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A bit of alternate history, or a look at how things could have been if history hadn’t gotten in the way…
A Church province of Mechelen covering what is now Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Archbishop of Mechelen would have truly been Primate of the Netherlands: his archdiocese would have covered the provinces of Brabant (or modern Flemish and Walloon Brabant) and Antwerp. It would have had seven suffragan dioceses, some of which are similar to the ones we know today, while others would have been radically different in composition:
- Amsterdam: the provinces of Holland (modern North and South Holland), Utrecht, Overijssel, Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe
- Bois le Duc: the provinces of North Brabant, Gelderland and Zeeland
- Bruges: the province of West Flanders
- Ghent: the province of East Flanders
Liège: the provinces of Liège and Limburg (modern Belgian and Dutch Limburg)
- Namur: the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg (the modern Belgian province and the sovereign Grand Duchy)
- Tournai: the province of Hainault
Map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as it existed from 1815 to 1830. Subdivisions depicted are provinces, not dioceses.
The bishops of all these dioceses would be appointed with royal consent and would swear and oath to the king upon their installation. Bishops and clergy would receive an income from the state.
All this could have been reality, had the Concordat between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Holy See of 1827 become reality. The Belgian revolution and subsequent independence prevented this of course, and while the Belgian dioceses continued to exist and develop according to the descriptions in the Concordat, the Dutch dioceses would never become reality. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1853 when a whole different set of dioceses were created.
In that plan, which did become reality, the massive Diocese of Amsterdam (at 18,521 square kilometers taking up about one third of the total territory of the kingdom) had no place. In fact, no cathedral would ever be built in the Dutch capital, which instead became a part of the new Diocese of Haarlem. I described the recent Catholic history of Amsterdam in an earlier blog post.
The failed Concordat of 1827, which was signed by Pope Leo XII (and not Leo XIII, as I mistakenly wrote earlier) (pictured) and King William I, sheds an interesting light on what could have been. Whereas the Church in what is now Belgium and Luxembourg was predominant in society and had dioceses which had already been established (with the exception of Bruges, which would be split off from Ghent in 1832, and Luxembourg, separated from Namur in 1840), the northern Catholics lived in mission territory (the Mission ”sui iuris” of Batavia) and in four apostolic vicariates (‘s Hertogenbosch, Breda, Grave-Nijmegen and Ravenstein-Megen), three of which were less than thirty years old. Since the Reformation there had been no hierarchy to speak off in the modern Netherlands. The (often Italian) superiors of Batavia frequently didn’t even live in the territory they had pastoral responsibility, choosing Brussels or Cologne instead. The Concordat was, then, something of a diplomatic victory, especially since royalty and government were far from tolerant of the Catholic Church. Hence the oath to the king and the state control over clergy income. In fact, the creation of a mere two dioceses in areas where there were none yet (Bois le Duc and Amsterdam) would have helped as well: it meant there were only two extra bishops to contend with: in the southern part of the kingdom, there already were dioceses with bishops, so little would change there. The Concordat would simply solidify the relation between Church and state there.
If the Concordat had become reality, how would the map of the Dutch Church province look today? Assuming that Belgium would have become independent at one point or another, the province of Mechelen would be spread over two or even three countries (Luxembourg continued to exist in a personal union with the Netherlands through the same head of state, but since the Grand Duchy could not have a female head of state, the two nations would go their separate ways as soon as the first Queen inherited the Dutch throne). The Diocese of Liège as proposed in the Concordat could have gone both ways: split between Belgium and the Netherlands or wholly Belgian. The proposed Diocese of Bois le Duc would have been rather unmanageable, combining strong Catholic and Protestant parts of the country into one. The province of Gelderland would one day be split off, but to do what? Become an apostolic vicariate in its own right? Be merged with Amsterdam? The proposed Diocese of Amsterdam was also hard to control, split as it would be by the Zuiderzee: the part formed by Holland and Utrecht would be physically separated from the rest in the northern part of the kingdom. Perhaps the latter part would form a new diocese with Gelderland, with its cathedral in… Zwolle? Groningen? Deventer? Arnhem? Who’s to say? And what of Utrecht? That oldest of all sees in the northern Netherlands, once established by Saint Boniface as his base of operations from which to convert the Frisians. Now just a part of a new Diocese of Amsterdam… The Concordat of 1827 may have appeased the state for a while, but for the Church it would have been quite unmanageable and unrealistic.
The present layout of dioceses in the Netherlands
Perhaps it is a blessing that it never became reality. Today there are voices that there are too many dioceses in the Netherlands, but for the major part of their history, they have worked well enough. A Church province limited to a single country, with its own metropolitan see in the oldest Christian centre of the nation.
In this first week after Pentecost, three dioceses in the Netherlands are gearing up to ordain three priests each on Saturday. While it is no set rule, it is customary for new priests to be ordained around this time. Later on in the year, the expectation is that there will be at least one more ordination coming up in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, for example.
Tomorrow, however it will the Dioceses of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Roermond’s turn. Diocese by diocese, here are the new priests:
Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, to be ordained by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans in the Cathedral Basilica of St. John:
- Peter Koen
- Bart Theunissen
Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, to be ordained by Bishop Jan Hendriks, the auxiliary, since Bishop Jos Punt has decided to temporarily lessen his workload in preparation for surgery:
- Jeroen de Wit
- José Marin de Val
Diocese of Roermond, to be ordained by Bishop Frans Wiertz in St. Christopher’s cathedral (and depicted above on the cover of the diocesan magazine):
- Roderick van Attekum
- Carlos Martinez
- Ralf Schreiber
With three of the new priest hailing from outside the Dutch borders (Marin del Val and Martinez are Colombian, and Schreiber German), this year’s class has a fairly strong international element. And that is a trend which will become steadily more standard in the future, particularly since the Diocese of Roermond has just announced that no less than six Indian seminarians will be trained to become priests in that diocese. Starting their time in the Netherlands with an intensive fulltime course to learn the Dutch language, it will be interesting to see if and how these priests succeed in adapting to Dutch society, mentality and culture.
For now, however, prayers for the new priests of this year and all the years to come. May their numbers ever increase, for we do indeed need them.
And finally, to close with the reminder that Pope Francis imparted to the priests he ordained on 21 April:
“[D]ear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.”
Although with 117 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will be nearly at its maximum of 120, there are some striking gaps in the roster. Pope Benedict XVI created 90 cardinals in 5 consistories, and although it seems that his abdication was conceived many months ago, he left some countries rather unrepresented.
From northwestern Europe come eight cardinals, one each from the Netherlands and Belgium, and six from Germany. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. But when we look further afield, we see that some of the major players are missing.
In the United Kingdom, only the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien takes part in the conclave: the archbishop of Westminster is not a cardinal. In the Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is not a part of the proceedings. His predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (pictured), turns 80 two days before the sede vacante begins and this can’t take part in the conclave. In Africa, the major Catholic countries of Angola and Mozambique have no cardinal electors. And in the Curia, finally, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller has no red hat either.
Is this something to be concerned about, then? Not really. The College of Cardinals is not in the first place intended as an accurate representation of the world Church, although there are merits to drawing from the various cultures and nationalities that compose the Church. But it is striking that, although some of the prelates mentioned above were appointed only fairly recently, the Holy Father chose not to include them in the most recent consistory, although at that time he must have had some idea that a conclave would be coming up. An oversight, or a conscious choice? Or a simple case of wanting to adhere to the rule that said that there can be no more than 120 cardinal electors?
Whatever the reason, the cardinals who will elect a new Pope in March are a reflection of the world Church in one respect: they are just as human as all of us, and from their ranks will come a Supreme Pontiff who is, in that respect, one of us.
Following a flurry of interesting appointments (among them the appointment of a coadjutor archbishop for Ireland’s premier see and the confirmation of a new patriarch for Egypt’s Catholic Copts), there was also a creation that affects the Ukrainian Catholics in our part of the world.
The Apostolic Exarchate of France, which also covered Switzerland and the Benelux was elevated as the Eparchy, or Diocese, of St. Vladimir the Great of Paris. Bishop Borys Gudziak (pictured), appointed as apostolic exarch only six months ago, becomes the first bishop of this new diocese. He is now a full ordinary and therefore no longer the titular diocese of Carcabia. Many responsibilities that previously were held by the Holy See, now fall under the bishop, and the new diocese falls directly under the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
The diocese is home to some 20,000 Ukrainian Catholics spread over five countries. It’s home base is the Cathedral of St. Vladimir the Great in Paris. The vast majority of faithful reside in France and Belgium. There seems to be little to no organisation in the Netherlands, although the territory does belong to the new diocese.
A day before, the Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain become the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, leaving only the Apostolic Exarchate of Germany and Scandinavia as the only Ukrainian jurisdiction in Europe that is not (yet) a diocese.
Photo credit: Yaryna Brylynska
A fairly unseen person, Belgian prelate Frans Daneels (no relation to the similarly named Cardinal Godfried Danneels) has been noticed in Rome nonetheless. The secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Curial body overseeing the administration of justice in the Church, has been a bishop since his appointment in 2008. Today, he was elevated to the dignity of archbishop. This makes him one of Belgium’s two active archbishops, the other of course being Archbishop Léonard.
71-year-old Archbishop Daneels belongs to the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, better know as the Premonstratensians, where he made his profession at Averbode Abbey in 1961. He has been a priest since 1966. From 1971 to 1982 he was active in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. In 1982 he returned to Rome for his order. He has been active in the Apostolic Signatura since 1987.
Archbishop Daneels retains his titular see, being now the titular Archbishop of Bita in Algeria.
Photo credit: An Daneels/KerkNet
Yesterday, the Holy Father appointed Father Borys Gudziak, 51, as the new apostolic exarch of France for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics. He will be the chief shepherd of the small community of this church’s faithful living in diaspora in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
While exact numbers are hard to find online, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, if we take the numbers for Belgium as a basis, likely counts several thousand faithful and a handful of priests in the Netherlands. Based primarily in the Ukraine and Belarus, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is in union with Rome but maintains her Byzantine traditions. It has been a heavily persecuted church, which accounts for the many refugees living in other countries.
American-born Bishop-elect Gudziak was until now the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He succeeds 83-year-old Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, who had been the bishop since 1982. Msgr. Gudziak’s titular see, reflecting the subordinate status of his apostolic exarchate, is Carcabia in Tunisia. Previous titular bishops of this see include Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Bishop-elect Gudziak was born in Syracuse, New York in 1960 and gained his PhD in Byzantine and Slavic Studies from Harvard University. A date for his consecration, most likely at the Parisian Cathedral of Saint Vladimir the Great, has yet to be announced.
An important step on the road to this autumn’s Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation yesterday: the publication of its Instrumentum laboris, the document outlining the points that will be discussed at the convocation of bishops from all over the world, and is the result of questions that we submitted after the initial Lineamenta was published in March.
The focus of the Synod, the New Evangelisation, is an important one. If applied correctly and effectively, it will be a great aid in overcoming our speechlessness about our faith.
Attached to the Instrumentum is a foreword by Archbishop Nicola Eterovic (pictured at right, during the presentation of an earlier Instrumentum in 2008), the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, which serves as an introduction to the entire document. I have that text available in a Dutch translation.
Also today, it was announced which bishops will represent Belgium at the Synod. They are Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Malines-Brussels and Bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges. Dutch bishops have not been named yet, but likely candidates are Cardinal Eijk, as well as Bishops Mutsaerts (who holds the Catechesis portfolio in the Conference) and De Korte (Church & Society). But any guess is as good as mine. We’ll have to wait and see.
Photo credit:  Reuters,  Emanuela de Meo/CPP
The archbishop, who will undoubtedly receive some expected criticism for this text, asks if the fears that the episcopate expressed a decade ago were unfounded. They were not, he says. Emphasising that the current safeguards that would make euthanasia safe simply do not work, Archbishop Léonard uses the example of a door that, once opened just a crack, will unavoidably be opened further. To halt that process, we need a clear and resolute “yes” to competent and loving care for the sick and dying. While prohibiting euthanasia does limit personal freedom, the common good sometimes trumps that freedom if we want a future for our society.
Photo credit: Reuters/Yves Herman
Popes rarely correct specific groups of people during high-profile events, instead opting for private audiences or similar occasions. Pope Benedict XVI chose to do otherwise today,in his homily at the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. His intended audience? The priests from Austria, Belgium and other countries who have launched a ‘call to disobedience’ to the Church and her teachings:
“Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?
But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice. Nor must we forget: he was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.”
Thank you, Holy Father.
Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images