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Last week, American social media evangelist and orthodox Catholic Michael Voris visited the Netherlands for two lectures. He also recorded an episode of The Vortex, his regular program on ChurchMilitant.tv. Watch it below:
Some may disregard Voris as overly alarmist, but I think he is rather spot-on. When it comes to transmitting the faith in its entirety, we are faced with enormous challenges in the Netherlands, a society which generally does not accept the existence of absolute truths and a division between right and wrong.
I am also glad to see that he is evidently not alone in this, as Bishop Rob Mutsaerts’ words, quoted by Voris, fit in well with the general theme of this talk.
Yet another conflict erupts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch as the diocese removes a priest and a deacon from their parish. The reason: they refuse to cooperate with the diocese’s plans to merge parishes. As has become standard, it seems, in these situations, the parish council has resigned and the clergymen announced to hold and alternative Mass in a nearby school, despite the diocese’s decision to remove both men from active ministry for now.
But Father Richard Schreurs (pictured) and Deacon Hans van der Laar, formerly of the parish of St. Anthony in Best, have relented from doing the latter after the diocese pointed out that, in holding alternative services, both men would place themselves and their faithful outside the Church, which can be understood as being excommunicated. It is important to note here that the diocese does not threaten to punish the priest and deacon, but excommunication is something that we call upon ourselves by our actions, without any formal declaration from ecclesiastical authorities. In that sense, it is not so much a punishment levelled against a person by a priest, bishop, or even the Pope, but the recognition, by the Church, of a situation that has come into being.
In the past few years there have been several instances of local clergy, faithful and communities disagreeing quite audibly with the diocese. In more than a few cases, this was triggered by the diocese acting against trends which had been allowed to develop for years, but it’s not completely honest to lay the blame with the diocese. Reinforcing Catholic teaching and spiritual life can only be a good thing, but it is also understandable that feelings get hurt if people have the impression that things that seemed to have been allowed for years are suddenly no longer allowed. The standard Catholic situation has, in the minds of the people, become the exception, after all.
The situation outlined above is somewhat different, however – not a difference in teaching and practice, but a refusal to go along with the wishes of the diocese – but the way both parties act is quite the same. And much of the reason why this happens must be a clear lack of communication to the outside world. If people feel misunderstood and attacked by the other party, like in St. Anthony’s (church pictured), they turn to others to have their stories heard. In this case that is often the media who, sadly, often spin the stories in their own ways. Of course, conflicts needs to be able to be resolved by the parties involved, if necessary through mediation by a third party. This situation has somewhat escalated, so it may be a bit more difficult to resolve as it should be. Part of that resolution is a clear understanding by the parish in question that it is not an island, but part of a diocese. Likewise, the clergy must realise they owe a level of obedience to their bishop and can’t just strike out on their own. On the other hand, diocese and bishop must work towards the best resolution for the conflict, and that includes making sure that a level o trust and confidence is maintained. If the other party feels to need to go public with their story, some of that confidence has already been lost.
Is that the end of the story, then? Happily, it is not. We need only look back at some other recent conflicts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In the parish of San Salvator, faithful refused access to Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who had been appointed as administrator of the rather liberal parish. Faithful broke away and held their own services just around the corner. Today, the parish is young and alive under the guidance of Fr. Geertjan van Rossem and recently ordained Fr. Patrick Kuis (both pictured, with a group of children preparing for their First Communion), is active in social media and has a newly refurbished church as the architect intended. But, it must be added, the breakaway community still exists and continues to be active outside the Church.
Similarly, in Tilburg, the student chaplaincy received a new priest who intended to return Catholic practice and faith to the daily proceedings of the community, which lead, once again, to the parish council resigning and many hurt feelings displayed in the media, even before the new priest, Fr. Michiel Peeters, had been able to start his work for the chaplaincy. In this case, the faithful who quit did not take a group of faithful with them, but the ‘success’ of Fr. Peeters’ appointment and the new direction of the chaplaincy still remains to be seen, although it seems that there is definitely some successful outreach to students.
