God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

Synod impressions

As expected the lines are drawn in the sand between hardliners and those giving space to the spirit, but there are also some voices not expected to be heard during the first days of the synod. In his opening statement as a the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest told the assembly that it was impossible to allow divorced remarried to receive communion. Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist…In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” he said further and continued: “Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality, Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”
This opening statement triggered two interventions, one from the pope himself almost rebuking this opening remarks in stating that nobody is trying the change the dogmatic teaching of the church and that this synod is a pastoral gathering following the first such meeting and from Cardinal Marx. He pointed out that saying in the beginning that nothing can change would mean that the synod starts again where they have been two years ago.
So there is a clear indication that this Synod not starts from scratch again but is a continuation of the meeting two years ago. There is also a clear expectation of the majority that pastoral approaches and languages have to be developed and changed to be able to proclaim the gospel in our times.
Now it remains to be seen how the synod fathers go about it – there is a great variation of opinions from the so-called far right with Cardinals Sarah, Mueller or Napier trying to stop any possible development and those on the so-called left like Cardinal Marx and Kasper.
It remains a question how much the Synod acknowledges the advance in the last 100 years of knowledge of the human sexuality and incorporates it into the pastoral approaches. Especially when it comes to homosexuality and the fixation of the sexual act within the marriage there should be some movement if the church wants to remain relevant. Here we can also see the divide between Europe and Africa, where there is a clear line of disagreement visible how to approach the aforesaid topics. While there are differences in realities like polygamy or concepts like ubuntu the global village is growing closer together. Instead of  trying to keep the lid on teaching versus realities it would be great if the African bishops would contribute in making the teaching and pastoral work of the church more diverse from their own real traditions. The African church has more to offer than defending the old Platonist shaped Roman-European teaching.

I also noted the Canadian Archbishops Paul-Andre Durocher remarks to the Synod, where he proposed three courses of action for this Synod. He asked “that this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curia’s. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium  which means not to priesthood, but to ministry.

Even if many say that the topics discussed at the Synod are not really relevant for the daily life of people including Catholics – as they have made up their minds already long ago – it is amazing to see the interest in the Synod’s discussion. I interpret this as a yearning of the people of God for spiritual guidance, for meaning in life but in a way touching the lives instead of judging the lives all the time – with one word: mercy and the encouragement to live a life to the fullest. Add acknowledgement of modern sciences and their results and we will develop into a church which arrives finally in the 21st century making God’s love and commitment towards his creation touchable and to be experienced for the people of today.

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Synod on the family: on the way…

It has been exciting two weeks for the Catholic Church – a drama unfolding at the Vatican in a way we have not seen in my life time: open debate, no scripted texts, a pope listening and not expecting to hear only what he wants to hear. That is and remains the first victory for openness in the church. And there is more positive to report: clear lines were drawn between those wanting to move the church and those wanting to preserve the churches teaching and pastoral approach with no changes at all. The first document created an outcry of synod fathers like  Cardinals Napier, Burke, Mueller and others who stemmed their weight against any even little opening in terms of welcoming gay people more into the church or open a path to the sacraments for divorced re-married couples. Interesting is that the divide went so far, that even within the final document for example the text about gay people, just reaffirming the old teaching, did not get a 2/3 majority.  Well, I guess it would have asked for the Holy Spirit to work overtime to get all participants on the same page – for me the two weeks have shown that there is movement within the church and that we have to work hard to make the spelled out theory that “the church welcomes everybody and excludes nobody” is more than a phrase.
It simply does not work in the long run, that we welcome people but tell them that they are intrinsic evil; it also does not work to say that the sacraments are specially needed for those in need, but exclude generally divorced remarried couples officially. We have to tackle the theological question what it means if somebody is born transgender or lesbian or gay and wants to live his or her live to the fullest and in fulfillment of his or her goodness and god-likeness.
We also have to take note of the fact that in reality divorced remarried are receiving communion in most parishes with the conscious decision of priest and concerned parties – the sensus fidelium is practically much more developed than the teaching of the church – so one could argue.
So did Pope Francis suffer a setback or the church? In my humble opinion no, we have done the first step as a very open church and there is now another year of discernment and reflection coming before the synod fathers meet again. I believe that the journey continues and if the Holy Spirit is guiding the church we can trust that hearts will be converted in this year besides the fact that the population of cardinals will also change over the year. So lets wait, see and work hard that our church will find the middle way the pope is hoping for – a way not putting unnecessary burdens on the backs of the faithful. And with that also ending so much hypocrisy in our church on all levels when it comes to those questions most hardly contested.

