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

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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

The reality behind Fr. Massaer’s transfer – Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch corrects LifeSite

DenBoschLogoA simple transfer of a priest in the Dutch Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has sparked suggestive comments from LifeSite  that it had to do with the priest, Fr. Marc Massaer, having recently delivered a homily in which he spoke about Catholic teaching on family, sexuality and especially gender ideology and homosexuality. The American news outlet, know for its highly suggestive reporting, linked to the perceived anti-Catholic attitude of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Bishop Gerard de Korte.

Today, the diocese published a statement in Dutch and English, outlining not only the nature of Fr Massaer’s reassignment, but also highlighting the dishonest nature of LifeSite’s reporting. Below I share the English statement. The Dutch text may be found at the link above.

Statement of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch concerning the new appointment of father Marc Massaer 

Only recently father Marc Massaer announced his departure from the parish of St. Christoffel in Dreumel. Bishop Gerard de Korte intends to give him an appointment as a pastor (parochus) in another parish. Other than the website LifeSiteNews.com suggests the replacement of father Massaer is not a reaction on the sermon he held at Christmas in the church of Wamel.

An article on this website wrongly suggests that bishop Gerard de Korte replaces the pastor because of the earlier mentioned homily in which among other things he defended Church doctrine as to gender ideology and homosexuality. Pastor Massaer’s new appointment is not related to that matter.

Vacancy
The intended new appointment of pastor Massaer is part of a small so-called carrousel: in the next months eight priests will receive a new appointment. The appointment of pastor Massaer is intended to fill in a vacancy in another parish. Massaer has been working in the parish of St. Christoffel for almost eight years.

New appointments of priests are the result of a careful consideration. Various factors are of influence, such as the duration of the current appointment, personal circumstances, the construction of pastoral teams, personal qualities and experience, the spreading of priests throughout the diocese,  the creation of vacancies etcetera.

Resentful suggestion
The diocese doesn’t normally give an explanation about new appointments. In this case an exception is being made, because the LifeSiteNews.com article makes a resentful suggestion. Moreover, the article evokes reactions in which incorrect assumptions are being elaborated. All this may lead to confusion among the faithful and doesn’t do justice to bishop De Korte.

The diocese was never asked for a reaction by LifeSiteNews prior to the aforementioned publication.

A priest breaks his vows – my thoughts about the case of Pierre Valkering

I didn’t want to devote many words to this, as I thought that, sordid as the affair is, it is not a reflection of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, nor does the priest responsible deserve his story to overshadow other, more positive news. But as it has now broken internationally (in English at Crux, and in German at Katholisch.de), I think I can at least share my thoughts. I published those thoughts in Dutch on Tuesday, and, as said, I wanted to leave it at that. But perhaps it is good to also share them in English.

First, the context:

pierre-valkeringOn 1 April, Father Pierre Valkering celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. After the festive Mass he presented his autobiography, which he had been working on in secret over the past couple of years. In it, he describes not only his homosexuality, but also his addiction to pornography (going so far as to say that something of the Gospel may be found in pornography) and his past visits to dark rooms and other homosexual meeting areas. These revelations came as a shocking surprise to the diocese. In the past, Bishop Jos Punt had spoken at several occasions with Fr. Valkering about his celibacy, receiving the assurance that the latter was dealing with it “responsibly”. That was obviously a lie.

As a response, the bishop requested that Fr. Valkering cease his priestly duties for the time being and enter into a period of reflection. In a statement issued on 2 April, the diocese states:

“Father could also have chosen to discuss his struggle with his sexuality and celibacy openly and honestly with his bishop. That honesty would certainly not have been punished. On the contrary, together with Fr. Valkering ways could have been found to reflect upon it and receive help. That has in the past also been done for several other priests.

But Fr. Valkering has chosen for a sudden and public act, in which the bishop has not been known in any way. He has also not given any indication about whether he is willing or able to maintain his celibacy in the future.”

Below follows the opinion piece I shared in Dutch via Twitter and Facebook.

