Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden

Following the recent retirement of the vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Father Leo van Ulden, the diocese announces that he will be succeeded by two new vicars general. Perhaps this is a reflection of the workload that has lain upon the shoulders of Fr. van Ulden in the past 11 years.

Vicar general Johan te Velde

The basic hierarchy of the diocese used to consist of four men: the bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte; the vicar general, Fr. van Ulden; and two regional vicars, Fathers Johan te Velde and Peter Wellen. And it is these latter two men who have been appointed to the position of vicars general.

In a statement announcing the appointments, the diocese explains: “In this way no priest needs to be removed from the parishes. At the same time this construction allows for cuts in the diocesan budget.”

Fr. te Velde will be responsible for liturgical tasks (not surprising in the least), while Fr. Wellen will be focussing on ecumenical contacts.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of a bishop in the running of the diocese, and while it is rare for any of the relatively small Dutch dioceses to have two vicars general, it is allowed. A bishop is free in appointing and removing them, although their term as such expires when the bishop dies or is appointed to another diocese.

Calling in the bishop

In the ongoing saga around Father Norbert van der Sluis, which I wrote about recently, things keep developing. Yesterday, the news broke that the priest, now persona non grata in his parish in the town of Liempde, has been put on two weeks’ leave by the diocese, to let the emotions settle for a bit, as the official reason is.

With the parish council having declared publically hat they no longer wish to work with Fr. van der Sluis, the diocese is sending auxiliary Bishop Robert Mutsaerts to Liempde to engage the parish in conversation.

The bishop, ever a voice for orthodoxy and common sense, will be one of the clergymen taking over from Fr. van der Sluis during his absence. On 3 September, he will offer the evening Mass, after which the meeting with council and parishioners is planned.

It is right to take time for the emotions to settle and force both sides in the conflict to come with reasoned arguments. A parish priest has final authority in a parish. The parish council has an advisory and assisting role. While a priest will usually follow the plans laid out in cooperation with the council, he has no obligation to do so. He makes the final decision. Father van der Sluis has done that, in following his own conscience and Catholic teaching.  That the parish council does not like that, is understandable, but that they now think they have the power or right to enforce the appointment of a new priest in the parish, they are sorely mistaken.

Let’s hope that Bishop Mutsaerts is able to get this across to them, and that both parties can come to a mutual understanding, which will eventually allow Fr. van der Sluis to return to active ministry.