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A short personal note from Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, in which he encourages us to seek “open encounters” with people, especially those outside the Church.

???????????????????????????????????“Holy Week

In a few days Holy Week begins. A “holy time” during which I am happy to meet you through this short letter. I wish you a week full of bountiful mercy and a Blessed Easter.

Allow me to accompany my Easter wishes with a thought.

Personally, my experience is that open encounters are live-giving. You, as priest, deacon, pastoral worker, pastoral assistant, as faithful, as man and woman, are called to encounter one another. Pope Francis ask to find opportunities to encounter people ‘on the periphery’ in Church and society. Our work is often about many official meetings and about organisation. That is hard. For that reason it would be good for us to regularly seek an open encounter with someone. To give concrete expression to our being faithful.

An open encounter

Simplicity, humility, openness. These are important requirements for an open encounter. Give the other first place. To be there for the other. To listen to the other. To very much leave the other free. This places a major demand to the person seeking such an encounter. To not immediately come to the other with a message or with plans. Meet the other from the starting point of prayer. It gives depth. Remain in God. Remain in love. So prepared, go to the other and the rest will follow. The man or woman across from you will often be the first to speak about disappointment, about pain pressing on the heart. He or she will speak about “the others” who make so many mistakes. Sometimes that is all. But you can often hear the hope that lives in the heart. When you can listen deeply, you also hear the desire for repairing broken threads of life.

Church life

People who experience that they can be at home with us, will feel that there is room for their life history. When they in turn – who knows when – meet us in Church, they will be able to open up to God who waits for them. They can then experience that they can be a child of God. That God is a merciful Father. That Jesus gives His life on the Cross out of love for all people. To repair the broken threads of life. That the Holy Spirit has lived in them since their Baptism and Confirmation. That Jesus strengthens them at the altar. They will, when the time is there, begin to surmise that God is indeed as great that He made His Son rise from the dead. Step by step, they will open up to the Resurrection and to life after death.

Priority

In our time it is more than ever necessary that we present the faith to our fellow men and women with simplicity, humility, along the road of open encounters. By living it ourselves and making witness of it.

I sincerely wish for you to be able to give priority, amid all the work, to open encounters. It will do you good.

I warmly wish you all a Blessed Easter.”

Original text

Over the past weekend, the news of the “plausible” abuse by Bishop Gijsen has obviously dominated Catholic news in the Netherlands. For some it was reason for renewed attacks against the Catholic Church, but what struck me most were the thought and feelings of those who had known Bishop Gijsen, who had entered seminary when he was bishop, who have him to thank for setting the first step towards finding their vocation. Those that I read all expressed feelings of confusion, of feeling lost. And that is what abuse, being a complete destruction of the bonds of trust and responsibility, does. It leaves victims stranded, alone, trying to build themselves up again and, too often, in the face of disbelief and accusations of lying.

Below, find my translation of the homily that Bishop Franz Wiertz gave on Monday, in a Mass of penance and reconciliation at Maastricht’s Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady.

abuse maastricht wiertz

“It is Holy Week. For Christians this is a week during which they not only follow Christ in His suffering, but especially look at themselves in this light and question themselves about the why of this death of the cross. The first confessions of faith, which we find in the Acts of the Apostles and also in the First Letter to the Corinthians, indicate the why of the cross very clearly: “Died for our sins”. In order to expiate our sins the Lord died on the cross. This makes us fall silent and we prefer not to hear these words. We don’t like being told that we are people who are not spotless and thus guilty.

Perhaps we think it is a bit strange that the new Pope, when he was asked, “Who are you, Jorge Bergoglio? What do you say about yourself?”, answered, “I am a simply sinful human being.” That means that the Pope does not want to present himself smugly as a perfect person, but as a human being in whose life guilt and sin are also a reality. We struggle with this fact. It throws us back on ourselves.

