Man of peace – Bishop Ernst passes away

“With his down-to-earth faith and his dedication to his mission, Msgr. Ernst meant a lot to many people. Since my installation in 2012 I was able to visit him more often. His health was fragile, but his mind was strong. At the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, in 2016, he was barely mobile, but he very much wanted to concelebrate the Eucharist. The Franciscan sisters increasingly watched over him in the past months. He was able to entrust himself to God. He reflected on his fragility and death very soberly. During a visit last year he told me that someone had advised him to prepare for the end of his life. It was a sign of his vitality that he responded with, “Perhaps it is time to do so”.”

2016-06-07%20Breda_MgrErnst_©RamonMangold_WEB01_410Bishop Jan Liesen responds to the news of the passing of Bishop Hubertus Cornelis Antonius Ernst, emeritus bishop of Breda, six weeks after celebrating his 100th birthday. The most senior of the Dutch bishops passed away late in the evening on Friday 19 May.

Bishop Huub Ernst was the 8th bishop of Breda, from 1967 to 1992, after which he served for two more years as apostolic administrator. He lived long enough to see three bishops succeed him: the late Tiny Muskens in 1994, Hans van den Hende, now of Rotterdam, in 2007, and Jan Liesen in 2012. Bishop van den Hende, in his capacity of president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, reacted to the passing of Msgr. Ernst on behalf of the other bishops, saying:

ernst van den hende 7-11-2015“Into very old age Bishop Huub Ernst was vital and concerned with his diocese, the Church province and society as a whole. He was consecrated as a bishop almost fifty years ago. Recently, we were able to congratulate him with his 100th birthday. Bishop Ernst was our older brother in the office of bishop, possessing a great heart for charity and the work of peace.”

Generally respected as a wise and well-spoken man, Bishop Ernst nonetheless never received a university education. In some quarters he was also seen a progressive bishop, which he was to a certain extent on the classic topics like celibacy, homosexuality and women, although he failed to get along with the liberal 8 May movement after this group ignored his advice and used a ‘table prayer’ of their own making at their annual manifestation.

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Bishop Ernst in 1967

Bishop Ernst chaired Pax Christi Netherlands from 1976 to 1994, reflecting his concern with the projects of peace in the world. Under his guidance, Pax Christi and the Catholic Church in the Netherlands threw their support behind protests against the presence of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands and the world. In 1983, he spoke before 550,000 protestors in The Hague on this topic. He would later also be highly critical of the war against terrorism waged by the international coalition led by the United States. He based these positions in Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical on peace in the world.

One of Bishop Ernst lasting achievements is considered to be the establishment of Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven near Breda. At his installation in Breda, the Theological Faculty Tilburg was responsible for the formation of priests. In 1983, Bishop Ernst estaiblished Bovendonk specifically for late vocations: men are educated and formed for the permanent and transitional diaconate, as well as the priesthood, initially while also holding their day job. Graduates from Bovendonk currently work in all dioceses of the Netherlands.

The period of Bishop Ernst’s mission leading the Diocese of Breda coincided with a time of great change in Church and society. Over the course of the 1970s, he developed a program based on three observations: a decrease in the number of faithful; the presence of core group of faithful willing to carry responsibility in the Church; and a decrease in the number of priests, deacons and religious. Towards the end of his time in office he had concluded that the Church in the Netherlands was in a missionary situation and a minority in society. Bishop Ernst believed that the Church should distinguish itself through charity and displaying the contents of her faith through language, liturgy and the behaviour of faithful.

Bishop Ernst tried to find a balance between Church doctrine and respect for the conscience of individual people. As such, he participated in the Synod of Bishops meeting of marriage and family in 1980.

Following his restirement, Bishop Ernst continued to speak on topics of ethics and philosophy. In 2007, he reviewed a publication by the Dutch Dominicans calling for lay priests from among the faithful to offer the Eucharist when a real priest was unavailable. Bishop Ernst called this “incorrect, not sensible and not the right solution”.

