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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.
On Thursday, the “upper church” of the Belgian Marian shrine at Beauraing was elevated to the dignity of basilica minor. The building, built in addition to the original chapel built on the site after the Blessed Virgin appeared there to five children in 1932 and 1933, will henceforth carry the name of Basilica of Our Lady with the Golden Heart.
The importance of Beauraing as one of Belgium’s most important pilgrimage sites was reflected by the fact that seven bishops concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Rémy Vancottem, the ordinary of the Diocese of Namur, in which Beauraing is located. They were Cardinal Godfried Danneels (em. archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Bishops Pierre Warin (aux. Namur), Aloys Jousten (em. Liège), Guy Harpigny (Tournai), Antoon Hurkmans (‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands), Gérard Coliche (aux. Lille, France) and Pierre Raffin (Metz, France).
The new basilica is unique in several aspects. It is very young for a basilica, as it was consecrated only in 1960, and it stands out in its concrete barrenness. There are no decorations and statues (ony very subdued Stations of the Cross). The architect of the building wanted all attention to be on the altar.
Evidently, the vitality of the devotion and the faith displayed here is strong enough to overrule the other unofficial requirements for a minor basilica: that it be of a certain age (usually understood to be in the range of centuries) and of an outstanding beauty.
Our Lady with the Golden Heart is the 28th minor basilica in Belgium, and the fourth in the Diocese of Namur.
Bishop Vancottem’s homily follows in my English translation below:
It is with joy that we are gathered in this in this upper church of the shrine of Beauraing, which was elevated to the status of basilica today.
When Mary appears to the children of Beauraing, it sometimes happens that she says nothing; but it is her attitude and her gestures that speak. Her smile. The arms that are opened. And how can we not be touched when she shows us her heart, as a heart of gold? A mother’s heart which is an expression of the tenderness and the love of the heart of God. A golden heart which reflects all the love of Jesus – Jesus, who, as the mouthpiece of God’s love for all people, goes to the extreme by dying on a cross -, and so one couldn’t give this basilica a better name than that of Our Lady with the Golden Heart. With this, the basilica does not replace the chapel that Mary requested from the children. In a sense, it is an extension of it, and an invitation to answer increasingly better to that other wish of Mary’s to come a pilgrimage here.
In the Gospel of the Annunciation we have just heard Mary pronouncing her “yes” to God. The Gospel ends with these words: “And the angel left her”, which indicates that Mary, according to the Gospel, received no further special revelations. She continued “her pilgrimage of faith” through the dark moments and hardships of life. “[T]he Blessed Virgin,” the Council states, “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross” (Lumen Gentium, 58).
For us, who are still on or pilgrimage in a world where our faith is often tested, the faith of Mary is an example. What was announced by the angel is impossible, humanly speaking. And yet the answer of Mary is a simple and clear: “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said”. Mary trusts the Word of God and devotes her entire life to the service of the “Son of God”. This is typical of the “Gospel image” of the Virgin Mary: Her initial “yes” will develop into lifelong loyalty.
At the moment of her Son’s birth, faith was needed to recognise the promised Saviour in this child of Bethlehem.
- Of the many years of Jesus of Nazareth’s hidden life, the Evangelists only remembered the moment when Jesus was found in the temple. That was a moment of darkness in Mary’s faith. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, Jesus tells His parents. But, the Gospel adds, “they did not understand what he meant. … His mother stored up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2: 48-51).
- Mary suffers the most radical test at the foot of the cross. She stands there, and it is there that she becomes the Mother of all the faithful. It is there that she receives her mother’s heart. It is there that we understand that we can entrust ourselves to her motherly protection.
How important it is to discover the mother of God. Our mother began her journey in faith, like us her children, through dark moments and the tests of life. Her “pilgrimage” is also ours. The “yes” of the Annunciation led Mary to the foot of the cross. But the cross has become a Glorious Cross, an elevated cross. The cross leads to the shining light of the resurrection.
Coming to Beauraing on pilgrimage, we meet Mary, but only to let her lead us to her Son. “Do you love my Son?” she asks. “Do you love me?”"Pray, pray often, pray always.”
In this Year of Faith, in the heart of this Eucharist, she achieves for us, through her prayer, that we advance in faith in Jesus, her Son, died and risen, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Oh Mary, teach us to weather the tribulations of life, to utter a yes to God without equivocating, as you did at the Annunciation by the angel. Be our guide on the way that leads to God, through our yes that we repeat every day.”
The coming pastoral year will be especially dedicated to catechesis. The Catechesis Commission of the Bishops’ Conference will issue a document in early September about the pastoral course concerning the sacraments of Christian initiation. We will have the opportunity to discuss that further later.
I wish you all a good start of the pastoral year!
Photo credit:  Notre-Dame de Beauraing,  Tommy Scholtes
A cardinal for only one year and five days, Julien Ries did not receive his red hat as the result of a succesful career in the hierarchy. The Belgian prelate rather received it for his work in the quiet of his study and the lecture hall. This morning he passed away at the age of 92.
Julien Ries was born near Arlon and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Namur in 1945. After a few years working as a parish priest and history teacher, Father Ries taught history of religion at the Catholic University of Louvain. After that university was split in a Flemish and a Walloon section in 1968, he remained at the latter. He remained there until his retirement in 1990.
A highly productive author, Fr. Ries was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 2012. Consecrated a bishop a week before the consistory, he held the titular see of Belcastro, and later became Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia.
With more than 600 publications to his name, Cardinal Ries was convinced that those were the reason for being made a cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI studied his work closely, and in 2012, Cardinal Ries said in an interview: “He phoned me more than once to congratulate me, when he had read a book of mine.”
Cardinal Ries’s work was best know for its focus on religious anthropology and humanities. In 2009, he donated his library and all his notes and correspondence to the Catholic University of Milan.
Cardinal Ries was never an elector. With his passing the total number of cardinals drops to 208.
For a while now, I’ve seen people arrive on my blog via search terms like ‘new archbishop Luxembourg’. Perhaps they knew things I didn’t (not a very radical notion), because just today, the Vatican announced just that, a new archbishop for Luxembourg.
The archbishop emeritus, Msgr. Fernand Franck, was , at 77, already well past the retirement age, but for reasons we can only guess at, it took this long for a successor to be named. And that successor is Jesuit Fr. Jean-Claude Hollerich, pictured to the left with Msgr. Franck. Archbishop elect Hollerich is 52, and a priest since 1990. His biography mentions his education in Rome, Belgium, Germany and Japan, and indicates that Msgr. Hollerich is something of a language scholar, having extensively studied both Japanese and German. His list of publications, varying from writings about the origins of school grammars to European grammar in Asia, and with side excursions to the rise of national awareness of Luxembourg and the history of French Jesuits in Siam. Much of his experience, it would seem, he gained while working in the Archdiocese of Tokyo and as vice rector of the Sophia University there.
The archdiocese that Msgr. Hollerich will soon call his responsibility tends to be too easily forgotten. It wasn’t until 1840, one year after Luxembourg’s independence as a grand duchy was reaffirmed by the First Treaty of London, that it was split off from the Diocese of Namur as a separate apostolic vicariate. In 1870 it was promoted to a diocese, and only in 1988 was it elevated to the status of archdiocese. As the only diocese in Luxembourg, it’s archbishop is not a member of a bishops’ conference, although it does share a papal nuncio with Belgium.
There are an estimated 390,000 Catholics out of a total population of 511,000, served by some 250 priests and 550 religious.
Archbishop elect Hollerich will be consecrated to bishop and installed as Luxembourg’s third archbishop on 16 October. at the cathedral of Our Lady in the city of Luxembourg.
“The main point we must consider is that a bishop isn’t just a bishop on his own. He is a bishop of a Church and that Church must be somewhere. In ancient times there were very many more dioceses, which were effectively swept away either by invasion of Muslims or the erosion of demographics, etc. In more modern times, in the “propaganda” countries, Sees were sometimes established, but the town lost importance for one reason or another and it became impractical to maintain the see there.”
Words from Father Z in this blog post, in which he answers a question about titular dioceses and the rights that bishops may or may not have in them. It prompted me to take a look at the titular sees in my neck of the woods, continental north western Europe. In nine countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden), it turns out, there are only seven of those. Compared to southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, that is very few indeed, but it does allow for an easy overview of which titular sees they are and who is appointed to them. In other words, who are the other bishops in these countries*?
Let’s take an alphabetical look.
We start way up north, in Iceland, with the titular see of Hólar. Currently all of Iceland is part of the Diocese of Reykjavík, but in the twelfth century there were two others, once of which was Hólar. It was suppressed in 1550, after which the island fell under various ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The village of Hólar lies on Iceland’s northern coast and nowadays is home to some 100 people. In the past it was the heart of Iceland’s Catholicism and a major centre of learning. Today, it is the titular see of Bishop Stanisław Budzik, auxiliary bishop of the Polish diocese of Tarnów.
Next is one of the two titular sees located in Belgium. Ieper (in Dutch) or Ypres (in French) was one of the dioceses established in answer to the Reformation in the Low Countries. Unlike the dioceses further north, it existed for a fair amount of time. It wasn’t until 1801, when it was suppressed to become part of the Diocese of Gent. The establishment of the diocese reflected its importance as a commercial trading city and also its origins as a French enclave in the Holy Roman Empire. Its current titular bishop is one of the three new auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Msgr. Jean Kockerols.
Not far from there lies the third see on our list, and the only Dutch titular see: Maastricht. It can trace its origins to the first arrival of Christianity in the Netherlands. It was created in 530 from the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht and survived for almost two centuries. In 720 it was incorporated into the powerful Diocese of Liège, an indication that the centre of Catholic gravity in that area had moved south. Bishop Marco Pérez Caicedo is the titular bishop of Maastricht. In daily life he is one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Guayaquil in Ecuador.
From Maastricht we go back to Scandinavia, to Norway where, in 1070, a Diocese of Selja was established. Also know as Selia, the titular see is based on a tiny island near the city of Bergen and is the predecessor of the Diocese of Bergen. In fact, it was named so only 10 years after its establishment, and survived until the Reformation. It was suppressed in 1537. The current titular bishop is Auxiliary Bishop Pero Sudar of Vrhbosna in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Then back to Belgium it is, to the ancient titular see of Tongeren or Tongres. This is the oldest diocese in the Low Countries, established in 344 from Cologne. From here, the Diocese of Maastricht was established in 530, the same year that saw the end of Tongeren as a diocese. Later, it was one of the seeds for the powerful prince-bishopric of Liège. Like Belgium’s other titular see, a Belgian bishop holds it. He is Msgr. Pierre Warin, auxiliary of the nearby Diocese of Namur.
That leaves only two titular dioceses on our list, and both are currently vacant. The first is Chiemsee in Germany, that country’s only titular see. It’s been vacant for a long time: it’s last titular bishop was Bishop Sigmund Christoph, Count of Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg. His tenure ended in 1808.
The last diocese on our last takes us back to our starting point, Iceland. When Hólar was an important centre in the north, its equivalent in the south was the Diocese of Skálholt. It’s history is very similar to that of Hólar, although it is a few years older. It is vacant, but it hasn’t been for as long as Chiemsee. It’s last titular bishop died in 2008, and he was Dutch: Bishop Alphons Castermans, auxiliary of Roermond.
*Not that these bishops have any rights or duties in their titular sees, as Father Z explains in the aforementioned post.
A little over a year since the appointment of a new archbishop, the Brussels episcopate returns to full force. As has become standard in the Belgian archdiocese, the three vicariates (Brussels, Brabant Wallon and Flemish Brabant & Malines) are headed by one auxiliary bishop each. When Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard started his job in succession of Cardinal Danneels, two of these vicariates still had their auxiliaries in place, but soon after a reshuffle which saw Bishop De Kesel switch vicariates, Archbishop Léonard was left with no auxiliaries at all. Bishop Jozef de Kesel went to Bruges and Bishop Remy Vancottem to Léonard’s old stomping grounds in Namur.
Today, Brussels and Rome simultaneously announced the appointment of three auxiliary bishops. Pictured above with the archbishop they are, from left to right; Msgr. Léon Lemmens (56), who will be the vicar for Flemish Brabant & Malines; Msgr. Jean Kockerols (52) for Brussels; and Msgr. Jean-Luc Hudsyn for Brabant Wallon (63). The three new bishops will be consecrated at the National Basilica in Koekelberg on 3 April.
Non of the three new episcopal faces are that familiar, but the question unavoidable rises: what school of clergy do they represent? The one at odds with Catholic teachings and their own archbishop, or the small percentage who are firmly at home in the Catholic Church and their own archdiocese? That will remain to be seen. It is perhaps indicative that Archbishop Léonard welcomed the appointments: “The new auxiliary bishops have much complementary pastoral experience. [...] We entrust them to your prayer so that the Lord may help them in their new pastoral mission.”
