Bishop Punt announces wish for early retirement in 2020

IMG_9029_rawOn the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Bishop Jan Hendriks’ ordination to the priesthood, celebrated last Friday at the diocesan shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo, Bishop Jos Punt announced his intention to ask the pope for an early retirement next year.

The bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam will mark the 25th anniversary of his consecration as bishop in the summer of 2020, six months before his 75th birthday. This, he said, would be “a good time to pass the staff to Msgr. Hendriks.” Bishop Hendriks has been coadjutor bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam since December of last year, so a possibly months-long search for a new bishop is already averted.

Bishop Punt has been struggling with health issues for the past years, regularly needing periods of rest. The appointment of Bishop Hendriks as coadjutor will have been the first step in a smooth transition in diocesan leadership. Considering that most coadjutor bishops in recent years have only held that position for a calendar year or less, this fairly rapid turnover is also not unexpected.

Bishop Punt has been the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam (simply Haarlem before 2008), which was established in 1559, suppressed in 1592 and established again in 1833. He was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem in 1995, and became apostolic administrator of the diocese three days after the early death of Bishop Henny Bomers in 1998. He held that temporary position for an uncommonly long three years before being officialy appointed as bishop of Haarlem. From 2000 to 2011 he was assisted by Bishop Jan van Burgsteden as auxiliary bishop, and, after the latter’s semi-retirement (semi because he retained duties in the bishops’ conference as well as in the inner city parish in Amsterdam), by Bishop Hendriks. Since 1995, Bishop Punt has also been the apostolic administrator of the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, which has not had its own bishop since the retirement of Bishop Ronald Bär, who held the position in addition to being bishop of Rotterdam.

The retirement of Bishop Punt and Bishop Hendriks’ succession will be the last episcopal appointment in the Netherlands for some time, barring any unforeseen circumstances. The next-oldest bishop in the Netherlands is 66-year-old Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, who is therefore still nine years away from retirement.  There will, however, be a few earlier changes, although they do no involve native bishops. Towards the end of 2021 the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, will reach retirement age. Additionaly, the Ukrainain Diocese of St.-Vladimir-le-Grand de Paris, which ministers to Ukrainian Catholics in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg), is currently awaiting a new bishop, who will have his seat in Paris.

Photo credit: Wim Koopman

Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

Hollerich-Comece-klein-kna-800x450

Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

Bishops on social media – still an uphill battle

Among the German-language bishops, the highest social media presence belongs to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who reaches some 110,000 followers via his various social media accounts, as reported by the Archdiocese of Vienna. Obviously, the cardinal promptly went on Twitter to thank his followers for their “valuable and critical reactions” to what he shares.

Other active social media bishops are Stefan Oster of Passau (16,594 followers), Wilhelm Krautwaschl of Graz-Seckau (6,882 followers) and Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen (4,479 followers).

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.This made me wonder: how do the bishops of the Dutch language area compare? Not that favourably, actually. Of the 18 bishops in the Netherlands and Flanders (I haven’t counted the emeriti), only five have any social media presence. Those five all use Facebook, one also uses Twitter and a third one adds Instagram. Their reach is also much smaller than that of their German speaking brethren, but that is easily explained by the size of the Dutch language area.

IMG-p06Mgr.DeJong-2402_cropped-60-281-231-3-0Topping the list is Bishop Everard de Jong (pictured), the auxiliary bishop of Roermond. He has 5,000 friends on his personal Facebook page, and a further 782 followers on his Instagram account.

Number 2 is the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Cardinal Jozef De Kesel is followed by 2059 on Facebook. Including him among the Dutch-speaking bishops is a bit of a cheat, as he posts in both Dutch and French.

Bishop Jan Hendriks, the coadjutor bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, who is also the single Dutch bishop with a blog, has a combined 1,726 followers on Twitter and his two Facebook accounts.

Bruges’ Bishop Lode Aerts boasts 1,636 followers on Facebook.

