Jesus taught us.

Bishop Zavala is auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee. You can read his complete address here.

Papal Soundbytes, part 2

Part two of my collection of interesting snippets from the addresses and homilies  given by Pope Benedict XVI in Cyprus. Again, you may read the full texts here.

On the Cross:

“The Cross is not just a private symbol of devotion, it is not just a badge of membership of a certain group within society, and in its deepest meaning it has nothing to do with the imposition of a creed or a philosophy by force. It speaks of hope, it speaks of love, it speaks of the victory of non-violence over oppression, it speaks of God raising up the lowly, empowering the weak, conquering division, and overcoming hatred with love. A world without the Cross would be a world without hope, a world in which torture and brutality would go unchecked, the weak would be exploited and greed would have the final word. Man’s inhumanity to man would be manifested in ever more horrific ways, and there would be no end to the vicious cycle of violence. Only the Cross puts an end to it. While no earthly power can save us from the consequences of our sins, and no earthly power can defeat injustice at its source, nevertheless the saving intervention of our loving God has transformed the reality of sin and death into its opposite. That is what we celebrate when we glory in the Cross of our Redeemer.” (Holy Mass attended by priests, religious, deacons, catechists and representatives of Cyprian ecclesial movements in Nicosia)

Sheik Nazim Sufi, spiritual leader of the Muslims in the north of Cyprus, came to meet with the pope before Mass at the Church of the Holy Cross. He apologised for not getting up. "I am an old man," he said, to which the pope replied with a simple "I am old too." The two conversed briefly and the pope assured the sheik of his prayers.

On proclaiming Christ:

“When we proclaim Christ crucified we are proclaiming not ourselves, but him. We are not offering our own wisdom to the world, nor are we claiming any merit of our own, but we are acting as channels for his wisdom, his love, his saving merits. We know that we are merely earthenware vessels, and yet, astonishingly, we have been chosen to be heralds of the saving truth that the world needs to hear. Let us never cease to marvel at the extraordinary grace that has been given to us, let us never cease to acknowledge our unworthiness, but at the same time let us always strive to become less unworthy of our noble calling, lest through our faults and failings we weaken the credibility of our witness.” (Idem)

A baby seemingly transfixed by the shiny mitre on the pope's head

On the three meanings of Corpus Christi:

Corpus Christi, the name given to this feast in the West, is used in the Church’s tradition to designate three distinct realities: the physical body of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, his eucharistic body, the bread of heaven which nourishes us in this great sacrament, and his ecclesial body, the Church. By reflecting on these different aspects of the Corpus Christi, we come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of communion which binds together those who belong to the Church. All who feed on the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist are “brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II) to form God’s one holy people.” (Holy Mass on the occasion of the publication of the Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in Nicosia)

On the murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese:

“Before I begin, it is only fitting that I recall the late Bishop Luigi Padovese who, as President of the Turkish Catholic Bishops, contributed to the preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris that I am consigning to you today. News of his unforeseen and tragic death on Thursday surprised and shocked all of us. I entrust his soul to the mercy of almighty God, mindful of how committed he was, especially as a bishop, to interreligious and cultural understanding, and to dialogue between the Churches. His death is a sobering reminder of the vocation that all Christians share, to be courageous witnesses in every circumstance to what is good, noble and just.” (Consignment of the Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops in Nicosia)

On the hope of Mary that caused her to say ‘yes’ to God:

“Some thirty years later, as Mary stood weeping at the foot of the cross, it must have been hard to keep that hope alive. The forces of darkness seemed to have gained the upper hand. And yet, deep down, she would have remembered the angel’s words. Even amid the desolation of Holy Saturday the certitude of hope carried her forward into the joy of Easter morning. And so we, her children, live in the same confident hope that the Word made flesh in Mary’s womb will never abandon us. He, the Son of God and Son of Mary, strengthens the communion that binds us together, so that we can bear witness to him and to the power of his healing and reconciling love.” (Angelus in Nicosia)

On ecumenism with the Orthodox Church:

“I hope that my visit here will be seen as another step along the path that was opened up before us by the embrace in Jerusalem of the late Patriarch Athenagoras and my venerable predecessor Pope Paul the Sixth. Their first prophetic steps together show us the road that we too must tread. We have a divine call to be brothers, walking side by side in the faith, humble before almighty God, and with unbreakable bonds of affection for one another.” (Farewell ceremony at Larnaca International Airport)

Italian undersecretary Gianna Letta welcomes Pope Benedict XVI upon his return to Rome

Papal Soundbytes, part I

Well, here is part 1 of the Cyprus edition of ‘Papal Soundbytes’. Just like I have done following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Portugal, I will share a choice selection of quotations from the various addresses, speeches and homilies given by the Holy Father when he was in Cyprus this past weekend. They’re intended as highlights of what I think are important and interesting points raised. You may read the full texts here.

