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).

Guest blogger Ingrid on the March for Life

A first in my blog today: a proper guest blogger. Ingrid Airam, who usually blogs in Dutch about all kinds of Catholic topics, describes her experience of participating in a March For Life in The Hague and shares why she could do no less but participate. Her contribution starts underneath the photo.

The March for Life, something I had heard of once in a while, and by chance  read about on the website of the church of Saint Agnes in Amsterdam, about a week before the march would be held this year. Well, by chance… in some ways it obviously wasn’t. But considering the marginal attention (one can safely say none at all) offered by other parishes in the Netherlands it was. A march against a so-called medical procedure which is legal in the Netherlands. Theoretically only in emergencies, but that word proves to be very flexible in practice.

So why in Heaven’s protest against which is so commonly accepted in this country? Not even simply accepted, but something that is considered by many a right and a sign of civilisation. Essentially it’s very simple: I am pro-life in heart and soul, but also with a  considerably amount of sense. And although I really understand the difficulties of a woman faced with such a choice, I consider it barbaric, to quote one of our listeners. And when I am full of words about sanctity and worth of protection of life, wouldn’t it be weak not to participate in such a march? And so I considered it nothing more than my Christian, no, even my human duty to walk – even though it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, least of all in politics – even though, as a student, I have little money to spend and traveling costs money, after all. I simply couldn’t do anything less.

And so,this Saturday, 11 December 2010, I stood on the Plein in The Hague. A fair number of Catholics had attended a traditional Mass beforehand and had come to the Plein from there. It wasn’t an enormous number, but still a fair number of people. And so many different people: from children to elderly, many young people, Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics… Beforehand some words from Minister Dorenbos, as far as I know one of the initiators, although I am not sure, encouragement from a Belgian pro-life movement (Catholics, as I found out later when we were walking right behind them, and all of them young), and some testimonials. One of them from an elderly lady who had undergone an abortion, and a younger woman of, I would say, about my age. Impressive and certainly encouraging. By then many people had their placards in hand, with texts as ‘Stop abortion now’  and ‘Jesus forgiver’. hen we left. I don’t know the exact route anymore, since I’m not at all familiar in The Hague, but I think we generously avoided the Binnenhof [seat of the Dutch parliament – MV]. I was somewhat surprised at how quiet it was along the route. Apart from a shouting woman, a few signs and two troublemaker it was quiet. My tension abated somewhat, and armed with a rosary and police around us (honestly, compliments for them on this day) we walked the route in relative quiet. Passers-by stopped, often with surprised looks, taking pictures.

Back at the Plein there were speeches. They started well, powerfully. Among them a man from America who hadn’t been supposed to be born according to his mother and the doctors: but the abortion failed. Another proclaimed that we, in the Netherlands, of whatever denomination, should make this a priority in our prayers, to stand up for life.

I don’t recall the later speakers as much, it was too much. But the fact that these people were so clear… I wish our bishops and priests would join this, and make this an important point on the agenda. Because, although there was a decent number of Catholics, there was all of one bishop (Msgr. de Jong, who deserves all accolades, and who also said a few words), two priests from the FSSP and one from the SSPX, it was a very meager showing. Granted, it is an originally Protestant march, but that does not diminish the importance of the march and the common goal. The Catholic Church offers clear teachings about this, a message of love. And so we should join our forces for this. Christians in the Netherlands, in Flanders… let’s unite, pray… and be on the Plein next year with a much larger number!

Photo credit: Bryan Kemper for Jeunes pour la Vie

International attention for the abuse crisis, and the episcopal response

Following yesterday’s publication of the first report by the Deetman Commission, the news of the Dutch Church’s abuse crisis has broken internationally. Not all of the international headlines refer to proper news, speaking as they do about the number of reports made to Hulp & Recht (almost 2,000), which has been known for at least a number of weeks already. Most articles luckily also mention the main points from yesterday’s report, and also the preliminary response from the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious.

That response is not very remarkable, but considering the attention the case has received lately, I will offer a translation below. The text will also be available via the Translations tab above, but I think this is important enough to warrant a place on the main page of my blog.


Press release following the publication of the report by the Deetman Commission
Utrecht / ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 9 December 2010
The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have taken notice today of the report Towards help, recompense, openness and transparency from the Commission for research into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church (Deetman Commission). The superiors of the KNR and the bishops value giving thanks to and complimenting commission chairman drs. W. J. Deetman, the members and the researchers for the fast and professional handling of this first research task considering aid to the victims.
The bishops and superiors of the KNR once again underline that they forcefully denounce any form of sexual abuse. There can and should be no room for sexual abuse within the Church. Abuse is at odds with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of children. To all victims, religious superiors and bishops once again offers their heartfelt sympathy and apologies. But apologies alone are not enough.
On 11 May of this year, religious and bishops agreed with the research proposal as formulated by former Speaker of the House drs. W. Deetman. This offered priority to advice about the aid to the victims. Then (and now) the bishops and religious superiors consider it of great importance to hear from the Commission where additions to the aid offered is desired and how the existing procedure may be optimised.
The religious superiors and the bishops also expressed their trust that the Deetman Commission conducts a transparent, independent and scientific investigation. The victims especially have a right to independence and transparency. In addition, they are indispensable for the Church to help the victims as well as possible and to effectively prevent abuse in the future. The report now presented is the direct result of that. But an independent and transparent investigation alone is not  enough.
The report presented today, with conclusions and recommendations, offers much food for thought, decision and implementation. The Conference of Dutch Religious, the Bishops’ Conference and the Church body Hulp & Recht established by them will now enter into consultation to study the consequences of the advice of the Deetman Commission and its implementation. To assure an effective process, agreements will be made as soon as possible.

Cædmon’s Hymn

For a student of English with a fondness for (language) history, this is akin to a slice of fried gold:

Cædmon’s Hymn is the oldest English poem by a named author, related to us by St. Bede the Venerable. In the 7th century, the time in which the poem was created, English didn’t really sound the same as today…

Tip of the hat to Mark Shea.