Rome has spoken (maybe) – two of the seven bishops explain themselves [Updated]

At the time of my writing this there is no official word from Rome yet, but strong rumours started to surface yesterday that Rome has issued a decision in favour of the seven German bishops who had serious doubts about the proposed pastoral guide concerning Communion for non-Catholics, that the German Bishops’ Conference had voted for in February. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the rumours say, has studied the matter and the final decision is explicitly endorsed by the Holy Father. The official statement may become public, but it appears that the question was deemed important enough to lead to an unusual swift decision, made all the more significant by papal involvement.

Kardinal_Woelki_-_Weg_zum_und_Mittagsgebet_im_Kölner_Dom-3210While the letter by Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop Schick and Bishops Zdarsa, Hanke, Ipolt, Voderholzer and Oster received much attention in the media, the signatories themselves treated it as a normal matter of correspondence. Cardinal Woelki, who was visiting Ukraine when the news broke, expressed his surprise at the hype and the talk about dissent. Presenting the questions about intercommunion to Rome was not so much a matter of going against his fellow bishops, but rather came from the importance of the matter: “With several bishops, we were convinced that it would be good to universally coordinate the solution that we have discussed and established here, with an eye on the unity of the Church and the common ground with the other particular churches.” Cardinal Woelki is not so much opposed to the proposals from the conference, to allow non-Catholic spouses of Catholics to receive Communion with their partner on a case-by-case basis, but does not think it is a decision that should be made by the German bishops alone.

osterThe most extensive explanation for signing the letter comes from Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau. In an article published in the diocesan magazine and on his personal website, he emphasises that the debates within the bishops’ conference have always been fraternal and respectful. He then goes on to explain his reason for signing the letter to Rome.

“The Eucharist is so central to us Catholics, that it expresses the basis of our entire understanding of faith and church. Someone who is able to say “Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, says yes to the communion with the Pope and the bishops and with the saints that it implies. He says yes to the special priesthood, the prayer to the mother of the Lord and for the dead – to name just those points which distinguish us, for example in the understanding of what a church is, from our Evangelical brothers. In essence our being Church is expressed in its most dense and concrete way in the Eucharist.”

The proposal from the German bishops includes the idea that a non-Catholic with a strong desire to receive the Eucharist, and after confirming the Catholic understanding of it, can do so. They claim that this is one of the exceptions in which a non-Catholic can receive, normally in an emergency and danger of death. But Bishop Oster rightly states that a person with the desire to receive with his or her spouse is not automatically in danger of death and “has time and opportunity to enter into the Church, as he or she already shares the same understanding of Church and Eucharist.” The bishop wants to know if this desire is indeed a serious necessity or even danger which would allow a non-Catholic to receive Communion.

The proposal also creates some strange ecumenical discrepancies:

“At the same time the proposal states that the Catholic spouse can not join in the Evangelical Last Supper, since the understanding of this Last Supper is so clearly different. This means that, according to the logic of the proposal the Evangelical partner can receive both Eucharist and Last Supper, but the Catholic can not. The Evangelical partner is trusted to somehow uphold both understandings of faith, but not the Catholic, since they do not go together. I think it is very difficult to communicate this!”

Bishop Oster also no romantic notions of how such a change would be generally received by the faithful:

“Experience with past regulations show us that what are depicted as singular cases here, will be perceived by the general public as a broad permission, in the sense of: “Now the others can finally come to Communion with us.”

The first reactions support this reading, the bishop says, and that may lead to a trivialisation of the Eucharist. “After all, we rightly call the Eucharist “the most holy”, and how we treat it is, in my opinion, very important.”

The bishop of Passau ends his article with a second reminder that, despite what some media claim, there is no schism among the German bishops, and nor will there be.

“I am fully convinced that the bishops who think differently also want what is best for the Church and ecumenism. For us signatories the unity of the bishops’ conference, as well as progress in ecumenism, is also important. But we wonder if the path chosen can be taken in this way – and very much want to receive a deeper explanation.”

EDIT (19-4): The German Bishops’ Conference released a statement today in which it declares that any reports about a decision against the pastoral document from the bishops about intercommunion are false. The Holy Father has, however, issued an invitation to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the conference, to discuss the issue in Rome. Cardinal Marx has gladly welcomed this invitation. Who will take part in this discussion remains to be seen.

Photo credit: [1] Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


 

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Be a priest and see the world

burasPriests usually go where they are called, but in the case of Father Dariusz Buras that is a bit further than most. The Polish priest of the Diocese of Tarnów was appointed as Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau in Kazakhstan on Friday, but this is just another new home away from home for him.

Most recently working as a priest in Oslo, Norway, Fr. Buras was ordained and worked in the Diocese of Tarnów, but after two years he relocated to Ternopil in Ukraine to work as a missionary priest. In 2006 he headed further east, to Atyrau in western Kazakhstan. In the academic year 2006-2007 he was spiritual counselor for the seminary of the Diocese of Karaganda, also in Kazakhstan. He then returned to Poland to fulfill the same duties in the missionary formation centre in Warsaw, at which time he also earned a licentiate in spiritual theology at Warsaw’s Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. In 2010 he went to Oslo, where he was attached to the cathedral parish and was responsible for the permanent formation of priests from Tarnów working in Norway. Later this month, he returns to Atyrau, to take on the duties of a bishop without actually being one. The mostly Muslim area is home to 2,000 Catholics and seven priests.

Fr. Buras’ missionary work stems from Pope Pius XII’s 1957 Encyclical Fidei Donum, which urged bishops to make priests available to mission territories. These priests remained incardinated in their home dioceses and would often return after several years. A local example of such a priest is Bishop Jan de Brie, retired auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, who did mission work in Brazil in the 1970s.

In the light of MH17: “…”

Of course the world is full of violence and death these days, from Gaza to the Central African Republic, and from Syria to the Ukraine, but sometimes it all hits particularly close to home. 285 innocent people were killed yesterday, and at least 189 of them were Dutch. The reason for their death? They flew over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, at an altitude of 10 kilometers. Someone somewhere launched a surface-to-air missile at the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, apparently mistaking it for a military transport plane.

NETHERLANDS-MALAYSIA-AVIATION-ACCIDENT-UKRAINE-RUSSIA

^No photos of wreckage here, but a shot of the Boeing as it left Schiphol Airport yesterday.

In my social media circles, there are at least two people who have lost friends or acquaintances. The outpouring of support and prayer on Facebook and Twitter struck me yesterday and today, even though the sheer scale of the death and destruction is mind numbing.

Pope Francis had a statement released via the Holy See press office today, which reads:

“The Holy Father, Pope Francis has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions. He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

The Dutch bishops also shared their grief and called for prayer:

“We ask all faithful to do everything possible to support the families and friends of victims. And we encourage all the faithful to commend the victims to the mercy of God during the services of this Sunday, and to pray for strength and courage for those left behind.”

Individual bishops als commented. Cardinal Eijk said in an official statement:

“The world heard with shock of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 near the border between Ukraine and Russia. All of the nearly 300 passengers and crew, including at least 154 Dutch, were killed. Sentiments of sorrow and frustration  dominate all aircraft disasters. According to the first reports this civilian airplane was shot down with a missile – which would make this disaster even more unbearable.

We pray for the eternal rest of the people who died in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayer are also with the family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues of the victims. For them a time of great uncertainty and mourning has begun. I ask all parishes in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to pray for the victims and their survivors in next Sunday’s services.”

The bishops of Haarlem-Amsterdam and ‘s Hertogenbosch have also called for prayers and support for the victims and their families.

But, in the end, words are words. In these cases whatever we do never feels like it is enough. We can only pray, hope and love.

Photo credit: Fred Neeleman/AFP/Getty Images

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Husar turns 80

husarIn the last such event before the sede vacante begins, Ukrainian Lubomyr Cardinal Husar marks his 80th birthday today, and as such can not take part in the conclave.

Born in Lviv, which at the time was a Polish city, in 1933, young Lubomyr’s childhood was marked by the violence of World War II. In 1944, this caused his parents to flee to the west. After some years in Salzburg in Austria, the family emigrated to the United States in 1949. A year later, Lubomyr started studying at the Ukrainian Catholic St. Basil College Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut. After time at the Catholic University of America and Fordham University, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1958. Fr. Husar was a priest for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, which covers parts of New York and New England.

From his ordination until 1969, Fr. Husar taught at the seminary where he himself was educated, and he was a parish priest from 1966 to 1969. In that latter year, he went to Rome to study theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University. Now a doctor of theology, he entered the Studity monastery at Grottaferrata in Italy in 1972, and two years later, he became the superior there.

Fr. Husar’s consecration to bishop in 1977, to go with his new task as Archimandrite of all the Studite monks in Europe and America, from 1978 onwards, caused a bit if a stir, since the Pope had not given his apostolic mandate, something that Roman Canon Law required, but the Law of the Eastern Churches did not.

In 1995, as his homeland reopened its borders to the rest of the world, Bishop Husar was elected as Exarch of Kiev and Vysshorod. Upon his return to the Ukraine, he relinquished his American citizenship. In 1996, he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Lviv, and in 2001, as that see had fallen vacant, Eparch Husar was elected as Major Archbishop of Lviv. In that same year, he was created a cardinal, with Santa Sofia a Via Boccea as his title church. With Ignace Daoud, Cardinal Husar was the only Eastern Catholic to participate in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2005, the see of Lviv was moved to Kiev, and Cardinal Husar became Major Archbishop of that city. In 2011, failing eyesight caused him to retire, although he had performed the Ukrainian Catholic liturgy from memory when his sight had gotten too bad.

As Major Archbishop of Kiev, Cardinal Husar received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of America, and he was decorated by the President of Ukraine “for his outstanding personal contribution in spiritual revival of the Ukrainian nation, longstanding church work, and to mark his 75th birthday”.

Cardinal Husar was a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Special Council for Europe of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

There are now 117 cardinal electors who are allowed to participate in next month’s conclave.