Msgr. Léonard also plans to give them each a task beyond their responsibilities in the vicariates, based on his pastoral priorities and the individual competences of the bishops.
Bishop elect Lemmens is a priest of the Diocese of Hasselt, ordained in 1977. His titular see will be Municipa in modern Algeria. Bishop elect Kockerols was the dean of Brussels South and director of the Centre d’Etudes Pastorales. His see will be Ypres in Belgium. He was ordained in 1993 for the archdiocese. Lastly, Bishop elect Hudsyn already was the vicar for Brabant Wallon. He was ordained for the archdiocese in 1972 and will have the titular see of Apt, in the south of France, as that diocese’s first titular bishop.
Photo credit: BELGA/Julien Warnard
He’s been moved around a bit within the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, but now the news breaks that Bishop Jozef De Kesel will be the new Bishop of Bruges. Only in March did Archbishop Léonard name him vicar general for the vicariate Flemish Brabant and Malines. With this appointment, Léonard is left with no auxiliaries, despite his express desire to have a third one appointed. But then Bishop Vancottem was sent to Namur and now Bishop De Kesel goes to Bruges.
Seen from the archdiocese, it looks like stages in a new start. First the most orthodox bishop in the Church province is sent there and now the former auxiliaries are sent off to head their own dioceses. That certainly leaves Archbishop Léonard free to suggest his own candidates for the episcopate.
As for Bruges, it went unexpectedly fast. The previous bishop, Msgr. Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April and the expectation was then that it would take at least a year before a new bishop was appointed. In the end it took almost exactly two months. Bruges has been left in shock by the unexpected news of Vangheluwe’s abuse history, so I can imagine the diocese will benefit greatly with having a new bishop so soon. After all, a clear head of the diocese provides a sense of stability.
Msgr. De Kesel, then, was quite popular in his time in Malines-Brussels. He has been auxiliary bishop there since 2002. His recent appointments, first to a new vicariate and now to Bruges, may also show some measure of confidence in him from Brussels and Rome.
Some facts about the bishop-elect: Msgr. De Kesel is 63, born in Ghand, where he was also ordained a priest in 1972. His uncle was Bishop Leo De Kesel, auxiliary bishop of Ghand from 1961 to 1990. Between 1980 and 1996, Msgr. De Kesel was rector of the seminary in Ghand, where he also taught dogmatic and fundamental theology. He also taught at the Diocesan Religious Institute in that city, and taught Christology at the Catholic University of Louvain. An educated man, it would seem, with his theological roots firmly in the very basis of theology.
Despite all the bad news from Belgium today and yesterday, this is a reason to be glad, especially for Bruges.
At Dutch Catholic news website Rorate I read an announcement that a new bishop has been announced for the Belgian Diocese of Namur. Of course, said website offers no sources or links to other websites, and merely states that the official announcement will be made at noon today. One can only guess where. I have been unable to find any confirmation of it on the official websites of the Church in Belgium. It’s quite annoying that a website like Rorate, which presents itself as a news source, limits itself to just stating such bare facts (if they are facts). I would have liked a bit more information, if only to find out where I can read or see the noon announcement.
Anyway, if true, it is of course welcome news for Namur, which has been vacant since Bishop André-Mutien Léonard became Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard if Malines-Brussels in January of this year. Namur has been headed by a diocesan administrator, Msgr. Jean-Marie Huet, since then. The diocese also has an Auxiliary Bishop, Msgr. Pierre Warin. Either of them could be appointed as the new diocesan bishop, or the choice could be for any other cleric from within or without the diocese. It will be interesting to see who it is and how he will compare to Msgr. Léonard.
Anyway, more at noon today.
EDIT: Well, it’s past noon, and the name is known. The new bishop of Namur will be Msgr. Remy Vancottem, until now Auxiliary Bishop for Brabant Wallon in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels. For the archdiocese this appointment means that there are now two vacant auxiliary sees instead available: a mere relocation of the problem. Belgium is still expecting two more new bishops: an ordinary for Bruges and now two new auxiliaries for Malines-Brussels.
I’ll devote a proper blog post to Bishop Vancottem tonight.