Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

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Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

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Pilgrim bishop – Michael Gerber installed in Fulda

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Tecum in foedere, united with you, has been Bishop Gerber’s motto since his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau

A joyful day in Fulda yesterday, as Michael Gerber was installed in a 2-hour ceremony as the new bishop of that diocese. The former auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau succeeded Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, who retired in June of last year after having reached the age of 75

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Archbishop Becker gives the centuries-old staff of the abbots and bishops of Fulda to Bishop Gerber

Until the official appointment bull was read out, thus signifying the exact moment that Bishop Gerber became the ordinary of Fulda, the proceedings were lead by Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker, the archbishop of Paderborn and the metropolitan of the Church province to which Fulda belongs. Archbishop Becker handed the 12th-century bishop’s staff of Fulda to Bishop Gerber and then led him to the cathedra. His taking possession of the bishop’s seat was met with a lengthy applause, indicative of the joy with which Bishop Gerber has been received in his new diocese.

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Some 2,000 people attended the installation Mass in and around the cathedral. Among them som 30 bishops, some in choir, others concelebrating

Virtually every media source has noted that 49-year-old Bishop Gerber is Germany’s youngest ordinary, but that was put in perspective by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Once the youngest ordinary himself, the cardinal noted, “It will pass.” Cardinal Marx was one of several speakers at the end of the installation Mass. Among the bishops present was a selection of German prelates, as well as bishops from Cameroon, Burundi, Romania and the Netherlands: due to the close ties between Fulda and Groningen-Leeuwarden in the person of Saint Boniface, the latter diocese’s Bishop Ron van den Hout was present with his vicar general and the parish priest of Dokkum, the place where, the story has it, St. Boniface was martyred. Fulda is where his remains are buried.

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On pilgrimage to Fulda

Similar to when he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau in 2013, Bishop Gerber undertook a two-day pilgrimage to his new diocese, arriving the day before his installation. He was accompanied by 1,000 faithful, among them a group of youth carrying the World Youth Day cross.  Bishop Gerber and his predecessor Bishop Algermissen also took part in carrying the cross.

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Bishop Gerber gives the homily

Bishop Gerber gave the homily himself, speaking about the story of the prodigal son, the Gospel reading of yesterday. In it, he said that today’s challenges are not unlike those in the time of St. Boniface: “What matters is that through this encounter with Christ, people can face the challenges of their lives, that they won’t let them bring them down, but that they can be cause for growth”.

Photo credit: [1,2,3, 5] Bistum Fulda – Ralph Leupolt, Dr. Arnulf Müller, [4] B. Vogt

 

 

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.

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