More reading:
http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/synod-report-narrows-open-tone-pope-calls-middle-path

http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/synod-win-francis-and-openness

http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/sinodo-famiglia-37009/

http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/sinodo-famiglia-37008/

http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/sinodo-famiglia-36992/

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/18/0770/03044.html

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/10/18/message_from_the_synod_on_the_family/1108920

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/18/catholic-bishops-gays_n_6008300.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000055

The popes speech at the end of the Synod:
http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/10/18/pope_francis_speech_at_the_conclusion_of_the_synod/1108944

Filed under: Catholic Church, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gloves are off?

The clock is ticking and the preparations for the synod of the bishops to discuss family and marriage matters are in full swing. Some churches publish their findings on the questionnaire, others treat it as a sort of highly secretly exercise. Some parts of the hierarchy asked frankly those called the laity, others compiled answers without elaborating on the ways how they did it. In Germany it seems that the topic is highly contested. Cardinal Marx from Munich made it very clear that in the question of divorced and remarried couples, the church must be able to consider all their options. This was in answer to soon-top-be Cardinal Mueller in Rome, who insisted already upfront that nothing can be changed at all. Only to be reprimanded by an South American Cleric in the same rank that there is more to it than just dogmatic insistence. The Diocese of Freiburg published a guideline for the possibility in some instances for a blessing of a second marriage and communion for those who are divorced and remarried. Which obviously drew flag from Mueller in Rome again, who insisted that people living in a second marriage are living in sin and therefore are excluded from Holy Communion.
Such debates are not new – I remember that  then Bishop of Rottenburg – Stuttgart and now Cardinal Kasper, then Bishop and now Cardinal Karl Lehmann from Mainz as well as Archbishop Oscar Saier from Freiburg published a letter to the faithful on the 10th of July 1993 declaring that in case of a remarried divorce, the priest must find out in a talk “whether that, what is right in general, also applies for the situation of the couple concerned”. It’s the simple question of oikonomia, one of the acknowledged traditions of the Orthodox church through all ages till today which is in principle also recognized in the Roman-Catholic Church, but not for marriage cases. Oikonomia means that there is a law (like the marriage is for ever) but it acknowledges that humans can fail and for the greater good of the people involved and because of the unconditional love of God to be experienced through the church, there is a solution to start anew without denying the general rule.  The Orthodox church requires a time of penance and acknowledgement of failure before allowing the new marriage. And I think it’s right so: Couples tend to think that love never ends when they get married and it is for most horrible to experience failure and the ceasing of love. There is need for a time of reflection, soul-searching before restarting life again. So saying that there is only the Roman Catholic alternative of being faithful to the letter of the law is cheating the people of alternatives which have proven their value through 2000 years without compromising faith. In 1993 the reaction of then head of the department for doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger was sharp and direct: He found the Bishops being unfaithful and in opposition to the teaching of the church and that was end of the story. Thanks God times have changed and at least it is allowed in church now to think again – at least in most parts of it.

Bishop Ackermann from Trier, one of the younger bishops in Germany made his standpoint quite clear in a series of interviews. After the German Bishops Conference published parts of the finding of the laity for the synod, the Bishop was asked about sex before marriage, contraception, same-sex marriage and the question of divorce and remarriage. He stated that not every sexual act before marriage can be considered a great sin, the question of distinguishing between “artificial contraception” and ‘natural contraception” is in his opinion artificial itself. Even on the question of same-sex partnerships he clearly stated that there is no way of conducting a marriage as understood by the church, but he admitted that he would not refuse to  bless a same-sex couple, if they would come up for a blessing in one of the services dedicated to couples and their love ending with a personalized blessing for each couple. I guess it is a sensitive answer, it shows that there is acknowledgement of love between to people independent from their sexual orientation, but it makes at the same time clear, that there is a difference how church and theology defines marriage and the state defines it. Same sex partnerships are not a marriage in a sacramental way as understood by the church – I often think if the church would put all the energy it takes to fight the state on same-sex partnerships instead would put into supporting marriage and family life in parishes it would surely look better on this side.  Church and state are different entities with different definitions of certain aspects of life which indeed can be lived next to each other without fighting. I read once a quote from Cardinal Napier which stated that civil partnerships have nothing to do with the church. Right so, if that is the case don’t fight them. But I also have to admit that I still don’t like the word “same-sex marriage” – same rights yes, but create another word, less burdened with a long tradition leading, yes asking for debates dividing people unnecessarily.

Following the internet debates on all those topics it seems that the gloves are off and all parties concerned are anxious to get their message through. It shows how divided the church is on that topic and that in the last 30 years the rift was covered up through tough measures against anybody even asking the right questions. Academic theologians were to scared to research freely as they had to fear not to get into teaching with the blessing of the official church. Doctrine was everything – but times have changed and as a bishop in South Africa put it: “We are allowed to think again and to debate questions without fear”. This is indeed a step in the right direction and I only hope that all this debate ends up not with winners and losers but with the unconditional love of God being personalized in those leading the church so that everybody can see and experience that faith is an assistance to life and not a constant headache.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Honesty and Trust are essential

English: Limburger Dom Limburg an der Lahn Deu...

Limburger Dom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not sure who follows the story of the Roman-Catholic Bishop of Limburg, whose residence building rose from estimates 5.5 million Euro to over 31 million Euro and who is facing at the same time prosecution for a false affidavit. On the background of a humble Pope Francis, those matters are obviously seen more grave than they would have seen before and it is to wait and see how things develop. The bishop is now in Rome and I am sure the press will be eager to find out what is happening as we “speak” or communicate via this blog.
As my bishop Stephan Ackermann pointed out last night on German TV, without trust a bishop can’t work and it seems that this has gone lost in the diocese of Limburg / Germany. And obviously it goes without say that bishops have to stick to the truth, especially when giving an affidavit. Having a prosecution of a bishop for lying was unheard of in Germany till last week.
I think most Catholics and even non Catholics feel that spring has arrived again in our church and that perspectives have changed. And that attitude has to change also for those thinking till now that they are above the laity and ruling in the church, commonly labeled as serving. The church serves the spiritual needs of people, the church is obliged to proclaim the good news and the unconditional love of God and his option for the poor and marginalized in our society. Posh residences of those in charge of serving are contradicting this duty.

Obviously there is a wide span of opinions what the term “modest” living means and I think we have to be very careful not to judge too harshly when others have other opinions on this subject. So I am actually not interested what the heavily discussed price tag for the bathtub of the bishop of Limburg is. What I find utmost disturbing is the fact of non-transparency and as a member of his financial advisory board publicly claimed, that the bishop asked to conceal the real costs of the building for public consumption. I also don’t mind the bishop flying first class – of course it is a matter of discussion whether this is appropriate – what I really mind is when he claims publicly and on video record that he only flew business class when knowing better. If you don’t want to admit to something, then rather be silent.

From a human point of view I feel sorry for him – it is tough to suddenly stand more or less alone in front of the public eye and not being able to conceal the obvious weaknesses of an expensive taste and a very own way to see realities.  But if you chose to accept a very public role with lots of responsibilities in church and society, then one has to know that scrutiny will follow. And media can be unmerciful and not forgiving.

Whatever happens in the next day – lets hope that it brings an end to this rather sad story. Let’s see how Pope Francis handles this case of a bishop losing the trust of his clergy and the faithful.

Filed under: Catholic Church, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pope Francis and his interview

Pope Francis met with media

Pope Francis met with media (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

I am amazed to see how much is written and talked about the interview, Pope Francis gave on his way back to the journalists being able to ask all sorts of questions. There was nothing new under this sun – when it comes to substance – but there was something new in tone. First of all I have never heard a pope taking the word “gay” in his mouth – homosexual was the term normally being used by church officials. Secondly I have never seen a pope being able simply to answer all sorts of questions without council and preparation, without going through the questions especially when they are tricky.

And seeing the reaction world-wide – with all kinds of interpretation depending which camp ones belongs to – it shows only one thing: how much the good people of the church and outside the church have yearned for a trace of humanity, humility and down-to-earth in the reaction and answers of the supreme leader of the Roman-Catholic Church. One can actually hear the deep breath taken and the gasp of relief that church is touching ground again. That in itself is amazing and moving.
For me there is no doubt that this pope is not to be framed by labels like “conservative’ or “progressive” – he seems totally to be himself and enjoying what he is doing. And he seems to be able to listen – but I am also sure he can be very firm when once made a decision.
Does that mean more openness in the church and within the church? Does it mean substantial change?  I am not sure – seeing how a conservative John XXIII has triggered quite some development within the church I just want to wait and see and simply enjoy what I am seeing and hearing, even if I don’t agree with everything said. I just want to enjoy that people start talking again positively about church.

Who had thought two years ago that a pope resigns? Who would have predicted that a pope talks about “gay” priests without flushing or feeling insulted? Who would have predicted a pop asking youth do “mess” around? So, let’s not over interpret everything he is saying or doing, but enjoying the fresh air he brought to millions of believers and surely to every priest and religious who works hard to live his or her vocation every given day.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
11 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018
5 months to go.

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