Writing for Advent – Bishop Wiertz about the new evangelisation

Prepared to be read out at Masses this coming weekend, the Advent Letter from Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond sees the light of day. In it, the senior ordinary of the Netherlands focusses on a topic dear to the pope’s heart and of major importance for the Church in western Europe today: the new evangelisation. The bishop considers an active role of the faithful in society very important in that regard:

“In our concrete encounters of every day we must not be afraid to discuss what deeply motivates us from within. As faithful, we can not withdraw from public life. In the process of evangelisation we must all keep on searching for a visible place in society. People of our time are industriously searching for spirituality, to inwardness. He or she must then be given the chance to hear the voice of the Gospel in all freedom.”

Read my translation here.

A look at Bishop-elect Hendriks’ coat of arms

The website of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam today published the coat of arms of its new auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Jan Hendriks, who will be consecrated on 10 December.

As is standard for a bishop’s coat of arms, it features the green gallero with six tassels on each side, the cross and the motto chosen by the new bishop. Specific details relevant to Msgr. Hendriks are contained in the shield. In the centre, in red on gold, we find the eagle, symbol of St. John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the new bishop, and the author of the motto underneath the shield. Top left we find a host surrounded by flames; a reference to Msgr. Hendriks’ devotion to the Eucharist, as well as to the Miracle of Amsterdam. It’s also a connection with Msgr. Hendriks’ predecessor, Bishop van Burgsteden, who belongs to the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.

In the lower right corner, in silver on azure, is the lily representing the Blessed Virgin. It is taken from the coat of arms of Bishop Jos Punt, the ordinary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and indicates both the new bishop’s devotion to the Mother of God, but also his bond with Bishop Punt.

The other two fields, with the red crosses on white, containing three St. Andrew’s crosses, come from the coat of arms of the diocese.

Details of the consecration have also been released. Due to restoration works in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, it will take place in the parish church of Sts. Vitus and Willibrord in Hilversum, starting at 11. After the consecration Mass there will be a reception where guests may congratulate new auxiliary bishop and  extend their best wishes to Bishop van Burgsteden, who is retiring as auxiliary bishop. That reception will last until 15:30. The principal consecrator will be Bishop Punt, while Bishop van Burgsteden and Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende will be co-consecrators.

A new insight in the abuse crisis

And especially, how Dutch Catholic institutions tried to deal with it at the very start.

RTL News has unearthed a 1954 letter (translation here) from the then-Superior General of the Congregation of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, in these parts of Europe, better known as the Tilburg Fathers. It is  a letter, as the preceding note says, that was intended to be read out by the superior when all the brothers are together – so its target audience was every single member of the Congregation.

What is striking about this letter is the attitude that the Superior-General expresses to the cases of abuse which, he writes, seemed to be on the rise. He does not say that such things only happen within the walls of the boarding schools that the congregation ran at the time. No, he writes, it can happen everywhere where adults teach children, and what’s worse, he seems to continue, it also happens among us Catholic brothers.

This is, in fact, not too dissimilar to what Pope Benedict XVI recently said:

“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.” [Address to the Bishops from the United States of America on their A”d Limina” visit, 26 November 2011]

The understanding of the crisis as being not limited to the Catholic Church seems to have been present at a very early stage.

While many media in and outside the Church take the discovery of the letter as evidence that the Church has been lying about not knowing about the abuse that took place in boarding schools and other Catholic institutions, I think the letter should be seen as what it is: an expression of concern and a serious admonishing to the brothers to take care of each other and to do all they can, making use of the means available, to prevent themselves and others falling in the trap of carnal lust and ultimately sexual abuse of minors. In hindsight, the approach may not have been the wisest, but the efforts from one religious congregation do not equate to the efforts of the entire Church.