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

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2019: A look ahead

A new year, so a good time to look ahead to what 2019 may bring. The year will undoubtedly have its share of surprises, but there are always some things we can know for sure.

Among these is the inevitable progression of time, and thus the aging out of cardinals. In 2019, ten cardinals will celebrate their 80th birthday and so lose their right to participate in a conclave for the election of a new pope, as well as any duties they may have in the curia. The umber of cardinal-electors will drop from 124 to 114. Still a sufficient number, but Pope Francis has shown that he wants to keep the electors as close to their theoretical maximum of 120 (or over it, as the case is now), so a consistory may be in the books sometime towards the end of the year, or at the start of 2020.

The cardinals aging out are:

  • jrkruk_20130907_kard_stanislaw_dziwisz_wislica_img_3893b30 January: Alberto Cardinal Suárez Inda, archbishop emeritus of Morelia, Mexico
  • 11 March: Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, Philippines
  • 8 April: Edwin Frederick Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
  • 27 April: Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Kraków, Poland (pictured at right)
  • 31 July: John Cardinal Tong Hon, bishop emeritus and apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, China
  • 16 August: Seán Baptist Cardinal Brady, archbishop emeritus of Armagh, Northern Ireland
  • 7 October: Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop emeritus of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • 11 October: Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • 14 October: Edoardo Cardinal Menichelli, archbishop emeritus of Ancona-Osimo, Italy
  • 15 October: Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo, archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, India

Who may replace these cardinals among the electors is guesswork, as Pope Francis has never felt bound to pick his cardinals from the traditional places. Still, the list above could give some hints and we may assume that the Holy Father will choose cardinals for countries who no longer have any. That said, possible candidates could be Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Kraków, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa. Another source of new cardinals are the papal visits Pope Francis makes. He has made some of hosts cardinals in the past before. It may therefore be possible that we may see new cardinals from Panama, the Arabian peninsula, Morocco, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania (all confirmed visits), and perhaps Japan, Mozambique and Uganda (rumoured visits).

Closer to home, a number of dioceses will be looking forward to new bishops this year. In the Netherlands, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam has just received a coadjutor bishop, although the sitting ordinary, Bishop Jos Punt, expects to remain in office until his 75th birthday in 2021. Health permitting, of course.

luc van looy gent - bisdom genrt_0In Belgium, Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent (pictured at left) has already had his retirement accepted. At 77, he completed a two-year extension to his mandate last year. He is to remain in office until the appointment and installation of his successor. Namur’s Bishop Remy Vancottem is, at 75, also past retirement age, so the southeastern diocese may see a new bishop before the year is out as well.

In Germany, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg will turn 75 in June. Among the country’s auxiliary bishops, there is room in Freiburg im Breisgau where erstwhile auxiliary Bishop Michael Gerber was appointed to Fulda in December.

In the headline-making department, there is of course next month’s meeting of the heads of all the bishops’ conferences in Rome, to discuss a unified Church response to the abuse crisis. Among the participants will be Bishop Hans van den Hende for the Netherlands, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel for Belgium, Cardinal Reinhard Marx for Germany and Bishop Czeslaw Kozon for Scandinavia.

Currently gearing up in Panama, the World Youth Days will take place from 22 to 27 January. The first group of Dutch pilgrims have departed for the Central American country today, with more to follow. Among them will be Bishops Everard de Jong and Jan Hendriks. Bishop de Jong is again replacing Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who has decided to stay at home as he is recovering from unplanned – and not further specified – surgery. Last year, Bishop Mutsaerts elected not to take part in the Synod assembly on youth and vocation in Rome. Bishop de Jong went in his stead.

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422In October, the Synod of Bishops will gather again for a special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region, to discuss the specific challenges for the Church there. The expectations are high, as many assume to what will be decided there, especially on the topic of married priests, will have global consequences. Participation in the special assembly is limited to bishops from the area, which means there is a minute Dutch link, at least when it comes to language, in the person of the bishop of Paramaribo, Msgr. Karel Choennie. Bishop Choennie is a member of the pre-synodal council preparing the special assembly in cooperation with Synod of Bishops’ general secretariat.