In 2011, Bishop Ernst was called to testify in a court case against an abusive Salesian priest. The bishop’s claimed to not have been informed about the priest’s past transgressions and found it unimaginable that the Salesians withheld essential information from him when he was asked to appoint the priest in his diocese.

A short overview of the life of Bishop Ernst

  • 1917: Born as oldest child of three in a Catholic family in Breda. He attended primary school at the parish school and the Huijbergen brothers. Subsequently, he went to minor seminary in Ypelaar and then the major seminary in Bovendonk.
  • 1941: Ordained by Bishop Pieter Hopmans. He was appointed as parish assistant in Leur.
  • 1943: Appointed as conrector of the Franciscan sisters in Etten.
  • 1947: Moved to Bovendonk to teach moral theology there.
  • 1957: Appointed as chairman of the (wonderfully-named) Society of Catechists of the Eucharistic Crusade.
  • 1962: Appointed as vicar general of Breda by Bishop Gerard de Vet.
  • 1967: Following the unexpected death of Bishop de Vet, vicar general Ernst succeeds him as bishop. He is consecrated by the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Alfrink.
  • 1980: Bishop Ernst participates in the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family, representing the Dutch episcopate.
  • 1992: Bishop Ernst offers his resignation upon reaching the age of 75. Pope John Paul II appoints him as apostolic administrator pending the appointment of his successor.
  • 1994: Bishop Ernst retires as apostolic administrator upon the appointment of Bishop Tiny Muskens.

Bishop Ernst was main consecrator of his successor, Bishop Muskens, and served as co-consecrator of Bishop Johann Möller (Groningen, 1969), Jos Lescrauwaet (Haarlem, 1984), Ad van Luyn (Rotterdam, 1994) and Hans van den Hende (Breda, 2007).

Bishop Ernst was the oldest Dutch bishop alive. On his death, that mantle passes to Ronald Philippe Bär, emeritus bishop of Rotterdam, who will be 89 in July.

Phot credit: [1, 2] Ramon Mangold

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For Groningen and Rotterdam, 60th birthdays

60 years ago today, the Dutch dioceses of Groningen and Rotterdam were officially established. This was the most recent major change in the composition of the Dutch Church province (in 2005 and 2008 respectively, Groningen and Haarlem changed their names to Groningen-Leeuwarden and Haarlem-Amsterdam, but those changes did not include any territorial modifications). In addition to the establishment of two new dioceses, which brought the total number to seven, parts of dioceses were also exchanged: Haarlem received some territory from Utrecht, and Breda was expanded with areas previously belonging to Haarlem and ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

groningenrotterdam

^Maps showing the location of the Dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden. Rotterdam was formed out of territory belonging to Haarlem, located to the north and south, while Groningen was taken from Utrecht to its south.

The creation of Rotterdam and Groningen was initiated by Pope Pius XII, who entrusted the practical matters to the Internuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop Paolo Giobbe, who went to work immediately and issued a decree on the 25th of January of the following year, coming into effect a week later, on 2 February. The Apostolic Letter commanding the changes was titled Dioecesium Imutationes, Changes in Dioceses, a rather unimaginative title which describes the purpose rather well. There is a PDF file of a Dutch translation of this Letter available here.

Below I present an English translation of the relevant text describing the new dioceses, as well as the other territorial changes. It is a translation of the Dutch translation, which was written in rather official words which may even seem archaic to modern ears. But my translation will hopefully get the message across.

“From the territory of the Archdiocese of Utrecht we separate that part containing those areas which are commonly called Groningen, Friesland and Drente, plus the Noordoostpolder, and we will make that territory a new diocese which we will name the Diocese of Groningen, after the city of Groningen, which will be the head and seat of the new diocese. In this city the bishop will reside and have his seat, namely in the church of the Holy Bishop and Confessor Martin, which we will therefore elevate to the dignity of cathedral.

Additionally, we seperate from the Diocese of Haarlem that province called Zuid-Holland, and make it another diocese, namely Rotterdam, to be called such after the city of the same name. This renowned city, which we will make the residence of this new diocese, where the episcopal seat will be established by the bishop in the church of the Holy Martyr Lawrence and the Holy Confessor Ignatius, self-evidently with the rights and dignities befitting a cathedral.

Lastly, we separate from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that part, which in Dutch is called the Gooiland and add it for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Haarlem.

From the Diocese of Haarlem we separate the part which includes most of the province of Zeeland, and from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch the entire strip of the deanery of St. Geertruidenberg, and we join both areas for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Breda.”

The reasons for the creation of the new dioceses are given as the growth in number and activities of the Catholics in the Netherlands, as well as the perceived need to redistribute the means and possibilities according to the needs present, to safeguard the divine truth and to promote the social environment. The size of the dioceses was also an obstacle for the bishops to conduct regular visitations to all parts of their sees. Haarlem stretched all along the western coast of the country, and by detaching Rotterdam and adding Zeeland to Breda it was roughly halved in size. The same is true for Utrecht, which stretched from the great rivers in the south to the islands of the northern coasts, and from the major cities in the west to the rural areas along the German border. The creation of the Diocese of Groningen meant that it now stretched only half as far north.

niermanFinding bishops for the new dioceses did not take overly long. Both were appointed on the same day, 10 March 1956. In Groningen,  it was the  dean of the city of Groningen, Pieter Antoon Nierman (pictured at left, in a photo from 1969). He was consecrated in May by the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Bernard Alfrink. Fr. Jan Alferink, a retired priest of the diocese, recalls those days, when he was studying philosophy in seminary:

“There were about eight or nine students from the north. We did not go to the installation of Bishop Nierman in Groningen. We simply had classes. Today you’d go there with a bus. Bishop Nierman later came to us to get acquainted. The new diocese was a completely new experience. The Archdiocese of Utrecht was very big, of course. Those who worked in and around Groningen did regret the split, as it made their work area smaller. We did not experience it to be a disappointment.”

SFA007005231In Rotterdam the choice fell on the dean of Leyden, Martien Antoon Jansen (pictured at right in a photo from around 1960). He was consecrated on 8 May by Bishop Johannes Huibers, the bishop of Haarlem.

Since 1956, Groningen has had four bishops and Rotterdam five. Both have given an archbishop and cardinal to the Dutch Church: Wim Eijk (bishop of Groningen from 1999 to 2007, cardinal since 2012) and Adrianus Simonis (bishop of Rotterdam from 1970 to 1983, cardinal since 1985).

The bishops of Groningen:

  • Pieter Antoon Nierman, bishop from 1956 to 1969.
  • Johann Bernard Wilhelm Maria Möller, bishop from 1969 to 1999.
  • Willem Jacobus Eijk, bishop from 1999 to 2007.
  • Gerard Johannes Nicolaas de Korte, bishop since 2007.

The bishops of Rotterdam:

  • Martien Antoon Jansen, bishop from 1956 to 1970.
  • Adrianus Johannes Simonis, bishop from 1970 to 1983.
  • Ronald Philippe Bär, bishop from 1983 to 1993.
  • Adrianus Herman van Luyn, bisschop from 1993 to 2011.
  • Johannes Harmannes Jozefus van den Hende, bishop since 2011.

359px-Wapen_bisdom_Groningen-Leeuwarden_svgIn their 60 years of existence, both dioceses have struggled with the challenge of being Catholic in a secular world. Rotterdam became even more urbanised and multicultural, while Groningen had its own blend of Protestantism, atheism and even communism, with a few Catholic ‘islands’. For the northern diocese the course of choice was ecumenism and social activism, making the Church visible in society, while trying to maintain the Catholic identity where it could be found. Church attendance, while low like in the Netherlands as whole, remains the highest among the Dutch dioceses. The diocese will celebrate the anniversary today, with a Mass offered by the bishop at the cathedral, followed by a reception.

Wapen_bisdom_Rotterdam_svgThe Diocese of Rotterdam also has a taste of Groningen, as its current bishop hails from that province and was vicar general of Groningen-Leeuwarden before he became a bishop (first of Breda and in 2011 of Rotterdam). His predecessor, Bishop van Luyn, was also born in Groningen. Ecumenism and an international outlook have marked the diocese, as well as its proximity to the world of politics. The royal family lives within its boundaries, parliament is located there, as are many diplomatic missions, including that of the Holy See in the form of Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The 60th birthday of the diocese will be marked on 6 February, with a Mass at the cathedral.

Happy birthday to Bishop Bär

Happy birthday to Bishop Ronald Philippe Bär, who today marks his 85th birthday.

 Bär

Bishop Bär was born in Manado, in the Dutch Indies, and became a Benedictine priest, and later auxiliary bishop and bishop of the Diocese of Rotterdam, as well as bishop of the Military Ordinariate. He resigned in 1993.

Fr. Paul Vlaar to leave diocese to join the navy

Father Paul Vlaar – in the news during the World Football Championships of 2010 because he celebrated a football-themed all-orange Mass (which led to a two-month suspension) – will be leaving the parish of Saint Victor in Obdam. He asked permission from Bishop Jos Punt to join the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands and work as a chaplain for the Royal Dutch Navy. The bishop, who is also Apostolic Administrator of the Ordinariate, granted that permission this week, the diocese reports.

It would seem that the initiative to take this step after more than 8 years at St. Victor was taken by Fr. Vlaar himself. He says that he is looking forward to a new challenge.

The Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, ministering to Catholics in the Navy, Army and Air Force, was created as a vicariate in 1957 and elevated to an ordinariate in 1986. Cardinals Alfrink (1957-1975 and Willebrands (1975-1982) were the first two military vicars of the Netherlands, after which Bishop Ronald Bär (from 1986 as military ordinary) took over in 1982. The ordinariate was vacant from 1993 to 1995, after which Bishop was appointed as apostolic administrator.There does not seem to be a website for the ordinariate, but Catholic Hierarchy tells us that in 2003 there were a total of 6 priests and 11 permanent deacons incardinated in it.

Photo credit: Noordhollands Dagblad

The cesspool is deep, but where exactly is it deepest?

Media reports aplenty today about the protection given by Cardinal Ad Simonis to a convicted pedosexual priest during his tenure as archbishop of Utrecht. One such news report can be read in Dutch here. The first thing I thought, after the unpleasant sinking of my stomach, was “how strange that the title of the piece (‘Cardinal Simonis protected pedo-priest’) is presented as a quote, while the piece itself does not contain a source”. The only conclusion: it’s not a quote, but the conclusion of the author given some semblance of authority…

Anyway, that’s just a question that popped into my head. Here’s the case.

In 1991, the cardinal appointed a priest from the Diocese of Rotterdam to parishes in the town of Amersfoort. The priest’s bishop, Msgr. Ronald Bär of Rotterdam, allegedly wanted to get rid of the priest after it became clear that the latter had abused underage boys in his previous parish in Zoetermeer. So the Archdiocese of Utrecht claims. Cardinal Simonis chose not to inform the faithful of Amersfoort about their new priest’s history. He says, “That was part of the privacy of the priest involved and was no longer an issue because of restored trust. I did not offer him protection, but treated him based on a serious psychological advice. I would therefore not know what consequences I should personally attach to this question.” The cardinal also said that “a renowned development psychologist had concluded that it was responsible to give the priest a new appointment.’

Victims and parents of victims claim to have been brushed aside by the cardinal when they raised the issue, saying that ‘these things do not happen in the Catholic Church’.

Cardinal Simonis released the following statement after the news broke:

“At the time of the appointment of the priest R. in 1991 the archdiocese was aware of his history. Therapy and serious psychological advice in writing seemed enough of a basis for a new appointment. No signal about repeat offenses has ever reached the archdiocese from Amersfoort. The archdiocese has never been aware of any police investigation, neither via the victims, nor via the priest, nor via the priest R. himself. I myself heard about this for the first time yesterday.

For the victims it is seriously regrettable and I take their suffering seriously. Of course I was asked if I acted carefully enough at the time. From what I knew then: yes. Based on the then available facts action was taken after careful internal consultation. When new facts appear now, it is not easy to judge the actions of the past. We acted on what we knew then. Should it become clear now we didn’t act careful enough, based on insufficient information, that is highly regrettable and should still be remedied.”

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch also felt called to release a statement, following rumours that priest R. had worked in a parish in Eindhoven in 2005:

“The priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht never had an appointment in a parish in the Diocese of Den Bosch, where he assisted on his own request. When the bishop of Den Bosch, in 2010, heard from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that there were issues with the priest, he informed the priests of the diocese that the man was no longer allowed to work in the Diocese of Den Bosch.l he then left the diocese.”

After Cardinal Simonis was succeeded by Archbishop Wim Eijk, the priest received a canonical punishment, being forbidden to perform any pastoral tasks in the archdiocese.

Lastly, for now, here is a translation of a short telephone interview with the priest in question, conducted today by katholieknederland.nl.

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Have you ever abused children?

“I have never used or abused people. I admit that I did do something impermissible during my time as pastor in Zoetermeer, which I regret. I was convicted for that and received a conditional sentence for it. The court documents mention an assault, but it was no more than a touch. It was no assault, I know what happened.”

Are you a pedosexual?

“That is a hard term. I am attracted to boys of around 14 years of age. I can not help it.”

How did you deal with your feelings?

“I was unaware of my feelings in seminary. That only happened after my ordination. I have been able to control myself very well for the past 16 or 17 years. I stick to the rules.”

The article in NRC also included words from a victim. What is your reaction to the word ‘victim’?

“That is terrible. But it is his experience and I have to respect that. I did indeed approach the person mentioned. But he refused. But I did not continue. For me it was a friendship. That friendship continued, also after he had grown up. But he ended that friendship for reasons that are unknown to me.”

What did Cardinal Simonis when he knew of your past?

“The archdiocese sent me to a psychological institution, which the Church used more often. There it became clear that I no longer posed a risk.”

In 1998 the Ministry of Defence appointed you as chaplain. Apparently you passed the screening.

“At my application to the armed forces – I no longer had a criminal record – I did tell them that I had been convicted. But they did not consider that a problem then, because I was appointed as chaplain to the army. The Archdiocese of Utrecht, where I am incardinated, loaned me to the military ordinariate.”

How do you see your future?

“In all honesty? I hope I’ll get an acute cardiac arrest. What else can I do? I will not kill myself, but I will not judge people who do. I am glad I helped by good friends and former colleagues at this time.”

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A cesspool, but where is it deepest? With Cardinal Simonis, with the archdiocese, with the military ordinariate? Somewhere else entirely? Above are the facts. In them I do detect the naiveté that has plagued the episcopate, and still does, to an extent. On the other hand, it is not as if Cardinal Simonis did nothing with the facts he had. He put his trust in psychology, as did the Defence Ministry. The cardinal’s took the steps he could, barring the priest from working in the archdiocese. The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, too, immediately limited to potential damage the priest could do once they heard about his past. Legal steps need to be undertaken by the court, not any bishop.

And the accused himself? A man who needs help, who admits he did wrong, but perhaps has a skewed picture of it. Let the facts be proven, let the guilty parties be punished, but also let’s keep the old truth in mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.