Pope Benedict XVI is received with full honours as he is welcomed by President Dimitris Christofias at a windy Paphos International Airport

The intention of the visit:

“Following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Saints Paul and Barnabas, I have come among you as a pilgrim and the servant of the servants of God. Since the Apostles brought the Christian message to these shores, Cyprus has been blessed by a resilient Christian heritage. I greet as a brother in that faith His Beatitude Chrysostomos the Second, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, and I look forward shortly to meeting many more members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. […] I hope to strengthen our common bonds and to reiterate the need to build up mutual trust and lasting friendship between all those who worship the one God. […] I come in a special way to greet the Catholics of Cyprus, to confirm them in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and to encourage them to be both exemplary Christians and exemplary citizens, and to play a full role in society, to the benefit of both Church and state.” (Welcome ceremony at Paphos International Airport.)

Pope Benedict XVI enthusiastically greets people gathered at the Church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa

About communion in the Apostolic faith, and ecumenism:

“This is the communion, real yet imperfect, which already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord’s will for all his followers. For, in Paul’s words, “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5).” (Ecumenical celebration in the archeological area of the church of Agia Kiriaka Chrysopolitissa in Paphos.)

“The unity of all Christ’s disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today’s world. The Lord prayed for the holiness and unity of his disciples precisely so that the world might believe (cf. Jn 17:21).” (Idem)

“Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future.” (Idem)

About bearing witness:

“Like Paul and Barnabas, every Christian, by baptism, is set apart to bear prophetic witness to the Risen Lord and to his Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace.” (Idem)

On public service:

“From a religious perspective, we are members of a single human family created by God and we are called to foster unity and to build a more just and fraternal world based on lasting values. In so far as we fulfil our duty, serve others and adhere to what is right, our minds become more open to deeper truths and our freedom grows strong in its allegiance to what is good.” (Meeting with the civil authorities and diplomatic corps in Nicosia.)

The pope thanks violin players who welcomed him with music at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia

On the role of morality in public service:

“The ancient Greek philosophers also teach us that the common good is served precisely by the influence of people endowed with clear moral insight and courage. In this way, policies become purified of selfish interests or partisan pressures and are placed on a more solid basis. Furthermore, the legitimate aspirations of those whom we represent are protected and fostered. Moral rectitude and impartial respect for others and their well-being are essential to the good of any society since they establish a climate of trust in which all human interactions, whether religious, or economic, social and cultural, or civil and political, acquire strength and substance.” (Idem)

On how the pursuit of truth can bring greater harmony to the troubles regions of the world, in three steps:

“Firstly, promoting moral truth means acting responsibly on the basis of factual knowledge. […] A second way of promoting moral truth consists in deconstructing political ideologies which would supplant the truth. […] Thirdly, promoting moral truth in public life calls for a constant effort to base positive law upon the ethical principles of natural law.”(Idem)

On what individual faithful can do for the immediate needs of the Church:

“With regard to the immediate needs of the Church, I encourage you to pray for and to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As this Year for Priests draws to a close, the Church has gained a renewed awareness of the need for good, holy and well-formed priests. She needs men and women religious completely committed to Christ and to the spread of God’s reign on earth. Our Lord has promised that those who lay down their lives in imitation of him will keep them for eternal life (cf. Jn 12:25). I ask parents to ponder this promise and to encourage their children to respond generously to the Lord’s call. I urge pastors to attend to the young, to their needs and aspirations, and to form them in the fullness of the faith.” (Meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus in Nicosia.)

