In Utrecht, the seminary returns

Breaking and unexpected news today as the Archdiocese of Utrecht announces that, after a four-year hiatus, it will once more be housing its own seminary within the borders of the archdiocese. In 2010, the Ariënskonvikt in the city of Utrecht closed its doors as part of a wider financial reform started by Archbishop Wim Eijk (at the time, he called it one of the hardest decisions he had to make as bishop). The seminarians of the archdiocese moved to the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and in Utrecht the former vice rector of the seminary Fr. Patrick Kuipers, continued to manage the affairs of seminarians and conducting projects related to vocations and formation.

Ariensinstituut%20kleinNow, the seminarians are to come home to Utrecht, back to the old house they vacated four years ago, which now lies next door to the Faculty of Catholic Theology, which moved to the inner city a few years ago. Seminarians will receive their academic formation there. Fr. Kuipers will be the rector of the newly established institution.

BisdomUtrechtLocatieThere are several reasons for the return to Utrecht, of which the improved financial situation of the archdiocese if the most important. There is also a slow increase in seminarians, which, together with the limited space available, means that the new seminary is only open to seminarians from the archdiocese. In the past, Utrecht was also home to seminarians from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Another reason to return to Utrecht was the peripheral location of the Tiltenberg, the seminary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, as seen from the archdiocese. The seminarians would be travelling long distances from there to the parishes in which they learned the trade, so to speak.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht currently has eight seminarians, who will all be housed in Utrecht,. These will be joined by four religious of congregation of the Misioneros de Cristo Maestro who will form their own community. Before he came to Utrecht, Cardinal Eijk established contacts with this congregation with an eye on establishing a community in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, where he was bishop at the time.

Hopeful news.

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“Criticism is fine, but slander is a different story”

Words from Archbishop Wim Eijk in response to the ridiculous claims made against him in the Volkskrant. Katholiek Nieuwsblad published a short interview with the archbishop in which he counters these claims. Yesterday the Dutch bishops released a joint statement to the same effect. It’s a shame that that statement and this interview asre not picked up by the major newspapers, whereas the Volkskrant article – a shoddy piece of work – was.

Here is my translation of the interview, conducted by Jan Peeters:

KN: The core element of the criticism which you received this week, seems once more to be the closing of the Ariënskonvikt. As you said you fear in November of 2009, the criticism seems to be leading its own life. Is that true?

Abp. Eijk: “It is true that Ms. Stienstra again proclaims in the media that millions have been left in legates to the Ariënskonvikt, but we don’t have them. I haven’t heard anything about this from others in the past year either – her statement is not true. Once again: the Ariënskonvikt was closed at the time because of the deficient finances and the small number of students, which meant there was not enough of a community life.”

In April of 2011, the Volkskrant repeats criticism which you have tried to refute almost 18 months ago. There must be some truth in it, people may think…

“It remains to be seen if people think that. False accusations do not become automatically ‘true’ because they are proclaimed again 18 months later.”

The prevalent image is that Msgr. Eijk does not allow contradiction and sidelines or fires people who are critical about him. In how far is that image true?

“That image is not based on facts. In various consultation structures and in meetings with parish councils I get continously replies and sometimes also criticism. I certainly take advantage of that, but, on the other hand, I did not become bishop to win the popularity prize. I can’t please everyone. Criticism is fine, but slander is whole different story. Whoever publically calls me a liar has a problem: I can’t work with someone like that. But in all honesty, I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary.”

You are also accused of acting authoritarian, that you do not involve people in decisions, but present them with accomplished facts. You do you see that yourself?

“Upon my installation as archbishop I found a diocese on the edge of bankruptcy. Quick and robust measures were necessary. In such an ’emergency situation’ there sometimes wasn’t time to garner support, I am aware of that. Because of that promptness people have sometimes felt ambushed by decisions. But in that period there has also always been discussion: with the members of the staff of the diocese, the chapter, the council of priests, the Council for Economic Affairs. By now there is more time for discussion; For example, all the parish council now come by to discuss the pastoral-liturgical policy plans.”

