The communications issue

In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:

dekorte2“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and  without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”

I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.

roderick vonhögenEvery now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a  tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.

The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.

And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana  few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.

And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.

Looking back at the year: 2012 in review

It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.

The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.

For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.

But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:

Pope Benedict announces a consistory. The list of 22 new cardinals includes the archbishop of Utrecht.
CDF releases a note with recommendations for the Year of Faith.
Archbishop Tscherrig (pictured) leaves Scandinavia for Argentina.
Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun turns 80.
– In the abuse crisis, soon-to-be Cardinal Eijk speaks before a parliamentary commission.
Bishop Jan Liesen is installed as bishop of Breda (Installation homily here).

german cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (R)February:
Dutch-born South-African Bishop Everardus Baaij passes away.
Cardinal Levada opens a major symposium on sexual abuse in Rome.
– At the same symposium, Msgr. Charles Scicluna tells it like it is.
The bishops of Belgium reply to a modernist movement among priests and laity.
Cardinal-designate Eijk is interviewed by Zenit.
Cardinal-designate Dolan delivers a landmark address about the new evangelisation.
22 new cardinals are created in the consistory of 18 February (new Cardinal Eijk pictured).
Responsibilities within the Dutch bishops’ conference are reshuffled.
In Germany, Bishop Reinelt retires.
Dominik Schwaderlapp is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Cologne.
In Mainz, Bishop Guballa passes away after a long sickbed.
Cardinal Eijk returns home with a pastoral letter on the Eucharist.

Pope Shenouda IIIMarch:
Cardinal Eijk announces that he will be keeping a closer eye on the celebration of the liturgy.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño turns 80.
Cardinal Sánchez passes away.
Cardinal Simonis speaks to Zenit about the Second Vatican Council.
Copenhagen’s Bishop emeritus Martensen passes away.
The Dutch bishops respond to a new horrible chapter in the abuse crisis.
Coptic Pope Shenouda II (pictured) passes away.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam makes public all the cases concerning sexual abuse by clergy.
A new presidency for the COMECE.
The Dutch bishops issue a letter concerning the celebration of the Easter Triduum, and the need to return its focus to the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict visits Mexico and Cuba.
Bishop Schwaderlapp is consecrated.

aponte martínezApril:
Cardinal Egan turns 80.
In the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the vicar general announces he will enter a monastery.
– In a letter to parliament, The Dutch bishops outline four developments in the fight against sexual abuse.
Pope Benedict directly addresses groups of disobedient priests and laity.
Cardinal Daoud passes away.
Cardinal Eijk reveals a monument for victims of sexual abuse in the Church.
Cardinal Aponte Martínez (pictured) passes away.
A parliamentary committee hears the ‘contact group’ for victims of sexual abuse.
The Dutch chapter of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem invests new members in the cathedral of Groningen-Leeuwarden.
Pope Benedict writes a letter to the German bishops and enters the debate about the new German translation of the Roman Missal.

bishop de korte, new altar st. joseph's cathedralMay:
After 66 years, the Belorussian Diocese of Pinsk finally gets a new bishop.
A new page on the blog, about my conversion story.
The annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed takes place.
Cardinal Vlk turns 80.
Cardinal Eijk takes possession if his title church.
The Deetman Commission undertakes a new abuse investigation, this time into the abuse suffered by women.
Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki is misunderstood about homosexuality.
The cathedral of St. Joseph receives a new altar (Bishop de Korte anointing it pictured) and marks the 125th anniversary of its consecration.

logo year of faithJune:
Pope Benedict XVI visits Milan.
New priests.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño passes away.
Florian Wörner is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Augsburg.
The bishops of Roermond publish a brochure about Communion.
– The Dutch bishops follow suit with a letter about the same topic.
Cardinal Schwery turns 80.
The Instrumentum laboris of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation is published.
The logo for the Year of Faith is revealed (pictured).
A round of personnel changes in the Curia.
Dutch Father Louis Tijssen is declared venerable.
Archbishop Nowacki is appointed as the new nuncio to Scandinavia.
The Heel abuse affair breaks.
President-Delegates are appointed for the Synod.

Gerhard Ludwig MüllerJuly:
Archbishop Müller (pictured) is appointed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
About half of the world’s bishops’ conferences have formulated guidelines against sexual abuse.
Cardinal de Araújo Sales passes away.
Bishop Borys Gudziak is appointed as Apostolic Exarch of France.
Cardinal Stafford turns 80.

carlo martiniAugust:
Bishop Wörner is consecrated, while Bishops Wehrle and Siebler retire.
The Diocese of Rotterdam publishes a Prayer for Faith.
Cardinal Rosales turns 80.
Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passes away.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80.
A Dutch priest’s apparent refusal to baptise the child of a lesbian couple fails to escalate much.
Cardinal Martini (pictured) passes away.

pope benedict  lebanonSeptember:
Cardinal Martini’s last interview causes some debate.
Bishop de Korte marks the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Rumours surface that priests in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden are unhappy with their new appointments.
Elections in the Netherlands result in a loss for the Christian parties.
Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz turns 80.
Pope Benedict (pictured) visits Lebanon.
Misunderstandings about ecumenism in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Pope Benedict XVI appoints 36 Synod Fathers.
Cardinal Baldelli passes away.
Questions arise about the German ‘Church tax’.
The first progress report on how the Church deals with abuse claims is released.

synod of bishopsOctober:
German Bishops Wanke and Schraml retire.
Dutch missionary Bishop Joseph Willigers passes away.
Morocco does not take kindly to the arrival of a Dutch ‘abortion boat’.
Vatican Promotor of Justice Charles Scicluna is recalled to Malta to become auxiliary bishop.
The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation begins (pictured).
Cardinal Erdö outlines eleven points for the new evangelisation of Europe.
Belgian Curial Bishop Frans Daneels is made an archbishop.
The Year of Faith begins.
Pope Benedict announces a small consistory for November.
The Synod of Bishops closes.
An attempt at stopping liturgical abusive carnival Masses in Eindhoven.
Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas church is to be made a basilica.

brother hugo vowsNovember:
Cardinal Arinze turns 80.
Bishop Demming passes away.
New sexual abuse accusations surface in Iceland against Bishop Gijsen.
Liège’s Bishop Jousten retires.
At Rolduc, Dutch seminarians attend a conference on new evangelisation.
Bishop Michael Hrynchyshyn passes away.
Hermit Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows (pictured).
The student chaplaincy in Tilburg is brought back into the Catholic fold.
European intolerance towards religion on display in Slovakia.
Cardinal Martino turns 80.
Pope Benedict XVI creates six new cardinals.
Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe speaks about the ‘official Church’.

pope twitterDecember:
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer is appointed as bishop of Regensburg.
Dutch missionary Bishop Wilhelmus Demarteau passes away.
Dutch government announces pulling the plug on small religious broadcasters.
Georg Gänswein is appointed as Prefect of the Papal Household and will be made an archbishop.
Cardinal Scheid turns 80.
Pope Benedict enters the Twitterverse (pictured).
Pope Benedict publishes the Apostolic Letter on charity, Intima Ecclesiae natura.
Dutch media totally misrepresent the pope on the family and gender.

That was 2012. Now let’s get 2013 started. Happy new year!

Building digital bridges – @Pontifex launches

pope twitter press conferenceToday, Pope Benedict XVI officially entered what he has previously called “the digital continent”, with the launch of @Pontifex, the official Twitter account of the Holy Father.

This unique step has been in the making for quite some time now. The pope used Twitter once before, although he made use of the Vatican news account. His own personal account is a unique development, one which is comparable to the first papal radio broadcast (Pius XI) and television appearance (Pius XII).

There are several separate Twitter accounts for the pope’s use, one for each of the following languages: English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, French and Arabic. It is striking that the English account seems to be the prime account, one of the few times that another language trumps Italian for official Vatican communications.

The pope will first make use of his account on 12 December, when he will answer a selection of questions on faith posted by users using the #AskPontifex hashtag. As is typical of Twitter, anyone can ask his or her questions, although there is of course no guarantee that the Holy Father will answer your question.

As for the pope following anyone on Twitter, that’s not going to happen for now. The pope will not be posting his Tweets himself, although they will all be approved by him. As the Holy See’s new media advisor, Greg Burke said, “no one’s going to be putting tweets into the Pope’s mouth”.

Within 90 minutes of its launch, the papal account has already crossed the 20,000-follower mark. Let’s take that as a warm welcome for our Holy Father as he enters the Twitterverse.

As an explanation to the launch of the papal account, the Holy See press office released the following statement:

The Pope’s presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena. This initiative is best understood in the context of his reflections on the importance of the cultural space that has been brought into being by the new technologies. In his Message for World Communications Day 2009, which was published on the same day as the Vatican’s Youtube channel was opened, Pope Benedict spoke of the necessity of evangelizing the ‘digital continent’ and he invited young believers, in particular, to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives.

In 2010, he invited priests to see the possibility of sharing the Word of God through their engagement with new media: the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation. In his Message for 2011, he specified that: The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness. In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfilment (cf. Eph 1:10). In this year’s Message, the Holy Father was even more precise: Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. 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.

The Pope’s presence on Twitter can be seen as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ that is the Church’s presence in the world of new media. The Church is already richly present in this environment – there exist a whole range of initiatives from the official websites of various institutions and communities to the personal sites, blogs and micro-blogs of public church figures and of individual believers. The Pope’s presence in Twitter is ultimately an endorsement of the efforts of these ‘early adapters’ to ensure that the Good News of Jesus Christ and the teaching of his Church is permeating the forum of exchange and dialogue that is being created by social media. His presence is intended to be an encouragement to all Church institutions and people of faith to be attentive to develop an appropriate profile for themselves and their convictions in the ‘digital continent’. The Pope’s tweets will be available to believers and non-believers to share, discuss and to encourage dialogue. It is hoped that the Pope’s short messages, and the fuller messages that they seek to encapsulate, will give rise to questions for people from different countries, languages and cultures. These questions can in turn be engaged by local Church leaders and believers who will be best positioned to address the questions and, more importantly, to be close to those who question. Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue (Communications Day Message, 2012).

Part of the challenge for the Church in the area of new media is to establish a networked or capillary presence that can effectively engage the debates, discussions and dialogues that are facilitated by social media and that invite direct, personal and timely responses of a type that are not so easily achieved by centralized institutions. Moreover, such a networked or capillary structure reflects the truth of the Church as a community of communities which is alive both universally and locally. The Pope’s presence in Twitter will represent his voice as a voice of unity and leadership for the Church but it will also be a powerful invitation to all believers to express their ‘voices’, to engage their ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ and to share with them the hope of the Gospel that speaks of God’s unconditional love for all men and women.

In addition to the direct engagement with the questions, debates and discussions of people that is facilitated by new media, the Church recognizes the importance of new media as an environment that allows to teach the truth that the Lord has passed to His Church, to listen to others, to learn about their cares and concerns, to understand who they are and for what they are searching. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge (Message, 2012). It is for this reason that it has been decided to launch the Pope’s Twitter channel with a formal question and answer format. This launch is also an indication of the importance that the Church gives to listening and is a warranty of its ongoing attentiveness to the conversations, commentaries and trends that express so spontaneously and insistently the preoccupations and hopes of people.

The Catholic voice

Yesterday I was thinking about how our Catholic voices appear in the media, and I can’t help but conclude that they don’t very well. After a television debate in which Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán de Haas (pictured) tried to defend the father-mother family construction, my Twitter page (and that of many others judging by her name being a trending topic for well into the net day) was inundated by, at best, critical comments about her performance and, at worst, serious personal attacks against her. And these did not only come from non-Catholic quarters. Most seriously, in my opinion, is the attack of self-styled Catholic media specialist Eric van den Berg, who was seemingly unable to present his possibly legitimate criticism without relishing in calling Mariska Orbán a “pearl-necklaced bitch” – a moniker admittedly coined by herself, but the use of which did set a certain tone.

I’m not writing this post to defend anyone. Criticism, after all, is not always bad, and can often be a helpful tool in bettering our conduct and performance. And when it comes to presenting our Catholic faith and the values we hold and consider important, we must learn from what critics level against us.

I am using “us” for a reason, because when it comes to situations like the one I outlined above, there is no visible sense of “us” among Catholics active in the media, in whatever form. Rather, we too often relish in the attack, personal or otherwise.

As Catholics we have something to say. But do we succeed in doing so? The Catholic voice in the media, social or otherwise, should be more unified and willing to offer constructive criticism. If someone fails in making the case that should be made, for whatever reason, there should be an effort in charitably correcting the mistakes, coupled with an openness in the other party to accept criticism.

When I consider the Catholics who are active in the media, on television, in newspaper, but also on the Internet, I see much potential in creativity, knowledge, bravery (which is sometimes indeed needed) and enthusiasm. But all that doesn’t always translate very well into the wider world of our secular society. Platforms like a television program which is a daily staple of many viewers, a major newspaper, but also new media that we ourselves can build, manage and develop, deserve a charitable and intelligent Catholic presence – charitable among ourselves and to others.

Shoddy workmanship presented as truth

Headlines in the media today: almost half of all Dutch priests are in favour of abolishing celibacy! “Shoddy work” the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference declares, and he is right.

Let’s look at the numbers. More than 700 priests received a questionnaire from television program Altijd Wat. 135 priests sent their answers to the questions back. That is some 19%. Of these 135, 39% (some 50) are in favour of maintaining the celibacy rule, and a further 21% (some 30) are neutral about it. The remaining 40% (54 priests) said they are in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy.

The conclusion that a significant number of the priests in the Netherlands want to get rid of mandatory celibacy for priests is frankly silly. Out of more than 800 priests working in society, a mere 54 said they are for abolishing celibacy. That is less than 7%. Not even close to a majority.

This opinion poll is invalidated by the small number of replies. In order to get anything approaching a representative estimate, you need a higher response rate than 17%.

On the other hand, this opinion poll is also no evidence that the Dutch priesthood is mostly in favour of celibacy. It proves neither one or the other. But it does trigger headlines, pretending they offer anything similar to the truth, when they quite frankly don’t.

Jesus and Mary in Rotterdam

Following the success of last year’s Passion in Gouda, the spectacle moves to Rotterdam this year with an all-new cast to tell the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection through song. Today, the actors playing the roles of Jesus and Mary have been revealed.

Danny de Munk as Jesus

They are singer and musical actor Danny de Munk and soul singer Berget Lewis, a change from last year’s actors as far as musical style is concerned. The other cast members of the ecumenical media spectacle will be revealed over the course of the coming weeks. As for these first two actors’ religious background: De Munk has virtually none, while Lewis is a Christian with an Evangelical background.

Berget Lewis as the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Passion will be broadcast live on the evening of Maundy Thursday, 5 April, on the Nederland 1 network and via the Internet. Organisers are Protestant broadcaster EO, Catholic broadcaster RKK, the Protestant Church in the Netherland, the Catholic Church and the Dutch Bible Society.

In grateful memory of JPII, a misplaced protest

Cover of the special Mass booklet created the National Liturgy Council

It is the first year after the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and while a Blessed’s feast day is normally limited to those places where he or she was active (in this case, the city of Rome and the country of Poland), special dispensation has been given for every diocese in the world to organise one celebration in this first year. The Dutch bishops have chosen this weekend, 32 years on the day after Blessed Pope John Paul II called a special Synod on the Church on the Netherlands, for this celebration to take place.

The most high-profile Mass for the Blessed Pope will be the one in the Basilica of Saint Lambert in Hengelo, Archdiocese of Utrecht, which will be televised. Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk is the main celebrant, and most other bishops are to concelebrate.

But in this time, when the clouds of the abuse crisis still hang over us, a potential blemish has appeared. Mr. Frank Oude Geerdink, who was abused by a priest, has called for other victims to gather at the Basilica and stage a ‘silent protest’ in the presence of the bishops. Now, just like previous protests we’ve seen in the past years, this is completely misplaced. Mass is not the place for protest, since it is not primarily about policy or whatever passes between people. In essence, when a protest is staged at a Mass, the chief means by which we receive healing and reconciliation, and which belongs to God, is hijacked to merely make a point. This protest, which has trouble getting of the ground, by the way, is a protest against the lack of response from the bishops to the abuse committed by the Church. Now, the entire premise is wrong (the abuse is not committed by the Church, but by individuals) and the protesters must have missed the Deetman report and the initial reactions to it from the bishops and the religious superiors. While there is still more that needs doing for the victims the premise that the bishops stayed silent simply can not be upheld. Maybe that is the reason why, so far, only six people have signed up to join Mr. Oude Geerdink.

Two hopes, then; that the bishops continue working for the good of all the victims of sexual abuse; and that Sunday’s Mass will not be disrupted. That will simply do not an ounce of good.

Image credit: RKK/Dutch Bishops’ Conference