A Maronite cleric presents a gift to Pope Benedict XVI during the latter's visit to St Maron's school in Nicosia, where he addressed the small Catholic community of Cyprus

Papal soundbytes, part 1

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI returned from his four-day visit to Portugal. It is widely lauded as an important visit, where the pope said much that is worth some thoughtful consideration, followed by action. I can impossibly share all that the Holy Father said (the website of the Vatican has the complete texts), nor can I give a comprehensive overview. What I can and will share are some quotes from the addresses and homilies given by the pope about various subjects.

During the flight to Portugal

On the conflict between secularism and faith in modern Europe:
“In the multicultural situation in which we all find ourselves, we see that if European culture were merely rationalist, it would lack a transcendent religious dimension, and not be able to enter into dialogue with the great cultures of humanity all of which have this transcendent religious dimension – which is a dimension of man himself. So to think that there exists a pure, anti-historical reason, solely self-existent, which is “reason” itself, is a mistake; we are finding more and more that it affects only part of man, it expresses a certain historical situation but it is not reason as such. Reason as such is open to transcendence and only in the encounter between transcendent reality and faith and reason does man find himself. So I think that the precise task and mission of Europe in this situation is to create this dialogue, to integrate faith and modern rationality in a single anthropological vision which approaches the human being as a whole and thus also makes human cultures communicable.”

On secularism:
“I would say that the presence of secularism is something normal, but the separation and the opposition between secularism and a culture of faith is something anomalous and must be transcended.”

On the apparitions at Fátima:
“Fatima is a sign of the presence of faith, of the fact that it is precisely from the little ones that faith gains new strength, one which is not limited to the little ones but has a message for the entire world and touches history here and now, and sheds light on this history.”

On supernatural apparitions:
“[S]uch an impulse enters into a subject and is expressed according to the capacities of that subject. The subject is determined by his or her historical, personal, temperamental conditions, and so translates the great supernatural impulse into his or her own capabilities for seeing, imagining, expressing; yet these expressions, shaped by the subject, conceal a content which is greater, which goes deeper, and only in the course of history can we see the full depth, which was – let us say – “clothed” in this vision that was accessible to specific individuals.”

Official reception at Lisbon airport

On Fátima:
“As for the event that took place 93 years ago, when heaven itself was opened over Portugal – like a window of hope that God opens when man closes the door to him – in order to refashion, within the human family, the bonds of fraternal solidarity based on the mutual recognition of the one Father, this was a loving design from God; it does not depend on the Pope, nor on any other ecclesial authority: “It was not the Church that imposed Fatima”, as Cardinal Manuel Cerejeira of blessed memory used to say, “but it was Fatima that imposed itself on the Church.””

Homily during Mass at the Terreiro do Paço in Lisbon

“We know that she also has quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters, but it is in the saints that the Church recognizes her most characteristic features, it is in them that she tastes her deepest joy. They all share the desire to incarnate the Gospel in their own lives, under the inspiration of the eternal animator of God’s People – the Holy Spirit.”

To the young people gathered in front of the nunciature in Lisbon

“Thank you for your joyful witness to Christ, who is eternally young, and thank you for the kindness you have shown to his humble Vicar on earth by gathering here this evening. You have come to wish me good night and from my heart I thank you; but now you must let me go and sleep, otherwise the night will not be good, and tomorrow awaits us.”

“Good night! See you tomorrow. Thank you very much!”

Meeting with the world of culture in Lisbon

On truth:
“The Church appears as the champion of a healthy and lofty tradition, whose rich contribution she sets at the service of society. Society continues to respect and appreciate her service to the common good but distances itself from that “wisdom” which is part of her legacy. This “conflict” between tradition and the present finds expression in the crisis of truth, yet only truth can provide direction and trace the path of a fulfilled existence both for individuals and for a people. Indeed, a people no longer conscious of its own truth ends up by being lost in the maze of time and history, deprived of clearly defined values and lacking great and clearly formulated goals.”

On Vatican II:
“Precisely so as “to place the modern world in contact with the life-giving and perennial energies of the Gospel” (John XXIII, Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, 3), the Second Vatican Council was convened. There the Church, on the basis of a renewed awareness of the Catholic tradition, took seriously and discerned, transformed and overcame the fundamental critiques that gave rise to the modern world, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. In this way the Church herself accepted and refashioned the best of the requirements of modernity by transcending them on the one hand, and on the other by avoiding their errors and dead ends. The Council laid the foundation for an authentic Catholic renewal and for a new civilization – “the civilization of love” – as an evangelical service to man and society.”