Do not deny churches access to information about their membership, citizens urge government

afbeelding-site-sila_05-bijgesnedenA government intention to abolish the system that supplies municipal information about  church members to local parishes has led to the most successful Internet consultation yet. Following an appeal from the bishops, among others, 17,000 signatories when through the trouble of lodging their complaints against a possible abolishment of the SILA system, which automatically forwards municipalities’ information about the death or moving of parishioners (while keeping  this information confidential). This allows parishes to remain informed when members newly arrive or when parishioners die.

Responses mentioned the desire of parish groups to be able to continue visiting the eldery in care homes, but also of families who appreciated being welcomed in a new parish. There is also the fear of elderly faithful that the parish might loose track of them. The positive contribution of parishes to society, some said, is denied by politicians who wish to shut down this system as it exists now.

Government ministeries can use consultations about concepts for law proposals, ministerial regulations or general government decisions. The results may be used to adapt these proposals or decisions, but they are not binding.

SILA, short for Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie, is used by seven churches and church communities, among them the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and collects and manages information about the church affiliation of private citizens who are registered members of one of the seven churches who use SILA. Municipalities only register who is known by SILA, but can’t see to which church they belong. Any mutations in the status of these citizens, such as death or relocation, is forwarded to SILA, which does now the specific church affiliation and can send the relevant information to the correct church community. In reverse, SILA also informs municipalities about new church members or church members who wish to be removed from the database.

The decision to bar SILA from information from the basic registration of citizens is taken to streamline the way in which the registration functions, and is one of several measures to assure this. The repsonsible government department is the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, headed by Minister Ronald Plasterk. He is a member of the PvdA, which suffered a significant loss of seats in last week’s elections, and will therefore most likely be succeeded by a member of another party, with the PvdA relegated to an opposition role. What that means for the proposal and the results of the consultation, however, remains to be seen.

Bishop de Korte’s election advice – the problems of voting Catholic in the Netherlands

While bishops usually tend to avoid giving voting advice, at least when it comes to specific parties, Bishop Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch recently did do so on a personal title. In an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad he said,

bisschop-de-korte“As bishops we realise that you can’t say that, if you are Catholic, there is a single party to vote for. From a Catholic perspective, something can be said in favour of all parties.”

But the bishop makes one exception to this rule. Geert Wilders’ PVV, which has ideas which are “contrary to the Catholic idea about a just society. They way that they pit populations against one another, abandon the freedom the religion, attack the rule of law – “fake parliament”, “fake judges”… These are things that should make us very reserved.”

The PVV continues to score in the opinion polls, also among Catholics, and Bishop de Korte’s remarks have had their share of criticism. But while the bishop’s comments focussed on the positives to be found in irtually all parties, the criticism focussed on those elements in party’s programs which are incompatible with Catholic teaching. How, critics asked, could any Catholic in good conscience vote for a party which promotes anti-life measures such as abortion and euthanasia? As I mentioned in my recent article for The Catholic Herald, only two parties, both Christian, are pro-life: the Christian Union and the SGP, although it must be added that the PVV is at least hesitant about further liberalisation on these topics.

This is a valid criticism, and a Catholic vote must take the position of parties on these (and other) topics seriously. But Bishop de Korte is not saying that all positions of all parties, except those of the PVV, should be supported by Catholics. On the contrary, he merely acknowledges that all parties promote positive aspects which a Catholic can get behind, while, although he does not say so explicitly, they may also support things a Catholic should oppose. There is no clear black or white when it comes to casting a Catholic vote in these elections.

pvv-logo-560x190Why single out the PVV, then? Are their positions more abhorent than those of other parties? The tone of their way of doing politics is certainly not one we should promote, and their singling out of parts of the population and disrespect for the rule of law when it does not agree with their positions are indeed problematic. For Bishop de Korte these seem to be decisive factors. For others, like myself, the respect for life (both born and unborn) may be equally decisive, and in that context the left-wing parties such as GroenLinks and SP are just as undeserving of my vote. Singling out the PVV is too simplistic: no party is perfect, and when you say that  “something can be said in favour of all parties,” an honest reading wil also show that that includes the PVV.

Bishop de Korte gave a personal opinion, the reasoning of which I do not fully agree with, although I share his decision not to vote for the PVV. But that is my opinion. Others may reach another conclusion in good conscience, based on the priorities they focus on. As long as it impossible to cast a vote which is in full agreement with Catholic teaching, this is the situation we are stuck with.

“Share your faith!” – Bishop Wiertz’ letter for Lent

In what is most likely his last letter for Lent, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond not only discusses a topic he has underlined before – that we are a part of the worldwide Church which is now on the receiving end of the mission – but also urges us to speak out about our deepest convictions as Catholics. Following the urging of Pope Francis, we must share the Good News, go out into the streets, share in order to multiply.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

The invention of social media gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘sharing’. Messages, photos and videos can be ‘shared’ with others via the Internet. An increasingly large number of people can take note of the message in this way. We could say that ‘sharing’ is the new ‘multiplying’. The more a message is shared, the more people can see and read it.

Sharing stories together in this way doesn’t happen on the Internet alone, of course. Every time we speak with people about what occupies our minds, we make others sharers of our experiences. We sometimes say, “What the heart thinks, the mouth speaks”.

On the occasion of the forty-day period of preparation for Easter, we can ask ourselves the question of how full of faith our heart is. How often do we speak about it with others? In other words: what do we do to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and so make sure that the Gospel is widely spread and multiplied?

That question doesn’t come out of nowhere. Christ Himself gave us the mission to spread His Good News across the entire world. We are by definition a missionary Church, a Church that goes out and shares the message which fills her heart.

And ‘the Church’, that is not only the priests or the members of the church board. It’s everyone who is baptised. It is our common mission to share our faith. We can only do so when we experience a personal connection to Jesus Christ; when we want to be His followers and honestly want to put that into practice. Each of us can so be missionary in very different ways.

For many people, the word mission evokes the image of missionaries who travelled to distant countries to proclaim the faith and do development work there. But the times have changed. Former mission territories have grown into mature young churches. We keep supporting them materially through campains like the Vastenactie. We do so in these weeks, and that is good. But in turn we in the west can learn much from their flourishing faith. We sometimes, then, speak about a reversed mission.

We are grateful to the world church which has been coming to our aid for some time. Foreign priests, seminarians and religious have come from their own familiar surroundings to our diocese. Like several missionary families, they have answered the call to serve the Lord and help us to share His Good News. They are an example to let a new missionary impetus grow in our parishes.

Happily, much is happening in practice. There are a fair number of volunteers who support and build up the parishes in numerous areas. Together with the priests, deacons and coworkers they take care of the future of the life of the Church in Limburg. By using their hands they show that they want to respond to the grace of their baptism and confirmation in an active way.

But a missionary Church makes a serious appeal to every Christian to share his or her faith. I know that we are often uncomfortable about that, and that many people sense a great reluctance about bearing witness of their faith all too openly.

It is as if a false sense of shame holds us back. There is no need for that. Isn’t it our deepest conviction? We shouldn’t walk away from that. For each of us as baptised Christians, it should be a matter of honour to address our common faith in God in our direct surroundings. Tell you children and grandchildren, your friends, neighbours and acquaintances that you believe.

As Church, we shouldn’t be closed in on ourselves. Pope Francis keep insisting on this. In one of his frequently quoted texts he claims to prefer “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 49).

Those are clear words. The Pope invites us to go out; to literally and figuratively go out in into the street and speak or show in concrete acts what it means for us to follow Christ.

Obviously, every witness of faith must be authentic and come from the heart. In normal language, with respect for the opinions of the other and certainly not pushy. A missionary Church invites, cordially and mild.

Christ did not give us His Good News to keep it for ourselves, but to pass it on and share it with others. That is our missionary duty: sharing in order to multiply. What our heart is full off, our mouth is allowed to speak. Let us use this Lent to become conscious of that and invite others to share in that joy.

Roermond,

+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

A social media-using bishop who doesn’t overstay his welcome, please

coat of arms roermondThe next bishop of Roermond should be a social media user, but is to stay in office for 15 years at most, a poll amongst priests of the Diocese of Roermond by newspaper De Limburger has revealed. The successor of Bishop Frans Wiertz, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 in December, should be communicative, using social media and other means to reach people. He should also be a bishop in the line of Pope Francis, with strong and inspirational policies. Several priests have said that the diocese’s management has been slowly dying down in recent years. Bishop Wiertz has been at the helm of the southern Dutch diocese since 1993, which makes him the most senior among the Dutch bishops.

A consequence of the need for fresh management and policies is that a bishop shouldn’t stay in one place for too long. “Ten, fifteen years is nice, but then it is  time for a new one,” Father Harrie Broers says. Father Jos Spee, the dean of Venlo, adds, “Different times need different challenges and that is why change is needed on time. Therefore it’s best to appoint a bishop in his mid-sixties. He will cease automatically at 75.”

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz

Bishop Wierts was appointed at the age of 50. Recently, his eye sight has been failing, although he hopes to be able to continue in his office until turning 75 on 2 December. Since 1998, Bishop Wiertz has been assisted in his duties by auxiliary Bishop Everard de Jong.

A social media-using bishop would certainly constitute a change in the Dutch episcopate. Although some bishops have dabbled in using twitter or a blog, only Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, is an active blogger who also uses Twitter and Facebook, and not only to share, but also to communicate with his followers.

A Franciscan first – Groningen-Leeuwarden gets a basilica

It may still not have a bishop, but as of today, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden does have a minor basilica. Well, at least when the proclamation is officially made on an as yet unspecified date.

franciscuskerk-bolsward

The church of St. Francis in Bolsward is elevated to the dignity of a minor basilica per a papal bull dated on 26 November of last year. Signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, it is nonetheless a decision from the Pope.

There are several reasons for the elevation of this particular church, which was built in 1932. It is a pilgrimage site to Our Lady of Sevenwouden, a statue of whom was the focal point of a procession, the first in four centuries, through the heart of Bolsward in 2015; it is also the centre of a devotion to Blessed Titus Brandsma, the martyr to the Nazis who was born in Bolsward.

Bishop Gerard de Korte, at that time still bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, made the official request to Rome in 2015, supported by the rest of the Bishops’ Conference. The Congregation for Divine Worship then conducted an investigation, looking at the quality of the liturgy, catechesis and charity. The elevation of the church is therefore not just a honour for the building, but also for the faith community it houses.

As a sign of it being a basilica, the church will be allowed to use the papal insignia of the two keys, and it will house a conopeum and a tintinnabulum, a canopy and bell to signify the close bond with the Pope. The local community will also be celebrating a number of extra feasts, including the anniversary of the election of the Pope, and it will be obliged to maintain the vitality and meaning of its activities and life.

The future Basilica of St. Francis is the first for Groningen-Leeuwarden, the 27th for the Netherlands and the most northern. Like the vast majority of basilicas in the world, it is a minor basilica. There are only four major basilicas, all in Rome. The basilica is located in Bolsward, in western Friesland, and is one church location in the parish of Blessed Titus Brandsma. Parish priest is Fr. Arjen Bultsma, episcopal vicar for Friesland and the Noordoostpolder under Bishop de Korte.

A monastery rising on Schiermonnikoog

naamloos
To rise from the dunes of Schiermonnikoog in 2018, the monastery of the Cistercian monks who arrived on the island last year has taken shape. On paper at least. The largely one-level building while have room for a maximum of fourteen monks, while the tower , centered over the chapel, reaches a height of almost fourteen meters. A large window at the top channels natural light down into the building.

While he would have preferred a building with a smaller profile, Abbot Alberic explains that that tower was an express wish of the island’s inhabitants. If anything, it shows the goodwill that the monks have created on Schiermonnikoog. This should help in winning the council and province’s permission to buy the ground for the monastery. Currently it is in the possession of nature protection agency Natuurmonumenten and used as a horse paddock. The monks hope to complete the paperwork over the course of this year, after which construction can begin in 2018.

The building will be constructed of natural materials wherever possible, and it will be fitted with solar panels, making it energy neutral. As per the Cisterican tradition, the monks will live a life of prayer and not involve themselves with life on the island. In order to be self-sufficient, the monks are exploring options to work with local farmers in the production of biological cheese. With most of the island being a natural park, there is no room for a garden in which to grow fruit and vegetables.

Abbot Alberic has the hope that the monastery will attract new monks, joking that, should the fourteen available cells on Schiermonnikoog not be enough, they could consider new establishment on adjacent islands. A spokesman for the monks explained one of the goals of the new island community: “The goal is to find a new modern form of spirituality and way of living which also appeals to new generations”. He adds that he is aware that the interest in living a monastic life according to the old, traditional rules is decreasing, which is why the monks on Schiermonnikoog are looking for new forms which do appeal to people. I have my doubts about that direction, although it is true that monasteries and convents, at least in the Netherlands, are not overburdened with a flood of applicants. But ‘new forms of modern spirituality’ have been tried and found wanting since the 1960s…

Bishops coming, bishops going – a look ahead at 2017

On the threshold of 2017, a look ahead at what we may expect when it comes to the leadership of the various dioceses in Northwestern Europe.

266px-BisdomGroningenLocatieThere have been years when the changes were rather significant, but 2017 does not look to be one of those. At the start of the new year, three dioceses are without a bishop: Groningen-Leeuwarden in the Netherlands (map at right), Mainz in Germany and the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim in Norway. It is a safe bet that the first two will receive their new bishops in 2017, but Trondheim may well be left as it has been for the past seven years: without a bishop, and with the bishop of Oslo serving as Apostolic Administrator. But on the other hand, for a see that just built and consecrated its new cathedral, and which, like the rest of Norway, has seen a significant increase in Catholic faithful, this does not seem like a situation that will continue forever. So who knows what the year will bring.

In Groningen-Leeuwarden, the new bishop will succeed Bishop Gerard de Korte, who was appointed to ‘s-Hertogenbosch in March. Almost ten months in, the vacancy is the longest for the Dutch Catholic Church in recent years. The new bishop of Mainz will follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who led that ancient see for 33 years.

Bischof-Norbert-Trelle-Foto-Bernward-MedienThere are a few bishops who will reach the age of 75 in 2017, and thus will offer their resignation. In Germany, these are Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann of Würzburg on 12 May and Norbert Trelle (at left) of Hildesheim on 5 September. Joining them is Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond in the Netherlands. He will be 75 on 2 December, but I would not be surprised if his retirement will be accepted earlier, as the bishop has been struggling with eye-related health problems.

There is one bishop serving past the age of 75. Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent has been asked to continue serving for another two years, so that Belgian see will remain occupied for the duration of 2017.

A less certain area to make predictions about is the appointment of auxiliary bishops. I expect, however, that two German dioceses will receive one auxiliary each. The Archdiocese of Hamburg has been without auxiliary bishops since October, when Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke retired. As the archdiocese is being reorganised, the number of auxiliary bishops will be decreased from two to one, and we may well see one of the three new area deans (representing the archdiocese’s constituent areas of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg) to be made a bishop. Further south, the Diocese of Münster has confirmed its request for a new auxiliary bishop after Heinrich Timmerevers was appointed to Dresden-Meißen in April. This will bring the number of auxiliary bishops back up to five, one for each pastoral area.

vilniaus_arkivyskupas_metropolitas_audrys_juozas_backis_2In Rome, lastly, there will be no new consistory. Only four cardinals will reach the age of 80 and so cease to be electors. They are Audrys Backis, Archbishop emeritus of Vilnius, Lithuania (and former Nuncio to the Netherlands) (at right); Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop emeritus of Aparecida, Brazil; Attilio Nicora, Pontifical Legate to the Basilicas in Assisi, Italy; and Lluís Martínez Sistach, Archbishop emeritus of Barcelona, Spain. The number of cardinals who will be able to participate in a conclave will still be 116 at the end of next year, so there will be no need to bring their numbers up.