Number five, then, is Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent, who has 1,607 people on his Facebook page. He also has a personal account there, which does not reveal the number of friends he has there.

Despite the efforts of the five prelates above, the bishops in the Netherlands remain very hesitating in their use of social media. Traditional media is used, especially in writing, and a number of bishops actively contribute to the websites of their respective dioceses. But like visual media, social media is generally seen is something “not for them”. This may be a generational thing, of course, but dioceses also have communication teams who can post on their behalf. This is fairly common in other parts of the world. And at least one bishop seems open to it, despite his personal trepidation. Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden said in a 2017 interview:

“The diocese certainly participates in social media, but it’s not for me.” He takes an old Nokia from his pocket. “As long as the battery still works, this is fine for me. The next model will probably be an iPhone so that I can also use WhatsApp. I lag a bit behind. We are looking for a new communications advisor. If he or she thinks it a good idea for me to start tweeting, I will seriously consider it.”

Well, let’s hope that the communications advisors of the various dioceses have an eye for social media trends abroad. Using modern forms of media makes one more visible, certainly among younger generations (and not even the youngest anymore), who are increasingly leaving the traditional media behind. Increased visibility in a time where the role of the Church, faith and religion is diminishing will help in making the Good News known.

Photo credit: [2] Nederlands Dagblad

On the death of the world’s oldest cardinal, two days in a row

Over the past two days, the Church lost it’s oldest cardinal. Twice.

web3-carcianl-pimiento-rodriguez-colombia-cec.org_.co_Tuesday saw the passing of Cardinal José de Jesús Pimiento Rodríguez. The 100-year-old Colombian prelate was the emeritus archbishop of Manizales and was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015. In a telegram to the current archbishop of Manizales, Pope Francis recalled Cardinal Pimiento’s work for peace and the common good.

etchegarrayUpon Cardinal Pimiento’s death, the title of oldest cardinal fell to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, only for him to pass on that title the next day. The 96-year-old French cardinal-bishop served as archbishop of Marseille before taking on duties in Rome, heading the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and “Cor Unum”. Even after retiring he was an active advocate for peace in the world, as recalled by Pope Francis in a second telegram. Cardinal Etchegaray was created a cardinal in 1979 and appointed to the highest rank of cardinal-bishop in 1998, with the title of Porto-Santa Rufina.

The oldest living cardinal is now Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, also 96, but the late Cardinal Etchegaray’s junior by almost a year. Cardinal Vanhoye, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, was the rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Although there are no centenarians in the College of Cardinals, no less than 23 cardinals are in their 90s. Clearly a job in which one has a fair chance of growing old.

Photo credit: [1] Cec.org.co, [2] Diocese de Bayonne

Strengthened in concern – Cardinal Woelki’s visit to the USA

Returning once again to Cardinal Woelki’s summer holiday visit to the United States, the Kirchenzeitung of the Archdiocese of Cologne shares an interview with the cardinal looking back on said trip. Next to relating about friendly visits with American prelates and religious communities and finding inspiration for Church life back home, the cardinal also speaks about how the Church in Germany is seen abroad. This especially in light of the independent approach to perceived liberties allowed under the current papacy.

Cardinal Woelki says:

Kardinal_Woelki_-_Weg_zum_und_Mittagsgebet_im_Kölner_Dom-3210“I was surprised by how closely my conversation partners are following the situation of the Church in Europe and especially in Germany. Everywhere I was struck with the concern about current developments in Germany. A noticeable concern in many encounters was that the “synodal path” is taking us on a specifically German path, that, at worst, we are putting the communion with the universal Church at risk and are so becoming a German national church. That is not something that anyone should want, and we should take that warning very seriously. Many of my conversation partners expressed their disbelief that in Germany we appear to be willing to change the deposit of faith entrusted to us, just because this is loudly demanded of us. The fear that this could lead to a split in the universal Church, or even a split in the German Church, was openly expressed. Of course the dioceses in America are also not immune to the questions which concern us. But I am under the impression that there they are providing answers based on the faith of the universal Church, and not in the form of independent national action or some form of theological overconfidence.”

