Changes in ‘s Hertogenbosch – past, future and some guesses

With the announced retirement of Bishop Hurkmans it is a good time to look back an ahead. In his letter announcing his retirement, the bishop already indicated that a new period was beginning, a time of transition followed by a new bishop at the helm of the numerically largest diocese of the Netherlands.

hurkmans

The Hurkmans era, to call it that, began in 1998, when he was appointed on the same day that his predecessor, Bishop Jan ter Schure, retired. Unlike the latter, who had the misfortune to have been appointed when the polarisation between modernists and orthodox (in which group the bishop could be grouped) was at a final high point, Bishop Hurkmans was and is considered an altogether kinder and approachable man. That does not mean that he avoided making the difficult decisions, and especially following the appointment of two auxiliary bishops in 2010 (later whittled down to one, as Bishop Liesen was soon appointed to Breda), there were several major cases in which the diocese stood firm against modernists trends. But these things never came easy to him. The general idea that I have, and I am not alone, I believe, is that Bishop Hurkmans was altogether too kind to be able to carry the burden of being bishop. He accepted it, trusting in the Holy Spirit to help him – as reflected in his episcopal motto “In Virtute Spiritu Sancti” – but it did not always gave him joy. That said, while he is generally considered a kind bishop, there remain some who consider him strict and aloof, in both the modernists and orthodox camps. As bishop, you rarely win.

In 2011 he took a first medical leave for unspecified health reasons, and a second one began in 2014. While he regained some of his strengths, as he indicates in his letter, it was not enough.

hurkmans ad limina

^Bishop Hurkmans gives the homily during Mass at Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, during the 2013 Ad Limina visit.

In his final years as bishop, Msgr. Hurkmans held the Marriage & Family portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference. It is perhaps striking that he was not elected by the other bishops to attend the upcoming Synod of Bishops assembly on that same topic – Cardinal Eijk will go, with Bishop Liesen as a substitute. Before a reshuffle in responsibilities in the conference, Bishop Hurkmans held the Liturgy portfolio, and as such was involved with a new translation of the Roman Missal, the publication of which is still in the future.

Bishop Hurkmans was also the Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Netherlands, and as such he invested new knights and ladies at the cathedral in Groningen in 2012.

Mgr. Bluyssen

^Bishop Hurkmans buried several of his predecessors, such as Bishop Bluyssen in 2013

At 71, Bishop Hurkmans is young to retire, as 75 is the mandatory age for bishops to do so. Still, it is not unprecedented when we look at the bishops of ‘s Hertogenbosch since the latter half of the 20th century. Bishop Johannes Bluyssen retired, also for health reasons, in 1984 at the age of 57. Bishop Bekkers died in office in 1966 at the age of 58. Bishop Willem Mutsaerts, related to the current auxiliary bishop, retired in 1960, also aged 71. As for Bishop Hurkmans, may his retirement be a restful one.

mutsaertsLooking at the future, the inevitable question is, who’s next? Who will be the 10th bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch? Guessing is risky, but there are some likely candidates anyway. In my opinion, one of the likeliest candidates is Bishop Rob Mutsaerts (pictured), currently auxiliary bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch. He has been taking over a number of duties from Bishop Hurkmans during the latter’s absence, and he is at home in the diocese. Speaking against him is his sometimes blunt approach to problems, especially when Catholic doctrine is being disregarded, which does not always sit well with priests and faithful alike (although others, including myself, appreciate him for his clarity and orthodoxy.

Other possible options are one of the other auxiliary bishops in the Netherlands: Bishop Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Bishop Hoogenboom and Woorts of Utrecht and Bishop de Jong of Roermond. I don’t really see that happening, though, with the sole exception of Bishop de Jong. He is southerner, albeit from Limburg, while the others are all westerners, and that does mean something in the culture of Brabant. Still, it has happened before.

Anything’s possible, especially under Pope Francis (and this will be his first Dutch appointment, and for new Nuncio Aldo Cavalli too). Diocesan priest and member of the cathedral chapter Father Cor Mennen once stated that he would not be opposed to a foreign bishop, provided he learn Dutch, if that means the bishop gets a good and orthodox one. I don’t see that happening just yet, though.

And as for when we may hear the news of a new bishop? Usually these things take a few months at most (although it has taken 10 months once, between Bishops Bluyssen and Ter Schure). The summer holidays are over in Rome, so proceedings should theoretically advance fairly quickly. A new bishops could be appointed and installed before Christmas then.

Bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch announces retirement

In a not completely unexpected development, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans today announces the acceptance of his early retirement as bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The bishop, who has led the diocese for 17 year, has been unable to fulfill his full duties for the past years. Health reasons led him to leave that to his auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Rob Mutsaerts, and the other members of the diocesan curia. Pope Francis has asked Bishop Hurkmans to remain in office until the appointment and consecration and/or installation of his successor. In a letter, the bishop outlines the decision and his reasons:

bisschop Hurkmans“Priests, deacons,
pastoral workers and pastoral assistants,
To the faithful and all of you who are connected to the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch,

Since July of 2014 I have not had the strength to perform my work in full. Luckily, almost everything in the diocese has been able to continue, in a perfect understanding with the auxiliary bishop, vicar general and the other members of the staff, under my leadership. Through good medical care I have regained some strength, but not enough to fully take up my duties. Therefore I have been compelled to ask our Holy Father Pope Francis in June to relieve me of my duties. That was not an easy decision. I would have liked to remain in office until my 75th birthday. An answer to my writing has now been received from Rome, and the road to me succession has been opened. Rome has also stated that I remain the bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch until my successor has been appointed and installed. The terna, a secret proposal of three candidates, is to be drafted by the cathedral chapter. The chapter presents the terna to the Bishops’ Conference, who take their own position on it. Both reports will be sent to the Nuncio. The Nuncio will then open an investigation into the possible candidates and will send his conclusion, with the reports, to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. After these preparations, Pope Francis will appoint the new Bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch.

I have recently had more time for reflection and prayer. That enables me to let go of my office in peace over the coming months. I have always considered it important to be the first to pray for all of you, for the diocese. In the power of the Holy Spirit I have led you in proclamation and the celeration of the sacraments. In leading the diocese I have been able to listen and sympathise much. In all these I have always three basic lines. First, I have wanted to work for the mutual unity in the diocese, within the whole of the World Church. I have explicitly wanted to launch the New Evangelisation. Where Christ is proclaimed, places of hope develop. Lastly, restructuring the parishes was a great challenge.

From the start I knew that me work would bring much stress. I never tried to avoid that. I considered it a challenge not to break with people, but remain in conversation with supporters and opponents. Looing back, I increasingly understand those tensions. And likewise for the people who, from time to time, have been explicitly critical about me. I don’t hold grudges to anyone. Of course I made mistakes in my work. I ask forgiveness from those who have affected by them. I want to slowly close the period of “being in service to the leadership” in peace.

I was the rector of the St. John’s centre seminary for eleven years, and for then years of those I was also vicar general, and I have now begun my eighteenth year as bishop. A time in which, especially thanks to many of you, much good has happened, such as the development and expansion of the seminary, the celebration of the Holy Year 2000, the celebration of the diocesan Year of Mary, the five-year Evangelisation program, the 450th anniversary of the diocese with the pilgrimage to Rome and working towards the new parishes in three rounds of reorganisation. I thank God, our Father,  in the first place for all the good that happened. I also think in gratitude of the various staff members with whom I work, of the workers in the diocese. With fraternal greetings I thank the priests who lead Church life in the parishes from day to day. I thank the deacons, pastoral workers, pastoral assistants and the many volunteers. With love I think of the religious and contemplative monastics in the diocese. They lose themselves in the love of God to propagate it. Also a word of appretiation for all who have responsibility in the intersection of Church and society, including the guilds, education and universities. I know I am connected with our brothers and sisters in other church communities, with whom I have spoken often. A kind thank you to my auxiliary bishop and the other bishops who I have met in our country and abroad. My affection, and here I have remained the parish priest of Waalwijk, for the faithful, for those who are closely involved with the Churcgh, but certainly also those who have grown further removed. That they may known that God loves them. Lastly, I thank Sonnius, the benefactors, the members of the prayer circle, the rector and seminary community who make sure that the seminary is always a “home” for me.

Slowly a new period begins for the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. For now, I will travel with you as your bishop. I continue to lead in close cooperation with the staff. I leave the actual work for the most port to Msgr. Mutsaerts, vicar general Van den Hout and the other staff members. In due time I will fully acxcept the new bishop. I hope you will too, that is necessary. Follwing his consecration and installation, I will continue with you as bishop emeritus of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In what I can do, I will be at the service of the new bishop. On his invitation I will continue cooperating to the best of my abilities.

I am happy that I am continually strengthened in my faith. I continue travelling to God, my hope and expectation since my earliest youth (Ps. 71). I will live in the village I was born, the place where I received the faith from my parents. I hope that it will again become home to me, although I will miss ‘s Hertogenbosch. But that time is not here yet. There is time of transition. A time in which we can slowy make room in our hearts and minds for the new bishop. Let us pray on the intercession of Mary, the Sweet Mother of Den Bosch, for a good new bishop. For a bishop that the diocese needs now. Our help is in the name of the Lord.

I hope to meet you in the future, I greet you from my heart and remain with you in prayer.

Msr. drs. A.L.M. Hurkmans,
bishop ofs-Hertogenbosch”

More to come…