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Msgr. Klaus Metzl called it the most beautiful day of the year so far, and well he might. The Diocese of Passau, located where Germany meets Austria and the Czech Republic, had been without a bishop for 18 months, so the appointment of a new shepherd on Friday was indeed what both he and the faithful had “waited, hoped and prayed for”.
In october of 2012, Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired after almost eleven years at the helm of the almost 1300-year-old diocese, but stayed on for one more year as Apostolic Administrator, after which Msgr. Metzl took over.
And now the choice has fallen on Bishop-elect Stefan Oster to be the 85th bishop of Passau. The new bishop is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (an order which boasts an additional 124 bishops and cardinals among its members) and will be the youngest ordinary of Germany upon his consecration on 24 May. There are five German bishops younger than him, but they are all auxiliaries.
The appointment of Bishop-elect Oster has been welcomed almost everywhere, which seems to be generally due to his unassuming yet communicative personality. A former journalist, the 48-year-old future bishop never held positions of power, either within or outside the Salesians. The fact that he was chosen must therefore be due to his person qualities, or, as the case may be, those which he exhibited in his life before joining the Salesians, when he was a journalist, student of philosophy, history and religion in Germany and the UK, and ultimately theology before ordained in 2001. After an award-winning dissertation at the University of Augsburg, he joined the future bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, in Trier. In recent years he has been mainly active as a teacher. And he also juggles.
A trained dogmatist, Bishop-elect Oster has the ingredients for a long and fruitful occupation of the see that was first established by Saint Boniface: communication, an unassuming and fraternal personality and theological acumen.
The number of vacant dioceses in Germany is now back to five – Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne, Limburg and Hamburg.
Photo credit: DPA
In a full cathedral basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and St. George, Archbishop Ludwig Schick consecrated the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg, Herwig Gössl, at 47 Germany’s fourth-youngest bishop.
In his homily, Archbishop Schick outlined the full calling of a bishop, to be everything for everyone: a bishop has to proclaim the entire Gospel and the entire faith and celebrate all of sacramental life. The entire diocese, all of humanity and the entire world is his work place. He also quoted Pope Francis in saying that a shepherd has to have the smell of his sheep, that he has to be close to his people.
Going further back in time, the archbishop also passed on some advice from Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, who said that bishops “should not be dogs who don’t bark, not silent onlookers and unpaid servants who flee before the wolf,” but good shepherds “who watch over the flock of Christ. Let all of us, great and small, rich and poor, people of all ranks and ages, proclaim all of God’s plan, to the extent that God, conveniently or not, gives us the strength.”
Among the other bishops present at the consecration were Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen and the auxiliaries Wolfgang Bischof of München und Freising, Florian Wörner of Augsburg, Reinhard Pappenberger of Regensburg and Otto Georgens of Speyer. Bishops Karl Braun and Werner Radspieler, retired auxiliary bishops of Bamberg, served as co-consecrators.
Bishop Gössl chose a simple style of staff, ring and pectoral cross, but is not a stranger to symbolism, as his coat of arms shows:
The motto comes from the Gloria, “You alone [are] the Lord”. On the red half of the shield we see Mount Tabor, on which Jesus, his monogram shown above the mountain, was glorified. The red refers to the sacrifice about which He speaks with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-36). This Gospel passage is, of course, read on the second Sunday of Lent, the day of Bishop Gössl’s consecration. The right half of the shield shows the coat of arms of the city of Bamberg and below it a river, which is to be understood as the River Jordan and an image the Sacrament of Baptism. The river can also refer to the places where Bishop Gössl worked as a priest: Pegnitz, Seebach, Regnitz and Main. The colours of the coat of arms can, finally, also be seen to refer to his birth place of Munich (gold and black) and to Nuremberg, where he attended school (red, silver and black).
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.
Two days ago we marked the feast day of St. Boniface. In 1919, Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical about him, titled In Hac Tanta, and while it is primarily directed towards the faithful of Germany, it no less regards that people’s neighbours, especially since there was little in the way of boundaries between them in the time of St. Boniface. Since a cursory search on the Internet revealed no Dutch translation of that encyclical, I took it upon myself to provide just that.
So, without much ado, but with the attention it deserves, here is In Hac Tanta in Dutch.
Of course, the papal stylings of a century ago are interesting to read, as is the focus that Pope Benedict XV places on St. Boniface’s union with the Holy See. He identifies it as one of the most important sources for the saint’s mission, which continues to this very day (well, 1919, but we may safely draw lessons for our own time as well).
Perhaps fittingly in this time of the year, as the penitential season of Advent draws to a close, we start this day with trepidation and expectation. Two hours from now, the final report from the Deetman committee will be released with an accompanying press conference, which will be televised live. To indicate the importance of today’s events, rumour has it that not Bishop Gerard de Korte, who has been face and voice of the Church in this crisis, will lead a later press conference in the afternoon, but the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Wim Eijk. Here, the bishops will react to the Deetman report. The Conference of Dutch Religious, meanwhile, announces the publication of an open letter to the victims, expected online at the end of the afternoon.
Whatever the report’s conclusions, many rightfully expect them to be damning. Not just about how the Church dealt with the horrific crimes of its clergy and laity in the past, but certainly also with how things are being handled now. There is no doubt that the improvement made is enormous, but it has also been very Dutch: practical to the end, with a focus on monetary compensation and efficient handling. There is much to say for that, and legally there is virtually nothing wrong with it. But many still miss a pastoral solution, among them Mr. Wim Deetman himself. The Church, first and foremost, still needs to learn to listen. More than efficient solutions and financial compensation, an attentive ear opens the way to healing for so many victims, not just of sexual abuse. I think we all know that from experience.
That subject may be mentioned at the press conference, but there have already been signs that the bishops are still divided on it. Will a pastoral gesture of regret and penitence be welcomed or seen as empty theatrics? A good question, and I fear the chance of the latter is quite great, but I don’t think the bishops should lose sight of the fact that any act of penitence, public or not, must come from within. If it doesn’t, it will be empty theatrics.
In the meantime, this morning we await the conclusions and the numbers, and not least the aftermath. I, and as I’ve already seen here and there, others too ask for prayer for the victims and also for the Church in this country.
St. Willibrord and St. Boniface, pray for us.
Photo credit: Reformatorisch Dagblad
An excellent blog post on the website of the parish of Saints John and Clement in Waalwijk*, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, titled, “It is not the Church that needs to change, but you and I”. Taking the recent bush fires in the diocese (Reusel, Liempde, San Salvator, and also Waalwijk, where the previous pastor was less than popular) as a starting point, the unnamed author takes a firm stand against liberal, often elderly faithful who consider themselves progressive and want to change the Church, or at least their parish, in a product of our times.
The ‘protestants’ are often supported by former priests who either resigned their office, or are married and no longer active in a parish belonging to the diocese, or religious priests. They loudly demand democratisation and ‘adaptation to the times’ from the leaders of the Catholic Church who, supported by her bishops and a new class of priests and faithful, all over the world keep to Catholic teaching, which they draw from the unchangeable Gospel of Christ. Those who demand structural change from the Church call their opponents conservative, old-fashioned and stupid. They feel supported by the media and millions of baptised Christians who never, or only at very special occasions, see the inside of a church. All these critics only see a future for the Catholic Church if she adapts to the wishes and ideas of the majority. According to them, the people are the Church, and so they want the people to call the shots in a ‘reformed’ democratic church. Literally and figuratively.
The text mentions some of the examples of incidents I mentioned above, and then continues:
These are all examples which indicate that the Church keeps holding on to the sanctity of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, against the wishes of the majority of the Dutch people, that not only demands that the Church lets people choose for themselves between life and death, fidelity and infidelity, self-sacrifice or self-gratification, charity or selfishness, but at the same time demands that the Church sanctifies, by administering the sacraments, practices that are unchristian according to the Gospels, like the ones mentioned above.
The conclusion of the piece is a serious one:
The only thing that all the protesters and troublemakers achieved since the 1960s, with their anticatholic and unchristian actions, is that the younger generations threw out the baby with the bathwater, i this case the Christ child sent by God. With the result that many young people never or rarely go to a church anymore: Today – 1,400 years after the Christianisation by St. Boniface – the Church of Christ is faced for the first time with a young generation which has hardly learned anything (positive) about our faith and our Church at home and in school, and for the most part no longer knows what the good news of Jesus Christ is.
The piece further refers to the aged ‘revolutionaries’ of the Mariënburg club and the 8 May movement which sprung up in the wake of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, noting the disastrous results of decades of individualism and ill-informed protest. The final words of the article are attrubited to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata:
Blessed Mother Theresa was once asked what she thought should change first in the Church. He answer was, “You and I!”
*The parish of the intelligent, humble and over-so-sensibly Catholic Father Marcel Dorssers, a regular guest at the annual Credimus Bootcamp.
Photo credit: R.K. parochie St. Jan en St. Clemens
Saint Boniface, whose feast the Church today celebrates, is the patron saint of, among other things, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, for it is in its borders that he was martyred in the year 754. May his holy death and his prayerful patronage continue to shelter the Church in the north of the Netherlands from “the waves of life’s different stresses” and may his example of solid faith backed by decisive action continue to be an example to us.
Good Lord,through the intercession of Saint Boniface, protect and guide your Church in Groningen-Leeuwarden, her bishop, priests religious and lay faithful. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One verb would adequately summarise my experience of the annual St. Boniface Day, and that verb is ‘walking’. Leaving the small village in Nes, after a pilgrim’s blessing from Fr van Ulden, we set off towards the coast of the Wadden sea near Wierum. We walked along the dyke, amid several flocks of sheep and numerous oystercatchers, swallows and housemartins. After a few kilometers we left the dyke and turned southward towards the village of Ternaard, from where we headed on towards Hantum, Hiaure and ultimately Dokkum. It was close to noon when we reached our destination; the St. Boniface park. In the four hours before that we covered some 18 kilometers, which included two rest stops (with free stories from Deacon Peter Vermaat).
In the park, the workshops had already begun, and I soon found myself with a meal ticket and the company of several friends. I also took the opportunity to walk around a bit and catch up with several people. In a thinly populated diocese like ours, it’s nice to be able to do that. Among those people was the bishop, who celebrated his birthday that day as well.
I had the impression that the day was well-attended, although perhaps not as well as last year. Still, the atmosphere was good, and even the usual chaos of a procession getting readied for take-off was not too bad at all. Naturally, I was among four guys drafted to carry the bier with some of St. Boniface’s relics in the procession. An honour to be sure, although ignoring the photographers is a bit of a chore. One of them had the gall to tell me not to smile because it didn’t look solemn enough for his picture… This was even before the procession had begun and I was chatting with some friends near me.
The procession, which started at the parish church and ended at the park, was followed by Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte in concelebration with a handful of priests. It was a valid Mass, but I will not say too much about it, since it was also one of the most horizontal Masses I’ve ever witnessed. The sentiment in my previous post refers to this Mass as well. It was disconcerting.
All the same, I am glad I took the trouble and had the means to do the walk and meet up with friends in Dokkum. The weather, the landscape and the company all combined into a great day, and I consider the procession as a very good conclusion.
Earlier this week, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He kept it low-key, since he didn’t consider it prudent to throw a big picture when the Church is still dealing with the abuse crisis and his archdiocese is struggling financially despite the changes he has already introduced.But I also think it’s not Msgr. Eijk’s style to celebrate any other way.
There are people who call themselves orthodox Catholics yet take this opportunity as one of many to viciously attack the archbishop, making insinuations that ultimately say more about there own delusions of grandeur than anything else. Sad to see.
For my part: congratulations, albeit belated ones, to Archbishop Eijk. May God continue to keep and guide him in his difficult task.
The other anniversary from the title is a bit bigger. Today we celebrate Saint Boniface, the English missionary who introduced Christianity to much of what is now the Netherlands and adjacent parts of Germany, and became bishop of Utrecht after St. Willibrord. On 5 June 754 he was martyred near Dokkum in northern Friesland. Since he is the patron of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, we will gather at Dokkum next week in honour of him: people around gather around St. Boniface to learn and know about the God he introduced here so many centuries ago.
Reading about his life, St. Boniface, like so many of his contemporaries, comes across as not very subtle. He chopped down trees considered sacred by the locals, challenged them by saying his God was stronger than theirs (my dad can beat up your dad, sort of thing ;)). But then again, truth is just as much, if not more, served by clarity and honesty as it is with subtlety and friendliness. And if St. Boniface was one thing, he was clear and honest. And persistent: in his 80s he returned to the Low Countries where he first arrived from England almost forty years earlier, in a last attempt to convert the Frisians. What was supposed to be large gathering near Dokkum turned out to be an ambush where the saint and his companions were murdered. St. Boniface is pictured with a Bible with a sword through it: in his last moments, tradition tells us, he held the book over his head to block the hits from the sword. In Dokkum, a modern statue shows him in this position.
Saint Boniface’s remains lie in the cathedral in Fulda, which he founded, and some are in the parish church in Dokkum.