It is not without reason that guilt and sin are topics which are addressed in many ways in modern literature. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, devotes his play “The Flies” to the freedom of man and the responsibility that comes with it. But also to the feelings of guilt which are the result of choices made. The protagonist can’t live with these feelings of guilt. He tries to suppress them. Every attempt to chase them away is a stroke in the air. The flies return.

You can only come to terms with feelings of guilt by acknowledging them. Not by suppressing them. And certainly not by explaining away what happened. He who acknowledges guilt, will certainly also ask himself, “Who did I hurt? Who is the victim of the evil I have done? How can I repair what happened?”

Handling guilt is not easy for a person. It is more than a stain on one’s  reputation. Guilt questions one’s own integrity. In response one attacks the evil of other with strong condemnations. Like David did when the Prophet Nathan told him the story of the rich man who prepared the poor man’s lamb for dinner. David suppressed how he had abused his own power and took the wife of Uriah for his own. How he then tried to hide his tracks by having Uriah die in battle.

Difficulty to accept our own guilt which is the consequence of the acts of her members, and taking responsibility for it, is also difficult for our own Church. Even this week we in the Netherlands and in our diocese were painfully confronted with the fact that a bishop, priests and religious abused their power and undermined their mission. They caused scandal, by actions that do not stand up to daylight: abuse of children and young people. There is nothing worse.

For decades it was denied or suppressed. Now that the true extent has become known, the shame is great. Parents entrusted their children to people of the Church, thinking that there was no safer place than that. Children entrusted themselves to people of the Church and they were abused. Their stories were often not believed.

Although this is also a social phenomenon, that can never be an excuse for people of the Church. Although it happened half a century ago, we experience it as an original sin which is almost impossible to atone for. But we must carry it with us. The Church also does not want to be reminded of the stains in her own reputation, and she frequently made the mistake of David by condemning the mistakes of people with great harshness and without mercy. Why did the Church respond like that? Is it shame? Is it fear of loss of prestige? Loss of face? Did they want to protect the institution more than the hurting victims?

It hurts to be confronted with these sinister and dark sides of the Church. We want to acknowledge that Church authorities and Church members have caused grave scandal and that they have been guilty of grievous acts. In that context the words “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” have perhaps been used too quickly. Since the extent of the abuse became known these concepts were for the victims like a red cloth for a bull. It angered them, because it was misguidedly used to avoid acknowledgement of the facts and to avoid to take responsibility.

This misguided use of the word “forgiveness” should never have happened, because it is a special word and it is a special phenomenon when forgiveness and reconciliation happens between people. But it should always be remembered that forgiveness and reconciliation confer no rights. They can only be received as an undeserved gift.

It always presumes a completely honest acknowledgement of one’s own guilt, without fleeing for the responsibility for what was done in the lives of people. Family members and partners of the victims must certainly not be forgotten in that. Forgiveness is only possible where it is preceded by the acknowledgment of guilt. Acknowledging guilt before the victim and for us a Church also acknowledgement of guilt before God. The forgiveness has a chance and there can be a future again. People can set off on the journey together again. Then they can find each other again as people and appreciate each other for what we can give each other.

May the time come that victims can give their trust to the Church and to people of the Church and forgive them for what was done to them. The Church must wait for that and in the meantime must continuously prove herself to be worthy of it. For now, we work hard together on a “road to reconciliation”. Amen.”

Photo credit: ANP

Bishop GijsenIt’s hardly inconceivable anymore, but somehow it is still hard to believe accusations of sexual abuse against a generally well-respected bishop. And when the bishop denies and seems to be supported in that denial by the competent authorities, that is a relief. Just so in this case, but there’s preciously little room for such denial anymore.

A week after the death of Bishop Joannes Gijsen, formerly of Roermond, the institute charged with deciding if an accusation is founded or unfounded reopened the case against him. The bishops was accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse in the time late 1950s and early 1960s, when the future bishop was a young priest. The claims of two victims have now been deemed plausible, it was revealed today. In the first case there are accusations of forced oral sex and attempted or actual rape; while the second revolves around a single instance of improper touching. The complaints commission have decided that the cases of touching are plausible, whereas the (attempted) rape and oral sex can not be proven (which is not to say they didn’t take place, the commission stressed).

Instrumental in this decision was the appearance of a second complaint and the defence of the bishop, which was deemed highly implausible. In his defence, Bishop Gijsen claimed not to know the victim, while he was known to have regularly visited the victim and his family and to have received letters from the victim’s father.

As Bishop Gijsen is no longer alive, there is little that can be done, even if his crimes were not subject to the statute of limitations. Bishop Frans Wiertz, who succeeded Bishop Gijsen in 1993, apologised to the victims and expressed his regret and sorrow. When the complaints were first expressed, Bishop Wiertz immediately notified the relevant authorities and advised the victims to do the same. But even when having done what is possible this late, a feeling of powerlessness remains.

Sexual abuse, however long ago, does not simply go away. It lasts for the victims, and no less for all who have known them or the perpetrator. And when the latter is a priest or bishop, a moral example (even in hindsight), who turns out to have lied about what he did, that is all the worse.

Breaking and unexpected news today as the Archdiocese of Utrecht announces that, after a four-year hiatus, it will once more be housing its own seminary within the borders of the archdiocese. In 2010, the Ariënskonvikt in the city of Utrecht closed its doors as part of a wider financial reform started by Archbishop Wim Eijk (at the time, he called it one of the hardest decisions he had to make as bishop). The seminarians of the archdiocese moved to the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and in Utrecht the former vice rector of the seminary Fr. Patrick Kuipers, continued to manage the affairs of seminarians and conducting projects related to vocations and formation.

Ariensinstituut%20kleinNow, the seminarians are to come home to Utrecht, back to the old house they vacated four years ago, which now lies next door to the Faculty of Catholic Theology, which moved to the inner city a few years ago. Seminarians will receive their academic formation there. Fr. Kuipers will be the rector of the newly established institution.

BisdomUtrechtLocatieThere are several reasons for the return to Utrecht, of which the improved financial situation of the archdiocese if the most important. There is also a slow increase in seminarians, which, together with the limited space available, means that the new seminary is only open to seminarians from the archdiocese. In the past, Utrecht was also home to seminarians from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Another reason to return to Utrecht was the peripheral location of the Tiltenberg, the seminary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, as seen from the archdiocese. The seminarians would be travelling long distances from there to the parishes in which they learned the trade, so to speak.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht currently has eight seminarians, who will all be housed in Utrecht,. These will be joined by four religious of congregation of the Misioneros de Cristo Maestro who will form their own community. Before he came to Utrecht, Cardinal Eijk established contacts with this congregation with an eye on establishing a community in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, where he was bishop at the time.

Hopeful news.

“Bishop Gerard de Korte lets it be known that he ate couscous today.” As far as tweets from official diocesan accounts go, this must be one of the oddest. But it is not without reason, as it is a jocular comment in the debate that has erupted following the latest racist comments from politician Geert Wilders’ followers. Following the municipal elections on Wednesday, Wilders asked his audience whether they wanted more or less Morrocans in the Netherlands, to which they shouted, “Less, less!” Wilders’ party, the PVV, already lost several members of parliament over the incident, and more than a few bishops have been uncharacteristically vocal in their opposition to this expression of overt racism.

Bishop Jan Hendriks was the first, when he posted a short entry in his blog, titled “‘The Morrocans’ do not exist”. He wrote:

“if the crime rate among Morrocans in the Netherlands is high, the reason is not their being Morrocan; in Morocco crime levels are far behind that of western countries. There are therefore background to that high crime rate which have nothing to do with ethnicity per se. For the sake of a safe society those crime statistics are analysed for social causes and backgrounds. In any case, the solution is not the criminalisation of a given people as such.”

As the Council of Churches announced an upcoming ecumenical service to emphasise that they are for “more”, not “less”, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands also stated they would send representatives, Bishop de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Father van der Helm of the Diocese of Rotterdam, to that service.

The bishop also declared that among Christians “there can be no room for racism and discrimination”.

With his signature Bishop Jos Punt today finalised the sale of his residence on Haarlem’s Nieuwe Gracht. The monumental building has been the home of the bishops of Haarlem and most of the diocesan offices for more than 150 years. Bishop Punt will be moving to the rectory adjoining the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, where auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks already resides. The fate of the diocesan offices will be decided later, as the move is expected to take place in early 2015. The building will be then remodeled into a hotel.

nieuwe_gracht_80^A view of the bishop’s residence and diocesan offices from across the canal.

The building, which is a registered monument, is a complex of at least five adjoining buildings. At the heart are a residential home dating from 1734 and a neo-renaissance style building designed by noted architect Pierre Cuypers, who is responsible for many public buildings and churches throughout the country (and whose son, Jos Cuypers, designed St. Bavo’s cathedral).

The downsizing is not the first of its kind in the Netherlands. In the past the offices and the bishop’s residence of, to name but two, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden and the Archdiocese of Utrecht were also moved to a single central location. Few bishops, however, live as close to their cathedral as Bishop Punt will. A cathedral houses a bishop’s seat, so it makes sense for him to be frequently there or, at least, nearby.

Goosebumps at Mass this morning as the choir sang the Anima Christi:

Today the principal actors for the 2014 edition of The Passion, which will take place in the city I live in, were revealed, and I must say it seems like a good line-up.

the passion actors singers

The role of Jesus will be portrayed by singer Jan Dulles. He is the lead singer of Dutch band De 3Js, which makes him as good a choice as any singer who is not in the business for the adoration. The only downside is that he has been very critical about the Catholic Church in the past, hurting the feelings of more than a few with an emotional outburst on Twitter. We can only hope that his feelings have abated a bit in the years since.

Mary will be played by musical veteran Simone Kleinsma, who is also starring in the Dutch version of Sister Act. I am very enthusiastic about her involvement, as she has a great singing voice, and the role of Mary will allow her to make use of her great emotional range.

Peter is played by Stanley Burleson, another musical veteran. He also stars in Sister Act, and has appeared in the majority of big musical titles in the Netherlands. The demands of acting and singing a major role in The Passion demands are in good hands with him.

The Narrator is portrayed by media socialite and show business expert Beau van Erven Dorens. He’s the only member of the cast I’m not enthusiastic about. He’ll probably be alright in his role, but I simply don’t appreciate his public persona.

Not in the picture above, but revealed just tonight, is the role of Judas. He will be played by yet another musical veteran: Jamai Loman. He started out as a finalist in one of those talent shows like Idols or something, but has since made a proper career for himself in the musical world.

It’s interesting to see a solid backup for the persona of Jesus, in the form of three experienced musical actors. Their contribution to the format, which is unchanged since the first edition in 2011, should be very interesting.

Mgr%20Bert%20van%20Megen2-loreOn Saturday Pope Francis appointed Dutch Msgr. Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan. A high-profile appointment, certainly for  a Dutch priest. Msgr. Bert van Megen is a priest of the Diocese of Roermond, and that diocese’s Bishop Frans Wiertz considers the appointment “a great honour.” As Nuncio, he will be similar to a country’s ambassador in another country, maintaining contact with the government and also with the local Church.

Archbishop-elect van Megen was born in 1961 in the town of Eygelshoven and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, after studying at the diocesan seminary Rolduc, which produced more than one other bishop. After his ordination, Father van Megen was stationed in parishes in Nieuweinde and Schaesberg, both in the Diocese of Roermond. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service and subsequently worked at Nunciatures in Sudan, Brazil, Slovakia, Israel, the United Nations and most recently in Malawi, where he was chargé d’affaires.

Archbishop-elect van Megen joins a very select club, as he is only the fourth Dutch prelate to represent the Holy See at the highest level in a given country. The other members of this club are Archbishop Bernhard Gijlswijk (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1922 to 1944), Archbishop Adriaan Smets (Apostolic Delegate to Persia from 1922 to 1930) and Archbishop Martin Lucas (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1945-1952, Apostolic Internuncio to India from 1952 to 1959 and Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia from 1959-1961). There are currently two other Dutch-born bishops active abroad: Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, and Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane. In addition, six more are retired.

sudan flagThe Apostolic Nunciature to Sudan was established in 1972 and seven archbishops have preceded Msgr. van Megen there. The most recent was Archbishop Leo Boccardi, who was transferred to Iran in July of last year. Previous Nuncios to Sudan also represented the Holy See in other parts of Africa at the same time, specifically Eritrea and Somalia. While Somalia currently has a Nuncio assigned, Eritrea has not, so Msgr. van Megen may eventually also be assigned to that country.

The Catholic Church in Sudan is covered by two circumscriptions; the Archdiocese of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The archbishop of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako is 73, so Msgr. van Megen will very likely be involved in the appointment of his successor.

About 5% of the population of Sudan is Catholic, mainly in the south and in Khartoum. Officially there is freedom of religion, but socially there is a strong pressure against conversion from Islam to Christianity. The violence and civil war that has affected the country in recent years makes for an interesting first posting for a new Nuncio.

Msgr. van Megen will probably be consecrated soon after Easter, but the location is not yet known, although Rome seems likely. If so, Pope Francis or Cardinal Parolin may well perform the consecration. But Mgr. van Megen has also said that he hopes that the ceremony will take place in the Netherlands. In that case I can imagine that Bishop Wiertz will consecrate him. As archbishop, Msgr. van Megen will hold the titular see of Novaliciana, located in modern Algeria. Previous holders of this see were, for example, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain from 2004 to 2010, and Cardinal Achille Silvestrini when he was Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1979 to 1988

Logo BisschoppenconferentieThe bishops today issued a letter in which they respond to the enthusiasm for a possible papal visit and the disappointment when it became clear that one was not forthcoming. This letter is certainly very welcome, especially considering all the speculations and accusations that were launched against Cardinal Eijk, who was said to have actually blocked the papal visit. But as I explained in my blog before, reality was quite different, and this letter touches upon that.

Below is my translation:

Brothers and sisters,

There is great enthusiasm among the Dutch population for a papal visit, not only in our Church, but also among many others. The bishops of the Netherlands find the fact that so many are being touched and inspired by Pope Francis, and the way in which he is a follower of Christ, heartwarming. During their ad limina visit the bishops personally experienced the Pope’s compassion and are strengthened by his encouragement and his call to maintain hope.

The option of a papal visit mobilised many. However, in January the Pope himself made it known that a visit to our country was, for the time being, not possible. That is why the bishops, in their first subsequent meeting, decided to not formally invite him. That an invitation was not forthcoming now, was a disappointment for many. But you may be assured that Cardinal Eijk and the other bishop would have gladly welcomed the Pope to the Netherlands.

A civil initiative was launched to collect signatures to try and convince the Pope to come to the Netherlands this year anyway. The bishops find this very positive. But they have to inform the parishes that a visit is sadly not possible for now. Should the opportunity arise in the future to issue an invitation, the bishops will certainly discuss this again.

In the meantime we hope that the enthusiasm for Pope Francis and his witness of the Gospel in words and action will continue to bear fruit in the Church and the world. We pray that this will lead to new and concrete choices for Christ and His commandment to love God and neighbour in word and deed.

The Roman Catholic bishops of the Netherlands

The only thing not addressed in this letter is the alleged preparation by Bishop Punt, but I wonder if that should be something, if it is true to begin with, that should be discussed publicly. The bishops are in one mind about this to the rest of the world, and any internal troubles should be, or already have been, dealt with in private.

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

Copyright

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Netherlands License.

The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

Blog and media

Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

20 April: [English] Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki - Easter message.

15 April: [English] Bishop Frans Wiertz - Homily on sexual abuse.

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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