Looking ahead

Wim Deetman, to publish the final report of his commission by the end of the year

Looking ahead to what 2011 may bring for the Catholic Church in the Low Countries, there are a few topics which will no doubt lay an important part. Like last year, we will continue to hear much about the abuse crisis. As the Deetman Commission prepares to publish it’s final report by the end of the year, the scientific investigation into the why and how of the many abuse cases continues. It is strange to use the word ‘hope’ in this context, but I’ll do so nonetheless: hopefully, other segments of society will also become transparent about the abuse that occurred in their past. We’ve already seen the revelation of the horrible abuse of very young children in day care centres in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the very recent past. Only in transparency may we reach a solution, so hopefully 2011 will bring the first steps towards that.

In Belgium, all eyes are on the local bishops and the courts, where the former have been giving testimonies about abuse cases. How the Belgian Church handles the current crisis, which goes far beyond the abuse cases, will be critical for the future. After his notable start last year, Archbishop Léonard will continue to be the man to follow, although the media attacks will probably show no sign of weakening.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, mitred this year?

Back in the Netherlands, we may see the appointment of a new bishop of Rotterdam. Current ordinary, Msgr. Ad van Luyn, turned 75 on 10 August of last year, and bishops are obliged to offer their resignation upon reaching that age. It is up to Rome to accept it, which sometimes may take some time. Bishop van Luyn is also the chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, so his resignation will have its effect, no matter when it is accepted. As to the identity of his successor? It is of course anyone’s guess, but I would personally not be surprised is Msgr. Jan Hendriks, currently the rector of the Tiltenberg seminary of Haarlem-Amsterdam is chosen. He has the contacts among the priests and bishops of the Netherlands and is an intelligent and prolific author. His experience as an educator may be exactly what the Church in the Netherlands needs. But it’s just a guess…

Another bishop who turned 75 in 2010 (on 8 December), is Msgr. Jan van Burgsteden, the auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam. It is of course by no means certain if the ordinary, Bishop Jos Punt, chooses to request another auxiliary bishop, or if Bishop van Burgsteden’s resignation is even accepted this year.

FInally, and possibly the most interesting new appointment that may happen in 2011, is that of a new nuncio. Archbishop François Bacqué will mark his 75th birthday on 2 September. His successor will be the first direct representative chosen by Pope Benedict XVI in the Netherlands, and it will be exiting to find out who it will be and what his effect will be.

Another upcoming event which we may see in 2011 is the five-yearly (well, five-yearly in theory…) Ad limina visit to Rome of the Dutch bishops. Their last visit to “the threshold of the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul” took place in 2004, so the follow-up visit is already almost two years overdue. It will be the first Ad limina during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, although the Holy Father has obviously met individually with Dutch bishops in the past. During such a visit, often also considered a pilgrimage, the bishops deliver extensive reports on their dioceses to Rome, and are addressed and advised by Pope and important Curia members about the future direction to take. For no less than five Dutch bishops (Van den Hende (Breda), Woorts and Hoogenboom (Utrecht), and Mutsaerts and Liesen (‘s-Hertogenbosch)) it will be their first Ad limina visit, and two more (Eijk (Utrecht) and De Korte (Groningen-Leeuwarden)) have since either changed sees or been appointed as ordinary. But be all this as it may, it is not at all certain yet if the visit will take place this year. First up are the bishops of the United States, a number of countries in south Asia and Africa.

The Dutch bishops during their last Ad limina visit in 2004