In the style of Jimmy Akin’s X points to know and share, here is my attempt at a clear overview of the facts surrounding a possible papal visit to the Netherlands and Cardinal Eijk’s alleged role in preventing it.
What actually happened?
There are actually two moments in time that we could call the starting point of the current rumours and debate. The first is the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops that took place in the first week of December. The popularity of Pope Francis caused some to seriously consider the possibility of a papal visit to the Netherlands, and among these ‘some’ were bishops. While the possibility was not discussed with the Holy Father during the ad limina, the bishops did promise to discuss it during their plenary meeting in January.
The second moment was earlier this week, when daily newspaper Trouw published an article accusing Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht and president of the Bishops’ Conference, of having vetoed a papal visit. He was said to have told the other bishops that he and the Pope had decided it was not going to happen. The bishops soon made it be known that this was not exactly what happened. It was in fact the Pope alone who had to inform Cardinal Eijk that he did not see a chance for a visit to the Netherlands in the near future. Visits to other countries and the reform of the Roman Curia were cited as reasons. Cardinal Eijk later informed those who asked that Pope Francis remained as welcome as ever.
Is this all, then?
Sadly not. While the Trouw article was picked up by news outlets, both local and abroad, the correction from the bishops was not. Many assumed that Cardinal Eijk was the one who blocked the visit, and even among those who were aware of the correction, there were some who assumed this was damage control and that it really wasn’t the Pope who didn’t want to come, but Cardinal Eijk coming up with reasons not to host him. I have been coming across plenty of ill feelings towards the cardinal, generally all based on the incorrect reporting in Trouw and other media outlets.
Are there any other sources backing up Cardinal Eijk?
There is one important one: Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the press chief of the Vatican. Dutch journalist Andrea Vreede, who lives and works in Rome, today contacted him to ask if a papal visit to the Netherlands was really not an option, and if the Pope had received an invitation which could then have been blocked by Cardinal Eijk. Fr. Lombardi said that Pope Francis had never accepted an invitation to visit the Netherlands and that there was no basis for a one-day visit on the 31st of May. The silence of the other bishops is also an indicator that things happened as is said. In the past some bishops did not hesitate to disagree with Cardinal Eijk.
What’s the deal with the one-day visit?
Here the person of Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam comes in. While there are no official confirmations of this, it is said that he had scheduled a one-day visit of Pope Francis to Amsterdam. Logistics, finances, security, even a script are all said to have been ready. Bishop Punt, together with his auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks, visited the Pope last September. During the ad limina visit, Bishop Punt said that Pope Francis was interested in visiting the Netherlands. It may be assumed that the Holy Father said so during that earlier visit.
Although there are no solid sources for this, some say that Bishop Punt, once returned home, went about planning said one-day visit, which may have included a visit to Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas Basilica, a charity project in the capital and a prayer service in the Amsterdam Arena football stadium.
And 31 May?
On that day the devotees of Our Lady of All Nations, the controversial name of Our Lady as she is said to have appeared in Amsterdam in the middle of the 20th century, are having their annual day of meeting and prayer. Bishop Punt is a known adherent of this devotion, and has approved it in his capacity as ordinary of the diocese. Some now state that Bishop Punt wanted to combine this event, taking place in the aforementioned Basilica of St. Nicholas, with the papal visit and so promote the devotion worldwide. As before, these are assumptions made by some, and there is no proof that this is actually true.
What’s the status now?
There is a clear split between those who have read and accept the official correction of the bishops and therefore hold that Cardinal Eijk acted perfectly reasonable, and those who are prone to some conspiracy theories in this matter, believing that Cardinal Eijk did veto the visit and acted out of spite, fear or simple lust for power. Some add the Our Lady of All Nations story and hold that Bishop Punt was cut off by the cardinal.
And my opinion?
I am quite sure that things are indeed as the bishops say. There may have been some confusion because of Bishop Punt’s enthusiasm for a visit (who knows, he may well have been thinking about and exploring some options) and Cardinal Eijk’s personality (when he has said something it remains said, and when he maintains he has been clear enough he will not be easily convinced of explaining himself further). Cardinal Eijk will not have been telling the Pope to stay away, but he will have been honest about any reservations he may have had (I explored some possible reservations in my previous post on this topic). Bishop Punt may well be disappointed, as he has indicated, but I have not seen any evidence of a falling out between him and the cardinal. The bishop has also not issued a formal invitation, as we have learned via Fr. Lombardi, but he has probably presented some idea for a visit to the rest of the bishops’ conference. Cardinal Eijk may have taken that suggestion with him to Rome and discussed it with Pope Francis. Whatever the facts, it is the Holy Father who ultimately said that there was no time in the foreseeable future. And there is no reason to assume anything else, really.