2019 will undoubtedly bring much to be discussed in (social) media, and there is still plenty being carried over from previous years. Keeping track of everything, let alone formulating thoughts and responses can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s probably a good idea to remember that not finding words or timely responses does not mean one does not care. There are many opinions, and many eloquent ones at that, to be found everywhere. And, perhaps more importantly, there are also answers to be found in the past. After all, what was true and good in the past remains true and good now. That is something to remember when we are confronted with questions and developments which seem to challenge our beliefs, understanding and even faith. We have a deposit of faith and exegesis to fall back on, and many of today’s questions and challenges are not new ones.

Photo credit: [1] Jarosław Roland Kruk / Wikipedia, licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0, [2] kerknet.be

In Roermond, an experienced native son takes the seat

After a ten-month vacancy (another fairly lengthy one, which unavoidably gave rise to theories of episcopal disagreements reaching as far as the Vatican itself), the Diocese of Roermond has a bishop again. Stepping into the shoes  of Frans Wiertz, who led the diocese for 24 years is Father Harrie Smeets, 57, until now the dean of Venray.

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^The cathedral chapter of Roermond upon the appointment of Dean Smeets to that body in 2015. The new bishop of Roermond can be seen to the right of then-Bishop Frans Wiertz.

BisdomRoermondLocatieThe Diocese of Roermond coincides with the province of Limburg and is located in the south-east of the Netherlands, wedged in between Belgium and Germany, bordering the Dutch (arch)dioceses of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Utrecht, Hasselt and Liège in Belgium and Aachen and Münster in Germany. It shares much of its history with its neighbours, as it was first established in 1559 from territories belonging to Cologne and Liège. It was suppressed under Napoleon and re-established in 1840, again from Cologne and Liège. it has been a full diocese since 1853. The  Catholic history, however, goes far further back, as the diocese also includes the city of Maastricht, which was the seat of a diocese as far back as 530.

The new bishop will be assisted in his work by the longest-seated auxiliary bishop in the Netehrlands, Msgr. Everard de Jong currently in Rome to participate in the Synod of Bishops.

Bishop-elect Smeets will be the tenth bishop of Roermond since 1853. He has served as area dean of Venray, tbe northernmost of Roermond’s thirteen deaneries, since 2004. He has been a priest for more than 25 years and a member of the cathedral chapter since 2015. As such played a part in his own appointment, although one may wonder if the office of bishops is something that any good priest willingly seeks. Until 2011, Bishop-elect Smeets offered televised Masses, which were broadcast on national television live, 14 times. Leo Fijen, TV presenter and head of religious/spiritual programming for broadcaster KRO/NCRV, knows Fr. Smeets well and describes him thus:

“A priest from Limburg, a man of these times, a teacher who speaks the language of the young, a manager willing to make decisions, but also a man seeking God and doing what this pope considers important: opening the doors of the church and seeking out Christ in the neighbours outside the church.”

The exact time and date of Bishop Smeets’ consecration remains to be announced.

Photo credit: Bisdom Roermond

At the Synod, an agenda point inserts itself

The relationship between Church and young people is at the forefront of the minds of many a bishop heading to Rome next month. Not just because the Synod of Bishops will be discussing the topic of youth and vocation, but also because said relationship – at least between young people and certain representatives of the Church – has not always been smooth, to say the least. For two bishops this has been reason to stay at home: Msgr. Rob Mutsaerts because he doesn’t believe this is the right time to discuss the Synod topic, and American Cardinal Joseph Tobin because he feels he should not be away from his Archdiocese of Newark in such troubling times.

Among the bishops who are going, however, the concerns expressed by the aforementioned prelates are equally present.

everard de jongBishop Everard de Jong, who will be taking Bishop Mutsaerts’ place at the Synod has said that he will be supporting the latter’s statement:  “I will probably start with saying something about the importance of a safe environment.” In the mere four minutes alloted to him Bishop de Jong also intends to address the question of how young people may be taught to discern their vocation, and break the Catholic hesitance to speak about God and faith, he told Katholiek Nieuwsblad.

“Too long have we been silent; as Catholics we failed to speak explicitly about God and the sacraments. Young people therefore know little to nothing about this. But I haven’t written out my text completely, and I only have four minutes of speaking time. So I doubt if I can address all of that.”

bischof-oster-passau-124~_v-img__16__9__xl_-d31c35f8186ebeb80b0cd843a7c267a0e0c81647Bishop Stefan Oster, one of three German delegates to the Synod, goes a step further, saying before Katholisch.de that the bishops can’t avoid discussing the abuse crisis at the Synod. They must do three things, he says: listen to young people, take further measures of prevention, and credibly present the teachings of the Church. Bishop Oster says that cancelling the Synod  because of the abuse crisis is not an option, as the topics of young people are even more important now. In the meantime, the abuse crisis has also had its influence on the daily interactions between priests and young people, perhaps inadvertently causing division. When he is asked to take a selfie with someone, to cite an example, Bishop Oster finds himself wondering, “do I dare put my arm around a young person’s shoulder?”

“Not the right time” – +Mutsaerts stays at home

Mgr. drs. R.G.L.M. Mutsaerts

Less than a week after his participation in the Synod of Bishops assembly on youth and vocation was confirmed by the Holy See, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts announces that he will not go. The auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch was the first choice of the bishops’ conference to take part in the three-week meeting in Rome as their delegate. As the brief statement from the bishops states:

“[Bishop Mutsaerts] informed Pope Francis that he does not think it is the right time to hold a synod on youth, considering the studies and the news about sexual abuse which came out in, among other places, America. He therefore chooses not to take part.”

The Dutch Bishops’ Conference respects the choice, but also states that the Synod is “a chance and an opportunity to address this in the context of the topic and discuss it with bishops from all countries of the world.”

The inability or – in this case – unwillingness of a chosen delegate to take part in the Synod has been foreseen in the preparations. In addition to one or more delegates, every bishops’ conference also chooses one or more substitutes to take over from a delegate if the need arises. The Dutch bishops have appointed Bishop Everard de Jong as subsistute for Bishop Mutsaerts, and the auxiliary bishop of Roermond will now travel to Rome instead.

de jong synod

For Bishop de Jong this will be the second Synod in which he takes part. In 2012 he participated in the Synod Assembly on the new evangelisation (first from left in the picture at right), where he emphasised the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit, proper spiritual formation and a courageous pro-life attitude

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Delegate to the Synod – Bishops choose their man

Mgr. drs. R.G.L.M. MutsaertsThe current holder of the youth portfolio, as well as his predecessor, in the Dutch Bishops’ Conference have, as expected, been chosen as delegate and substitute to October’s Synod of Bishops on youth and vocation. Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, was chosen by his fellow bishops in the spring, and the Synod secretariat has now confirmed it. That confirmation also means that we may soon see a first list of delegates, although, it being summer, the publication could also take a few more weeks. One name on that list will be that of the Belgian delegate, Bishop Jean Kockerols, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels and former vice-president of COMECE.

Should Bishop Mutsaerts be unable to attend, his place will be taken by Bishop Everard de Jong, auxiliary bishop of Roermond, who held the youth portfolio before Bishop Mutsaerts.

Like most bishops’ conferences, the Dutch and Belgian bishops can both send a single delegate. Larger conferences, such as the German one, can choose more delegates.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

 

A rapid retirement for Bishop Wiertz

IMgr. F.J.M. Wiertzn a circular letter to be read out in the parishes of his diocese next Sunday, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond informs the faithful that he has asked Pope Francis to be allowed to retire on his 75th birthday on 2 December. ND.nl broke the news this morning. Normally, the request for retirement is sent upon reaching that age, and then it can take months or even years before the retirement is accepted.

The Holy Father responded positively to the bishop’s request. In addition to retiring immediately, Bishop Wiertz has also asked not to be appointed as apostolic administrator for the period between his retirement and the installation of a new bishop.

In his monthly column, Bishop Wiertz asks for prayer:

“I speak from experience when I say that it is very important for a new Church leader to know that he is supported by the prayer of many.

That is why I wish to urge you to pray in the coming months for the Church in our diocese, and for a good shepherd, teacher and manager.”

The bishop, who has headed the southeastern diocese since 1993, has been struggling with health issues for some time now. His eyesight has been progressively failing, as he revealed in May of 2016.

In February of this year, a poll held among priests of the Diocese of Roermond revealed that the new bishop should be a man in the line of Pope Francis: communicative, no stranger to social media, and able to be strong and inspirational in his policies.

Bishop Wiertz was the oldest serving bishop of the Netherlands, and also the most senior in terms of years served. His 24 years in office is the longest period since that of wartime Bishop Jozef Lemmens, who served from 1932 to 1957.

In his retirement, Bishop Wiertz has decided to take up residence in Maastricht, the city where he was parish priest from 197 to 1985. Maastricht oncde also hosted to oldest cathedral in what is now the Netherlands, and is today also a titular see (currently vacant).

Here follows the full text of the circular letter:

“Brothers and sisters,

“Jesus Christ is the same: heri, hodie, cras.” Thus writes the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Hebrews: “yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8).

The world is changing, the times are changing and the Church is naturally also changing. But our mission remains the same: to proclaim Christ in every era and carry His Gospel to the ends of the earth.

It is now more than 24 years since Pope Saint John Paul II appointed me as bishop of Roermond. In the past years I have tried to proclaim Christ in this office. I have said before that that is a mission which requires more people. One man alone does not possess all the talents needed to fulfill the office of bishop.

Luckily I can say that I have had the support in all those years of the immediate coworkers in the diocese, in the staff, the chapter, the advisory councils, the seminary, the colleges of priests and deacons, of the pastoral workers and catechists and the many volunteers in parish councils, work groups and parishes. All of them – all of you – have helped me in word and deed to fulfill the office of bishop through liturgy, catechesis, charity and pastoral care. I thank you all.

I especially thank my auxiliary bishop Everard de Jong and vicar general Msgr. Hub Schnackers and their immediate predecessors in those offices, with whom I have worked in great kindness and friendship. My thanks to all who – each in their own way – have worked to proclaimed Christ is immeasurable. The Church in the Diocese of Roermond, as we know it today, is due in large part to them.

I am obviously aware of my limitations, sins and shortcomings. I realise that, over the course of the years, there have been people, also among you, who have been hurt because of what I did. For that, I wish to appeal to your gift of forgiveness.

Recently, Pope Francis once again called upon all bishops to present their resignation when they rech the age of 75. Since I hope to reach that age on 2 December, I have presented my resignation to the pope several months ago, and I have already received a positive response from him.

In my letter of resignation I also asked the pope not to appoint me as administrator of our diocese after 2 December. This because of my greatly reduced vision. This means that I will really finish my episcopal activities on 2 December.

In canon 412 and 413, canon law allows a bishops who is prevented from fulfilling his pastoral duties to let the chapter appoint a temporary administrator. He will govern the diocese in my name until a new bishop has been appointed.

On Saturday 9 December I will bid my farewell in a celebration of thanksgiving in St. Christopher’s cathedral, and subsequently at a reception in De Oranjerie in Roermond. I have been able to fulfill the office of bishop with great joy. There have definitely been difficult times, but I can look back in great gratitude on the almost quarter of a century in which I could be your bishop and could walk through the times with you. They have been happy years.

I will bid you farewell in the certainty that Christ remains the same as He was, as He is and as He will be in the future: the Son of the living God, our Saviour, on whom we can establish all our hopes, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

On this occasion I gladly ask for your prayer for a good successor on the seat of Roermond. On the intercession of Our Lady Star of the Sea, who is so loved in our entire diocese, I wish you salvation and blessings. In my new place of residence in Maastricht I hope to be united with you in prayer for some years.

I wish you all well. Adieu, adieë, until before God.

Roermond, 4 october 2017
on the feast day of Saint Francis,

+ Frans Wiertz,
bishop of Roermond”