After McCarrick, Viganò and Francis, Dutch bishops comment

It took some time for the Dutch bishops to comment on what I have seen being called ‘the summer of scandal’: the revelation of past abuse and cover-ups in dioceses in Pennsylvania, accusations of similar cover-ups as far as the Vatican and the pope himself, and the silence that remains a too-frequently employed answer. Of course, as none of the developments involves the Catholic Church in the Netherlands in particular, and considering that we have been through a coupe of years of revelations and their fallout in recent years, it is in some way understandable that the bishops have kept their silence. After all, what else could they say that they haven’t been saying already? On the other hand, the abuse and accusations have been making headlines, also in Dutch media, and as Pope Francis remains highly popular inside and outside the Church, faithful in the Netherlands have been looking for answers and explanations, even if they are the same as those given a coupe of years ago.

bisschop-de-korteBishop Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch was the first to comment directly on the letter by Archbishop Viganò and the steps taken by Pope Francis to combat sexual abuse and to promote openness in the Church concerning that issue. Last week he stated for Nieuwsuur:

“I think the debate is about how to deal with bishops who have consciously kept things secret and are guilty of abuse themselves. Bishop obviously can’t do that themselves. Someone above them, in this case the pope, must take those measures.”

Bishop de Korte admitted that it would be good if the pope displayed more decisiveness:

“He has already done some in a number of cases. But he could perhaps do a bit more. And I also think that many Catholics hope that he will do so in the near future.”

jan_hendriksIn his blog, Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, shares his thoughts about recent developments, following his summer vacation pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Francis de Sales. Describing the cases of former Cardinal McCarrick and the testimony of  Archbishop Viganò, the bishop states:

“It is clear that I am not able to judge this and that is not my task anyway. I condemn every form of sexual abuse: justice must be done to victims, who have been done great harm by people who, as clerics, must stand for a completely different morality. We must continue making clear that we want to and must stand on the side of the victims. Obviously, this is not only true for people who have been the victim of the actions of representatives of the Catholic Church, but thought must also be given to proper procedures for people who have been the victim of abuse in youth care, families, schools or other parts of society. In that regards the Catholic Church is a clearly definable worldwide ‘organisation’ and things work differently for sport clubs, youth movements, schools or youth care.”

Bishop Hendriks continues by emphasising that recent investigations in both the Netherlands and the United States have revealed few abuse cases from recent years. Most were committed decades ago. This, the bishop says, could be due to improved procedures to fight abuse and help victims in the Church. He also adds that, in his experience, the reactions to accusations of abuse are sometimes exaggerated, leading to acceptance of accusations which turn out to not always be true.

“Personally, I see an advantage in clear procedures – also for the judging of abuse of office by bishops – which can establish a proper and public jurisprudence. A bishop who systematically fails to uphold celibacy, can not remain in office. How else can he proclaim the ‘Gospel of the family’?

In closing, Bishop Hendriks looks to the future, saying:

“We must expect that the topic of abuse will demand our attention for years to come. Country by country, abuse in the Catholic Church will have to be dealt with, and we haven’t gone through to all countries yet… I hope and pray that it may lead to something good, in any case to a greater awareness of the problem of sexual abuse an a more adequate means to preventing abuse, fighting and condemning it and supporting the victims.”

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Last Advent – Bishop Wiertz looks back

In his final letter for Advent, Bishop Frans Wiertz, until last week bishop of Roermond, looks back on his almost 25 years at the helm of the southernmost diocese of the Netherlands. The letter will be read out in churches throughout the diocese this weekend.

Dies 2017-2823

^Bishop Wiertz, front row centre, is pictured with priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Roermond at Rolduc, yesterday. In this final meeting with them, he urged them to be missionary and to listen to people.

“Brothers and sisters,

On Saturday 2 December I celebrated my 75th birthday. On that day, as requested, Pope Francis has allowed me to retire as bishop of Roermond. I bade my farewells over this weekend and entered retirement. The pope will appoint a new bishop for our diocese in some time.

You can imagine that I have been thinking a lot over the past months about the almost 25 years that I was your bishop. I especially recall the many visits to parishes, during which the confirmations have always been especially impressive. On one of those occasions a confirmand once asked me, “Do you like being a bishop?” To which I gladly answered ‘yes’.

And also now, as I am stepping back, I can say, “yes, I have gladly been your bishop”. Because you are not a bishop for yourself, but for the people in the diocese with whom you share the same faith. Saint Augustine said it as follows, “I am a Christian with you and a bishop for you.”

No one applies for being a bishop. It appears on your path. When it became clear it would also be asked of me, it was rather frightening. “Can I do this? Is there no one better?” But when Pope John Paul II indicated that he wanted to appoint me, I said ‘yes’ with all my heart.