Photo credit:  montfortanen.nl,  Irene Wouters,  San Salvatorparochie
As the registration closed on 5 April, some 300 young Catholics from the Netherlands had signed up for the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which will take place in July. Although this is about 1,000 less than the number who went to Madrid in 2011, the number can’t be considered as very low. Whereas a bus trip sufficed for Madrid, for Rio, the pilgrims will be making an intercontinental flight, as well as significant plane journeys within Brazil or, in one case, from Suriname to Brazil. Higher costs and the far greater distance will have kept more people from committing.
The Dutch pilgrims, which will be accompanied by Bishops Hendriks, Mutsaerts and De Jong, are also joined by a group from the Diocese of Paramaribo. That is a similar construction to the one used in 2011, when the Surinam pilgrims joined up with the group from the Diocese of Rotterdam before travelling south to Spain. The Dutch pilgrims will now be guests in Suriname before travelling to Rio.
Other pilgrim groups will start their World Youth Day experience in Brazil, in the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza and the Diocese of Almenara. Two of these circumscriptions have connections to the Netherlands: Belo Horizonte is the city of Blessed Eustáquio van Lieshout, a Dutch missionary who worked miracles for the sick under his care; and Almenara’s Bishop Hugo van Steekelenburg was born in the Netherlands.
As in earlier editions of the World Youth Days, the first week will be spent in dioceses and communities across the host country and neighbouring countries. Starting on 20 July, the young pilgrims will start arriving in Rio de Janeiro.
Several dozen primary schools, which cater to pupils from 4 to 12, in Den Bosch and surrounding area have said they intend to drop the ‘Catholic’ moniker from their names in 2013. The chairman of the umbrella organisation of these schools said: ”The relationship with the Church is already minimal. We have detached ourselves from the Church years ago.”
Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch said that it is better, in these cases, to indeed drop the name ‘Catholic’, when lesson content and founding principles are no longer compatible with Catholic teaching.
He also said that this opens opportunities to establish true Catholic schools. In the past, the state blocked such attempts, pointing at the existence of plenty of ‘Catholic’ schools.
In past decades, when the Church in the Netherlands was itself quite in turmoil, Catholic education was secularised to a great extent. Although there are of course school where priest or bishop will visit, where there are good relationships with the local parish, and where pupils are prepared for first Communion, the Church itself had no say about what the school should teach or how it should go about its business. The state took that upon itself, and the focus shifted to the individual child and his or her needs and talents, the different cultures and faiths in the school, and, sadly, increasing bureaucracy for teachers and staff alike.
Catholic education in the Netherlands is marginal, and to counter that we need honesty and openness. If you’re not Catholic, don’t pretend you are. That clears the way for schools who do want to be Catholic, as Bishop Mutsaerts indicated. How arge the basis for those truly Catholic schools is, remains to be seen, though.
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
At the tail end of it, the month became quite interesting, as my translation of the pope’s letter to the German bishops was picked by numerous blogs and websites, resulting in more than 2,000 page views in one day. Not surprisingly, the blog easily broke the 10,000 page view ceiling and peaked at 10,992. I know this blogging game is not about numbers, but still: wow.
Without further ado, here’s the top 10 of last month:
1: Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference 3,120
2: Priest in space 129
3: Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Daoud passes away 84
4: Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Aponte Martínez passes away 82
5: Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time 80
6: For all or many – Pope Benedict enters the debate 68
7: The Stations of the Cross 66
8: Happy birthday, Holy Father! 64
9: A blackbook for Bishop Mutsaerts 57
10: “A desperate push” – Holy Father corrects disobedient priests 54
Although the numbers above are obviously a sign of appreciation that is very welcome and, er, appreciated, there are other ways to show support for this blog. One of them is via the donation button below.
The Dutch bishops got something special in their mail today: a black book documenting the “offensive statements and hurtful actions” of Bishop Robert Mutsaerts. The author? Father Jan Peijnenburg, the priest who was removed from active ministry last year after it became known that he had been living with his lover for the past 46 years, breaking his oath of celibacy and now his oath of obedience to his bishop.
It is a sad affair, really. and the only response it merits is one of pity. Father Peijnenburg broke his oaths and tried to be a priest without living a celibate life; an impossibility, and he knew it full well. The fact that he got away with it for 46 years is immaterial. The Church asks her priests to live celibate lives. That is not something that Bishop Mutsaerts suddenly came up with. He is merely the bishop who finally acts against those priests who do not follow the rules they agreed to follow. And that, I suppose, makes him the bad guy.
The other bishops will take note of black book and that will be all. All we can hope and pray for is that Fr. Peijnenburg will see the error of his ways, and that he will receive the help he needs in doing so.
Accompanying the black book is a ‘white book’ with ‘renewing thoughts’: no doubt the same unoriginal thought that has affected the Church in this country under the misunderstood banner of ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ for the past decades.
After the bishops last reshuffled their responsibilities within the conference, last September, following four new addition to their roster in the previous two years, one member of the conference retired and a new one joined. So this week, it was time to do some additional reshuffling to give Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, some specified responsibilities and re-evaluate some of the others.
Bishop Hendriks (pictured) took over the Education portfolio from Bishop Everard de Jong. The latter received a newly created portfolio, of Pastoral Care in the fields of Health Care and Justice. Bishop hendriks also takes over the portfolios of New Movements and Religious and Secular Institues from his immediate predecessor, Bishop Jan van Burgsteden
Two other bishops also received new portfolios: Bishop Hans van den Hende received that of Ecumenism, previously held by retired Bishop van Burgsteden, who, despite his retirement, received the Interreligious Dialogue portfolio from Bishop van den Hende.
The entire list of bishops and their portfolios now looks like this:
- Bishop Everard de Jong, auxiliary of Roermond: Categorial Pastoral Care in Health Care and Justice
- Bishop Gerard de Korte, ordinary of Groningen-Leeuwarden: Church and the Elderly, Church and Society & Women and Church
- Archbishop Wim Cardinal Eijk, ordinary of Utrecht: Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, Medical Ethics & Vocation and Formation
- Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam: New Movements, Education & Religious and Secular Institutes
- Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary of Utrecht: Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community
- Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch: Marriage and family
- Bishop Jan Liesen, ordinary of Breda: Liturgy
- Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch: Catechesis & Youth
- Bishop Jos Punt, ordinary of Haarlem-Amsterdam: Mission and Development & Categorial Pastoral Care
- Bishop Jan van Burgsteden, emeritus auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam: Interreligious Dialogue
- Bishop Hans van den Hende, ordinary of Rotterdam: Ecumenism
- Bishop Frans Wiertz, ordinary of Roermond: Communication and Media
- Bishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary of Utrecht: Pilgrimages & Relations with Judaism
It is striking to see that, in the past six months, Bishop de Jong has lost all the previous portfolios he held, although he gained a newly created one. Similarly, Bishop van Burgsteden, despite his retirement, still retains one portfolio. But then again, that is in line with his expressed desire to continue being available for some duties.
“You don’t control the results, but that does not change the obligation to do the best we can. There is an essential element of freedom in there. You belong to the Roman Catholic Church because you want to, as conviction you gladly have. Many “enrolled” as children, but it must be confirmed at some point. If it isn’t, it remains something superficial and will not bear fruit. For the intended effect of sowing is for it to take root and bear fruit.”
Words from Bishop Jan Liesen, spoken in an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad, prior to his installation as bishop of Breda tomorrow. The installation Mass, which will be concelebrated by Bishop Liesen, his predecessor, Bishop Hans van den Hende, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch (where Msgr. Liesen has been auxiliary bishop), other bishops present, and members of the cathedral chapter. The new Nuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop André Dupuy, will not yet be present. Instead, the Holy See will be represented by Msgr. Habib Thomas Halim, secretary of the nunciature in The Hague.
With some 500 people invited, the Mass is closed to visitors, simply because of the relatively small size of the Cathedral of St. Anthony. Priority has been given to representatives of the parishes of the diocese, as well as various dignitaries. In addition to the bishops mentioned above, Bishop Wiertz, De Korte, Punt, Mutsaerts, Hoogenboom and Hendriks will also be present, as well as Bishops Bonny and De Kesel from the two Belgian dioceses that border Breda, and the emeriti Cardinal Simonis, and Bishops Ernst, Muskens and Van Burgsteden.
The Queen’s Commissioners in the provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant, the mayor of Breda and the governor of the Royal Military Academy, which is located in Breda, will also attend the Mass or the following reception.