The piece below is not a discussion about the doctrine of the Church, homosexuality, sexual abuse in the Church or the mandatory celibacy for priests in the Catholic Church. This is my response to articles about the Amtserdam priest Fr. Pierre Valkering who was placed on leave by Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam following the publication of his autobiography. In that autobiography Valkering describes his homosexuality, his ignoring his oath to remain celibate by actively having sexual contacts and his appreciation for pornography. Separate from a discussion about these topics, the indignation about such behaviour by a Catholic priest is justified. Had Valkering written about heterosexual contacts, that indignation and the consequences for him would have been no different.

At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. A sensible conclusion to draw when someone publishes a book by his hand on that date, in which he prides himself in his sexual excesses, appreciation for pornography and regular visits to dark rooms and other gay meeting places. And this person is a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. No priest, who should have a more than superficial knowledge of what the Church teaches about sexuality and priesthood, would say something like that in all seriousness, right? It would have been a fine April’s Fools joke.

But nothing of the sort. Father Pierre Valkering apparently does not value the oaths he made at his ordination. Celibacy for priests is not a new thing. It existed long before there was a Pierre Valkering. But this priest seemingly considered it possible that an active sexual life was compatible with the priesthood, and thought he should speak about it proudly as well.

Valkering indicates that he has long struggled with his homosexuality and that his priesthood was essentialy a form of fleeing. That is something that must be taken seriously. That struggle and flight should have been prevented, and Valkering should have received the help he needed. His surroundings, including the Church, have failed him in that respect. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the period of reflection imposed upon him by Bishop Punt, can help him, and that he will not have to go through it alone.

I obviously do not know the exact cirucmstances which led Valkering to a crooked combination of priesthood and a seriously harmful form of sexuality. Bishop Punt probably also does not know, even though there have been meetings between priest and bishop in the past regarding previous publications and statements and the priest’s view on celibacy and his experience of it (he handled it responsibly, according the the diocese’s statment, but that apparently has a different meaning for Valkering than it did for the bishop). But with the bishop’s responsibility for assuring the correct communicatuon of the faith and the doctrine of the Church by his priests, Msgr. Punt could do little else than asking Fr. Valkering to lay down his duties, at least for now, and reflect on his actions.

The bishop shares the responsibility mentioned above with his priests. From his ordination and mission a priest has the duty of communicating the faith, by celebrating and teaching it, but also by being an example. The sexual excesses of Pierre Valkering, and the way in which he made them public, are an example which is contrary to the faith in all respects: he not only repeatedly broke his oath, but he also ignores his priestly mission and so leads others away from the faith. The way in which he thinks to express his sexuality are at odds with a healthy sexuality as the Church understands it. This is something one can disagree with, obviously. Discussion is always possible, but Valkering did not choose that option. Instead, he chooses a prideful form of deceit. He is a Catholic priest, but does not feel bound to the tasks and responsibilities of a priest. Instead of living for God, he chooses living for himself. He choose to lie to his bishop, to all the faithful for whom he was responsible as parish priest, and ultimately also to God.

With his autbiography, Valkering inflicts damage to the Church, to the people around him, and most of all to himself. Let us hope and pray that he may learn to see that and is offered and can accept the help he needs. The damage done in the past can’t be taken away, but perhaps its impact can be softened.”

Attack in Utrecht: reactions from the archdiocese

A terrorist attack or an honour killing, whatever motivated the shooter, three people were killed and five injured while riding a tram in the city of Utrecht this morning. The shooter was arrested in the evening after the city had been on lockdown for the better part of the day.

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In a first reaction, the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk, said:

“Today’s shock is great. The perpetrator’s motives remain unclear for now, but it is clear that the impact on the city and the Netherlands is great. We greatly sympathise with the victims and their family, and also with the witnesses of this horrific incident. I ask your prayer for the deceased and those they leave behind, and for the injured we mourn today, for a quick and full recovery.”

From Germany, Domradio reached out to Father Anton Ten Klooster, priest of Utrecht who teaches at a university in the city. He was forced to spend his day at the university as the police had asked everyone to remain indoors while the shooter remained at large,  and describes his first thoughts upon hearing the news:

“As a priest I think in the first about the people and their fear. But I also think about what it means for society. These are, after all, tense times. There has been the terrible terorrist attack in New Zealand. And now this. What does that mean for us priests? How can we really try to accompany people and also respond in the right way? These are the first thoughts, but one can’t really do anything immediately.”

