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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
Amid all the excitement pertaining to the concave and a new Pope comes a sobering report. The Deetman Commission has issued its second report about abuse in the Catholic Church. Where the first one dealt chiefly with sexual abuse of which mainly boys were victims, this second one dealt with cases of “excessive violence”, both sexual and physical, against girls under the care of Catholic institutions. While the Commission admits that it is not possible to formulate a definition of ”excessive violence” that can be used in all cases, and the number of cases s far smaller than in the first investigation, there are several conclusions to be reached.
Concerning sexual abuse:
There is no quantitative difference with the results of the first investigations. There have been several tens of thousands of victims in the period between 1045 and 2010.
- Older and newer cases show similarities in important elements.
- In more than forty percent of the cases of sexual abuse of underage girls that were investigated there has been serious sexual abuse.
- Abuse of underage girls was more prevalent at home (40%) and in the parish (more than 30%). Sexual abuse of boys took place more often in institutions.
- In cases of “light” sexual abuse there have been male and female perpetrators within the Catholic Church. In “stronger” categories of sexual abuse the perpetrators were mostly male.
- In fifty percent of the cases sexual abuse was coupled with physical and/or psychological violence.
- The question of sexual abuse was discussed within monastic communities, courses, meetings and days of study on several levels, as early as the 1960s. The context then was completely limited to the monastic community itself and the relationships between sisters.
Concerning physical and psychological violence, environment and behaviour:
- Both the new and the older cases generally report a combination of physical and psychological violence, whether coupled with sexual abuse or not. The nature of the violent acts is also generally consistent, as are the duration and the frequency of the violence, which was longer than a year and repeatedly.
- The majority of the female victims was between 6 and 14 years of age when the sexual abuse and/or violence started. Most cases took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Whereas sexual abuse of girls most often occurred at home and in the parish, violence against underage women seems to have mostly taken place in institutions such as boarding school and hospitals.
- In cases of physical and psychological violence (without sexual abuse) both the new and the old reports indicate mostly female perpetrators, especially female religious who worked as teachers and caregivers.
- In roughly half of the cases the abuse and/or the violence was reported before, although often only after many years.
- A detailed investigation of archives, including those of ten sister congregations, offers no direct indications of violence and violent incidents. The commission found no reports of such incidents.
- From the archives investigated an image can be created of relations between sisters and girls and sisters among each other in a cold and cool environment in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
- In the 1960s school conferences under professional guidance paved the way for a change in behaviour. This was more on a level with new insights and by then standard developments in education.
The Commission found no current cases which it could forward to the Public Prosecutor to be investigated and submitted to a court of law. It did forward three older cases because of the serious nature of the abuse, although these too fall under the statute of limitations.
There is no evidence of structural abuse within the congregations, as far as sexual abuse is concerned. There are, however, doubts if the same can be said about physical violence.
A striking difference with the first report is that reports of abuse do not need the proof of evidence to be eligible for compensation, although the complaints do need to be plausible within the framework of the abuse that most likely occurred, as drafted by the Commission.
Although the extent and the nature of the abuse suffered by girls is generally and in important points different from that suffered by boys, it is of course no less serious.
On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Hans van den Hende offered a first comment in an interview for RKK. He agreed that the report was “shocking”, and said that it “is chilling to read, because it is about real, actual people.” Bishop van den Hende frequently speaks with victims and their representatives as chairman of the contact group tasked with solving those cases which have suffered a communications breakdown or came across some other obstacle. He says that, following the publication of this second report, the focus of the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious must be on engaging with the victims in conversation, to hear their stories, recognise them, and reach a satisfactory solution.
Photo credit: ANP
“In the silence I could hear His voice better and I tried to engage in conversation with Him. A few times I felt a sort of answer, nothing spectacular, no lightning bolts, but I felt He was with me. I submitted my questions and concerns to Him.”
He has remained fairly quiet about it, but Bishop Jos Punt spent most of February in a small cave in the Spanish wilderness, surviving on fruit, bread and cereal, keeping warm with army fatigues and a sleeping bag and losing 7 kilos in the process. Two weeks ago he returned to the daily affairs of his Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. His original intention was to eat far less and return a week later, but fatigue and age (the bishop is 67) meant that that was perhaps too ambitious.
Bishop Punt has for years been perhaps the most visibly spiritually-minded of the Dutch bishops. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as well as the story of his return to the faith after a youth dabbling with esoteric movements and trends – coupled with a tendency to get somewhat too apocalyptic at times, in my opinion – , are no secrets. In that light, his decision to spend a month in a cave, far away from the chaos of modern society and the commitments of a diocesan bishop, should come as no surprise.
The search for God in the silence is not something for hermits and monastics alone. Since we are all called to find and follow God, it makes sense to go where He may most easily be found: in the silence, where noise and chaos will not overwhelm His voice, which is never forceful and never shouts to be heard.
Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK
And so the liturgical year draws to a close as we mark the start of the new one tomorrow, and this blog happily marked the 200,000th visitor some weeks ago. 200,000 visits since I began almost three years ago? For some blogs that is next to nothing, but for me it is a reason to be grateful. Thank you.
Onward to the top 10 of last month, when we saw 6,262 visits.
1: Intolerable tolerance 103
2: “On the edge, but not marginal” – Fr. Radcliffe on the “official Church” 90
3: Maranatha – a Catholic future for Tilburg’s students 68
4: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass 64
5: A second Red Dawn risies 56
6:In gratitude – Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows 46
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 45
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 39
9: Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring? 38
10: Criminal or careless? Bishop Gijsen accused in Iceland 37
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The website of the Dutch Dominicans – usually something of a hotbed of liberal thought and vague spirituality of the 1960s – features a short interview with English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Order from 1992 to 2001. The interview is presented in the context of issues between parishes and dioceses, most recently the student chaplaincy in Tilburg. Fr. Radcliffe has some interesting things to say about the hierarchy and its role in the Church, a topic that never fails to raise hackles in the “spirit of Vatican II” camp.
My translation follows here, with some thoughts of mine added in red.
TR: “There is often much talk about the “official Church”. I don’t like those words, because it makes “them” official and “us” unofficial. But as Dominicans we are just as official as anyone else. The very same goes for the words “the institutional Church”. The Order is also an institution, The Tablet is an institution, your website is an institution. The Church is alive when she creates many institutions. I resist those words, because it marginalises us. I don’t believe at all that I am marginal. I hope I’m on the edge, if you know what I mean, but I’m not marginal.”
So what are you?
TR: “We marginalise ourselves when we discuss the institutional or official Church. We must claim the centre. The same, by the way, goes for the magisterium, the teaching authority. The historian Eamon Duffy says that it consists of Christians who teach, and there are many of those: from the Pope to parents who teach their children. Some do well, others don’t, but it’s all part of the magisterium.” [Fr. Radcliffe seems to limit the magisterium merely to the act of teaching. The magisterium is also - firstly, even - a body that has the specific role to teach and defend teachings (and thus the faith) in the Church. It is therefore more than a person teaching something. The things that need to be taught are well defined and define the identity of the magisterium, which then does not stand or fall by the abilities of individual members.]
So religious and parishioners should do as they please? [A favourite desire in liberal circles...]
TR: “Authority exists when authority is given. Not just to the faithful and their questions, but also to the Vatican. I should try my best to understand what the Vatican is saying, even if they don’t listen to me [Ah! Authorities do not need to listen to me in order to speak authoritatively]. By that I refuse to be marginalised. You see, playing victim is so easy, but it is so negative and also extremely boring [The relics of the 1960s in the Church are good examples of this]. You should refuse to play the victim game.”
In the Dutch Church and in society that game is very popular.
TR: “It’s a dangerous game. When you make yourself the victim, you are bringing yourself down. It is repressive.”
So how do you call the official Church?
TR: “The hierarchy. And that is like the chassis of a car: it keeps everything together, but it is not the engine, or the tyres of the steering wheel [I think it is a steering wheel as well, with Christ doing the actual steering, but that's just me...]. A car’s dynamics do not come for the chassis. We need the hierarchy like we need a chassis. But we shouldn’t blame the chassis for not being dynamic. Dynamics should come from us, the religious and lay groups [And it all depends on what you consider dynamic. If it's just a matter of doing stuff, many in the Church are quite dynamic]. When you’re driving you don’t often think about the chassis. You think about where you want to go and you are happy about your journey. If we would think about our chassis all the time that we were underway, we wouldn’t get far.”
But there is rather an obsession with the chassis.
TR: “The Dominican Herbert McCabe said: the world is interested in the Church, we should be more interested in the Gospel. I think that we would be far happier if we wouldn’t be talking about the Church all the time, and if we would be passionate about the Gospel.”
While I have my questions about some points in the interview, I fully agree with the final answer. Without the Gospel we have little hope of achieving anything. The Gospel should always be what propels us to do things, and it should shine through in those things.That goes for blogs as well, my own not excluded. While the hierarchy is a regular feature in my blog, it should be seen in the context of the Gospel, of proclamation of the Word of God. That is the new evangelisation.
Congratulations, prayers, best wishes, but above all gratitude to Brother Hugo, who yesterday made his perpetual vows as a hermit to our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte.
A very well-attended Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen was the setting for this very unique occasion. Unique, since Brother Hugo is the sole contemplative religious within the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Invited guests – priests, religious and laity - from both the north and the south of the country, both areas being places where major parts of Brother Hugo’s recent history took place, filled the pews, while the diocesan curia (Bishop de Korte, vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar Fr. Arjen Bultsma and cathedral administrator F. Rolf Wagenaar concelebrated, with many priests attending in choir.
Brother Hugo resides as a hermit in the tiny countryside hamlet of Warfhuizen, where he lives in and maintains the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, housed in the village church. He has done so for the past 11 years.
In Canon 603 of the Code of Canon Law we read the following about hermits:
§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.
§2 Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess, by a vow or some other sacred bond, the three evangelical counsels, and then lead their particular form of life under the guidance of the diocesan Bishop .
What’s described in Paragraph 2 is what the Church, through the diocesan bishop, has now done. In essence, Brother Hugo is now fully a part of the assets of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, not only because he lives his life of prayer and penance under the direction of the diocesan bishop, but also because his prayer and life as a hermit is specifically geared towards the benefit of the diocese and the Church in the entire Netherlands.
And as such, we can be nothing but grateful. Grateful that Brother Hugo has been willing and able to answer God’s call so radically, and for us as members of the Church in the north of the Netherlands.
Photo credit:  O.L.V. van de Besloten Tuin,  Jan Willem van Vliet/DVHN
The Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, of the Transalpine Redemptorists blog, were today received back into the fold of the Church, as the impressive Bishop Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B. of Aberdeen established them as a Clerical Institute of Diocesan Right. This ends four years of some limbo for the brothers on their windy monastery island of Papa Stronsay, one of the Orkneys.
Below, some of the brothers are pictured with Bishop Gilbert at an earlier occasion.
Once belonging to the SSPX, the community requested recognition from the Holy See, so as to be fully reunited to the Church, after Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007. The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form exclusively, which the motu proprio regulated.
The community has long had a presence on my blog roll, and their blog is recommended. Heartfelt congratulations to these men of prayer and work! May they long continue their good work for Gods Church and all of us.