From Bruges, new auxiliary bishop for Mechelen-Brussels

One year after the death of Bishop Léon Lemmens, the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels receives a new auxilary bishop, the first such appointment under Cardinal Jozef De Kesel.

koenThe new bishop, appointed as episcopal vicar for Flemish Brabant and Mechelen, is Msgr. Koen Vanhoutte. The new bishop comes from the Diocese of Bruges, where Cardinal De Kesel was bishop before being appointed to Mechelen-Brussels in 2015. The bishop-elect has served as vicar general of Bruges since 2010, and has been diocesan administrator of that diocese twice: first, in 2010, between the forced retirement of Roger Vangheluwe and the appointment of then-Bishop De Kesel, and then, for the major part of 2016, between the departure of the De Kesel and the appointment of Bishop Lode Aerts.

He has been considered a likely candidate to succeed either Vangheluwe or De Kesel in Bruges, but evidently a position as auxiliary bishop was in the cards first.

Cardinal De Kesel obviously knows Msgr. Vanhoutte well, having appointed him as his vicar general when he came to Bruges in 2010. The cardinal writes:

“When I was appointed as bishop of Bruges, Koen Vanhoutte became my vicar general. I worked with him for several years. He has great experience in both formation and the management of a diocese. […] He is very dedicated person, a hard worker, with much faith and very concerned with people and the faith communities.”

The new auxiliary bishop will wrap up his duties in Bruges over the next month and move to Mechelen in July to join auxiliary bishops Jean Kockerols and Jean-Luc Hudsyn in the archdiocese. His consecration is scheduled for 2 September in St. Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen. Cardinal De Kesel will be the main consecrating bishop.

About his appointment, Msgr. Vanhoutte writes:

“When hearing about my appointment, God’s word to Abram spontaneously came into my mind: “Leave your country…”Not an easy thing, but when God asks it of me through His Church, I will gladly do it.”

As episcopal motto he chose “Veni sancti Spiritus” (“Come Holy Spirit”). The new bishop explains:

“Living in service in the spirit of the Gospel, in the mindset of Jesus, requires extra strength which the Spirit can give us. That is why I chose for my bishop’s motto the opening words of a hymn sung in the liturgy of Pentecost: “Come Holy Spirit, Veni, Sancti Spiritus”. It is good for the Church to invoke the Spirit, as a source of strength and renewal. That Spirit grants diverse gifts, but also makes us grow in unity and community.”

Bishop-elect Vanhoutte has been given the titular see of Thagora, in modern Algeria. He is the tenth titular bishop of that diocese, with Bishop Giuseppe Marciante, now of Cefalù and then an auxiliary bishop of Rome, as his immediate predecessor.

 

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A new bishop for Bruges

The new bishop of Bruges comes from the neighbouring Diocese of Ghent. He has been the dean of Ghent for only about a month. Bishop-elect Lodewijk, Lode for short, Aerts will succeed Jozef De Kesel, the bishop who was appointed to the Belgian capital last year.

aertsAt 57, the new bishop will be the youngest of the Belgian bishops. A priest since 1984, he is a doctor of theology, taught at the diocesan seminary and was responsible for the youth work, education and formation in Ghent. Earlier this year he was appointed as the dean of Ghent, one of the ten new deaneries created in that diocese.

In Bruges, Bishop-elect Aerts will be the 27th bishop since the diocese was created in 1559 (although in Napoleonic times it was part of Ghent for a while). He succeeds Jozef De Kesel, who was bishop of Bruges for five years. Before that, Bruges was headed by Roger Vangheluwe for 26 years. He was forced to step down after he admitted to sexually abusing a family member.

This appointment may be considered one of the list files worked on by retired Nuncio to Belgium, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco.

The official announcement of the new appointment was made in Brussels, as Belgian bishop appointments usually are, by Archbishop De Kesel, and the new bishop later travelled to Bruges to meet the staff of the diocesan offices. The consecration of Bishop Aerts is scheduled for 4 December in Bruges’ Cathedral of St. Saviour. The names of the three consecrating bishops have not been announced, but it is a safe bet that Archbishop De Kesel and Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy, who may be retired by that time, will be among them.

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At the press conference in Brussels, Archbishop De Kesel listed some of Bishop-elect Aerts’ talents:

“He is theologically well-educated. But he also understands the art of communicating this in an understandable way. He is an enthusiastic speaker and possesses an excellent pen.”

He added that, while this is not sufficient to be a bishop, “it is very valuable.” Archbishop De Kesel also spoke about the new bishop’s approach to the relation between Church and society:

“He knows very well that the past lies behind us and that we, including the Church, live in a secular pluralistic society. But exacty then it is so important to know what matters. To make a distinction between what is really important for the future and what are ultimately always rearguard battles.”

The archbishop typified Bishop-elect Aerts as “a good man, not too conceited, with a big heart and very approachable.”

RELIGION NEW BISHOP BRUGGE DIOCESE

The new bishop himself, then, spoke about his vision of the Church: “The Church is no one-man business, but a people: people who feel adressed by God and through their unity bear witness that God is love.”

“I also see this in myself. In order to speak credibly about God, I could do nothing by myself. My words needed the support of fellow faithful who, together with me, put the trust in God into practice. Without their friendship, their humanity, their efforts and their confidence it was not possible.”

Some more quotes to get an idea of what the new bishop of Bruges considers important in his life and work as a Catholic, a priest and a bishop:

“It is not good that Christians impose themselves. But they also should not be ashamed. As far as I am concerned, the faith is the best that ever happened to me. It is the experience of God accepting me for who I am, that I need not pretend to be better than I am before Him, that He accompanies me though life and that His hand will never let me go.”

“It is my greatest joy to notice that this trust lets other people bloom and makes them free and independent. To share this faith, I want to take on the duties of a bishop.”

Photo credit: [2] IPID, [3] Kur Desplenter

Jozef De Kesel returns to Brussels, but now as archbishop

In the end, Pope Francis decided to stick to the silent agreement: after a Walloon archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels comes a Flemish one. Succeeding Archbishop André-Joseph, who offered his resignation upon his 75th birthday in May, is Msgr. Jozef De Kesel, until today the Bishop of Bruges, where he succeeded the disgraced Roger Vangheluwe in 2010. Before coming to Bruges, Archbishop-elect De Kesel was auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels from 2002 to 2010.

de kesel

The new of Bishop De Kesel’s appointment broke widely in Belgian media yesterday afternoon, but it is only official now, upon the announcement in Mechelen-Brussels and later in Rome.

Bishop Jozef De Kesel is 68, which places him among the older active bishops of Belgium. A long ministry like that of Cardinal Godfried Danneels will not be forthcoming then. As the 24th archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels (before 1961 simply Mechelen), Archbishop De Kesel will lead the archdiocese with its three auxiliary bishops, Jean-Luc Hudsyn, Léon Lemmens (who has been tipped to succeed De Kesel in Bruges) and Jean Kockerols.

Iraq

Bishop De Kesel was most recently in the news because he journeyed to northern Iraq on a mission of solidarity with Tournai’s Bishop Guy Harpigny and Bishop Lemmens, an experience that greatly moved him. He likened it to visiting sick relatives, which is what you do to express your sympathy and concern. Back home in Bruges, Bishop De Kesel began calling on parishes to make housing available for refugees.

de kesel harpigny iraq

^Archbishop-elect De Kesel and Bishop Harpigny in Iraq

Dealing with abuse

Bishop de Kesel has also had to deal with priests who have been guilty of abuse, like more than a few of his colleagues. Through his diocese, Bishop De Kesel has been very open about those dealings, though. In 2014 he appointed a priest who had been found guilty of abuse by a court of law, although any punishment was waived. This priest later chose not to accept the appointment. In recent weeks, Bishop De Kesel had to suspend a priest after he returned to Brazil against previous agreements. He also contacted Brazilian Archbishop Murillo Krieger to warn him against this priest.

First choice

Earlier this year, it became clear that Bishop De Kesel was the first choice to succeed Cardinal Danneels, but that Pope Benedict XVI overrode this choice, as he has the right to, and appointed Archbishop Léonard.

Criticism and views

Bishop De Kesel, while largely popular among faithful in Belgium and abroad, is not without criticism. In 2010 he said he hoped that women could one day be priests, although in 2012 he underlined that the Church is unable to do so. He also believes celibacy for priests should be optional, but also says that this a decision that the Church as a whole should make. No chance of married priests (barring converts or the like) in Brussels anytime soon, then.

While he is a practical man, not blind to the realities around him, the new archbishop does not think that modernisation of Church and priesthood is the answer to everything. In 2013 he said, “Modernising the Church will not mean that people will return.” He added, “More personnel will also not solve our problems. It goes far deeper. Filling as many positions as possible with lay people, or allowing priests to marry, means staying blind to the real problems.” He has a clear vision of the Church, saying in an interview on the occasion of his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels in 2002: “The Church should not be a dictatorship, but neither should she degenerate into a half-hearted thing that denies its own values and visions.”

De Kesel or Bonny?

Some have suggested that Bishop De Kesel is a compromise choice, and that his time as archbishop is intended to prepare the way for Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp to succeed him and make the real changes int he archdiocese. Considering that Bishop Bonny will be 67 when Archbishop De Kesel retires (and will have only seven years left before his own retirement), and Pope Francis 87 (if he has not retired by then), this is exceedingly unlikely. A future Archbishop Bonny will have no more time to affect changes than Archbishop De Kesel has now.

bishop jozef de keselBiography

Jozef De Kesel was born in 1947 in Ghent and raised in Adegem, halfway between Ghent and Bruges. His father was the town’s mayor, and his uncle, Leo-Karel De Kesel, would be an auxiliary bishop of Ghent for almost three decades. In 1965 he entered seminary and he also studied at the Catholic University of Louvain. He studied theology at the Pontifical University Gregoriana in Rome and was ordained in 1972 by his uncle. In 1977 he became a doctor of theology. In the 1970s he worked as a teacher of religion at several schools, and in 1980 he was appointed as prefect and professor at the seminary in Ghent, teaching dogmatic and fundamental theology, a job he held until 1996. He also taught at the Catholic University of Louvain from 1989 to 1992, and since 1983 he was responsible for the formation of pastoral workers in the Diocese of Ghent. In 1992 he was appointed as episcopal vicar in charge of the whole of the theological education and formation of priests, deacons, religious and laity in the diocese. He also became a titular canon of the St. Bavo cathedral in Ghent. In 2002 he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels and titular bishop of Bulna. His episcopal motto was inspired by St. Augustine: “Vobiscum Christianus“. Bishop De Kesel was appointed as episcopal vicar for Brussels. In 2010, Archbishop Léonard transferred him to the Flemish Brabant/Mechelen pastoral area. Three months later, Bishop De Kesel was appointed as Bishop of Bruges.

In the Belgian Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop-elect De Kesel is responsible for the Interdiocesan Commission for Liturgical Pastoral Care, for the contacts with the religious, the interdiocesan commission for permanent deacons, the commission fro parish assistants, for bio-ethical questions, for the Interdiocesan Council for Culture, the National Commission for Pastoral Care in Tourism, and for the Union of Women Contemplatives.

Installation

Archbishop-elect will be installed in Mechelen’s cathedral of St. Rumbold on Saturday 12 December.

More to come…

Photo credit: [1] BELGA, [2] Kerknet

In Bruges, priest once found guilty of abuse returns to the fold

Bisdom%20BruggeA potentially difficult situation that is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows has developed in the Diocese of Bruges, as Bishop Jozef De Kesel has assigned a priest, who has been found guilty of at least one case of molesting a minor in the past, to the parish federation in Middelkerke, halfway between Ostend and Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast.

Father Tom Flamez appeared in court in 2008 and 2009, where he was found guilty of sexual molestation of teenage boy. In January of 2009, the court, for reasons of its own, decided to waive any punishment, as Bishop De Kesel explains in a statement released today:

de kesel“For a period of five years, Tom Flamez was permanently monitored by the house of justice in Courtrai. Even during this time the probation commission had no objections to an eventual appointment as parish priest. Unlike the reporting of some media he never violated the probationary  conditions. In January of 2014 the commission of the court of Courtrai decided that the trial period could be ended. Until this day Tom Flamez is sustainably and professionally supervised.”

In the meanwhile I have also presented this file to a higher ecclesial authority. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith agreed with an eventual appointment, starting on 15 January 2014. Tom Flamez has been working on occasion in the parish of Middelkerke since September of 2011. His work there was positively evaluated. All this led me to decide, after consulting the diocesan council, to appoint Tom Flamez as parish priest in the federation of Middelkerke. Convinced that everyone who has shown to be able deserves a second chance, I hope that Tom Flamez will be given the opportunity to properly fulfill the duties entrusted to him.”

This statement is a response to ongoing media speculations that Fr. Flamez did violate the conditions of his probation, something which the bishop denies. Additionally, many also link him to the disgraced former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who resigned in 2010 after admitting being guilty of years of sexual abuse. This subject, of the sexual abuse or violation of minors, is extremely sensitive and needs to be handled very carefully. In the first place for the sake of the victims, but also for all others involved with the perpetrator in his new duties.

Of course, Bishop De Kesel is correct that everyone deserves a second chance when he or she is able to take it. And our entire legal system is founded on the principle that once a person has been punished for a crime, he can’t be punished again for that same crime. He starts over with a clean slate, so to speak. But as Fr. Flamez has not been punished (for reasons we don’t know – perhaps the case was settled in some form outside court), many may feel that this principle does not apply to him.

Bishop De Kesel, backed by not only his own diocesan council, but also by the court and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, which has authority in all abuse cases, has decided that there is no reason for Fr. Flamez not to be the priest in a parish, working with people of all ages, including children and youth. And in this he also seems to be supported by the church in Middelkerke, where Fr. Flamez has been a familiar face for these past three years.

Let’s hope his trust is justified, and that this is an example of how people who once made grave mistakes can leave those behind them.

EDIT:

Yesterday it turned out that the careful process followed by the bishop – consulting both his diocesan council and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before appointing Fr. Flamez – was not as careful as it seemed. He forgot one all-important group: the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. And it was Fr. Flamez himself who made the best call possible in not accepting the appointment as parish priest of Middelkerke. A statement published yesterday says that the bishop realises that the appointment hurt the victims of sexual abuse, and that that was never his intention. Which begs the question: why did he not realise this beforehand?

The Belgian bishops use certain guidelines when dealing with clergy who have been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors. One of these is that they can never be allowed to work with children and young people again. The position of parish priest does entail working with people of all ages, including youth and children.

We can’t know what the exact motivation was for Fr. Flamez’ decision not to accept the appointment. Was it the questions in the media which made his position untenable, or perhaps a realisation that this was not the sort of duty he could take up considering his past mistakes? Yesterday’s statement only mentions “given circumstances”, which is as vague as it gets.

All in all, this whole situation, despite the apparent care expressed in certain areas, gives the impression of carelessness. The victims, be they of the priest in question or of other clergy, can not be ignored. The Church is under scrutiny in this area, and may well serve as an example to other institutions. But not when things like this happen.

The bushfire of Vangheluwe

It’s been some two years since the Vangheluwe case broke, but recent research by the Catholic University of Louvain indicates that it has done no permanent damage to the Church in Belgium. Although there were some initial reactions – people leaving the Church, opting for fake de-baptisms, and a whole bunch of newspaper articles and other media comments – these have essentially all dried up.

Professor Didier Pollefeyt, professor of religious sciences, explains:

“When we will look back on this period later, there will be an undeniable impact visible in the first months. Compare it to a stock market crash: there will be a dip in the chart, but a collapse won’t materialise. The pedophilia scandal has done no lasting damage to the Church. People apparently disconnect the persons from the institute they are part of.”

Sociologist Jack Billiet agrees with this assessment:

“I indeed assume that faithful have left in that first period. These will in any case have been people who were already on the edge and in doubt. The truly faithful Catholics will immediately have made the distinction between the actions of Vangheluwe and the Church.”

Bert Claerhout, editor of Kerk & Leven, is a bit more careful:

“People no longer refer to it in letter and emails, at least. But I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Church has come out of this undamaged. I think that two years is still too early to turn the page. The engagement of many faithful has changed anyway.”

I find myself essentially agreeing with Mr. Claerhout, in that the abuse crisis, and specific cases like Vangheluwe, have changed people’s engagement with the Church. But that need not be a negative change. I think it has made people, laity and clergy alike, more aware, more informed, more critical perhaps. And that can be a good thing.

It is encouraging to find that cases as the one of Vangheluwe, serious and painful as they are, do not spell a mass exodus from the Church. People are able to distinguish the acts of one man from those of the Church as a whole. But what we should be aware of is that those same people can, and should, judge the Church on her response. Because that is not the singular action of an individual, but the reaction of the institution that the abuser remains a part of.It is that reaction that will determine how we will handle the fallout and future occurences of abuse. And that matters.

Source

Looking behind

As the year of Our Lord 2011 draws to a close, I happily join the ranks of the countless media channels creating overviews of the years past. And both for this blog, as well as the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and abroad, it has been a tumultuous year, both positive and negative. Taking this blog as the goggles we use to look back, blog, Church and wider world become unavoidably intertwined, but, in a way, that is how it should be.

In January, we saw the announcement of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the resignation of Rotterdam’s Bishop Ad van Luyn being accepted, and the launch of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s Twitter adventure.

February was the month of interesting considerations by Bishop Schneider about Vatican II, shocking new developments in the abuse crisis, the announcement of a undeservedly short-lived experiment with the Extraordinary Form in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the first signs that all is not well in Belgium, but also three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, and the vacancy of Berlin.

March brought us disturbing news about Bishop Cor Schilder, an extensive message for Lent from the Dutch bishops, disaster in Japan, the announcement of a great ecumenical media project for Easter, and the annual Stille Omgang in Amsterdam.

April: the month of the consecration of Bishops Kockerols, Lemmens and Hudsyn, the first EF Mass in Groningen’s cathedral, further attempts at repressing religious freedom in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium uniting in shock to further improprieties from Roger Vangheluwe, the pope’s birthday, further personal attacks against Archbishop Eijk and the first preparations for Madrid.

In May we saw and read about the death of Bin Laden, the beatification of John Paul II, the first Vatican blogmeet, the appointment of Bishop van den Hende to Rotterdam, the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, a prayer answered, a papal visit to Venice, enraging comments from the Salesian superior in the Netherlands, and subsequent press releases from the Salesian Order.

June was the month of papal comments about new evangelisation and sacred music, the end of EF Masses in Groningen, the pope visiting Croatia, a new bishop in Görlitz, Bishop van Luyn’s farewell to Rotterdam, advice on financial compensation for abuse victims, Archbishop Eijk taking over as president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, and the death of Cardinal Sterzinsky.

In July, Bishop Rainer Woelki went to Berlin, there was more preparation for Madrid, Bishop van den Hende was installed as bishop of Rotterdam, the pope visited San Marino, Luxembourg received a new archbishop, Bootcamp 2011 took place, Bishop Liesen appeared on EWTN, Blessed Titus Brandsma ended his Twitter adventure, and the crimes of Anders Breivik hit home for Dutch Catholics.

August was a big month because of the World Youth Days in Madrid, but we also learned about Archbishop Dolan’s explanation of the Vatican, freedom of conscience being curtailed, the 100,000th visitor of this blog, and the Liempde affair exploding in the media.

In September, the official website of the Dutch Church got a make-over, Archbishop Eijk wrote a thankyou note to the participants of the WYD, The Dutch bishops’ conference shuffled their responsibilities, and Pope Benedict visited Germany and delivered an important address to the Bundestag.

October, then, saw a successful reunion of the WYD troupe, Bishop Mutsaerts’ intervention in the ultra-liberal San Salvator parish, the bishops declining a proposal to Protestantise the Church, the consecration of Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the publication of Porta Fidei and the announcement of a Year of Faith, the appointment of a new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, the appointment of Msgr. Hendriks as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the first Night of Mary, and Assisi 2011.

In November, Cardinal Burke came to Amsterdam, the bishops accept and put into action a plan for financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse, the Peijnenburg affair made headlines, the pope went to Benin and heartwarmingly spoke to children, priests in Belgium tempted excommunication, Cardinal Simonis turned 80, Bishop Liesen became the new bishop of Breda, and a fifty-year-old letter showed that congregations new about abuse happening in their ranks.

This final month of December, then, saw the first fifty victims of sexual abuse being able to claim financial compensation, the presentation of plans for Metropolis 2012, Nuncio Bacqué’s retirement, the consecration of Bishop Jan Hendriks, pain and horror in Liège, the appointment of Archbishop André Dupuy as new Nuncio, and the publication of the Deetman report unleashing emotional reactions everywhere.

It’s been quite the year, but one with much to be thankful for. The truth sets us free seems especially apt in this final month, but can be applied to the entire year. May 2012 be equally open, honest, but also full of blessings for the Church, the people and everyone of us.

Thank you, readers, for the continued interest. That’s incentive to keep on doing what I do here.

A happy new year, and may God bless you all.

Stats for April 2011

The trend begun in March continued in April. With a nice round 5,900  to the blog, April 2011 is the best month since I began blogging (not counting the crazy peak of July 2010 of course). Here are the 10 most popular blog posts, with number 1 largely thanks to it having been picked up by the New Liturgical Movement. The post about the Stations of the Cross is an oldie from Lent 2010, but it’s fun to see it serving such a purpose this year once more. As for the rest, of course Blessed John Paul II played a major role, as did Archbishop Eijk and former bishop Vangheluwe.

1: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 354
2: The Stations of the Cross 159
3: Blessed John Paul II 99
4: 22 October picked as feast day of Blessed John Paul II 76
5: Belgian bishops speak up against Vangheluwe 74
6: A bishop punished too mildly? 70
7: Pope to rein in Abp. Eijk? Not likely when this is the best proof against him 60
8: To be prepared 46
9: A new archbishop for the Celtic fringe 44
10: The list is out 38