It is well known that your relations with the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden were strained when he was still your auxiliary bishop. Later you and your auxiliary bishops have made your complaints about him in a letter that was leaked to the press. What is true about the claim that you wanted to have him removed from office as a bishop?

“That is pure nonsense. In a press release earlier this week, the bishops’ conference have made it know that at no time such a request was made to Rome.”

The accountant of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden has accused you of an ‘un-Christian attitude’. Is it true that you demanded his resignation?

“No, that is not true. I did, among other things, ask for public apologies for his words.”

It is said you even hired investigators to find the one who ‘leaked’ the letter. Is it true,and did you find the ‘leak’?

“That is a ridiculous accusation. From the archdiocese there has been no contact with whichever investigating bureau whatsoever, let alone that “Msgr. Eijk sent investigators to his bishops to check their computers,” as the Volkskrant wrote. The bishops’ conference distanced itself also from this in a mutual statement. The suggestion was made in cooperation with the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, to try and find who leaked the letter, for example by hiring such a bureau together. But nothing has come from that.”

 Following the closing of the Ariënskonvikt you are said to also want to close your own cathedral or the St. Augustine church. Is that true?

This too is an urban legend. It is not up to the archbishop to close a church building. It’s the parish that takes that initiative; it owns the church building. The archdiocese did ask the parish council for a thorough finaincial planning for the next several years regarding the buildings. That was necessary because the parish wanted to take a number of decisions which involved large sums of money. That requires the authorisation of the bishop. A long term planning was not suuplied by the parish, which was reason for the Council for Economic Affairs to give a negative advice for now. That can not lead to the conclusion that, as far as the diocese is concerned, one of the churches must be closed; when the parish supplies a good planning, the CEA may still advice positively.”

The former parish house of the cathedral, which until the closing housed part of the konvikt, has to be sold. For whom are the proceeds?

“The parish house is property of the Salvator parish (the parish in the inner city of Utrecht) and the p[roceeds of the sale will fully benefit this parish.”

There are said to be ‘earmarked donations for Utrecht’s seminary. What will happens with that money now that the Ariënskonvikt is closed?

“Insofar as there are ‘earmarked’ donations for the seminary, these will go to the Priesteropleiding Fund. This will pay for the education of the semrians of Utrecht.”

How many seminarians does the archdiocese have and where do they study?

At the moment, the archdiocese has five seminarians. Three of them study at the Tiltenberg, the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. One seminarian lives in the city of Utrecht and the fifth studies at Bovendonk and lives in Breda.”

Is it true that they are not allowed to study in Tilburg? Isn’t that still a vote of no-confidence towards your own Faculty of Catholic Theology?

“Three of the five seminarians may, as a transitory rule, complete their education at the FCT. This is no longer possible for new students. That is not a vote of no-confidence towards the FCT, but it has to do with the disappearance of the link between the Ariënskonvikt and the FCT. At the konvikt the students lived in community and there they received the spiritual and psychological formation which is also part of the education of a priest. To follow classes at the FCT from the Tiltenberg is very difficult due to the distance. And he who studies at the FCT with being rooted in a community lacks the psychological formation. So practical concerns make the FCT no longer an option.”

Did you take notice of the appeal that Ms. Stienstra is to present to the pope against you? In what way is an (arch)bishop free to create policy?

“Ms. Stienstra did not send her appeal to the archdiocese. I can say nothing about it.”

A small but steady stream

Logo of the Tiltenberg seminary

The five Dutch seminaries have begun the new academic year with a small number of new students, much in line with previous years. The numbers are small when considered per seminary, but the total is not bad for such a heavily secularised country. 36 new seminarians start their education and formation on the road towards the priesthood.

The largest number will study at the Tiltenberg seminary in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, which also houses seminarians for Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht and the Neocatechumenal Way. 20 new students are starting there (although the seminarians of the Neocatechumenal Way live at their own Redemptoris Mater seminary).

The St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch welcomed six new seminarians, and Rolduc in the Diocese of Roermond has four.

Logo of St. John's

Bovendonk, which is the seminary for late vocation, where students study part-time, sees five new enrolments.

Last in the line is Vronesteyn in the Diocese of Rotterdam, which has one new student.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht, perhaps because of the closing of its own seminary last year, has no new students this year. On the other hand, with such low numbers of seminarians per diocese, there are bound to be years when there are no new students.

Saturday’s ordination

Vatican flags are out at the entrance of the cathedral of St. Catherine in Utrecht

On Saturday I had the pleasure of being present at the presbyteral ordination of Father Anton ten Klooster and Father Wouter de Paepe in Utrecht. Travelling down there with a friend meant getting up quite early, but I always think that an occasion of such value for the Church in the Netherlands is worth getting up early for. New priests were also ordained in Haarlem, Den Bosch and Roermond. 

Archbishop Eijk lays his hands on Anton ten Klooster, ordaining him to the priesthood

It was a long Mass, as is usual for such occasions, celebrated by Archbishop Wim Eijk in concelebration with Father Patrick Kuipers and Father Norbert Schnell, the current and former rectors of the Ariënskonvikt, as well as the priests working in the parishes where both new priests also already work. Many other priests of the archdiocese, as well as the two auxiliary bishops, were also present in the sanctuary. 

The congregation was large, filling up the entire cathedral. That is sadly a rare occurrence, but it was comforting to see that many people had come to witness the ordination of their future pastors. 

This is just the part of the cathedral in front of us. More people were in the back half.

The magnificent cathedral choir added much to the dignity and festivity of the Mass. Their contribution was beautiful. 

Another beautiful moment in any ordination Mass happens just after the reading from the Gospel (Mark 11: 27-33 that day). Father Kuipers asked both men to come forward and declare their presence and then formally asked the archbishop to ordain them for the heavy task of the priesthood. The archbishop then asked if they are worthy, to which the reply is hat, based upon the questioning of the people and the judgement of those responsible they have been found worthy. That moment, after six years of education and formation, and many more years of discernment, is the moment a man knows that he his indeed called to the priesthood: the Church confirms it, and the bishop formally elects them for the order of the priesthood. 

After the homily, the future priests are formally asked to make the necessary vows – to shepherd the flock of the Lord, to preach the Gospel and explain the Catholic faith with dignity and wisdom, to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with dedication and loyalty, especially in the sacrifice of the Eucharist and sacrament of reconciliation, to pray for God’s mercy over the people entrusted to them by following the Lord’s commandment to ceaselessly pray, and to join closer to Christ every day – and promises – of loyalty and respect to the bishop and his successors. Then the intercession of all the saints is requested through the Litany of All Saints. During that the archbishop kneels in front of altar, while the future priests lie facedown on the ground behind him – a gesture of total submission to God. Then the bishop silently places his hands on the head of the future priests and then prays that God may ordain them in a lengthy prayer. After that, both men are dressed in stole and chasuble, the outward apparel of the priest. 

During that whole process it is so clear, through the words and the rituals, that this is more than a matter between people. The Holy Spirit is at work then, and through the consecration of the bishop the spirit descends over two men, elevating them to the priesthood, to act as alter Christus among His people. 

During this Mass, the choir sang Here I am, Lord, a song I didn’t know and the style of which is usually not really my taste, but emotionally it was perfect at that place in the liturgy. The video below is the best version I could find which was not a solo version of the song. 

 

Once in full priestly regalia and taken into the ranks of their brother priests, the two new priests’ hands are anointed and they receive the gifts which they will sacrifice to the Lord for the rest of their lives: the bread and wine which may now be consecrated through their hands. 

Mass then continues as usual with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, albeit extra solemn and festive of course. The new priests’ joy and gratitude must’ve been visible to those around them: it certainly was to everyone as they processed out: especially Father Wouter sported a large smile. 

The reception, where everyone had the chance to congratulate the new priests was in a church down the street: a protestant church which nonetheless housed an icon of St. Nicholas…

Bishop versus bishop, the ugly side of social media

Archbishop Wim Eijk

What to do with the reports that a letter from Archbishop Eijk to the bishops’ conference and the nuncio has been leaked, a letter in which the archbishop is said to express his disillusionment with Bishop de Korte’s critique about the former’s handling of the communication around the closing of the Ariënskonvikt seminary?  

Newspaper Trouw claims to have a copy of that letter, and yesterday a number of bloggers were almost falling over each other to see the letter and write about it. The official spokesman of the archbishop has refrained from making any comments, so all we have to go on are rumours.  

Bishop Gerard de Korte

If true, it is certainly an interesting development. Very rarely do fellow bishops so openly criticise each other, and even more rarely does that get leaked to the media. But the problem is if it is true. One of the ‘experts’ quoted by Trouw is Peter Nissen, a man with the nasty habit of attacking the bishops whenever he gets the chance. One of the bloggers who was first with the news is of a very similar mold. That does not make the news any more credible.  

Trouw also reports that the letter was co-signed by the auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts, which is said to be unlikely, since they studied at the Ariënskonvikt when Msgr. de Korte was the rector there. Then again, it is Peter Nissen claiming that this is unlikely, so take that with several grains of salt.  

For now, I will not draw any conclusions. The whole situation is far too rife with speculation and hype, and it sometimes gives the distasteful impression of paparazzi clamouring for news. Either bishop or their spokespeople will make a statement in the future, and if they don’t (which is just as likely) it is a matter to be resolved between them anyway. The paparazzian clamour and speculations are pointless without any sense of certainty.

Archbishop Eijk on TV

I watched the interview with Archbishop Wim Eijk on TV last night, and while there was much information that we already knew, I generally liked the impression that the archbishop gave. A self-proclaimed hesitant media figure – he does not like giving interviews – he came across as serious, knowledgeable and firm, while some personal touches did shine through.

I won’t go over the reasons for his past decisions here – those have been covered extensively elsewhere – but some quotes are worth taking a look at.

On his decisive style of management, he said

I am someone who is decisive, yes. I discuss well, I orient myself. I first try to get a good picture of what is going on, or else you can’t take any decisions. I think I’m also very clear in that, in what I want. I am also someone who knows what he wants, that also makes a difference, of course.

No, avoiding conflicts is not my nature, not at all. On the contrary, I believe that if you ignore a problem, it will come back later with double the force. No, you really must deal with a problem.

See, management… in the first place it is a matter of common sense. Just using your common sense. And in the second place you have to take good advice. […]  You absolutely have to delegate certain things, some things you simply can’t do yourself. But I am ultimately a manager who is the spider in the web.

That’s certainly the unpopular position to take in our culture. But the fact remains that the Church is not a democracy. As the archbishop also said, the Church works with a one-man responsibility. He is the man, he has the responsibility.

On the criticism against his unpopular decisions:

Cutting and reorganising are never fun. At a certain point it becomes a fact, and people can’t deny it any longer […] And for those concerned it is never enjoyable. But, no matter you bring the message, it is still a bad message. But I think that people sometimes say things without really having full knowledge.

I agree. Most of the emotional outpouring following some of the archbishop’s decisions were not based in a through knowledge of the case. Not that that makes them less valid, though.

On the letter that a few emeritus priests wrote to him, and which they made public:

See, there are numerous ways in which, and people do that, in which you can offer criticism, and ask questions.

Did you blame them?

Yes, I do blame them.

Like the Stienstra case, it is simply not ethical to make a personal disagreement public. It doesn’t do anything to reach a solution, so the only point can be to play the blame game.

On the disagreement with Bishop de Korte about closing the Ariënskonvikt:

We have spoken extensively about it together. I also explained to him why it was necessary en we decided to – he did hear before I told the students, but in the end we spoke about it and we also decided  not to discuss it publically.

This actually made me quite happy. It’s no fun to know that your former and your current bishop are arguing about something. 

On the Stienstra case:

Well, see, I think Ms Stienstra was rather fond of the Ariënskonvikt, for valid personal reasons. See, of course you can criticise the decisions of an institute, en perhaps also the way in which they are made. That is all possible. But what you obviously can’t do is say that false motives were used. […]  You are actually saying that the bishops lies. The word wasn’t used, but it did come down to that.

On his public image of a cold manager:

When I go to parishes people say “up close you’re not so bad.” The really appreciate the Eucharistic celebrations and i also hear, via my driver and others that the appearance is appreciated.

That’s certainly how I got to know the archbishop. He is a very pleasant, pastoral man when you talk to him face to face.

“I don’t consider myself a victim. Not at all.”

Populist newspaper De Telegraaf published an extensive interview with Archbishop Wim Eijk today. Sadly, it’s not available online, but excerpts have been quoted on various websites and blogs. Obviously, the standard questions were asked: Ariënskonvikt, financial situation of the archdiocese, the criticism against his person and actions…  

Some interesting tidbits from the interview:  

On losing church buildings and their future functions:  

“In the next decade we will close 1000 churches: 600 of the PKN (Protestant Church in the Netherlands) and 400 on the Catholic side. The coming ten years will be years of truth.”  

“The bishops prefer these churches to be demolished. But in some cases that is not possible since they are monuments.”  

“As Bishops’ Conference, we decided in the 1990s that churches can’t be used as mosques. It is a fact that, from the point of view of some Muslims, the use of a church as a mosque can be seen in the light of the mission people have, to convert everyone to Islam.”  

“The church can get another function, but it must be a worthy function. […] I can think of roles in health care or culture.”  

“If a Catholic church gets a new function as a church, we prefer it to be used by a Christian community.”  

About his decisions and his personal role:  

“I think that we should continue on this way, quietly and decisive. Jesus said that the servant is not above the master. That means that you won’t be more comfortable than Jesus. You must dare to invest something in the preaching of the Gospel.”  

“I am simply orthodox and I represent and preach the faith that the Church has preached for the past two thousand years, and I want to remain faithful to that. […] In the 1960s and 70s there was a diminished sense of religiosity in society [To put it mildly]. We now see a reconsideration. In general, young people are more open to tradition. If they still go to church, they generally want to celebrate the liturgy according to Roman custom. They look for authentic Christian faith. I see myself as a representative of that younger generation. I may have become a bit more visible because of certain policy decisions I had to make as archbishop. But I don’t consider myself a victim. Not at all.”  

About the future:  

“I am bishop for all Catholics. I go everywhere and try to be open for contacts with everyone. I am pointing out a more general trend. At the moment, some 16 percent of the Dutch population is still Catholic, but that will drop to 10% in 2020 [All the more need for us to become more visible, I would say]. The Catholics who practice their faith now are looking for the authentic faith.”  

“Our goal is to bring people into contact with God via Jesus. The preaching of the Gospel is not dependant on enormous financial means. Jesus and the apostles also started out with nothing. In the end it comes down to God’s mercy and power. He gives the fruits. We are asked to sow, but the Lord must reap. So sometimes you simply have to go on sowing and see where it will flower.”  

“The Church looks for dialogue. Dialogue is only worthwhile if it comes from the heart. […] If you don’t agree with something you can voice that disagreement, but you should do it on a basis of reasonable arguments and knowledge of your own opinions and those of others. Well, there is a lot lacking on both sides, I think.”  

About the trend to push anything religious out of the public sphere:  

“That is also a form of dictatorship, which leads me to think that that is not the way to go.”