Don Danneels? The power struggles of the Belgian cardinal

danneelsIn an extensive biography (cover pictured), published earlier this week, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and personal choice of Pope Francis to attend the Synod of Bishops assembly in two weeks time, speaks frankly about his membership of a group of cardinals and bishops, which he likenes to a maffia. This group, named Sankt Gallen for the Swiss town where they would meet, became active in 1990s and included among its members the late Cardinals Carlo Martini and Basil Hume, Cardinals Kasper and Lehmann, as well as Bishop Ad van Luyn, bishop emeritus of Rotterdam.

It should be noted that I have not been able to read the biography myself yet, so I draw my conclusion from those snippets I have read and from what others have written.

The group, which Cardinal Danneels called a maffia in an interview, had the aim of radically modernising the Church following the papacy of St. John Paul II. Members could speak freely and no records were kept, as the cardinal admitted once the group’s existence was revealed in research related to the writing of the biography.

Unhappy with the course of the Church under Saint John Paul II (who appointed Cardinal Danneels as archbishop in 1979 and cardinal in 1983), the group tried to influence the conclave of 2005, and Cardinal Danneels freely admits to have been disillusioned when the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was elected as Pope Benedict XVI. Apparently they had a Pope in mind in the mold of Pope Francis, and his 2013 election was met with satisfaction.

It is one thing to discuss the future and express hopes and wishes, it is quite another to form a sort of shadow cabinet in blatant opposition to the Pope and expressing disappointment when the wrong pontiff is chosen. Cardinal Danneels does not seem to see it as problematic that he so callously disregards one Pope and creates an artificial opposition between him and his successor.

As Catholics we believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit when a new Pope is chosen. We believe that his work is for the good of the work, even when we may sometimes disagree with the way he works or what he focusses on. There is a certain element of loyalty involved, especially on the parts of cardinals and bishops, who have been created and appointed to assist the Pope in the affairs of the world Church. Loyal disagreement, which may be expressed personally to the Pope or even publically when well-founded and expressed with aforementioned loyalty and faith in the Spirit is certainly possible. It may even be good sometimes.

But this is not what the Sankt Gallen group did. Secret meetings, no records, a maffia… This does not give an impression of loyalty, but of an attempt to influence things in secret, behind the scenes. And while the group is evidently happy with Pope Francis, he may turn out to be their greatest enemy. From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has wanted to end the backroom politics and hunger for personal gain in the Curia and has been very clear about what a bishop should be: concerned not with power, but with the sheep.

Personally, I do not like pidgeonholing people (Cardinal Wilfrid Napier has a good article in the Catholic Herald on that same topic, by the way), and I don’t believe for one second that Cardinal Danneels is or has been all bad, as some would have us believe. But that does not take away the fact that he has gone beyond his authority and the conduct expected of cardinals and bishops.

Time for a native son? – Dutch bishop of Paramaribo retires

On Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Wilhelmus de Bekker of Paramaribo. The Dutch-born prelate turned  75 on 27 April and has been the bishop of Suriname’s sole diocese for almost ten years. Father Antonius te Dorshorst has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator until a new bishop has been appointed. Like the retired bishop, Fr. Toon, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is also Dutch. But after 46 years in Suriname, he says, “I feel more Surinamese than Dutch.” He admits surprise at having been chosen as Administrator, considering his age (71). “I thought, I am 100 per cent safe.”

father te dorshorst, bishop de bekker

^Fr. te Dorshort and Bishop de Bekker.

Bishop de Bekker, born in Helmond in 1939, is a teacher by training. In the 1970’s he travelled to Suriname, where he studied theology and was ordained in 1985. He worked as a parish priest in Paramaribo and was appointed as the diocese’s vicar general in 1995. Upon the retirement of Bishop Aloysius van Zichem in 2003, Msgr. de Bekker became Apostolic Administrator, and a year later, in 2004, he was appointed as the new bishop. Bishop Ad van Luyn, then of Rotterdam, was the main consecrator. Archbishops Edward Gilbert of Port-of-Spain and Lawrence Burke of Kingston in Jamaica were co-consecrators.

It will be interesting to see if the successor of Bishop de Bekker will be a native son of Suriname, or, once again, a Dutch priest. Paramaribo has been a diocese since 1958 and was the Apostolic Vicariate of Dutch Guyana-Suriname between 1842 and 1958. Nine of the ten bishops and vicars apostolic who headed the Church in modern Suriname over that period were Dutch. The sole exception is Bishop de Bekker’s predecessor, Bishop van Zichem, who is now 81.

Bishop de Bekker will remain in Suriname, ready to assist the Apostolic Administrator and, presumable, the new bishop as well. He will take up residence in Groningen, which lies about 30 kilometers west of Paramaribo.

There are now two Dutch bishops active abroad: Bishop Joseph Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane in Australia; and Archbishop Bert van Megen, Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan.

Photo credit: Jason Leysner

A week away – details of the next making of a bishop

The Diocese of Roermond has published the details of the consecration of Archbishop Bert van Megen, a week from tomorrow. The archbishop-elect has been appointed as Papal Nuncio to Sudan, the first Dutch prelate in decades to be appointed to such a function.

parolinAs announced earlier, Cardinal Pietro Parolin (pictured) will be the principal consecrator. According to the diocese, this is the first time a Vatican Secretary of State visits the Netherlands, although I wonder if that also wasn’t the case during St. John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, when Cardinal Agostino Casaroli held the office.

Joining Cardinal Parolin as consecrators are Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations and a personal acquaintance of Archbishop-elect van Megen; and Bishop Frans Wiertz, the ordinary of Roermond, which is the diocese of which the new archbishop was a priest.

Other bishops attending the consecration will be Archbishop André Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands; Bishop Hans van den Hende (bishop of Rotterdam); Bishop Ad van Luyn (bishop emeritus of Rotterdam); Bishop Jan Hendriks (auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam); Bishop Johannes Bündgens (auxiliary bishop of Aachen in Germany); Bishop Everard de Jong (auxiliary bishop of Roermond) and Bishop Theodorus van Ruijven (vicar apostolic emeritus of Nekemte in Ethiopia. He now resides within the Diocese of Roermond). [EDIT: Bishops Jean-Pierre Delville (Liège) en Theodorus Hoogenboom (auxiliary of Utrecht) will also attend the consecration, it was announced on 15 May). Secular guests include the secretary for foreign trade and development, Lilianne Ploumen (assuming she won’t be calling for another disturbance of Mass…); the governor of the province of Limburg, Theo Bovens; and mayor of Roermond Peter Cammaert.

coat of ars van megenArchbishop van Megen has chosen a text from Psalm 36 as his motto: “In Lumine Tuo” (In Your light). His coat of arms is pictured at right, incorporating the stag to refer to St. Hubert (Msgr. van Megen’s full first names are Hubertus Matheus Maria). The triangle shape around the stag’s head refers to the Benedictines, with whom Msgr. van Megen has an affinity, and also to the mining history of the area from which the archbishop-elect hails. The star refers to the Blessed Virgin, and the colours red and yellow are those of the town of Megen, for which the family is named.

The consecration will take place in Roermond’s cathedral of St. Christopher, starting with a liturgical procession from the diocesan offices, beginning at 10:15. A live stream at will begin at 10:30

“It’s better in Heaven…” – On the death of Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet

lescrauwaetLess than two weeks ago, a short tweet from a priest friend broke the news that Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet was coming to the end of his earthly life. That end came today. At the age of 90, the retired auxiliary bishop of Haarlem leaves a heritage of study, education and engagement in numerous fields, from Church politics to ecumenism. Bishop Lescrauwaet was the second most senior Dutch bishop, with only the emeritus Bishop of Breda, Huub Ernst, before him.

Joining the congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart after a youth in Amsterdam, young Jos Lescrauwaet followed his formation as a priest during the war; his philosophical studies in Stein, Diocese of Roermond, and his theology in Raalte, Archdiocese of Utrecht. His ordination in 1948 was followed by a doctoral thesis in 1957 on a topic that would mark the rest of his active ministry: ecumenism. As a theologian, he taught systematic theology at the University of Tilburg and various subjects at the seminary of his congregation, also in Tilburg.

Originally one of the contributing authors to the journal Concilium, Fr. Lescrauwaet followed the example of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar and started writing for the more orthodox Communio. He was one of the editors of the Dutch edition of that journal when it was launched in 1976.

Bishop Lescrauwaet’s theological expertise led to several high-profile appointments. In 1969 he became a member of the International Theological Commission. He was chairman of the council of the disastrous (though not disastrous through his fault) Dutch Pastoral Council (1966-1970) and secretary and expert during the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, called by Pope John Paul II to repair some of the damage done in previous years.

lescrauwaetThis latter function played a part in his appointment as a bishop later on as it did for most other priests involved, such as the later bishop of Rotterdam, Ad van Luyn. In 1983, Fr. Lescrauwaet (at right, pictured around that time) was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem and Titular Bishop of Turres Concordiae. He was consecrated by the Coadjutor Bishop of Haarlem, Msgr. Henny Bomers, appointed on the very same day as Bishop Lescrauwaet (Bishop Bomers was already a bishop, having been ordained in 1978 as Vicar Apostolic of Gimma in Ethiopia). Bishop Ernst of Breda and Bishop Jan de Kok, Auxiliary of Utrecht, served as co-conserators.

As auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Lescrauwaet was active in many fields, and not necessary always only within the Diocese of Haarlem. These activities were often ecumenical in nature. In the final years before his retirement, Bishop Lescrauwaet was a member of the board of the Dutch Council of Churches.

It is said that there have always been tensions between Bishops Bomers and Lescrauwaet, and that these were the reason for the latter’s frequent absence from the diocese. Some blame the bishop for this absence, but those who knew him personally cherished him for his pastoral acumen and his sense of humour, which was evident even when discussing the most difficult of theological concepts.

lescrauwaetBishop Lescrauwaet retired in 1995 at the age of 71, for reasons of age and health, and returned to the south, where he had worked and lived before his appointment to Haarlem. He moved into the diocesan seminary of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, the St. John’s Centre, and picked up his old job of teaching theology again. He also served as spiritual counsellor of the seminary. At left, he is pictured with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, during the celebration of his 90th birthday last year. Ultimately, in 2011, the bishop moved back to Tilburg, to live in the retirement home of his congregation.

The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam announces that Bishop Lescrauwaet’s  funeral will take place from the Basilica of Saint John in Den Bosch, the cathedral near which he spent most of the years since his retirement, on 23 November. The Mass starts at 10:30. The day before, faithful will have the opportunity to visit the late bishop at the St. John’s Centre, the diocesan seminary around the corner from the basilica.

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, [2] ANP – Cor Out, [3] Sint-Janscentrum

Back to the threshold, bishops going on ad limina

Logo BisschoppenconferentieAfter many months of speculation and a few days of ever stronger rumours, it was finally confirmed yesterday. Daily newspaper Trouw enquired with the bishops and later that same day an official confirmation was released via the Church province: yes, after nine years, the Dutch bishops are making their ad limina visit to Rome.

The details: Scheduled for five days, the ad limina visit will take place from 2 to 7 December. The bishops will be received in audience by Pope Francis on 5 December. Before and after that there will be meetings with the various offices of the Curia. Every bishops will present a report about the situation in their diocese. These reports will remain confidential. A report on the Church in the Netherlands, compiled by the bishops’ conference as a whole, will be released to the public on the first day of the ad limina.

The reason for the long delay (ad limina visits should theoretically be made very five years, although it is usually longer; nine years, however, is exceptional) is given by the bishops as the backlog created by the ailing health and death of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the conclave of 2005, the time that Pope Benedict XVI needed to get started as Pope, the slower rate of visits in his later years as Holy Father, the conclave of this year and the first months of the papacy of Pope Francis.

Of the 12 or 13 bishops that make up the conference (it is yet unclear of Bishop Jan van Burgsteden is going: he is retired, but retains some functions within the conference), Six wil be making their first ad limina. Of these, two bishops are ordinaries and four auxilairies. They are Bishops Jan Hendriks, Theodorus Hoogenboom, Jan Liesen, Rob Mutsaerts, Hans van den Hende and Herman Woorts. Of the seven who are making their second ad limina, three are doing so in other functions: Cardinal Eijk was Bishop of Groningen and is now Archbishop of Utrecht (and cardinal), Bishop de Korte was Auxiliary of Utrecht and is now Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and Bishop van Burgsteden was Auxiliary of Haarlem is now Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Haarlem-Amsterdam.

Finally, some who were there in 2004 are now absent: Cardinal Simonis has retired as Archbishop of Utrecht; Bishop Jan de Kok as Auxiliary Bishop of the same; Bishop Ad van Luyn as Bishop of Rotterdam; and Bishop Tiny Muskens as Bishop of Breda (he has passed away since).

punt hendriks francisSome of the bishops, such as Bishops Punt and Hendriks last month, as pictured at left, have met Pope Francis before, while others haven’t. Cardinal Eijk, who is leading the delegation as president of the bishop’s conference commented: “I have met Pope Francis several times, also before he became Pope. For me it is a very special occasion to now speak more closely with him about the developments in the archdiocese and our Church province. I am really looking forward to it.”

Photo credit:

Of lords and ladies

Today I witnessed something fairly unique, certainly for a Catholic in the north of the Netherlands: the investiture of new members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which took place at the cathedral of Sts. Joseph and Martin in Groningen. The choice of location was no doubt influenced by Bishop Gerard de Korte’s membership of the order.

The investiture and Mass took well over two hours. Concelebrating the Mass were Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, the Grand Prior of the Order in the Netherlands, Bishop Gerard de Korte, the ordinary of the host diocese, Bishop Ad van Luyn, emeritus of Rotterdam, and Archbishop André Dupuy, our new Nuncio. Among the new members of the Order were a handful of priests, including Father Antoine Bodar and Father Ad van der Helm, the dean of The Hague.

The whole affair also turned out to be a nice opportunity for networking, as I met photographer Ramon Mangold and, with two friends, had an animated talk with Fr. Michel Remery.

Some photographic impressions of Catholic nobility:

The flag of the Order on the cathedral
Knights, ladies and members of the Order on their way to the cathedral
Acolytes, priests and bishops, ready to join the members of the Order as they enter the cathedral
Several well-known faces among the candidate members: Fathers Antoine Bodar, Ad van der Helm and Tjeerd Visser, among others

Bishops Ad van Luyn and Gerard de Korte
Bishop Hurkmans gives the homily
Bishop van Luyn and several priests
A new knight receives his mantle

Concelebrating Bishops Van Luyn, de Korte and Hurkmans, with Archbishop Dupuy at right
Attending in choir, Cardinal Simonis during the procession out of the cathedral