.catholic – a coup by the Church?

Digibron1An article on RD.nl by Reformed minister Dr. Hans Kronenburg (pictured) challenges the efforts by the Catholic Church to register the domain name extension .catholic. He identifies it as “nothing but a conscious or subconscious digital coup”. From a Protestant point of view he is absolutely right, but from a Catholic one he couldn’t be more wrong.

The .catholic extension, if granted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory body responsible for these things, would be allowed to be used only by institutions, groups, individuals and societies which are in good standing with the Catholic Church. Basically, the Church will have the final say if any group or person may use the extension. This would, of course, offer some control over the Catholic ‘brand’. It offers some surety that a website using the extension .catholic is, in fact, that. There are, after all, some responsibilities that come with calling yourself ‘Catholic’.

What are the problems that Dr. Kronenburg has with what he calls a coup or power grab by the Church? The core of the problem is as follows, in his own words, translated by me:

“It is the same old song again: a church which forms just one branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, namely the Roman Catholic, appropriates something that belongs to the church of Christ as a whole, as it is confessed in the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople (381).”

He also shares and agrees with three points of the complaint lodged with ICANN by Saudi Arabia (of all nations). 1) The church claims the name Catholic, while other churches do likewise, 2) Ecumenically speaking, it is not done to give one church control over the name ‘catholic’ when it is not authorised to do so by other churches, and 3) there are questions about the ‘catholicity’ of the Catholic Church, since she alone considers herself fully Catholic. That is not universal, but sectarian. According to Dr. Kronenburg.

Generally, it is easy to agree with at least the first point above. There is a problem when multiple churches, rightly or wrongly, claim to be catholic. In their own understanding, if not that of the Catholic Church, they are catholic.

Points two and three are, frankly, nonsensical. Ecumenism, as mentioned in point two, is about finding common ground and a growth towards unity in the one Church of Christ. It is pertinently not about changing identities, which is what happens if one church is told by another what she can or can not call herself. Point three is very much related to the understanding of the term ‘Catholic’, and that is the very core of the problem, as I mentioned above.

Catholic is a term that indicates the universality of the Church, in both time and space. Jesus Christ established His Church, which is composed of all the faithful and which has a clear structure. Here is where the Catholic and Protestant understanding depart: The unity and universality of the Church is made visible in the form she takes here and now. Christ established a Church composed of faithful, certainly, but also gave them shepherds and means to exercise authority. Over time, but fairly soon, that has coalesced into the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. In various ways, the Protestant church communities, but also the Orthodox Churches, which have remained close to us in other ways, have departed from this structure. The Protestant church communities are Catholic in that they share our faith in many ways. There are also basic differences, to the detriment of their claim of ‘catholicity’. The Catholic Church is truly Catholic in that she has not only kept the faith in Christ, but also the unity, both invisibly and very visibly, that Christ prayed for.

Dr. Kronenburg’s claim that the Catholic Church is just one branch of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Creed is therefore not true. If she was a branch, she would have been at most a variation on one basic trunk: the faith that Christ gave us. There would be only negligible differences with the other branches. The problem is that these differences are not negligible. Dr. Kronenburg’s own Reformed Church, for example, does not constitute a different branch, but a different trunk of the same tree altogether. The faith of the different churches and church communities may share similarities, but they are by no means equal. To claim that is to neglect the major differences in teaching, understanding and faith that still exist.

And besides all this, there is the logic of domain name extensions. A Protestant website using the extension .catholic would be rather confusing. Even an Orthodox website ending in .catholic, which would have a better claim to the name, would cause confusion.

Photo credit: RD, Anton Dommerholt


Weekly news roundup: 13 to 19 November

As a counterbalance to the big stories, I decided to start a weekly blog post with the smaller Catholic news items which usually don’t make it to these pages, but which are an integral part of Catholic life. The roundup will contain short texts with links to the relevant news items.

This week I cam across things like these:

  • 14/11:  In its autumn edition, Dutch-Flemish monastic magazine De Kovel asks questions about priestly celibacy, under the title ‘Celibacy – free choice or inconvenient duty?’ It offers commentaries both pro and contra celibacy. Source.
  • 14/11: The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam has a photo report of the ordination of six deacons on Saturday. Source.
  • 15/11: Archbishop Léonard celebrated a ecumenical Te Deum service. He asked the faithful to pray for wisdom and courage for modern politicians and policy makers in Belgium. Source.
  • 16/11: Two-thirds of the Dutch people have no trust in the churches. This is an increase from half the population in 2006. Source.
  • 16/11: The Dioceses of Roermond, Liège and Aachen have established an international cooperation in care for HIV patients and the discrimination they suffer. Two conferences, in 2012 and 2013, are on the agenda. Source.
  • 17/11: The deanery in Diest, Belgium, has had a stone thrown through one of its windows. A link is made with the display of two posters, one featuring Archbishop Léonard and the other containing an anti-abortion message, in deanery’s window. Source.
  • 17/11: The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden announces new members and auditors of the diocesan council of priests. Eight priests, one permanent deacon and two pastoral workers, in addition to the two vicars general, take up duties in the council which  advises the bishop in matters of policy and pastoral care. Source.
  • 18/11 Bishop Gerard de Korte pleads for a “broad ecumenism”, and suggests that parishes should not limit their ecumenical contacts with the middle of the Protestant church, but should also reach out to the Reformed, Evangelicals and other church communities. Source.
  • 19/11: For his 60th birthday, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg will host people with financial and social problems for dinner. Instead of giving him presents, the bishop has asked people to donate to the ‘Network Life’ foundation, which helps people in difficult situations. Source.

Cardinal Kasper’s ecumenical catechism

At the opening of  a three-day symposium on the future of ecumenism, Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, suggested the idea of creating an ‘ecumenical catechism’ as one of the products of 40 years of dialogue with Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and members of Reformed churches. The cardinal stressed the need to keep the fruits of the decades of dialogue alive and wishes to promote “an ecumenism of basics that identifies, reinforces and deepens the common foundation.” He fears that modern ecumenism “is perhaps in danger of becoming a matter for specialists and thus of moving away from the grassroots.”

It is as yet not really clear what the structure of this ecumenical catechism should be, but it does sound as if it is a good means to put the mutually shared tenets and beliefs in stone, so to speak. Once set, it could be a good foundation for further development.

Perhaps this ecumenical catechism can be coupled with a renewed effort to bring the cause of ecumenism back to the people. But if that happens, it will have to replace an existing idea of ecumenism as simply being together and sharing regardless of differences. Because that is the ecumenism as it is alive among many faithful now. There is a lack of knowledge of their identity, on both sides of the division.

Cardinal Kasper recognises the importance of not hiding the differences, when he says that we must not ignore the Catholic understanding of what the Church: “[T]he Catholic Church is the church of Christ and […] the Catholic Church is the true church.” And the Catholic Church does believe that “there are deficits in the other churches. […] Yet on another level there are deficits, or rather wounds stemming from division and wounds deriving from sin, also in the Catholic Church.”

The acknowledgement of differences and our own identity, as I have written before, is the only starting point for fruitful debate and ecumenism.