An uncomfortable situation

Following the Ariënskonvikt affair, which spawned legitimate debate, there is now another discussion in a number of Catholic blogs that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Ms. Nelly Stienstra, chair of the orthodox Contact Rooms Katholieken group, translator of official Vatican documents and volunteer in the cathedral parish in Utrecht, has been told by Archbishop Eijk to step down from her duties in the parish. This after publically questioning his integrity and displaying her disregard of him during services, as a letter from the archbishop says.

I don’t know what is and is not true here, but it is not my place to know, let alone debate, either. The major problem is that someone saw fit to make public the private correspondence between two people by sending it to a blogger. It was subsequently picked up by other blogs, as these things go. Ms. Stienstra then responded through a press release voicing her disagreement with the decision.

Here we have a private matter made public to make others look bad – in this case the archbishop and the staff of the archdiocese. To me that seems very unethical. The archbishop has been criticised for not publically explaining his reasoning: he shouldn’t, since this is not something that concerns anyone but himself and Ms. Stienstra.

I have been doubting whether to write about this. Ideally I wouldn’t have for the exact reasons I mention above. But I decided in favour of it to share a different opinion about it all. A decision may be agreed with or disagreed with, and it may also be discussed. But a private matter between two people should remain so, and not be made a topic of public discussion.


Considered discussion

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster commented yesterday on the debate between secularists and believers. He said that the former are “just as dogmatic as the worst religious believer and sometimes more stridently so”.

“Public life is not a neutral place. Everybody comes with their set of values and religion has just as much right to be there as anybody else.

“A secularist is just as dogmatic as the worst religious believer and sometime they are more stridently so.”

The archbishop emphasised the importance of constructive dialogue.

“That means getting away from the sound-bites and getting away from the discussion that is always centered around oppositional conflict.”

Words that seem very logical, but too rarely put into practice. Mudslinging is always easier, of course, because constructive dialogue requires well-thought out arguments and the possibility of having to reconsider one’s ideas. And there are some situations where the parties and the points of view are so opposed to one another that common ground is very hard to find indeed, thus limiting the possibility for dialogue.

Personally, I would think that this may be one such instance, at least when the parties – secular and religious – are both rigid in their points. But I also think that a sensible approach to this can be found in the Catholic Church, which approaches, for example, science and faith – another much-discussed topic – from the angles dedicated by their respective fields of expertise. But that does not mean that within the Church dialogue is abundant and fruitful. On the contrary: Catholics are people too and may often find mudslinging easier and more attractive than considered dialogue. And I can’t exclude myself from that group.

But I hope to be able to remedy that with my blog’s new focus, and walk the fine line between criticism and negativity, with a firm eye set on a hopeful future.

A plea for beer

From a friend on Facebook I get the request to write about beer.

Not a problem, of course. The beer in question is called ‘La Trappe Isid’or’ and is brewed by the trappist monks at Koningshoeven Abbey on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the abbey’s brewery.

Abbot Bernardus writes about the beer and its purpose in his blog, and I translate.

In his rule, St. Benedict emphasises that the abbot should always listen to the advice of his brothers. “Do everything in good counsel, and you will not regret it later” is the good advice that he gives the abbot. Via this weblog I would like to extend the circle of brothers and invite you to give me good counsel.

For our community, 2009 was the year of the establishment of a new monastery in Uganda and the 125th anniversary of beer brewery ‘De Koningshoeven’. Especially and exclusively for this anniversary we brewed ‘La Trappe Isid’or’, named for our first brewer, Brother Isidoor Laaber. It was decided that the revenue of the beer would be spent on the building of the monastery of our daughter community in Uganda. Ethnic struggles forced the brothers out of their abbey in Kenya and they are now still temporarily housed in Uganda. The profits of Isid’or was a nice 100,000 euros! At the moment, the last bottles are taken out of our warehouse. The end of the jubilee year is the end of the jubilee beer.
But the market now calls for keeping the Isid’or in our assortment. The brewery’s directors have asked me to seriously consider this. The decision is difficult, because we already have a fair number of beers (Blond, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Witte Trappist and Bockbier). Another reason not to do it is that we have said that this beer would only be available during the jubilee year. What to do now? In the meantime I have listened to my brothers and they sent me back to the market. How great is the demand from the market to keep Isid’or?
And that’s the reason of this question to you, the readers of this weblog. Should Isid’or stay on the market? Yes, No, Yes, but replacing another beer. You have two weeks to responds via the links below, with a motivation if possible. I will act according to Chapter 3 of the Rule: “While listening to the brothers’ advice, he considers the case himself and does what he considers most useful.”

Via the link to the abbot’s weblog above you’ll find the option to vote for a good beer with a good purpose

An introduction of sorts

A new blog? No, rather an old one in a new place. I’ve been blogging for a number of years now and did it all that time at Livejournal. And with much enjoyment, I might add. But over the course of time, especially in the last months, my blogging habits have been changing; where originally I treated my blog as a diary documenting the things that happened in my life, lately I have been moving more towards a more informative blog, not dissimilar to the efforts of such noted blogging priests as Father Z and Father Tim. Not that I pretend to be as knowledgeable or eloquent as either of them (nor as ordained), their topics of choice are an example to me.

Added to that is the growing desire on my part to contribute in a meaningful way to the development of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. It is a small Church, not very visible in society, and with its problems, but not without signs of hope – orthodox priests, congregations eager to grow in their faith, young people searching for a direction in their lives and finding it in the Church. But the parishes, especially in my diocese, are islands. They function on their own and the connection to the neighbouring parishes, the diocese and the world Church is not always alive among the faithful.

What can one lay person do, let alone one who hasn’t been Catholic for more than three years? Well, I can write and translate. Media coverage of Church issues, letters from the Dutch bishops, good homilies, but also events and documents from the world Church – all these are food for my blog, with the ultimate twofold goal of spreading the word, so to speak, of the Dutch Church among the many who don’t read Dutch, and putting the good and important elements of our beautiful faith – liturgy, prayer, theology – in the spotlight.

Here, I hope, I can present a blog that looks professional (at least in its layout) and which I can fully use as a basis for some other online activities. What those may be is something the future will learn, though.

PS: I have imported the blog entries from the past year into this new account. As a result, links in old posts may not always work and images may not be displayed completely (because they were sized to fit the layout of my Livejournal). Some posts are also protected with a password. These are posts that I don’t wish to be publicly accessible. You may always request the password from me in a comment or message.

A new bishop!

As of today, Mgr. Gerard de Korte is the new bishop of the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Seen on the back in the photo above, he receives the staff of the diocese’s first bishop, Mgr. Nierman, from the hands of his predecessor, Mgr Wim Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht.

Its been a busy evening and day, run expertly by Father Jos Deuling in his role as MC. Before he became a priest he was a chef, and I can imagine him running a busy kitchen the way he ran the entire show today. They do say that telling priests what to do is more difficult then herding cats, so Fr. Jos did an excellent job. And judging by the massive grin he sported afterwards, he agreed. 😉

As for my duties, they consisted of showing up last night at six, to be told what the role of host exactly entailed. It turned out to be following an intricate chart of who would be seated where (varying from family and friends of the new bishop, to civilian authorities (including Secretary of Justice Hirsch-Ballin), delegates from the parishes and representatives of the Archdiocese. All with their own bit of cathedral to sit in. After we had dedicated that to memory, some of us, including Guido and me, would go over the order in which the offerings would be brought forward (those included gifts from the various parts of the diocese).

The rest of the evening we spent in front-row pews hugely enjoying various priests standing in for he Archbishop, Bishop de Korte or Mgr. Bacque, the nuncio, with varying levels of conviction or success. In actuality, they were rehearsing the program of the next day.

That day was today, and started for me at eight in the cathedral, for a full runthrough, with Father Victor playing Archbishop Eijk (including mannerisms). The film crew of the KRO was busy testing lights and sound in the mean time, creating interesting disco effects in the cathedral.
At ten the doors opened, and from then until a few minutes past eleven, all of us hosts were busy showing people their seats. I estimate a total of some 600 people with 12 hosts accompanying them. The entire Mass can be seen here.

There was a reception afterwards, with many speakers. I missed most of them, due to helping Fr. Wagenaar with his English homily. I was back in time for a hugely entertaining drink and conversation with friends, two priests and a hermit. I also got the opportunity to shake hands with both Bishop de Korte and Archbishop Eijk.

It was busy, but enormously enjoyable. I realise I’m very lucky to not just be able to do and experience these things, but to do so with the friends I have.

The new bishop on the cathedra of his diocese, flanked by his vicars and vicar-general, Fathers Wellen, Van Ulden and Te Velde, and Archbishop Eijk.

Both photos taken by Joost Goes, courtesy of

Habemus Episcopum

The Latin in this post’s title is probably quite incorrect, but that hardly matters. What does matter is that we finally, after six months, have a new bishop!

Monsignor Gerard de Korte, formerly assistant bishop in the Archdiocese Utrecht will succeed Bishop Eijk in our neck of the woods. He’s been a likely candidate ever since Eijk left for Utrecht, but his name was sort of snowed under as other likely candidates were discussed. But he got the appointment nonetheless. Since Mgr. De Korte is already a bishop, we won’t be seeing a bishop’s ordination in the cathedral just yet (better luck next time), though.

I’ve never met the new bishop, but attended a Mass he offered in Leeuwarden a few months ago. His homily was very good, and he apparently is rather intelligent himself. It’s good news alround, I’d say.

On the appointment of Archbishop Eijk

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed our bishop, Mgr Willem Eijk, as the new archbishop of Utrecht and head of the Dutch church province. He will be installed as such on the 26th of January.

I am not sure what to think of it. I have full confidence that this is very good news for the Church in this country, but I wonder what this means for our diocese… Mgr. Eijk has worked wonders since his appointed in 1999. His policies have increased the number of vocations, turned the various parishes back on the same path, and back to Rome, and he´s done sterling work with the youth and for the return of religious communities to the diocese.

But still, only eight years in which he has been able to do the kind of work that takes time to develop. That´s a very short time. I hope whoever succeeds him will continue his work, and is able to do so.

He, and his work here, will be missed by many people. He may be a bishop, but if one cleric was eminently approachable by anyone, it was him.

Mixed feelings.