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Even the numbers are impressive. Author Ton Crijnen spent an estimated 750 hours in conversation, spread over four years, with Cardinal Ad Simonis to create his biography of the retired Archbishop of Utrecht, which was published today. And the book shows the work put into it, clocking in at a whopping 591 pages.
Mr. Crijnen not only spoke at length with Cardinal Simonis, but also with 60 people who worked closely with (and sometimes against) the cardinal and who got to know him well. Among those who refused to speak with the author were two other cardinals: His successor in Utrecht, Wim Eijk, and his Belgian counterpart, Godfried Danneels. And then there were the additional hurdles of the archives of the Diocese of Rotterdam, where Cardinal Simonis was bishop from 1970 to 1983, not being accessible for research and the cardinal himself never keeping a diary or notes.
Cardinal Simonis speaks about numerous topics, a reflection of his 14 years as a priest, then 15 years as a bishop and finally 30 years as a cardinal. Some comments were published today on the website of the RKK, offering an interesting foretaste of the remainder of the book.
He speaks about his solid belief in the existence of hell:
“Not like a sea of fire, as Muhammad describes it, or like Dante’s lake of ice, but like a place where you are condemned to eternal loneliness. I doubt, by the way, if its population will be great, God is too merciful for that.”
About his won expectations regarding heaven and hell, he says:
“Although I hope I won’t end up in hell, I do think I need a time of purification after my death, before I am ready to meet the Lord face to face.”
When he was appointed as bishop of Rotterdam, Cardinal Simonis was often mentioned in one breath with Bishop Jo Gijsen, the bishop of Roermond as both were seen as the two conservative bishops forced upon the Dutch Church by Rome in the early 1970s. Cardinal Simonis knew Bishop Gijsen, who died in 2013, well, and was glad that he was not the only ‘Rome-oriented’ bishop.
“Although I did immediately think, knowing the straightforward mindset of Gijsen, “I hope this isn’t too much of a good thing.” I greatly admired his personality and completely agreed with his critical analysis of the situation in Church and society, but did think he expressed it sometimes too boldly.”
Cardinal Simonis never believed for a moment that Bishop Gijsen was guilty of sexual abuse. The complaints committee dealing with sexual abuse by clergy deemed two complaints against the bishop to be believable earlier this year.
In the run-up to the conclave that elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Simonis participated in the general congregations, although he did not stay in Rome to await the election of the new Pope. He did not have a great opinion of the proceedings, considering them to have been boring and sleep-inducing, because every cardinal wanted to have his say.
“Some, like Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, could hardly be heard. Based on what I heard there, I concluded that the actual conclave would take at least five days. Since my RyanAir return ticket would have expired by then, I decided not to wait for the result, but to fly back home. That was on 13 March.”
“When I heard who they had elected, I was stunned: Bergoglio! I had heard his name being mentioned during the preconclave, but I thought, he is 76 and is past his prime.”
“Why he was chosen? I think that the 19 South American cardinals agreed about his candidacy and then managed to convince their North American colleagues, so that Bergoglio got 30 or 40 votes in the first round of voting. That number was a magnet for the other cardinals, which ultimately led to his election.
Kardinaal Ad Simonis, kerkleider in de branding. Een biografie, is published by Valkhof Pers at a price of €39,50 (which is not much for a book this size).
While in the south we bid our farewells to Bishop Joannes Gijsen today, up north we rejoice as a young man is confirmed in his service to the Lord and His Church. There is always joy, even when we mourn the end of an earthly life.
I can’t be there, so I’ll just use this blog to express not only my heartfelt congratulations, but also my gratitude for his service, to Sander Zwezerijnen as he is ordained a transitional deacon at the St. Boniface church in Leeuwarden today.
Photo credit: Sander with Bishop Jan Hendriks, his seminary rector for most of his formation, upon receiving his magna cum laude diploma from the Pontifical Lateran University, last May/Tiltenberg.org
Bishop Joannes Gijsen, who passed away at the age of 80 today, has left a mark on the Church in the Netherlands. Virtually all elements of his service led to comments, criticism, questions and, also, admiration and support. From his appointment in 1972 to his sudden retirement in 1993, his troubled time as ordinary of Roermond and his efforts to maintain a form of Catholic education in the Netherlands, his surprise appointment to Reykjavik and the comparisons between life there and back home (which often saw the Dutch situation in a bad light); Bishop Gijsen made his share of ripples in the pond of the Church.
But in the very first place, Bishop Gijsen must be understood as a man of faith, Asked if he ever experienced any doubt about his faith, he said in an interview in 2007: “True doubt? No, never! I am convinced that the Roman Catholic faith holds the fullness of all knowledge of God and man.”
He lived his life as a bishop that way, as he illustrated in that same interview:
“We’re all priests of the Catholic Church, and especially a bishop has responsibility for the entire Church. You must be able to be deployed anywhere. Of course, it is something else if you can’t because of health or something. But if you’re healthy, you can never say “no”.”
“If, somewhere in northern Iceland, there are a few Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith, you must be able to offer it to them. Our Lord didn’t say: I want to convert the entire world in one go. He went to backward little Palestine and walked around there for three years, if not less. He reached only a few people. But that nonetheless became the foundation of the faith that reached the entire world.”
Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen was born on 7 October 1937 in Oeffelt, a village in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, just on the border with the Diocese of Roermond. He was ordained for that latter diocese in 1957, by Bishop Joseph Lemmens. Although he spent some time in the parish, he was mainly a teacher at the seminaries in Kerkrade and Maastricht, and a student of theology and Church history in Münster and Bonn. In 1972, he was appointed as the 22nd bishop of Roermond, a move that was quite controversial, as the new bishop was known as conservative and his appointment as one imposed from Rome. Reflecting the latter, Bishop Gijsen was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in Rome, with the archbishops of Utrecht and Armagh serving as co-consecrators. Cardinal Alfrink, the archbishop of Utrecht, would have preferred a consecration in Roermond as a first step towards reconciliation, but was evidently overruled. Bishop Gijsen was installed at St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond on 4 March 1972.
As bishop, he modernised the diocese in the line of the Second Vatican Council,determined as he was to put the Council’s documents into practice. In that sense, Bishop Gijsen was not so much a man of the “spirit of Vatican II”, but of the true Council. As a former teacher himself, he worked to maintain some form of true Catholic education in his diocese, with mixed results.
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, today describes Bishop Gijsen as follows:
“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice. He wanted to be loyal to the Pope and the Church. He wanted “to prepare the way for the Lord”, as his motto was. That moved him, among others, to start a seminary at Rolduc, which has formed some 175 priests, including five of today’s bishops (among them Msgr. J. Punt and myself). As Pope Paul VI hoped and expressed, that little plant has borne fruit for the entire country.”
Above: Bishop Gijsen, third from left, pictured with Bishops Punt (second from right) and Hendriks (far right) and several other priests educated at Rolduc, photographed in May of this year.
In January of 1993, Bishop Gijsen suddenly and unexpectedly retired as bishop of Roermond. He moved to Austria to become the rector of a convent. Although rumours abounded about the reasons, the bishop would later explain:
“I have never had Crohn’s Disease, and I have always enjoyed the support of the Vatican. I can deny rumours of that nature without a doubt. I left because the doctor told me: “If you stay for one more year, you’ll either have a stomach perforation or an intestinal disease from which you will not recover, or you’ll have an aneurysm or a stroke. There is no way you’ll be able to keep this up. You must stop now!” That was the reason why I quit so suddenly. It was sudden for me as well. Agreed, the danger of a collapse was also caused by the developments and the experiences of those twenty years [as bishop in Roermond]. But it was mostly exhaustion.”
Three years of recovery followed, after which Bishop Gijsen relayed his renewed availability to Rome. At that time, the Diocese of Reykjavik in Iceland had been vacant for more than two years, so Bishop Gijsen was sent to the see where his great uncle Bishop Meulenberg had served in the 1930s. He was initially sent to be Apostolic Administrator, but in 1996 he was appointment as diocesan bishop.
Where Roermond represented a time of struggle and management, Reykjavik was by far the more enjoyable of Bishop Gijsen’s appointments. In 2006, he spoke in an interview about his appreciation for the country and the Icelandic people:
“I encountered much understanding. Seen from Rome, Iceland, land of the Vikings, seems a barren and terrifying place. But it most certainly is not. Consider, for one, the weather: here in the city, in the shadow of the mountains, the temperature rarely drops below -5°C. […] From the very start I liked it here. I am very pleased with this place. Life at 66 degrees north is not that different from life in he Netherlands, at 53 degrees. But life is much more organised.”
In 2007, Bishop Gijsen returned home to the Diocese of Roermond and to his family. He moved in with one of his sisters in Sittard, and took on the pastoral care of a small convent. He shunned the media since then, devoting himself, no doubt, to his books and whoever came for a visit.
Looking back on his own life, something he was not too keen to do, Bishop Gijsen said, in the same 2007 interview quoted above:
“I have always tried to simply think along the same line as the Church. I have mainly tried to act on the basis of the Second Vatican Council, because that was our duty, especially for a bishop. I have done so with my abilities and with my inabilities and with the abilities of the people around me, and with their inabilities. We shouldn’t want to judge the result of that this soon. I think we should wait a while. I think you should never want to be your own judge, so I am not going to judge my own life; I’ll leave that to history.”
Today, many priests and bishops have been influenced in one way or another by Bishop Gijsen. As Bishop Hendriks said above, some 175 priests were educated at the seminary he started, but Bishop Gijsen also ordained and consecrated several bishops. In 1983, he ordained the future bishop Everard de Jong, and in 1985, the future Cardinal Wim Eijk. He also consecrated his own auxiliary bishops, Alphons Castermans in 1982, and Joannes ter Schure in 1984. The latter would become bishop of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch almost exactly two months later.
Of course, Bishop Gijsen suffered his share of criticism, and he was not afraid to offer it himself. Shortly before his appointment as bishop of Roermond, he accused the Dutch bishops of having “set the faithful adrift” following the disastrous pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout. He went his own way, and this in part was reason for Blessed Pope John Paul II to call a Special Synod on the Netherlands in 1980.
^Bishop Gijsen, right, with Pope John Paul II, during the latter’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985.
Most serious in his later years were several accusations that surfaced regarding sexual abuse, both in Roermond and in Reykjavik. While no accusations were deemed inadmissible in court, they do point towards serious mismanagement on the part of Bishop Gijsen.
Bishop Joannes Gijsen was not perfect. He had his flaws, but he was driven by an honest desire to be of service and to do what was needed. For that, especially during the 1970s and 80s, we should laud him.
The funeral is planned for 29 June, at 10:30 in the morning, from St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond. On the eve of the funeral, there will be a vigil Mass for the late bishop at the Carmelite convent chapel in Sittard.
Photo credit:  Bisdom Roermond,  arsacal.nl,  Dagblad De Limburger
The Diocese of Roermond reports the passing of Bishop Jo Gijsen today. More news as it becomes available.
Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen was the bishop of Roermond from 1972 to 1993. Three years after his retirement, he was appointed as bishop of Reykjavik in Iceland. He retired from that see in 2007, and returned to the Netherlands to spend his final years with his sister in the city of Sittard, Diocese of Roermond. Bishop Gijsen was 80 years old.
Photo credit, Msgr. Gijsen pictured in front of Reykjavik’s Cathedral of Christ the King: Gerard Klaasen/RKK
Happy anniversary to Bishop Everardus Johannes de Jong, who today marks the 30th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Bishop de Jong is Titular Bishop of Cariana and Auxiliary Bishop of Roermond. On 28 may 1983 he was ordained by Bishop Joannes Gijsen, at the time the Bishop of Roermond.
With 5,496 views in December, 2011 closed off quite well when it comes to the traffic this blog received. For the third month in a row, it’s been well over 5,000. In the top 10 we find various topics, both positive and negative. Since the month’s been quite a ride, I am actually glad that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look:
1: The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?” 76
2: Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory 73
3: Het probleem Medjugorje & Communication problems, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say 50
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests & “By popular demand”, Bishop Punt’s excellent homily 47
5: The Dutch Church’s emotional storm 45
6: Homily at the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Jan Hendriks 44
7: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 37
8: The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg 34
9: O Adonai! 31
10: The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet 30
Naturally, when we look back at the whole of 2011, the numbers are higher, if a little lower than those for 2010. But that may be explained by the unusual peak of July 2010, which led to some 4,000 more visitors than 2011’s final tally of 59,496. The 2011 top 10 is nicely varied and includes a number of posts from the previous year. Here it is:
1: The Stations of the Cross 592
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 572
3: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 421
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests 406
5: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 292
6: Under the Roman Sky 273
7: Cardinals according to John Allen 268
8: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 258
9: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 254
10: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 233
In August of last year we welcomed the 100,000th visitor. The number now stands at 123,945. Who knows, maybe we’ll reach 200,000 in this year?
Two days ago, I visited the Basilica of St. Servatius in Maastricht, Diocese of Roermond. The current basilica minor, which houses the remains of the first bishop of the Netherlands (and also the one from whom it takes its name), dates from 1000. Here, “just for nice” are some photos.
In September of last year I wrote about an abuse complaint lodged against Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of Roermond and Reykjavik. The complaint was about the future bishop having spied upon a student at Rolduc seminary while the latter masturbated in bed, sometimes between 1959 and 1961. Msgr. Gijsen continues to deny that anything untoward happened, saying last year, in response to the accusation: “If it is true what is being said, it must be a case of mistaken identity. I could not have been that, because I wasn’t in the situation. That they may know me could be true, because I was a teacher. But I could not have done that.”
The complaints commission of the Catholic Church, working to get to the truth in numerous abuse cases, has now deemed otherwise. It considers the story of the former student “credible and honest”, NRC reports today. But the commission then continues with deciding the complaint inadmissible, since it does not deal with sexual abuse per se. The student did not forced to masturbate, and neither did it happen in a situation where one person was dependent on the other.
It would seem that the investigation of this claim halted at the stadium of deciding its believability. Msgr. Gijsen claims that the facts reported are not true. Since the complaints commission makes no judgement on that, we must be extremely careful in deciding what is and is not true here. But what remains is a serious indictment of the behaviour of a cleric in a time when much of the abuse that services now took place.
Who knows, maybe Bishop Gijsen is right in claiming that the complaint is based on things that never happened or involved someone else altogether. What we do know is that the complains had been deemed believable, and that Bishop Gijsen, if he did it, greatly overstepped the boundaries of propriety, to paraphrase the NRC report.
In September 2010, when the claim first surfaced, the Diocese of Roermond let it be known that it had passed the matter on to the public prosecutor. It is unknown what, if anything, they are doing, or will do, with it.
A second complaint against Bishop Gijsen is still being investigated.
Photo credit: Gerard Klaasen/RKK
Four-and-a-half years into his retirement as Archbishop of Utrecht, Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis – Ad in conversation – reaches another milestone today: his 80th birthday. A respectable age for anyone, of course, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “The span of our life is seventy years — eighty for those who are strong” (90:10a), but for a cardinal it is something of a further step back from the intricacies of the Curia, locally and in Rome. Upon reaching his 80th birthday, a cardinal can no longer vote in a conclave, to elect a new pope.
Luckily, it would seem that Pope Benedict XVI is still in reasonably good health for a man his age (even if the rumours of his suffering arthritis in his legs are true), so a conclave is still in the semi-distant future. I would be surprised, therefore, if Cardinal Simonis still harboured any hopes of participating in another one.
As the Psalmist continues about the years of our life: “their whole extent is anxiety and trouble, they are over in a moment and we are gone” (90:10b), Cardinal Simonis certainly had his share of anxiety and trouble. Ordained a priest in 1957, the dentist’s son from Lisse first made Catholic headlines at the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout, where the young priest, then in his late thirties, was a voice for orthodoxy and thus soon placed by many in the camp of the bad guys. Rome, however, thought otherwise, as Father Simonis was appointed to be the second bishop of Rotterdam. His appointment there, as well as that of Bishop Gijsen to Roermond in 1972, is often considered to have been Pope Paul VI’s response to the new liberalism in the Dutch Catholic Church, especially considering that the name of Fr. Simonis appeared on none of the ternae supplied to Rome.
Bishop Simonis would remain in Rotterdam for 13 years, until 1983, when he was appointed to be Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht under Cardinal Willebrands. At the end of that year, on 3 December Archbishop Simonis succeeded the cardinal, who continued for six more years as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
As Utrecht’s archbishop, Msgr. Simonis was the principal host of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his cold reception in the Netherlands in 1985. Because of the hostility of many Dutch Catholics towards the bishops and especially Rome, personified in the pope, Archbishop Simonis was put under police protection for ten days. His elevation to the College of Cardinals in the consistory of 25 May 1985 is often seen as a way to strengthen the archbishop in his difficult position.
That difficult position did get easier over the years, as the climate in the Church mellowed, and Cardinal Simonis moved from being a voice of orthodoxy to one speaking for all Catholics, something that he considered to be an important attribute for all bishops.
In April of 2007, Cardinal Simonis retired and took up residence in a Focolare community in Nieuwkuijk. But even after his retirement, the cardinal remained a well-known face of the Church. His name appeared several times concerning abuse cases under his jurisdiction in the archdiocese, as well as ill-advised comments on national television. In recent year, many seemed to prefer to depict him as an evil genius, but the worst accusation that may, in my opinion, be brought against Cardinal Simonis is a naive attitude.
As shown by his motto, Ut cognoscant te, Cardinal Simonis is driven by the desire to let people know Christ, doing so as a humble and friendly prelate who tends to first see the good in people.
The paths of the cardinal and I have crossed several times, although we never formally met. As chief celebrant at the Catholic Youth Day of, I think, 2007, during the installation of Bishop de Korte, and most recently in Spain during the World Youth Days, a constant was the cardinal’s health. In the years immediately following his retirement, his figure turned ever more stooped, but that seems to have reversed itself in later years. The quiet life seems to have done Cardinal Simonis good.
But now, as the Dutch Church Province is left without a cardinal elector, eyes turn to Cardinal Simonis’ successor in Utrecht, Archbishop Wim Eijk. With a consistory rumoured to be scheduled for this time next year, he is now among the chief candidates for the red hat, considering the fact that Pope Benedict tends not to appoint new cardinals in a country which still has an elector.
We will see how that turns out, but in the mean time, the only suitable way to wrap up this post, is with a heartfelt birthday wish to Cardinal Ad Simonis: ad multos annos!
 NRC Handelsblad / Rien Zilvold
 Bisdom Den Bosch
 Ramon Mangold