Photo credit: Edmond Fountain/St Petersburg Times

Gaps in the College

CardinalsAlthough with 117 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will be nearly at its maximum of 120, there are some striking gaps in the roster. Pope Benedict XVI created 90 cardinals in 5 consistories, and although it seems that his abdication was conceived many months ago, he left some countries rather unrepresented.

From northwestern Europe come eight cardinals, one each from the Netherlands and Belgium, and six from Germany. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. But when we look further afield, we see that some of the major players are missing.

husarIn the United Kingdom, only the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien takes part in the conclave: the archbishop of Westminster is not a cardinal. In the Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is not a part of the proceedings. His predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (pictured), turns 80 two days before the sede vacante begins and this can’t take part in the conclave. In Africa, the major Catholic countries of Angola and Mozambique have no cardinal electors. And in the Curia, finally, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller has no red hat either.

Is this something to be concerned about, then? Not really. The College of Cardinals is not in the first place intended as an accurate representation of the world Church, although there are merits to drawing from the various cultures and nationalities that compose the Church. But it is striking that, although some of the prelates mentioned above were appointed only fairly recently, the Holy Father chose not to include them in the most recent consistory, although at that time he must have had some idea that a conclave would be coming up. An oversight, or a conscious choice? Or a simple case of wanting to adhere to the rule that said that there can be no more than 120 cardinal electors?

Whatever the reason, the cardinals who will elect a new Pope in March are a reflection of the world Church in one respect: they are just as human as all of us, and from their ranks will come a Supreme Pontiff who is, in that respect, one of us.

Scattered and tested, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community has a new bishop

Yesterday, the Holy Father appointed Father Borys Gudziak, 51, as the new apostolic exarch of France for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.  He will be the chief shepherd of the small community of this church’s faithful living in diaspora in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

While exact numbers are hard to find online, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, if we take the numbers for Belgium as a basis, likely counts several thousand faithful and a handful of priests in the Netherlands. Based primarily in the Ukraine and Belarus, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is in union with Rome but maintains her Byzantine traditions. It has been a heavily persecuted church, which accounts for the many refugees living in other countries.

American-born Bishop-elect Gudziak was until now the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He succeeds 83-year-old Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, who had been the bishop since 1982. Msgr. Gudziak’s titular see, reflecting the subordinate status of his apostolic exarchate, is Carcabia in Tunisia. Previous titular bishops of this see include Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Bishop-elect Gudziak was born in Syracuse, New York in 1960 and gained his PhD in Byzantine and Slavic Studies from Harvard University. A date for his consecration, most likely at the Parisian Cathedral of Saint Vladimir the Great, has yet to be announced.

After 66 years, a new bishop

The cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pinsk

Vacant sees, dioceses without a bishop, are not unheard of. At any given time, the worldwide Church has a few dozen of these, as bishops are transferred or pass away and a successor is not yet selected. These vacancies usually last from several months to some two years in exceptional cases. The Diocese of Pinsk, in Belarus, has a different story, though. It has been without a bishop of its own for almost exactly 66 years…

Belarus is often regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe, and a country whose government looks back fondly on its Soviet history. Not surprisingly, the Church is looked upon with suspicion at best, although she has been allowed to maintain her ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the form of three dioceses and an archdiocese. Of these, Pinsk covers the entire southern third of the nation.

Established in 1925, Pinsk was led by two bishops in succession: Bishop Zygmunt Łoziński from 1925 to 1932, and Bishop Kazimierz Bukraba from 1932 to 1946. But then that episode ended, coinciding with the aftermath of World War II and the Soviet Union’s incorporation of formerly Polish territory into Belarus. Just like in other Communist countries, the Church had a hard time, especially when it comes to the free appointment of bishops and priests. As in other dioceses, apostolic administrators were appointed. For Pinsk, these were Bishop Wladyslaw Jedruszuk, auxiliary bishop of Pinsk from the time of Bishop Bukraba, from 1967 to 1991; Cardinal Kazimierz Świątek, the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, from 1991 to 2011; and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, Cardinal Świątek’s successor as archbishop of Minks-Mohilev, from June 2011 to today.

As the last of Belarus’ dioceses, Pinsk now once more has its own bishop. He is Msgr. Antoni Dziemianko, 52 years old, and until today Minsk-Mohilev’s auxiliary bishop. The bishop, who incidentally has the same motto in his coat of arms as our own Cardinal Simonis – Ut Unum Sint -, was ordained to the priesthood in 1980. In 1998, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Grodno, also in Belarus, with the titular see of Lesvi – a see once held by the late Cardinal Sánchez of the Philippines. In 2004, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, of which he was the apostolic administrator from June of 2006 to September 2007, upon the retirement of Cardinal Świątek. He continued his duties as auxiliary bishop until his appointment as ordinary of Pinsk today.

Although a vacancy of 66 years is extraordinary, it is, sadly, by no means unique. There are eight jurisdictions, in China, North Korea, Greece, Ukraine and Romania, which have been vacant for longer. The record holder is the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki in Greece, which has been vacant since Bishop Allesandro Guidati became archbishop of Naxos-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos in 1929…

Photo credit: [1] Rostisław Wygranenko