Anoher priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, Father Roderick Vonhögen, shares his thoughts upon hearing the news in the vlog below (starting at 2:09):

Photo credit: ANP

Secularisation averted – Utrecht’s cathedral to remain open

imgThe cathedral church of St. Catherine is to remain the seat of the archbishop of Utrecht. After several months in which the local parish explored possibilities and eventually concrete steps towards secularisation and sale of the mediaval church, the archbishop, Cardinal Willem Eijk, has now requested that that process be stopped and keep the cathedral open.

In a statement released by the parish today, it is acknowledged that the plan for secularisation and sale, within the context of a larger building plan, was “understandable and also well though-out.” Were there no other mitigating circumstances, that would be enough for the archbishop to decree the secularisation and sale of the church. But the concerns and complaints which arose after it became known that the parish was planning to close the cathedral played their part and were reason for Cardinal Eijk to decide against it. The “more than regional import of the cathedral for the whole of the Netherlands, as metropolitan seat” was a deciding factor.

This decision is in line with Cardinal Eijk’s policy of handling requests from parishes to secularise church buildings. He never takes that initiative, but only considers requests, and when those are well supported and necessary for the future (financial) wellbeing of the parish, he usually agrees with what the parish has concluded is the right of action. In this case, the protests were serious enough for him to decide against secularisation. The depiction of Cardinal Eijk as a prelate ordering the closing of churches across his archdiocese is nonsense, then.

This does leave the parish council with financial concerns, however. They had come to the conclusion that the cathedral had to go because they were unable to maintain two church buildings. They now need to find other forms of income. Cardinal Eijk sees this as reason to achieve a fast-track merger of the three city parishes of St. Salvator, St. Ludger and St. Martin. The parish council is also seeking increased cooperation with the adjacent Catherijneconvent museum to allow for improved public access and furhter integration of the cathedral in the monastic complex owned by the museum (the cathedral was originally the monastery church). There had been rumours that the cathedral would be sold to the museum for a symbolic sum.

 

As the summit opens, Bishop van den Hende on what the Dutch experience brings

One of the first things that Pope Francis asked of the bishops he has called to Rome to take part in the meeting on the protection of minors in the Church, which opens today, was that they meet with victims. This is something that victims themselves had also generally demanded, as a part of the recognition of their suffering: that the Church see them, hear them, understand what they had gone through. In the Netherlands, the Dutch bishops have made efforts to do so since the crisis broke here some nine years ago.

20160412_Utrecht_MgrVanDenHende_©RamonMangold-e1478072701381-280x267Bishop Hans van den Hende, chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and as such a participant in the meeting, decribes the context of his meetings with victims as follows:

“Several times I have met and spoken with victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes they were people who did not want a procedure, but who did want to tell their story. Most often the meetings were a part of the sessions of the complaints commissions of the reporting authority. Also in the framework of the socalled contact group, there has in some cases been direct contact with victims, because their procedures had stagnated. These meetings were a confrontation every single time. As a bishop you act on behalf of the community of the Church. Often the accused had already passed away. Many people have been marked by the abuse and I could see that speaking about the personally suffered abuse is difficult and requires courage.”

Bishop van den Hende sees the meeting as a unique event, the first in its kind, and forms his expectation around the goals expressed by Pope Francis:

“The pain and shame for the abuse of minors has been felt for years inside and outside the Church. This is the first time that the problem of abuse of minors in the Church is discussed in a special meeting of the worldwide Church. Pope Francis has indicated that he has three things in mind with this meeting: to make bishops across the world aware of the abuse and make them recognise it, commitment of the worldwide episcopate to engage this problem, plus communal moments of prayer and penance.”

The Dutch approach has always had a sharing with the rest of society in mind. This was a recommendation of the Deetman Commission, which executed the independent investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. As part of this effort, the Commission’s final report was translated into English and communicated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Dutch experience, Bishop van den Hende explains, is in a sense unique and may well be a valuable contribution to the meeting:

“In the Netherlands the bishops and religious are fully aware of the seriousness of the abuse of minors by people of the Church. Together they chose at the time for an independent investigation and an independent procedure to achieve recognition and compensation for victims, and also support. Elsewhere in the world you do not often see such cooperation or joint approach.”

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