Mapping the dioceses

One of my guilty pleasures has long since been the study of maps – both the aesthetic of beautifully made maps, as the subjects they depict. The course of boundaries of countries and provinces and especially the reason why these are where they are. The resources to entertain this pleasure are plentiful: atlases and online maps are readily available everywhere. But as a Catholic there is a field which is a bit harder to study: the maps of dioceses.

Since the early centuries of Christianity the Church has felt the need to organise itself geographically. The faithful of specific areas fell under the legal jurisdiction of one bishop, who was also their chief shepherd, the successor to the apostles, although he would often delegate duties to his priests. After all, a bishop can’t be everywhere at the same time.

In many ways, that is still the situation: the worldwide Church is divided into Church provinces, which are divided into dioceses, which, finally, are divided into parishes. Church provinces often coincide with (parts of) countries, but dioceses can have interesting and seemingly random boundaries. Often, especially in Europe, they are the remains of historical borders  of countries and peoples.

Sadly, it is pretty hard to come by maps that show the boundaries of dioceses. Some websites of bishops’ conferences show them, especially in western countries, but they are few and far between. So, for anyone interested in finding out what part of a country falls under which diocese, there is often much puzzling to be done.

Luckily, not so for the dioceses of the Netherlands. The map to the left comes from the website of the Dutch Church province, and it shows that most of the boundaries of the seven dioceses coincide with those of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. But there is only one diocese, Roermond, which covers completely the same ground as a province: Limburg. All other dioceses show deviations from the better-known boundaries of the provinces.

In the north, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden covers three provinces: Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland, and part of a fourth: the Noordoostpolder is part of Flevoland. Also, the southern border of the diocese does not coincide with the southern border of Drenthe. When the diocese was established in 1955, some parishes in Drenthe were excluded, while others in the province of Overijssel were included.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht consists of the province of Utrecht, the middle part of the province of Flevoland, almost all of Overijssel (except for those few parishes mentioned above), and most of Gelderland (except for the part south of the River Rhine). Earlier those month, the archdiocese also lost two parishes, one to Haarlem-Amsterdam and the other to Rotterdam.

The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam consist of the province of Noord-Holland and the south-western part of Flevoland (the only province divided over three dioceses), and one parish in the province of Utrecht (as mentioned above).

The Diocese of Rotterdam almost totally coincides with the province of Zuid-Holland, except for the aforementioned parish in Utrecht.

The Catholic south of the Netherlands is neatly spread over three dioceses: Breda consist of the province of Zeeland and the western half of Noord-Brabant; ‘s-Hertogenbosch has the eastern half of Noord-Brabant as well as the bit of Gelderland beneath the Rhine; Roermond has been mentioned above: it consists of the province of Limburg.

The Dutch situation is mostly a practical one, with the basis found in the number of Catholics present in an area, as well as the social cohesion between cities and areas. Parishes have been transferred from one diocese to another based on their relations with neighbouring parishes and communities.

In other countries, for example in Germany, the boundaries of dioceses are based on situations from the past. German dioceses are often based on the long-gone principalities of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, which makes for strange but interesting situations where dioceses consist of two or more distinct parts.

2010: an overview

On the last day of the first year of this blog’s existence, I think it’s nice to do what everyone and their dog is doing: offering an overview of the year gone by. I’ll present the ten most popular blog posts by page view, much like the monthly stats I’ve been sharing here (December’s statistics will follow tomorrow, once December is actually over).

It is clear that a blogger can’t do without a network. The top-scoring posts have reached so many viewers not only because of their topics, but to a large extent thanks to people who have linked to them. And to be honest, it is something of a feather in one’s cap if a noted blogger like Fr. Tim shares something one has written.

So, without any further ado, here’s my list:

1: Pornography or art? (17,630 views). A link from a Polish news-gathering website to this post about alleged pornography found on Belgian Cardinal Danneels’ computer (seized during the illegal police raid on his home) resulted in the largest peak in visitors this blog has yet seen. It also resulted in some discussion, here and on Twitter, about the photo itself. Some did not consider it disturbing in itself, but I maintained that the that, since it can apparently so easily be considered child pornography, there is something rotten going on regardless.

2: What to do about the sacrilege displayed in Obdam? (1,153 views). A news item that made headlines in Catholic blogs and news sites across the world, and which led to serious discussion on my blog as well. It was one of the first times that I decided to call for specific action in my blog, suggesting people contact Father Paul Vlaar and/or Bishop Jos Punt to relate their concerns. Many people, among them parishioners from Obdam chimed in in support of Fr. Vlaar, but many others tried to clearly express why a football Mass, no matter how much fun it is, has no place in the Catholic Church.

3: “The Belgian Church has been too passive” (1,022 views). Thanks to a link from Father Tim Finigan, my translation of an old interview with the new archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard, gave my blog the first considerable peak in visitor traffic. Archbishop Léonard has continued to be a considerable presence in the blog throughout the year, certainly not least due to the abuse crisis, which continues to hit Belgium particularly hard.

4: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution (975 views). Another translated interview, this with Msgr. Georg Gänswein about Pope Benedict XVI. Msgr. Gänswein’s popularity can be considered the main reason for this post’s popularity,but perhaps many readers also wish to know about the man in white. And who better to tell them that than the Holy Father’s personal secretary?

5: A diocesan statement about Fr. Paul Vlaar (859 views). Continuing the saga surrounding Obdam and Fr. Vlaar’s football Mass, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam released an official statement in a very bad English translation. I re-translated the short piece, which was once more quite seriously covered across the world (the statement itself, not my translation).

6: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie – onofficiële vertaling (606 views). My first serious translation – of Msgr. Guido Marini’s address at the Clergy Conference in Rome – garnered much attention. A summarised version was published in the bulletin of the Dutch Latin Liturgy Society, and of all of my translations this has been the most popular. Not too shabby for a blog which is pretty much all in English.

7: In memoriam: Bishop Tadeusz Ploski (574 views). The tragedy of the plane crash that killed much of Poland’s government and military officials led me to write something about on of the clergymen killed. Many people, from Poland and elsewhere, found their way to that post via search engines. A blog post, therefore, that seemingly fulfilled a need for many.

8: Het probleem Medjugorje (486 views). My translation of an interview with Fr. Manfred Hauke, expert on apparitions and the Blessed Virgin, about the dubious events that led to the popular pilgrimage to Medjugorje, led not only to a considerable number of views, but also discussion. It is a topic that many people feel passionate about, and like the abuse crisis and the form of liturgy, it is often hard to have a balanced discussion about it. And, I admit, perhaps I was a bit in over my head as well when sharing this topic. A blogger, after all, has some responsibility to write about what he knows.

9: Under the Roman Sky (366 views). A very short post with the trailer to a film about the Holocaust in Rome and the role of Pope Pius XII in that. I still need to see it, by the way, and many others are interested as well, it seems. The false accusations that Venerable Pius XII was a Nazi collaborator are very persistent, and I still hope that this film can, in some small way, help to dispel those rumours.

10: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (320 views). A report of some personal experiences of mine, when I visited St. Agnes’ church in Amsterdam for a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, presided over by Archbishop François Bacqué, the nuncio to the Netherlands. An event that is still remarkable enough that it triggered some considerable attention. The website of the FSSP-run St. Agnes linked to my post, and they may be thanked as well for the traffic it received.

All in all, this first year has not at all been bad for my blog. Of course, there is always the pressure of time, especially now that I have a job as a teacher and a girlfriend to devote time to. For 2011, I hope to continue posting regularly about the things that happen in the Catholic Church worldwide and especially in the Low Countries.

For now, I wish all my readers


A very special church

During the school Christmas break we take the opportunity to go and visit places. Last week, my girlfriend and I spent a few days in a hotel in the south of the country, from which we visited various cities and towns. The stop for our first day was the town of Valkenburg, in the far south of the Diocese of Roermond (and therefore of the country as a whole).

There, to my surprise, a visit to a Christmas market in a former mine complex revealed a very special former church. During the reign of Napoleon, the Netherlands was annexed to the French Empire, and the Catholic priests were required to make an oath of allegiance to that empire and its ruler. Many refused to do so, and were either imprisoned or exiled for that. Many priests had to offer their Masses in secret, and the priests of Valkenburg and surroundings chose what is now called the ‘Velvet cave’ to use for a makeshift chapel. Baptismal fonts, altars and other requirements were cut out of the soft chalk of the mine and carefully decorated. The masonry and artwork is still preserved, as are memorials to priests who were imprisoned and exiled.

In later decades, more artwork and graffiti appeared, not least from American soldiers who used the caves to fight the German oppressors during the later stages of World War 2.

A photo impression:

Memorial for Father Servaas Widdershoven, parish priest in the area during Napoleonic times.
Saints Francis and Clara, perhaps?
A baptismal font that may still be used upon request. The text reads: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" from Acts 19, 5
The sanctuary, with the former location of the tabernacle still very visible.
"And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers." Acts 2, 42
Saint Servatius, bishop of the first diocese in the Low Countries (Tongres) in the 4th century


Another popular saint from these parts is Saint Gerlac, a devout hermit who was fond of his pilgrimages.
"And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread ... He continued his speech until midnight. And there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where we were assembled." Acts 20, 7-8
List of priest of 'the canton of Valkenburg' who refused to swear the oath of loyalty to the French regime. Fr. Sewrvatius Widdershoven was imprisoned, while Fr. Joan Mathijs van den Eerdewegh was exiled to the Island of Ré, off the French coast near La Rochelle.

Bishop and clergy of ‘s-Hertogenbosch not to be prosecuted

Fr. van Rossem

Coming full circle, a topic from the start of the year reaches a conclusion at the end of it. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans and Fathers Cor Mennen, Luc Buyens and Geert-Jan van Rossem will not be prosecuted for denying Communion to practising homosexuals and for defending that Church law.

Two men had lodged complaints in the wake of Fr. Buyens’ decision and the subsequent protests during Mass at the cathedral of St. John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They accused the priest, his bishop, the cathedral administrator Fr. van Rossem and blogging priest Fr. Mennen for discrimination and incitement to hatred. But the court decided yesterday that there is no case of this according to criminal law. Church law is outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Father Mennen’s blog posts fall under his right to express his convictions. He didn’t address homosexuals in general, the court ruled, but discussed a case within the Church which he considers unacceptable. That is his right.


The footballing bishop’s Christmas address

Sometimes speeches or homilies are simply good; somehow they work, their separate parts come together to form one whole that manges to reach its audience. Let that be the very subject that Bishop Rob Mutsaerts spoke about in his address during the Christmas concert at the cathedral of St. John on Monday.

Bishop Mutsaerts is a good homilist – his appointment and consecration is mere months ago, but his voice is a clear one for those who want to listen. Especially now that he replaced Bishop Hurkmans, the ordinary, who is on sick leave.

In this address, the bishop focusses on the hope that Christmas brings, especially in how it always manages to work: how things come together. He likens this to the ‘goal moments’ in football (real football, also called soccer). Bishop Mutsaerts is a football trainer himself.

An English translation is, naturally, available.

Bishop Tobin and the inactive Catholics

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, United States, writes a letter that most likely has a target audience in all western nations afflicted by excessive secularism. It is a pastoral and honest invitation for ‘inactive Catholics’ to come home to the Church, and at the same time it offers a challenge to these Catholics, and us all, to (re)consider our relationship with God and understand what the Church teaches and why.

I have a Dutch translation here.

Bishop Thomas Joseph Tobin (62) has been the bishop of the Diocese of Providence, comprising the state of Rhode Island in the United States, since 2005. He was auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh (1992-1995) and bishop of Youngstown, Ohio (1995-2005).