I was confident that things would turn out fine. I took that confidence in the first place, of course, from Christ, who called me to this office. When He places something on your path, He will also help you to fulfill the mission. Did He also not help the Apostles to fulfill their mission? “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” He reminded His disciples.

But I also feel the support of a number of saints. In the first place Saint Francis de Sales, my patron saint. From him comes the quote, “God is God of the human heart”. With these simple words he drew a link between God and man. He loved people and was united to them. From an inner faith, Francis de Sales could pass on God’s love. I also tried to do so.

There are two others saints who have shown me my way as bishop: Saint Servatius and Saint Willibrord. Upon the grave of the first in Maastricht we built the Basilica of St. Servatius. This holy Armenian came to our parts in the fourth century to proclaim here the faith in the triune God. He was later followed by Willibrord, who came from Ireland.

These saints, who came from far to proclaim the faith in our country, made me aware that we belong to a world church. Within that greater body of the world church, local faith communities can help and support each other in difficult times. That is why I made mission trips to various countries. I was able to visit flourishing churches there, and I was a guest in churches who exist under the cross, but where the faithful fire of the people touched me deeply.

Just like Servatius and Willibrord came to us, I went from here to other countries. I asked for priests there, who will make sure the God’s voice does not fall silent and that the holy sacraments will continue to be celebrated in the future.

I am exceedingly grateful that, at this moment, 45 young men from various countries are studying for the priesthood at Rolduc. With our own priests from Limburg that can create the link between people and God and God and people in the future. Their enthousiasm and honest inspiration fill me with great joy.

Finally, in the years that I was your bishop, I always knew I was supported by Our Lady, who we invoke here in Limburg with the title ‘Star of the Sea’. She is connected to the Diocese of Roermond in a special way. Her statue in Maastricht draws a continuous stream of people, who light a candle before her and pray a couple of Hail Marys.

Like at the wedding at Cana, Mary has always whispered to me, “Do as Jesus tells you to.” I listened to His word every day in the liturgy and I let myself by nourished by Him every day in the holy Eucharist. I also gladly celebrated the other sacraments and so continued Jesus’ work of salvation for us.

“Do as Jesus tells you to”. That was the way I was shown at my ordination as priest and bishop. The person of Jesus and what He does for people was always the guiding principle in the difficult questions which appeared on my path.

That is why I am so saddened by the fact to so many people have given up their membership of our Church. I want to say to them, that they have not been written off and that the Church knows that, in many cases, she is party to their decision. But I also hope for many to return. The door is always open.

Mary also always inspired me to pray to the Holy Spirit, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles.When the disciples flee every which way after Good Friday, it is Mary who calls them back together and says, “Let us pray! Let us pray to the Holy Spirit!” At Pentecost the Apostles receive the courage to go out to all parts of the world. They can no longer remain silent. A missionary Church is born.

As members of that missionary Church we are in this Advent on our way to Christmas. In a few weeks we will celebrate that we were introduced, through Mary, to the Son of God. It was she who brought the world into contact with Jesus. Seen like this, Mary was the first missionary. I would like to urge you to be missionary with here and spread God’s love throughout the world.

“Do you like being a bishop”? the confirmand asked. In response I can say that I have gladly been your bishop. And also that I have been a happy bishop because of that. Through the inspiration of Jesus, His mother Mary and the other saints.

As bishop emeritus, because of my increasing physical limitations, I can no longer be active. Just like many religious become contemplative when they grow older, I will also remain united in prayer with you and the Lord, who entrusted me with the office of bishop almost 25 years ago.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for love and faith.

Roermond, 2 December 2017

+ Frans Wiertz,
bishop emeritus of Roermond”

Bigger plans – Herwig Gössl called to be a bishop in Bamberg

“The Nuncio told me, and I couldn’t imagine it at first. I had planned on working in a parish again, in pastoral care, but now it was clear that all that, that path, was closed. And that was frightening at first.”

WeihbischofGösslSo Msgr. Herwig Gössl describes his first reaction to his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg. The 46-year-old seminary vice rector succeeds Bishop Werner Radspieler, who retired as auxiliary bishop in September last. Archbishop Ludwig Schick, pictured above with the new auxiliary bishop, said of the appointment, “Herwig Gössl will fulfill the duty of auxiliary bishop in good and fraternal cooperation with me.”

Both the bishop and the archbishop noted the appointment coinciding with today’s feast day of Saint Francis de Sales. Bishop-elect Gössl said he saw it as a “beautiful and encouraging sign, and at the same an incentive”, as the saint’s “goodness and faithfulness, humanity and joy, piety and selfishness are qualities befitting an auxiliary bishop”. Archbishop Schick noted, “Francis de Sales was active as a bishop in the time after the Reformation in modern Switzerland. He was a soft spoken man wh overcame resentment against the faith and the Church in his preaching, celebration of the sacrament and charity. That is also an important challenge for our time.”

And while the new bishop was looking forward to returning to the “ground work”, so to speak, of pastoral care in a parish, that is exactly what he is looking forward to in his new position as auxiliary bishop: meeting the people, Confirmations, pastoral visits, which he was less able to do in his time at the seminary.

A short overview of Bishop-elect Gössl’s previous work in the Church:

  • Born in Munich in 1967, raised in Nürnberg.
  • Entered seminary in Bamberg in 1986.
  • Studied in Bamberg and Innsbruck, followed by his ordination in 1993.
  • 1993-1997: Priest in the parish of St. Hedwig in Bayreuth.
  • 1997-2007: Parish priest in Hannberg and Weisendorf, where he became very popular.
  • 2007: Appointed as vice regent to the seminary in Bamberg, followed in 2008 by a similar function in Würzburg, where he moved. Since both dioceses work closely together in the formation of their priests, Fr. Gössl combined his duties for both until this year.
  • Fr. Gössl has for year been a member of the Feuerstein Konferenz, an ecumenical meeting place for Catholics, Evangelicals and Anglicans.

Bishop-elect Gössl’s consecration date has not yet been decided upon, but will have to take place no less than three months from today. He has been assigned the titular see of Balecium, located in Albania, and held until last November by Bishop (now Archbishop) Franz Lackner of Salzburg.

The challenge of dialogue – Pope Francis’ first Communications Day Message

Pope Francis released his first Message for World Communications Day today, and while the day itself won’t dawn until 1 June, tomorrow’s feast day of St. Francis de Sales is the traditional date for the release of the Message. Well, we’re only one day early…

world communications day

The Message is quite Franciscan in its content, repeating some of the things he has stated before and containing a clearly-worded challenge for all involved in the media in general, but specifically in Catholic media.

“We have to be able to dialogue  with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and  hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who  died and rose to free us from sin and death.  We are challenged to be people of  depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.  To  dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and  to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.  Engaging in dialogue  does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they  alone are valid or absolute.”

The dialogue needs to be the next step to take as Catholic communicators. Of course, there will be some who will take Pope Francis’ words in exactly the way he tells us not to: as if we should not hold on to the truths of the faith in our relations and communication with others. But this truth does not always necessarily coincide with our own ideas and desires. It is good to try and make that distinction.

Read the full Message via the link above or in my Dutch translation.

The silence of communication

As is customary on today’s feast of St. Francis de Sales, the Holy See publishes Pope Benedict’s annual Message for World Communications Day (here with a link to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ new website). This time around, the Holy Father once again speaks about social media and communications, but with the main emphasis on silence. A scarce commodity in modern society, to be sure, silence is here presented is one of two essential elements of communication, next to the word. Where words are spoken, someone else usually listens. Silence also allows for reflection;

“in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.”

Equally important, God also speaks to us in silence. The Holy Father beautifully describes this in the following passage:

“The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps … and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.”

In social media circles, much has been made about the pope’s clear reference to things like Twitter and Facebook status updates: “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

All in all, a worthwhile read (also in Dutch), offering proper food for thought for all of us. We all communicate, after all.

Shhh... take some time to listen and reflect

St. Francis de Sales, patron of the Catholic press, pray for us

Today is the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, the Renaissance bishop, author and Doctor of the Church who is also patron saint of the Catholic press, writers and journalists. A good prayer intention for today would be for unbiased and complete media reporting, free from ignorance, and full of honesty, charity and love for the neighbour.

St. Francis, ora pro nobis!

Pope’s message for World Communication Day (incl. Dutch translation)

In his message for the 45th World Communications Day, released today, Pope Benedict XVI stresses the importance of a Christian presence on the digital world. He explains what that constitutes: it is more than a religious content being communicated, but an attitude, a way of behaving towards others on the web. He also stresses the importance of responsibility and truth; especially the latter should not be subject to popularity, but deserves nothing less than an integral and honest communication.

I am pleasantly surprised to see such a positive message from the Holy Father; in some circles it was feared that this message would be predominantly negative about social media and the use of it by Catholics, especially young people. But it is not. Like so many things, the pope presents this too as a challenge that we are called to rise up to.

World Communication Day is on 5 June, but papal messages tend to be released on significant dates well before that. In this case, on the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, patron of the Catholic press, educators, writers and journalists.

Read the original text here and my Dutch translation here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile