Downsizing – Pope Francis announces his first Curia merger

Since virtually the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been expected to start reforming the Curia by eliminating and merging dicasteries. Until now he has created a few new ones (the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Secretariat for Communications, to name two), which has increased rather than decreased the size of the Curia. This week, however, comes the first announcement of a merger.

The Pontifical Councils for the Laity and the Family, as well as the Academy for Life, are to form a single dicastery for Laity and Family. What form and status this will take (a new Pontifical Council or, as I suspect, a Congregation) remains to be seen, as does the personnel assigned to them. The Academy for Life would seem to be remain as it exists now, but under the auspices of the new dicastery.

clemensThe Pontifical Council for the Laity is currently led by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, with Bishop Josef Clemens (pictured) as secretary. At 70 and 68 respectively, neither of these are about to retire, so if they do not remain in the dicastery, new appointments will have to be sought for them. Bishop Clemens is especially interesting, as the choice may be made to send him home to a diocese in Germany. At 68, he would be a transitional bishop, which would not go down well in the eastern German dioceses (of which Dresden-Meißen is vacant), where bishops have criticised the apparent use of the eastern dioceses as a “railway shunting yard for bishops”. Originally from the Archdiocese of Paderborn, Bishop Clemens has been working in Rome for the past three decades, so if he is the suitable candidate for a new assignment in his native country, where Limburg also remains vacant and Aachen will soon be, remains to be seen.

pagliaThe Pontifical Council for the Family is led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) as president and Bishop Jean Laffitte as secretary. Archbishop Paglia, although recently investigated and acquitted of financial mismanagement when he was bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, is also the organiser of the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which, to all appearances, was a great success. At 70, he is also still 5 years away from retirement. Bishop Laffitte, 63, was recently appointed prelate of the Order of Malta in addition to his duties in the Pontifical Council. A Rome veteran like Bishop Clemens, it remains to be seen of a return to his native France, where Saint-Etienne is vacant and four ordinaries are close to retirement, is in any way likely.

If the new dicastery is a congregation, it will need a prefect and one or more secretaries, if a pontifical council there will be a president and one or more secretaries. Pope Francis may choose to appoint someone with experience to start up the new dicastery, which means Cardinal Rylko and Archbishop Paglia are good options. As both are five years away from retirement, they would be suitable to lead a transition and start-up phase. In the end, we’ll have to wait until December to find out what the Holy Father chooses to do.

The streamlining of the Curia may, as the rumours have it, continue with a merger of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and Pastoral of Migrants and Itinerant People sometime in the future.

The closest thing to his intervention – Cardinal Eijk looks back at Synod and World Meeting of Families

As Cardinal Eijk, unlike his Belgian and German colleagues, chose not to make his Synod intervention(s) public, here is his monthly contribution to the archdiocesan magazine, written in Rome. In it, the cardinal looks back on the World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia and his paticipation in the Synod of Bishops.

Eijk“The Church’s great focus on the family takes you places. Last year, in October, I was in Rome for two weeks for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, in which I took part as president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. Two weeks ago I was in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Familes. I gave an address there as part of one panel, and chaired another panel. At the moment I write this text, I am in Rome for the Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The Bishops’ Conference asked me to represent them here. This year, the Synod even takes three weeks.

Philadelphia was like a warm bath. Some 17,000 people took part in the convention on the family. While the Church’s  teaching about marriage and family is seen by many as hopelessly old-fashioned and is heavily criticised from all sides, a great number of families which strongly believed in and practiced that teaching had come together in Philadelphia. The great joy this gave them was apparent in the great enthusiasm with which they took part in this meeting.

On Sunday 26 September* the Pope spoke to the cardinals and bishops present in the chapel of the seminary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This is an enormous building with a chapel larger than the cathedral in Utrecht. It gave me a minor case of feeling like Calimero**. The number of seminarians there is 110, ten times as much as in our archdiocese.

Of course the Pope spoke to us about the family: “For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!”

The people of Philadelphia were very pleased with the papal visit. The city – especially the centre – was largely closed of. They did have to accept some discomfort for it. During the papal visit the ever-present security only allowed me to enter the hotel booked for me – likewise in the city centre – if I wore a red armband around my left wrist. Since I was unable to remove it, and I didn’t carry a pair of scissors with me, I had to carry it with me back to the Netherlands. In the airplane next to me some musicians teasingly asked me to what rock festival I had been. Participants in such a festival also get such an armband, apparently. The first thing I did when I came home, was getting rid of that stupid armband.

Something I will certainly not be getting rid of, is the encouragement I took with me from Philadelphia. And I can use it well at the second Synod of Bishops on the family. Life according to the teachings of the Church about marriage and sexuality is something that many people in modern society find difficult, if not impossible. And witnessing to it is no less difficult. Perhaps we consider it in the same way as the rich youth thought about giving up all his possession in order to follow Jesus. And what is Jesus’ answer to such concerns? “To God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). In other words: it is possible to live according to the teachings of the Church, actually the teachings of Christ, if we have faith in the strength that God gives instead of only in our own strength. The participants in the World Meeting of Families 2015 in Philadelphia give enthusiastic and contagious witness of that.”

*27 september, actually, according to the Vatican website
**Cartoon character quite well known in the Netherlands, a small black chick forever complaining that everyone around him was bigger (“and that’s not fair!”).

Clear communication – Cardinal Eijk on the indissolubility of marriage

eijkKerknet, the website of the Catholic Church in Flanders, features a piece on Cardinal Eijk’s contribution to the 11 Cardinals Book, and reveal some more context to his arguments, which until now have only been shared in short quotes (at least for those who have not read the book, like your blogger). Such quotes out of context do little to accurately reflect the thoughts of the cardinal, and have generally been maligned in Catholic and secular media. How I wish Cardinal Eijk or those around him would be less hesitant (afraid even?) to share his arguments and his involvement in the Synod and related events (for example, it would have been good to hear or read some comments from the cardinal himself about his involvement in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last week – this is a high-profile Catholic event which draws attention from across the globe, and a more open and sharing approach would do much good, both at home and abroad).

Anyway, the Kerknet article:

In his contribution to the book that eleven cardinals published in relation to the Synod of Bishops on the family (Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family, pp. 45-55, published by Ignatius Press), Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk argues that the Church’s  teaching about divorced and remarried Catholics must be preserved unchanged. The long history of Church practice and repeated statements from the Magisterium that divorced and civilly remarried people can not be allowed to receive Communion, indicate clearly that this is an unchangeable doctrine, according to the Dutch Church leader. The Catholic Church can accommodate them pastorally by giving them a blessing, so that they not feel excluded.

Theological sources in Scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church are sufficiently clear, according to Cardinal Eijk. The passage from the Gospel of Matthew (“I tell you that he who puts away his wife, not for any unfaithfulness of hers, and so marries another, commits adultery”, Matt. 19:9), which is used by the eastern Orthodox Churches to allow a second or third marriage of someone who is divorced, can not be invoked to make a second sacramental marriage possible. “The magisterium of the Church has always been clear and resolute about the indissolubility of a marriage that has been consummated, as well as the absolute prohibition of divorce, followed by a new marriage.”

Cardinal Eijk does not believe that dissolution because of lack of faith, or a simplification of the procedures for the nullification of a marriage, is a pastoral way out. The Catholic Church should communicate the faith better and emphasise its basis more adequately and clearly, “something that was neglected in the past half century”. Couples preparing marriage should have “at least five to ten” sessions of marriage preparation and “priests should dare to ask couples who want a church wedding if they believe in the indissolubility of marriage. In the interest of the couples themselves they should be more selective about who they give access to the sacrament of marriage.”

“In Dutch dioceses those who want to are invited to come forward for Communion. Those who can not receive Communion are asked to come forward with their arms crossed, as a sign to be given a blessing.” The archbishop notes that this practice, which is especially common for Protestants attending a Eucharist and which helps avoid endless debates, can also be extended to those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

The Orthodox practice of allowing second and more marriages following divorce is treated extensively by Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ in the Five Cardinals Book published last year (Remaining in the Truth of Christ, also available from Ignatius Press).

weddingThe whole debate about nullification or dissolution of a marriage is an intricate one, and it should always be reminded that a marriage can not be nullified. It can only be established that it was null from the very beginning, to the effect that there never was a marriage to begin with. The reasons for this are many, but for the purpose of this blog posts it suffices to say that they establish the validity of the marriage. One of the most convincing for those outside the world of canon law and ecclesiastical courts is perhaps that a marriage must be entered into out of free will; there can be no coercion, for any reason. If someone was forced into a marriage, it can be established that the marriage was null, that it never existed.

In relation to this, there must be a greater focus on and recognition of the fact that the couple did share much, even if it was no marriage. Our eyes should always be open to reality. That is a first step towards mercy. People need recognition of themselves and their lives. But recognition can never be automatically equated to approval. It’s a fine line we must walk as Church, but isn’t that always the case when we are in the business of dealing with people?

Photo credit: [1] Reuters, [2] author’s own

State of the Church, 2012 – or the media’s failure at reporting the truth

benedict christmasBold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.

What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.

A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.

Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.

This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.

It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.

More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.

The real Benedict

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI attended an evening of witness during his pastoral visit to Milan. There, several people had the opportunity to ask him a question. One of them was 7-year-old Cat Tien of Vietnam, who, greeting him with a simple “Ciao, Papa!”, asked the Holy Father about the memories of his childhood and family.

Here is the answer that Benedict gave:

“Thank you, dearest, and your parents: thank you from my heart. So then, you have asked what my memories of my family are like: there are so many! I would like to say just a few things. For us, the essential point for the family was always Sunday, but Sunday already began on Saturday evening. Our father would read us the readings, the readings for Sunday, from a book very widespread in Germany at the time, in which the texts were also explained. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in an atmosphere of joy.

The next day we would go to Mass. I come from a home close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie started, it was like heaven was opened.

And then at home it was important, of course, to have a big lunch together. And then we sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, already as a boy he made compositions for all of us, so the whole family would sing. Dad would play the zither and sing; those are unforgettable moments.

Then, of course, we went on trips and walks together; we were close to a forest and so walking in the forest was a very beautiful thing: adventures, games, etcetera.

In a word, we were of one heart and one soul, with so many shared experiences, even in very difficult times, because there was wartime, before the dictatorship, and then poverty. But this mutual love among us, this joy even over simple things was strong, and this made it possible to overcome and bear even these things.

It seems to me that this was very important: that even little things gave joy, because in this way the heart of the other was expressed. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it is good to be a man, because we saw that the goodness  of God was reflected in parents and siblings.

And to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little of how it will be in heaven, it always seems to me like the time of my youth, of my childhood. Thus, in this context of trust, of joy, and of love, we were happy, and I think that in heaven it must be similar to what it was like in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” in going to “the other part of the world.””

The pope may be, well, the pope, shepherd of more than a billion Catholics, professor, theologian,writer, spiritual father… he is also so very human, and in encounters with children that becomes touchingly apparent. We saw that in Spain, in Benin, and now in Milan. Meet the real Benedict…

Photo credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

An (inter)national visit – Pope Benedict in Milan

It may not be a big international journey (although, from Vatican City, almost any journey is an international one), the weekend trip that Pope Benedict XVI is taking to Milan is certainly one with an international flavour. Billed as a twofold pastoral visit, to the Archdiocese of Milan and the Seventh World Meeting of Families, it includes no less than thirteen events which the pope will speak at or attend.

First up today are the official welcome at the airport, a meeting with the people of Milan in front of the iconic Duomo and a concert at the La Scala theatre.

Tomorrow will be mainly pastoral, as the Holy Father will mark several moments of prayer, as well as meeting with Confirmation candidates and attending an ‘evening of witness’.

Sunday, then, will be relatively low-key, fitting for both the Lord’s day and the papal stamina. Pope Benedict will celebrate a big public Mass in Bresso Park, and he will speak to the organisers of the World Day of Families.

Family will no doubt be a major topic in the papal addresses, from which I will share choice passages here as they appear.

A return to the Vatican is expected for early Sunday evening.

The Archdiocese of Milan, dating back to the first century, is one of Europe’s largest dioceses. Home to almost 5 million Catholics, boasting 30 basilicas, it has nevertheless been visited by a pope only twice before. Blessed John Paul II visited in 1983 and 1984. The archbishop if Angelo Cardinal Scola, and he has four auxiliary bishops to assist him. It has given the Church three popes (Paul VI, Pius XI and Urban III) and one antipope (Alexander V).

Photo credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno