Holy See before the UN – a leading role unrecognised

tomasi scicluna“Church slammed by UN, grilled about sexual abuse, heavily criticised…”

Just a sample of some of the headlines I came across yesterday and today. All because of the regular report that the Holy See has to make to the United Nations because it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990. The Holy See joined such countries as Germany, the Congo and Yemen in reporting yesterday, but was the single signatory singled out in the media. In a way that is understandable. After all, no country or international body has been so heavily scrutinised for its sexual abuse record in recent years, and no country or international body has been so open about it or active in fighting this horrible crime and sin. Not even the United Nations itself can boast about that.

As Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (pictured above at left), the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, explained in his opening statement yesterday, recent years have seen a major effort on the part of the Holy See to fight the scourge of sexual abuse. This has happened in sharpening laws, but also in continuous reminders by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (the latter did so as recently as yesterday). Local Churches have also been called to strengthen their efforts and create extensive programs to root out the evil of sexual abuse and to assist the victims. A good example mentioned by Archbishop Tomasi is the one of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (this week, the Diocese of Stockton became the tenth American diocese to file for bankruptcy because of financial compensation to victims of abuse – an example of how far they are going to aid the victims). Other bishops’ conferences, among them the Dutch, are also undertaking unprecedented efforts to address the problem. This indicates where the fight is taking place: not in the higher echelons of the Vatican, but primarily on the ground, in the local communities, where the victims and perpetrators may be found. And also the place, as Bishop Charles J. Scicluna (pictured above at right), also present at the meeting yesterday, says, where the laws of specific countries must be enacted and followed.

The question of the efficiency of these measures, as John L. Allen Jr. explains, is a matter of debate. It will take time to find that out. But the fact that steps are being taken is a clear sign that the Holy See is taking its obligations seriously.

What we see in the criticism, however, is that it generally wants to change the past. Time and again we hear about serious mistakes that the Holy See made in dealing with past abuse cases, mistakes the Holy See fully acknowledges and regrets. We see little to no recognition or understanding of the current efforts, in which the Holy See is leading the way for many other countries and international institutions. The past can’t be changed, but how we relate to people today and in the future can.

Sexual abuse of minors by clergy and members of the Church is an enormously painful and shameful affair for all Catholics. Pope Francis has rightly said we should be ashamed as a Church. We owe it to the victims to recognise their pain and to do our utmost to prevent it from ever happening again. I think that that is now being undertaken on the various levels of the Church. But in considering pain and attempting prevention we must always adhere to the truth. The truth that the past can’t be changed, that for a good number of years already the Church is taking her responsibility and taking effective steps in rooting out the evil of sexual abuse.

Hushing up the cardinals – proof of the big bad Vatican?

o'malley dinardo goergeMuch talk yesterday about the heavy-handed Vatican forbidding the American cardinals from holding daily press briefings to inform people of what goes on at the General Congregations. But, as always, is there any basis about such a reading of the events?

As Fr. James Bradley rightly points out, the highest authority in the Vatican at the moment is the College of Cardinals. No one can bar them from doing anything, apart from standing orders from the former Pope, or themselves. Certainly, within the College there may have been some pressure upon the Americans to stop the briefings, but there is no reason to assume that anyone forced anyone else. In fact, given the situation in which information was apparently leaked to the media, a fairy strict communications shutdown is understandable. Of course, the daily briefings by Fr. Lombardi will continue, but the cardinals will devote themselves to the internal forum, which is of course the most important these days.

We should ask ourselves if we have any real need to know the details of the daily proceedings. Of course it’s interesting, but I don’t think that such a process of electing a new Pope should be sidetracked by too much focus on external communication and media briefings. The outcome is important, and those 115 cardinals (expected to be finally complete today) need our support in prayer and thought, not our need for answers and our thoughts about what they should do and who they should vote for. Leave that to the Holy Spirit.

In these events, the general congregations and the conclave, we must not forget the element of faith. Faith in the Holy Spirit, that He will guide His Church and grant her the shepherd she deserves and needs, and faith in the cardinal electors, that they will decide and vote according to their conscience and open to the whisperings of the Lord.

Photo credit: Cardinals O’Malley, DiNardo and George, Gregorio Borgia/AP

At Rolduc, seminarians encounter the new evangelisation

Gathered at Roermond’s Rolduc seminary for a two-day symposium on the new evangelisation, the seminarians of the Netherlands today heard lectures from Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong, ordinary and auxiliary of the Diocese of Roermond respectively, and Professor Karl Wallner, rector of Austria’s Heiligenkreuz monastery.

Although the full texts are (not yet) available online, the live report supplied via Twitter by two seminarians offered a good general idea of what was said. Bishop de Jong, the day’s final speaker, offered a summary of his experiences at the Synod of Bishops, including his own intervention, in which he emphasised the importance of prayer to the Holy Spirit and the angels.

Bishop Wiertz, the first speaker (pictured), suggested we may find a road map for the new evangelisation in the Acts of the Apostles. He emphasised the important role of the laity; they should be given the chance to develop initiatives, without the immediate involvement of the clergy. What we see today, he said, is that when a priest becomes indisposed or unavailable, the initiative also dies. The bishop also advocated trust in the Holy Spirit: if an initiative does not come from the Spirit, it will vanish regardless. An example of a strong lay movement in the Church is Korea, Bishop Wiertz said. Without priests and bishops, for centuries the lay faithful kept the faith alive.There must be a new balance between the people’s Church and the new initiatives.

Professor Wallner, speaking in between both bishops, said that we should not focus on the problems of the faith. The experience of faith is what matters: quantity will come from quality. And prayer must have a prime place in this. We must share what we receive, Professor Wallner said. Faith is mission, and this is contained in the final words of the Mass: ite missa est. The priest, too, is mission personified, so his duty is not his private concern. Like Bishop Wiertz, Professor Wallner also linked the new evangelisation to the Acts of the Apostles. We need places where we can experience the Holy Spirit like the Apostles did at the first Pentecost. Other points touched upon where the fact that we need a holy audacity as there is no place for false modesty in Christian life; the lack of emphasis on the most powerful sacrament of Confession; the new media which need to be used much more (it is a disgrace that there are still dioceses without a website!) and in an honest and true manner – show the world who you are. Regarding the role of the laity, Professor Wallner also reminded his audience that there should not be any form of competition between the laity and the priest. Both have their tasks, after all.

A good start for the symposium’s first day, it would seem. The new evangelisation is introduced as an important topic for the future priests in our country. I hope to be able to present a translation of at least Bishop Wiertz’s words soon, because the topic deserves a broader audience.

Concerning that, it is a shame that such events are not more widely covered by Catholic media or better present by the Church province or other organisers. Considering, for example, that the autumn assembly of the American bishops, taking place now, is streamed live, there is certainly much progress to be made. In that light, the live Twitter coverage by Jan-Jaap van Peperstraten and Henk van Hamersveld was all the more welcome.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Stafford turns 80

Hello, 120! For the first time since the last consistory, the number of cardinal electors is back at the maximum allowed number of 120, as American-born Cardinal James Stafford celebrates his 80th birthday today.

Born in the cradle of the Catholic Church in America, Baltimore, James Francis Stafford was the only child of a furniture store owner of Irish descent. After his high school days he intended to study medicine at the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore, but a close friend’s death in a car crash caused him to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

After two years of study, the archbishop of Baltimore, Msgr. Francis Keough, sent him to Rome’s Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1958, James Stafford earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the later institution.

The rector of the North American College, Bishop  Martin O’Connor, ordained James Stafford to the priesthood in 1957, alongside one Edward Egan who would later become a fellow cardinal. Upon his return to the US, Father Stafford became an assistant priest in his native Baltimore until 1962. He then went to study at the Catholic University of America, earning a Master of Social Work in 1964. For the next two years, Fr. Stafford served as assistant director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities and as an assistant priest, once again in Baltimore. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan appointed him as director of Catholic Charities in 1966, a position Fr. Stafford would hold until 1976. He earned he title of Monsignor in 1970 when Pope Paul VI made him a Chaplain of His Holiness. As president of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Presbyteral Senate since 1971, he helped reorganise the central services of the archdiocese.

In 1976, Msgr. Stafford was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. He was granted the titular diocese of Respecta, which today belongs to Dutch-born Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane, Australia. Archbishop William Borders consecrated Bishop Stafford on 29 February. Upon his appointed, he became the vicar general of Baltimore. From 1978 to 1984, he led the commission on  Marriage and Family Life of the American bishops’ conference, and in 1980 he attended the Fifth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the Christian Family, in Rome.

In 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Stafford as Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, where he was installed the following January. There, he focussed on restructuring, improving and evangelisation, especially among African Americans. During his time in Memphis, Bishop Stafford also chaired the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB from 1984 to 1991.

Bishop Stafford moved even further west in 1986, as he was appointed archbishop of Denver. High point of his time in that see was the 1993 World Youth Day. which saw half a million young Catholics gather in the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome, to lead the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In this role, he was responsible for the organisation of the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, the 2000 WYD in Rome and the 2002 WYD in Toronto. In the consistory of 1998 he was created a cardinal and became the cardinal-dean of Gesù Buon Pastore alla Montagnola. In 2003, Cardinal Stafford became the Major Penitentiary, one of the highest positions in the Curia.

In 2007, Cardinal Stafford turned 75 and submitted his resignation , which Pope Benedict XVI accepted in 2009. On 1 March 2008, Cardinal Stafford made use of the option to be promoted to cardinal-priest, and was granted the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio.

In 2008, Cardinal Stafford spoke prophetic words as he compared the election of President Barack Obama to the Agony in the Garden. The president’s consistent steps to curtail religious liberty and freedom of conscience seem to prove the cardinal’s opinion.

Cardinal Stafford was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Special Council for Oceania of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

10 rules for social media evangelisation

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB for short, presents 10 rules for social media evangelisation:

  1. Translate church teaching.
  2. Avoid Church speak.
  3. Use images, as Jesus did.
  4. Understand that social media is social
  5. Social media sometimes calls for a suit of armor.
  6. Use the delete button if comments cross the line of decency, but, hopefully, not often.
  7. Spread Catholicism’s fun parts.
  8. Remember rules are changing.
  9. Remember web messages live forever.
  10. Keep it short.

Good advice, including some, like numbers 1, 2 and especially 7, that are too often overlooked (not least by yours truly). Visit the USCCB blog for more about the ten rules.

When in Rome… Ad limina as a bishop sees it

In two videos, Bishop Christopher Coyne talks about his look at the ad limina visit to Rome that he is taking part in. As part of Region VII of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Coyne, together with the other bishops of that Region, is in a snow-ridden Rome to meet with Holy See officials and the Holy Father to discuss the goings-on in their dioceses.

Bishop Coyne is no stranger to social media, and this his first attempt at podcasting. His two videos offer an interesting look at the regular ad limina visits that every Catholic bishop makes.

Bishop Coyne is auxiliary bishop and administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He runs the blog Let Us Walk Together: Thoughts of a Catholic Bishop and is also active on Twitter and Facebook.

A new online face for the Church

The Dutch Church province, that is.

It’s already been up for  well over a week now, but a new website has been established as the ‘official site of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands’, as the subtitle reads. In part a portal for official publications from the bishops’ conference, and in part a hub for other Catholic websites (the youth portal, the Catholic broadcaster RKK and the sexual abuse aid agency, to name but three), the new website has been split of from the older collective website of conference and broadcaster.

In essence, these two websites now offer a clear distinction between what RKK has to offer on television, radio and Internet. and what the bishops’ conference has to say about current affairs. I would also love to see a development along the lines of what the USCCB does with media, albeit, of course, on a smaller scale. We’re still waiting for our first blogging bishop, after all.