After giving his initial approval, a bishop in the Netherlands has rejected a prayer service that would have coincided with Pride celebrations.
The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s cathedral was set to welcome Pride celebrants to an ecumenical prayer service on the day of the city’s Pink Saturday events on June 24th.
In a pastoral letter to the local church, Bishop Gerard de Korte explained his decision to welcome people celebrating Pride to come to the cathedral for prayer. But later, in a second letter, de Korte expelled the service from the cathedral because, in his words, “priests and other faithful have protested the prayer service.”
Mark de Vries of the blog In Caelo et In Terra provided English translations of both letters In one text, de Korte described homosexuality as “a sensitive topic in our Church, leading to much emotion.”
The first letter was a response to the diocese’s presbyteral council, which requested that de Korte clarify his position on the prayer service and homosexuality generally. Of the former issue, the bishop said the cathedral’s pastoral team had “primary responsibility” for the service:
“The cathedral administrator ultimately made a positive decision. It is very important that the service is prepared by the administrator and three preachers from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They trust each other and are aware of the concerns of a part of the faithful. I have full confidence that the service will be serene. . .Those present at the prayer service will hopefully be encouraged and strengthened in their faith that God loves us unconditionally in Christ. The cathedral administrator and the preachers have asked me, as bishop, to conclude the service with a brief word and a blessing.”
De Korte, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016, said there will be events on Pink Saturday which do defy church teaching, but that there is no reason to deny people who desire to pray the opportunity and venue to do so.
About homosexuality, the bishop said it was his responsibility to both uphold church teaching on marriage and sexuality, but also “to continue seeking out dialogue, no matter how difficult it often is.” De Korte wrote:
“A great part of our own Church people is influenced by modern secular culture. The result is a deep chasm between the word of the Church and the experience of many outside, but also inside our Church. One thing and another often leads to misunderstanding, anger and regret. . .The Church’s ideal and stubborn reality regularly clash. It is pastoral wisdom to not use the teachings of the Church as a stick to strike with, but as a staff to lean on.”
On a pastoral note, de Korte reached out to lesbian and gay people, and their families. The church’s pastoral care for them should be one of “kindness and friendship” and about “the acceptance of every person as God’s creature.” In his conclusion, de Korte said that in both doctrinal and pastoral concerns conscience is “the final and ultimate authority”:
“Faithful are called to relate to the norms of the Church and form their conscience. . .A tension may possibly continue to exist between the truth of the Church and the conscience of every individual faithful. When parents find that one of their children is homosexual, they are called to surround that child with all care and love. The same is, I am convinced, true for the Church as mother.”
Unfortunately, de Korte undercut the goodness of his letter by reversing the decision to allow a Pride-related prayer service at the cathedral. A second letter released a week after his initial approval explained the reversal.
The bishop said some Catholics’ concerns about the prayer service meant unity in the diocese could be threatened, and he therefore had to cancel the event, even if it is “a disappointment to more than a few.” But de Korte also said not allowing the prayer service at the cathedral would not stop him from “looking for a proper form of dialogue, both internally and externally, no matter how difficult and thankless that may often be.” He concluded:
“People, of any orientation, should find, in our Catholic community at least, kindness, security and friendship. Every person is welcome in our faith community. . .When I was installed as bishop in the cathedral, on Saturday 14 May 2016, I spoke about the importance of mutual trust and unity. I strife [sic] for a clear but also hospitable and friendly Church. I hope and pray that every faithful in our diocese wants to contribute to that, especially at this moment. Especially now, we are called to hold on to each other as a community around the living Lord.”
The ecumenical prayer service will now be held at a Protestant church with Catholics being represented by the cathedral administrator. I offer two thoughts here about this incident.
First, de Korte is a bishop who knows the church needs to reach out in a way that is grounded in reality. His concern for lesbian/gay people and their families seems genuine, and this one incident will not stop his desire for dialogue among the faithful. De Korte may be stuck behind some doctrinal language about secular culture, just as Pope Francis sometimes is, but his heart is in the realm of the pastoral.
Second, his decision to disallow the prayer service may mean he is a bishop unwilling to take risks in the face of controversy. But it could also mean he is humble enough to make decisions in collaboration with his priests and be concerned for the entire church walking together on hard issues. Such attributes are lacking by so many bishops appointed by Pope Francis’ predecessors; thankfully, they are appearing more and more in the current pope’s new bishops.
The bishop’s reversal is problematic and a loss where there could have been a courageous step forward. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to his archdiocese’s cathedral was recently described as a “miracle” by some. Similar good could have come by Bishop de Korte and other Catholic leaders welcoming Pride celebraters into the church. But these two letters reveal dynamics at work which go beyond a singular incident, and which leave me ultimately hopeful that LGBT issues in the church are moving forward bit by bit. The proof will be in how well de Korte fulfills his promise to dialogue with the LGBT community in the future.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 17, 2017