The synodal path – German bishops to put global truth to popular vote?

dbk logoIn their spring assembly, which this year took place in the Emsland town of Lingen, in the Diocese of Osnabrück, the German bishops discussed, among other things, several hot topics. First and foremost the abuse crisis, of course, on which they heard from various experts and were told that the Church is losing (or even already has lost) all her credibility as a result of the sexual abuse committed by clergy and the subsequent coverup by bishops and superiors.

In order to perhaps recover some of the credibility, and find a permanent solution to the scourge of abuse, which the bishops see as an expression of abuse of power, they opt to go the synodal path. The buzzword which has been the go-to solution for a lot of things in recent years is perhaps hard to define, but if anything, it amounts to less power for bishops and more listening and taking advise from lay faithful and experts outside the Church. There is of course a risk that any expression of episcopal authority comes to be seen as undesirable, thus pretty much negating the power and fucntion of bishops, but this is another story.

marx-XIn the post-meeting press conference (text here), Cardinal Reihard Marx (at right) discusses this synodal path and explains that the bishops have decided to employ it also on the topics of power abuse, priestly celibacy and the Church’s sexual morality. Does this mean, as some have commented, that the German bishops will put these topics to a popular vote? For the first, the abuse of power by clergy, this may be a good path, but I have my doubts if a singular bishops’ conference can and should take the teachings of the Church, which is not limited to Germany, and single-handedly change them if the people demand it.

Below is my translation of the relevant passage from the press conference:

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“The Church needs a synodal development. Pope Francis encourages us to do so. And we do not begin from zero. The Würzburg Synod (1972-1975)  and also the processes of recent years have prepared the ground, also for the many challenges of today. We have decided in unison to go a synodal path as Church in Germany, which enables a structural debate and takes place in a scheduled timeframe, and in fact together with the Central Committee of German Catholics. We will create formats for open debate and committ ourselves to processes which allow for a responsible participation of women and men from our dioceses. We want to be a listening Church. We need the advise from people outside the Church.

I will therefore list three points which played a part in the study day and upon which we will focus:

  • We are aware of the cases of clerical abuse of power. It is a betrayal of the trust of people seeking for support and religious orientation. What has to be done to achieve the required development of power and create a fairer and legally binding order, will become clear on the synodal path. The development of administrative tribunals is a part of this.
  • We are aware that the way of life of bishops and priests requires change to show the inner freedom of of the faith and the orientation on the example of Jesus Christ. We consider celibacy to be an expression of religious unity with God. We wish to work out the extent to which it should be a part of the witness of priests in our Church.
  • The Church’s sexual morality has not yet accepted several findings from theology and humanities. The personal meaning of sexuality has not been given sufficient attention. The result: the proclamation of morality offers no direction to the majority of the baptised. We see how often we are unable to respond to questions about modern sexual behaviour.”

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The bishops plan to have a plan for this synodal path ready by September, when it will be discussed in a meeting of bishops, members of the Central Committee of German Catholics and others.

In the mean time, I wonder if this is not taking the same course as the Communion for remarried Catholics debate? That was also taken to Rome by some bishops who understood that a single group of bishops can not pretend to speak for the entire world Church. The question of priestly celibacy and sexual morality can certainly be discussed, even by a single bishops’ conference, but they can not take unilateral action contrary to what the Church as a whole teaches. These changes, if they must be made, must be made at the top.

I am leaving the bishops’ first point, about combating abuse of power, out of this, as that is something they can act on by themselves.

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After four days, a successful summit?

As Pope Francis delivered his closing remarks of the abuse summit, which took place last week in Rome, what should have been a game-changing event came uncomfortably close to a failure. While it was perhaps optimistic to expect concrete measures within hours after the summit’s close, the papal speech should have been much more than a generic overview of abuse across society and (again) a statement that it should not be tolerated in the Church. We know this (and those who don’t have no business holding any position of authority in the Church). Although the insistence on appropriate steps is to be welcomed, the responses, especially those of victims, were understandably angry and disappointed. But the words of Pope Francis will not be all that comes from the summit.

A press conference revealed that we can expect a follow-up meeting (which took place on Monday with the heads of Curia departments and the pope), a Motu Proprio on the topic, a ‘rule book’ for bishops and religious superiors to outline the laws and procedures, and last but not least, the conduct we must expect from them in cases of sexual abuse, as well as task forces available to assist dioceses and bishops’ conferences in fighting abuse. But, the real work must take place across the world, in dioceses, parishes, and religious orders and movements, down to every single Catholic everywhere. There is no way that this can be the final word. The work continues.

But, as this step has been taken, we can ask, has it been a good step? What has the summit given to the 190 participants, that they can take with them and use to make the Catholic Church a safe environment for everyone?

During the three-day meeting, nine presentations were given by various clergy and laity. These, together with the opening and closing remarks by Pope Francis, are the most substantial elements of the summit that were shared with the wider public (in a welcome change from recent Synod practices, the presentations were streamed live and the texts published soon after the presentations were held). In order, these presentations were:

  1. Smell of the sheep. Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the heart of the shepherd’s task“, by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
  2. Church as field hospital. Taking responsibility“, by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
  3. The Church in a moment of crisis – Facing conflicts and tensions and acting decisively“, by Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez.
  4. Collegiality: sent together“, by Cardinal Oswald Gracias.
  5. Synodality: jointly responsible“, by Cardinal Blase Cupich.
  6. Communio: to work together“, by Dr. Linda Ghisoni.
  7. Openess: sent out into the world“, by Sister Veronica Openibo.
  8. Transparency in a community of believers“, by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
  9. Communication: to all people“, by Dr. Valentina Alazraki

Together, these presentations served as reminders of the correct conduct towards victims, the regulations that are in place or which should be created, but also the consequences that follow when the Church and her members stick their heads in the sand and look out for themselves and their reputation before the wellbeing and rights of the victims. Dr. Alazraki, speaking as a reporter, did not mince words when she said that the media wants to stand next to the Church in her efforts to uncover the truth, but if she tries to hide that truth, the media will be the Church’s greatest enemy.

The only claim to success that this summit has is the future. If the words spoken over the past days remain just that, nothing will change. They must lead to action. Abuse, sexual or otherwise, has no place in society, and least of all in the Church. The only response to abuse can be to stand with the victims and the truth.

 

Caught between two fires – The trials of Cardinal Marx

marx-XHe is probably the most powerful and most criticised European cardinal at the moment. As president of the German Bishops’ Conference, member of the Council of Cardinals assisting Pope Francis in his reforms of the Curia, head of one of the largest archdioceses in Europe, and former vice-president and president of COMECE (the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community), 65-year-old Cardinal Reinhard Marx is no stranger to media attention, headlines and the accompanying support and criticism that comes with it.

He is also, like all public figures, the target of plenty of calls for action, suggestions of which direction he should take the Church (or his part of it) in by leading by example and changing what he can (even if that power is sometimes exaggerated by those who address him). At this moment, the cardinal’s theoretical desk is occupied by two such calls: one, an appeal from eight theologians urging him to make all those old liberal chestnuts a reality: abolish mandatory celibacy, allowing women to become priests, a change in how the Church relates to homosexuality and a limit to her power. Another appeal, issued several weeks ago, comes from a group of priests from the Archdiocese of Paderborn (where Cardinal Marx was an auxiliary bishop from 1996 to 2001) takes a completely different direction: it, rather harshly, calls for the cardinal to return to the faith of the Catholic Church and the sacraments, which, they claim, he has been abusing for his own personal and political neo-Marxist ends.

So, if the theologians and the Paderborn priests are to be understood, here we have a cardinal who is a neo-Marxist using the sacraments and the faith as social and political tools, and at the same time upholding the traditions and teachings of that same Church… I guess he can’t win, really. Of course, it is somewhat misleading to equate these appeals too much. The first is a consequence of the abuse crisis in which the Church in Germany is equally embroiled, and which it is currently addressing, following a report detailing what took place in the past decades. The second was triggered by Cardinal Marx’s social activity, which is inspired by his faith and duties in the Catholic Church, and which have led to him being considered a leftist, even Marxist, activist too much influenced by the spirit of the times. That said, this accusation comes from people who, too often, automatically mistrust that spirit.

Like Pope Francis, Cardinal Marx seems more concerned with the practicalities of daily life and how the Church should respond and act in the situation of tragedy and triumph of everyday life. The teachings of the Church, her sacraments, her doctrine, seem to disappear from the spotlight sometimes, but it would be an untruth to claim they are therefore absent.

2019: A look ahead

A new year, so a good time to look ahead to what 2019 may bring. The year will undoubtedly have its share of surprises, but there are always some things we can know for sure.

Among these is the inevitable progression of time, and thus the aging out of cardinals. In 2019, ten cardinals will celebrate their 80th birthday and so lose their right to participate in a conclave for the election of a new pope, as well as any duties they may have in the curia. The umber of cardinal-electors will drop from 124 to 114. Still a sufficient number, but Pope Francis has shown that he wants to keep the electors as close to their theoretical maximum of 120 (or over it, as the case is now), so a consistory may be in the books sometime towards the end of the year, or at the start of 2020.

The cardinals aging out are:

  • jrkruk_20130907_kard_stanislaw_dziwisz_wislica_img_3893b30 January: Alberto Cardinal Suárez Inda, archbishop emeritus of Morelia, Mexico
  • 11 March: Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, Philippines
  • 8 April: Edwin Frederick Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
  • 27 April: Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Kraków, Poland (pictured at right)
  • 31 July: John Cardinal Tong Hon, bishop emeritus and apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, China
  • 16 August: Seán Baptist Cardinal Brady, archbishop emeritus of Armagh, Northern Ireland
  • 7 October: Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop emeritus of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • 11 October: Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • 14 October: Edoardo Cardinal Menichelli, archbishop emeritus of Ancona-Osimo, Italy
  • 15 October: Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo, archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, India

Who may replace these cardinals among the electors is guesswork, as Pope Francis has never felt bound to pick his cardinals from the traditional places. Still, the list above could give some hints and we may assume that the Holy Father will choose cardinals for countries who no longer have any. That said, possible candidates could be Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Kraków, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa. Another source of new cardinals are the papal visits Pope Francis makes. He has made some of hosts cardinals in the past before. It may therefore be possible that we may see new cardinals from Panama, the Arabian peninsula, Morocco, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania (all confirmed visits), and perhaps Japan, Mozambique and Uganda (rumoured visits).

Closer to home, a number of dioceses will be looking forward to new bishops this year. In the Netherlands, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam has just received a coadjutor bishop, although the sitting ordinary, Bishop Jos Punt, expects to remain in office until his 75th birthday in 2021. Health permitting, of course.

luc van looy gent - bisdom genrt_0In Belgium, Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent (pictured at left) has already had his retirement accepted. At 77, he completed a two-year extension to his mandate last year. He is to remain in office until the appointment and installation of his successor. Namur’s Bishop Remy Vancottem is, at 75, also past retirement age, so the southeastern diocese may see a new bishop before the year is out as well.

In Germany, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg will turn 75 in June. Among the country’s auxiliary bishops, there is room in Freiburg im Breisgau where erstwhile auxiliary Bishop Michael Gerber was appointed to Fulda in December.

In the headline-making department, there is of course next month’s meeting of the heads of all the bishops’ conferences in Rome, to discuss a unified Church response to the abuse crisis. Among the participants will be Bishop Hans van den Hende for the Netherlands, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel for Belgium, Cardinal Reinhard Marx for Germany and Bishop Czeslaw Kozon for Scandinavia.

Currently gearing up in Panama, the World Youth Days will take place from 22 to 27 January. The first group of Dutch pilgrims have departed for the Central American country today, with more to follow. Among them will be Bishops Everard de Jong and Jan Hendriks. Bishop de Jong is again replacing Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who has decided to stay at home as he is recovering from unplanned – and not further specified – surgery. Last year, Bishop Mutsaerts elected not to take part in the Synod assembly on youth and vocation in Rome. Bishop de Jong went in his stead.

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422In October, the Synod of Bishops will gather again for a special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region, to discuss the specific challenges for the Church there. The expectations are high, as many assume to what will be decided there, especially on the topic of married priests, will have global consequences. Participation in the special assembly is limited to bishops from the area, which means there is a minute Dutch link, at least when it comes to language, in the person of the bishop of Paramaribo, Msgr. Karel Choennie. Bishop Choennie is a member of the pre-synodal council preparing the special assembly in cooperation with Synod of Bishops’ general secretariat.

2019 will undoubtedly bring much to be discussed in (social) media, and there is still plenty being carried over from previous years. Keeping track of everything, let alone formulating thoughts and responses can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s probably a good idea to remember that not finding words or timely responses does not mean one does not care. There are many opinions, and many eloquent ones at that, to be found everywhere. And, perhaps more importantly, there are also answers to be found in the past. After all, what was true and good in the past remains true and good now. That is something to remember when we are confronted with questions and developments which seem to challenge our beliefs, understanding and even faith. We have a deposit of faith and exegesis to fall back on, and many of today’s questions and challenges are not new ones.

Photo credit: [1] Jarosław Roland Kruk / Wikipedia, licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0, [2] kerknet.be

Now a C6, Pope’s advisory council sees three members go

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The decision was not unexpected, but it may have important repercussions for the future work of the Council of Cardinals as well as for Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the Curia. In September, the nine-member Council had requested the pope to reflect on “the work, structure and composition of the Council itself, also taking into account the advanced age of some members”, as today’s press release has it. At the time, I speculated that the most likely Council members to be let go were Cardinals George Pell, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya. It turns out that I was right.

card_monsengwuThe three cardinals are all of advanced age, with Cardinal Pell being the youngest at 77. In fact, only for Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya would age have been the sole reason to be let go from the Council. In February, the 79-year-old Congolese prelate had a coadjutor archbishop appointed to assist him in his Archdiocese of Kinshasa. In November this coadjutor, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, took over as archbishop of Kinshasa and Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya retired. The letting go of Cardinals Pell and Errázuriz ,, although in part motivated by their age, is also coloured by their involvement in sexual abuse cases, with Cardinal Errázuriz playing a role in the abuse crisis in Chile and Cardinal Pell currently on trial in his native Australia.

The Council of Cardinals now consists of the following members:

  • Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
  • Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State and the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State
  • Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay
  • Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising and Coordinator of the Council for the Economy
  • Cardinal Séan O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State

The Council is assisted by Bishop Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, as secretary, and Bishop-elect Marco Mellino as adjunct secretary (who is the sole Council member specifically appointed and made a bishop for that role (his consecration is scheduled for next Saturday, with Cardinal Parolin as main consecrator)).

While the above is significant but not unexpected, a further line in the press release states: “Given the phase of the Council’s work, the appointment of new members is not expected at present.” Should this be read as an indication that the work of the Council of Cardinals is nearing completion? The press release also notes that a new version of the Apostolic Constitution, provisionally titled Predicate evangelium, has been submitted to Pope Francis, which may be another hint that the work is closer to its end than its beginning. This document is expected to replace the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, issued in 1988 by Pope Saint John Paul II, which outlines the current structure and duties of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis has of course already changed some aspects of Pastor Bonus, by merging dicasteries and creating new ones. A new Apostolic Constitution will not only outline the names and duties of the dicasteries, but also how they must function by themselves and in relation to the rest of the Roman Curia.

Photo credit: [1] Vatican Media, [2] CNS

On abuse, the pope calls the bishops to Rome

synodIn February of next year, Pope Francis will receive the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss the “protection of minors”, as today’s press communique states. It is obvious that this announcement, originally proposed by the Council of Cardinals who concluded their 26th meeting today*, comes in the wake of, and is a reaction to, the events of the past weeks.

Some think that February’s meeting, which has not been identified as an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, as the participation of conference presidents only suggests. comes rather late. After all, the crisis is happening now, but it would be foolish to think it will be gone when the new year rolls around. The current crisis was triggered by investigations by a grand jury in the American state of Pennsylvania, but at this time, the attorneys general of six more states have either already subpoenaed dioceses in their states, have announced that they will do so, or, in some cases, dioceses themselves have invited AG’s to study their paperwork. This, and similar procedures in other countries, including Germany, assure that the abuse history of the Church will be with us for a long time to come. Things will not have blown over by the time the bishops meet in Rome.

That said, the Church, from the Pope on down, does not have the luxury to sit back and do nothing until February. Too many high ranking prelates, including the pope himself, have been implicated or somehow included in accusations of silencing victims, hiding abusers, and not reporting crimes. The crisis has by now, rightly or wrongly, involved so many people, and high ranking ones at that, that proper action has become not only unavoidable, but extremely necessary.  And continued silence is not that proper action.

Finally, as some have rightly pointed out, while the prevention of abuse of minors  and the identification and punishment of perpetrators remains high on the list of priorities, the current crisis in the Church is not only about that. The victims have not solely been minors. In the case of Archbishop McCarrick, they were seminarians, so young adults, and the abuse was later covered up by other priests and bishops. It is to be hoped that February’s assembly will recognise and discuss that aspect too.

DSC_2699_31481e79b67ab70c5ca711c62299f166While Pope Francis is free to appoint other delegates to the assembly, and he would be wise to do so, the presidents of the bishops’ conferences are expressly invited, or, if you will, summoned. There are 114 Roman-rite conferences in the Church, and a further 21 of Eastern rites. The presidents of these are elected by the members of each conference, and they need not be a cardinal or archbishop (metropolitan or not). The president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference is the bishop of Rotterdam, Msgr. Hans van den Hende (pictured), while the Belgian bishops, on the other hand, are headed by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, and the Germans by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The Nordic Bishops’ Conference then, made up of bishops from five countries, have the bishop of Copenhagen, Msgr. Czeslaw Kozon, as their president. It is unknown if bishops from dioceses which do not belong to a conference, such as Luxembourg, will be invited as well.

*And not on Monday, as I wrote earlier. Thanks for the correction sent by e-mail, David Cheney of Catholic Hierarchy!

**A detailed investigation of several years has revealed, media suggest, almost 4,000 victims of abuse over the course of 6 decades. The official report is to be published in two weeks time.

Photo credit: [2] KN/Jan Peeters

Changes for the C9

For the first time since its establishment in 2013, the so-called C9, or the Council of Cardinals who assist the pope in governing the Church and reforming the Curia, is on the verge of a major shakeup. Originally composed of eight cardinals and a bishop secretary, the council was expanded to nine with the addition of the Secretary of State in 2014.

council of cardinals

^The Council of Cardinals in 2013. From left to right: Cardinal Errázuriz, Bishop Semeraro, Cardinal Gracias, Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Cardinal Maradiaga, Cardinal Bertello, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya. Cardinal Parolin was not yet a member.

In its 26th meeting, which concluded today, the members asked the pope to, among other things, consider the composition of the council, also taking into account the age of some of the members. This seems a direct reference to the three members who are over 75, the mandatory age of retirement for bishops and cardinals in the Curia (cardinals automatically retire at the age of 80, if their retirement had not been accepted before then). However, if, in his deliberations on this issue, the pope decides to look a few years ahead, all but two of the members of the Council of Cardinals could arguably be up for retirement.

The three senior members, who are almost certainly to retire from the Council, are:

  • Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, 83
  • Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, 78
  • George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, 77

Of these, Cardinals Errázuriz and Pell are also facing accusations of mismanagement of sexual abuse claims, perhaps further compromising their position in the Council – Cardinal Errázuriz as part of the overall Chilean abuse crisis, while Cardinal Pell, who maintains his innocence, is currently in the middle of court proceedings against him in his native Australia.

Of the other six members, 2 are currently 75, while two more will reach that age within the next to years. They are:

  • Óscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, 75
  • Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, president of the Governorate of and the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, 75
  • Seán Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, 74
  • Oswald Cardinal Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, 73

Of these, four, Cardinal Maradiaga stands accused of complicity in the handling of abuse cases and financial mismanagement, while, on he other side of the case, Cardinal O’Malley continues to play a significant part in the fight against abuse as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Rounding out the membership, and not at risk to be retired, at least for reasons of age are:

  • Reinhard Cardinal Marx, archbishop of München und Freising, 64
  • Pietro Cardinal Parolin, secretary of state, 63
  • Bishop Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, 70

Who Pope Francis will select to replace the three senior Council members is anyone’s guess, although it would be logical if he maintains the practice of choosing one member per continent. So we may expect a new member each from South America, Africa and Oceania. But other than that, the guessing is actually harder than back in 2013. In his first year as pope, Francis will have likely picked cardinals he knew well enough (Errázuriz), or who headed a major diocese in their part of the world (Monsengwo Pasinya, Pell). Now, five years later, and as we have seen from the cardinals he has created, Francis may well have an eye for the little men, some of whom he gave a red hat. As it is actually called a Council of Cardinals, we can safely assume that he will choose cardinals, and not regular bishops or archbishops. Then again…

In the same statement about their 26th meeting, the Council of Cardinals also announced hat a formal response to the Viganò allegations would be forthcoming. A welcome announcement.