Cardinal Woelki has, of course, been one of the German bishops most critical of the synodal path promoted by his brethren. His visit to the USA strenghtened him in that.

“I feel supported in my position. I believe that the path which is currently being sought in Germany contains grave dangers – especially the risk of a split in the German church. In his letter the Pope has clearly urged us to maintain the “Sensus Ecclesiae“, the “sense of faith of the Church” and remain in communion with the universal Church and the faith of the Church. I return home encouraged and have sensed on this journey, in a very concrete way, what it means to belong to the Catholic world Church. This unity acriss all national boundaries is very valuable, especially for us Germans. We should hold fast to that.”

Topping up – new cardinals announced for October

Pope Francis yesterday surprisingly announced that he will create 13 new cardinals on 5 October. Surprisingly, because the numbers do not really suggest the ned for a consistory at this time. There are currently 118 electors, cardinals who are active in the Roman Curia and who can vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope, with only 8 aging out between now and the end of 2020. It is clear, however, that Pope Francis prefers having too many rather than too few cardinals, and so habitually ignores the rule that there can only be a maximum of 120 electors (he’s not the only Pope to have done so, however: Pope St. John Paul II once expanded their number to a massive 135).

And, as ever, he also aims for a representative College of Cardinals. In this round, he selects prelates from Luxembourg and Morocco, countries which have never had a cardinal before, but also more traditional cardinalatial sees such as Bologna, Havana and Kinshasa.

And again we see the fallout of recent papal visits abroad. Hence cardinals from Lithuania (visited in September of 2018) and Morocco (March 2019).

After 5 October, there will be 215 cardinals, with 128 electors. Two days later, the latter number will drop again, as Cardinal-designate Ambongo Besungu’s predecessor in Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, reaches the age of 80.

Below a list of the new cardinals:

  • Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot (67, Spain)
    • President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Prefect of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.
  • José Tolentino Medonça (53, Portugal)
    • Librarian of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives.
  • Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo (69, Indonesia)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Jakarta, Military Ordinary of Indonesia and President of the Episcopal Conference of Indonesia
  • Juan de la Caridad  Garciá Rodríguez (71, Cuba)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of La Habana
  • Fridolin Ambongo Besungu (59, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Kinshasa and Vice-President of the National Episcopal Conference of CongoHollerich-Comece-klein-kna-800x450
  • Jean-Claude Hollerich (60, Luxembourg) (pictured above)
    • Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community
  • Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri (72, Guatemala)
    • Bishop of Huehuetenango
  • Matteo Zuppi (63, Italy) zuppi(pictured at left giving a homily at the Church of the Frisians in Rome in 2015)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Bologna
  • Cristóbal López Romero (67, Morocco)
    • Archbishop of Rabat
  • Michael Czerny (73, Canada)
    • Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
  • Michael Louis Fitzgerald (82, United Kingdom)
    • Apostolic Nuncio emeritus to Egypt and Delegate emeritus to the League of Arab States
  • Sigitas Tamkevicius (80, Lithuania)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop emeritus of Kaunas
  • Eugenio Dal Corso (80, Angola)
    • Bishop emeritus of Benguela

Of these, cardinals-designate Fitzgerald, Tamkevicius and Dal Corso, being 80 or older, are ineligible to participate in a conclave. Their selection must therefore be seen as a recognition for their work for the Church and the people in their pastoral care.

Cardinal-designate Czerny is also the first elector who is not yet a bishop upon his selection. Priests who are not (yet) bishops can be made cardinals, but this usually only happens for non-electors. As a Jesuit, Msgr. Czerny will probably request dispensation to not be ordained as a bishop before his creation as cardinal. This is par of the course for Jesuits who are not yet made bishops for other reasons (such as Pope Francis, who was ordained a bishop in 1992 to serve as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires).