Changes in ‘s Hertogenbosch – past, future and some guesses

With the announced retirement of Bishop Hurkmans it is a good time to look back an ahead. In his letter announcing his retirement, the bishop already indicated that a new period was beginning, a time of transition followed by a new bishop at the helm of the numerically largest diocese of the Netherlands.


The Hurkmans era, to call it that, began in 1998, when he was appointed on the same day that his predecessor, Bishop Jan ter Schure, retired. Unlike the latter, who had the misfortune to have been appointed when the polarisation between modernists and orthodox (in which group the bishop could be grouped) was at a final high point, Bishop Hurkmans was and is considered an altogether kinder and approachable man. That does not mean that he avoided making the difficult decisions, and especially following the appointment of two auxiliary bishops in 2010 (later whittled down to one, as Bishop Liesen was soon appointed to Breda), there were several major cases in which the diocese stood firm against modernists trends. But these things never came easy to him. The general idea that I have, and I am not alone, I believe, is that Bishop Hurkmans was altogether too kind to be able to carry the burden of being bishop. He accepted it, trusting in the Holy Spirit to help him – as reflected in his episcopal motto “In Virtute Spiritu Sancti” – but it did not always gave him joy. That said, while he is generally considered a kind bishop, there remain some who consider him strict and aloof, in both the modernists and orthodox camps. As bishop, you rarely win.

In 2011 he took a first medical leave for unspecified health reasons, and a second one began in 2014. While he regained some of his strengths, as he indicates in his letter, it was not enough.

hurkmans ad limina

^Bishop Hurkmans gives the homily during Mass at Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, during the 2013 Ad Limina visit.

In his final years as bishop, Msgr. Hurkmans held the Marriage & Family portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference. It is perhaps striking that he was not elected by the other bishops to attend the upcoming Synod of Bishops assembly on that same topic – Cardinal Eijk will go, with Bishop Liesen as a substitute. Before a reshuffle in responsibilities in the conference, Bishop Hurkmans held the Liturgy portfolio, and as such was involved with a new translation of the Roman Missal, the publication of which is still in the future.

Bishop Hurkmans was also the Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Netherlands, and as such he invested new knights and ladies at the cathedral in Groningen in 2012.

Mgr. Bluyssen

^Bishop Hurkmans buried several of his predecessors, such as Bishop Bluyssen in 2013

At 71, Bishop Hurkmans is young to retire, as 75 is the mandatory age for bishops to do so. Still, it is not unprecedented when we look at the bishops of ‘s Hertogenbosch since the latter half of the 20th century. Bishop Johannes Bluyssen retired, also for health reasons, in 1984 at the age of 57. Bishop Bekkers died in office in 1966 at the age of 58. Bishop Willem Mutsaerts, related to the current auxiliary bishop, retired in 1960, also aged 71. As for Bishop Hurkmans, may his retirement be a restful one.

mutsaertsLooking at the future, the inevitable question is, who’s next? Who will be the 10th bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch? Guessing is risky, but there are some likely candidates anyway. In my opinion, one of the likeliest candidates is Bishop Rob Mutsaerts (pictured), currently auxiliary bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch. He has been taking over a number of duties from Bishop Hurkmans during the latter’s absence, and he is at home in the diocese. Speaking against him is his sometimes blunt approach to problems, especially when Catholic doctrine is being disregarded, which does not always sit well with priests and faithful alike (although others, including myself, appreciate him for his clarity and orthodoxy.

Other possible options are one of the other auxiliary bishops in the Netherlands: Bishop Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Bishop Hoogenboom and Woorts of Utrecht and Bishop de Jong of Roermond. I don’t really see that happening, though, with the sole exception of Bishop de Jong. He is southerner, albeit from Limburg, while the others are all westerners, and that does mean something in the culture of Brabant. Still, it has happened before.

Anything’s possible, especially under Pope Francis (and this will be his first Dutch appointment, and for new Nuncio Aldo Cavalli too). Diocesan priest and member of the cathedral chapter Father Cor Mennen once stated that he would not be opposed to a foreign bishop, provided he learn Dutch, if that means the bishop gets a good and orthodox one. I don’t see that happening just yet, though.

And as for when we may hear the news of a new bishop? Usually these things take a few months at most (although it has taken 10 months once, between Bishops Bluyssen and Ter Schure). The summer holidays are over in Rome, so proceedings should theoretically advance fairly quickly. A new bishops could be appointed and installed before Christmas then.

Just a bishop in the Lord’s vineyard – on the death of Bishop Bluyssen

Bluyssen“The death of Msgr. Bluyssen has affected me deeply. He was the bishop who ordained me a deacon and a priest. At my consecration as bishop he was one of the concelebrants. My appreciation for him is great. For seventeen, he was bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch with all the beauty, but also with all the difficulties that this office brings with it. His kindness, tranquility and wisdom have helped him in his task. As bishop emeritus he continued to follow and sympathise greatly with the Church, the diocese of Den Bosch. In addition, he loved to study, wrote books and celebrated life with family and friends. Of course, like many others, Msgr. Bluyssen suffered through developments in the Church, but he was able to see them in a larger perspective. I will also miss the paternal presence of Msgr. Bluyssen at diocesan celebrations, which he always tried to attend. I am confident that Msgr. Bluyssen is now with the Lord, together with Mary and the saints. After all, like we do, he believed in a God of the living, and not in a God of the dead.”

Words from Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, second successor of Bishop Johannes Willem Maria Bluyssen, who died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday morning, as his heart surrendered after a life of 87 years in the service of the Church.

bluyssenBishop Jan Bluyssen hailed from Nijmegen and was ordained in 1950 by Bishop Willem Mutsaerts, and served as a parochial vicar in Veghel before studying spirituality in Rome. Returning to the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, he taught at the diocesan seminary in Haaren and also became spiritual director there. On 28 October 1961, Blessed Pope John XXIII appointed him as auxiliary bishop of the diocese, serving with Bishop Willem Bekkers, the ordinary. Bishop Bluyssen was made the first and to date only titular bishop of the see of Aëtus in modern Greece. After the unexpected death of Bishop Bekkers, Bishop Bluyssen was appointed to succeed him in October of 1966. The photo above shows the bishop shortly after his appointment, returning from a post-conciliar meeting in Rome. Bishop Bluyssen served until he offered his resignation for health reasons in 1983. This was granted on 1 March 1984.

Bishop Jan Bluyssen was the last surviving Dutch Council Father. Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, he attended several sessions and was involved in several post-conciliar meetings on the liturgy. Bishop Bluyssen was the last bishop to be consecrated in the pre-conciliar rites. It is then perhaps paradoxical that he is considered a member of the more progressive wing of the Dutch bishops in the 1960s and 70s, who did most to change the liturgy and the Church in the Netherlands as a whole.

As a bishop, Bluyssen was continuously affected by health problems surround his heart, which ultimately led to his early retirement in 1984. Following his retirement, Bishop Bluyssen devoted himself to writing, of which his memoirs, Gebroken Wit (Broke White), published in 1995, are most notable.

The years of Bishop Bluyssen’s episcopate were  turbulent ones in the entire Dutch Church. The Second Vatican Council had started an unintended chain reaction in which everything was questioned, from the way parishes should function to how the liturgy should be celebrated, even to what the Church and faithful should teach and believe. Bishop Bluyssen was often allied with the more progressive movements, questioning much with them and trying to put the new thoughts into practice. In the seventeen years that he was ordinary, Bishop Bluyssen closed the seminary in Haaren and saw the number of active priests, as well as new seminarians, drop dramatically. Bishop Bluyssen made sure that things remained quiet in his diocese in the time surrounding the special Synod on the Dutch Church that Pope John Paul II convened in 1980. Partly in response to these developments was the appointment of his successor, Bishop Jan ter Schure, who was generally far more conservative and in line with Rome.

Bishop Bluyssen was deeply conscious of his own limitations and failings. This sense of reality, his esteem for people as carriers of the faith and his own modesty made him hugely popular, both during and after his time as ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The more formal and serious side of being a bishop, which Bishop Bluyssen described as “being bound to the Gospel, bound through loyalty to Christ, whose task I am called to perform … which comes to me via and through the Church”, was coupled with his being a positive and winsome conversationalist.

With the death of Bishop Jans Bluyssen the Dutch Church has lost a good man, a true man, with good and bad sides, a man of faith and a man of the people. Despite his failing health, he remained a integral part of his erstwhile diocese, for far longer than the 17 years he served as its bishop.

On Tuesday, the bishop will lie in state in the bishop’s house, where faithful may visit on Tuesday evening, and Wednesday afternoon and evening. A Vespers for the repose of Bishop Bluyssen will be offered on Wednesday evening at 7 at the cathedral basilica of St. John. His funeral will take place on Thursday from the same church, starting at 11.


Photo credit: [1] Paul Kriele, [2] Peter van Zoest/ANP Historisch Archief, ANP, [3] Wim Jellema/

Council survivors

For the startof the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI intends to celebrate the opening Mass with the surviving Council fathers. But how many of the bishops who attended the Second Vatican Council are still alive, and, come to think of it, who are they?

With the help of the great resource that is Catholic Hierarchy, I have compiled the following list. The bishops are listed according to their last name. Also included are their function(s) at the time of the Council and their current age.

  • ANGELINI, Fiorenzo: Curial official (now 95)
  • ARINZE, Francis: Coadjutor Bishop of Onitsha (now 79)
  • BANTIGUE Y NATIVIDAD, Pedro: Auxiliary Bishop of Manila (now 92)
  • BETTAZZI, Luigi: Auxiliary Bishop of Bologna (now 88)
  • BLANCHOUD, Moisés Julio: Auxiliary Bishop and later Bishop of Río Cuarto (now 88)
  • BLUYSSEN, Johannes Willem Maria: Auxiliary Bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch (now 86)
  • BOWERS, Joseph Oliver: Bishop of Accra (now 102)
  • CÁCERES GONZÁLEZ, Roberto Reinaldo:Bishop of Melo (now 91)
  • CALHEIROS NOVAES (DE NOVAIS), Waldyr: Auxiliary Bishop of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro (now 88)
  • CANESTRI, Giovanni: Auxiliary Bishop of Roma (now 93)
  • CAPUCCI, Hilarion: Auxiliary Bishop of Antiochia (Melkite) (now 90)
  • CAZZARO BERTOLLO, Savino Bernardo Maria: Vicar Apostolic of Aysén (now 87)
  • COELHO, Jaime Luiz: Bishop of Maringá (now 95)
  • CORNEJO RADAVERO, Mario Renato: Auxiliary Bishop of Lima (now 84) (left the Church in 1969)
  • CHARBONNEAU, Paul-Émile: Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa, later Bishop of Hull (now 90)
  • CH’ENG SHIH-KUANG, Paul: Auxiliary Bishop of Taipei (now 96)
  • CÍRIO, Armando: Bishop of Toledo (now 96)
  • CUNIBERTI, Angelo: Vicar Apostolic of Florencia (now 91)
  • DE ARAÚJO SALES, Eugênio: Auxiliary Bishop and later Apostolic Administrator of Natal, later also Apostolic Adminstrator of São Salvador de Bahia (now 91)
  • DE ROO, Remi Joseph: Bishop of Victoria (now 88)
  • DELLY, Emmanuel III (Emmanuel-Karim): Auxiliary Bishop of Babylon (Chaldean) (now 84)
  • DEMARTEAU, Wilhelmus Joannes (Guillaume Jean): Bishop of Bandjarmasin (now 95)
  • DIAS NOGUEIRA, Eurico: Bishop of Vila Cabral (now 89)
  • DIAZ CUEVA, José Gabriel: Auxiliary Bishop of Guayaquil (now 87)
  • DÍAZ MERCHÁN, Gabino: Bishop of Guadix (now 86)
  • DOSSEH-ANYRON, Robert-Casimir Tonyui Messan: Bishop of Lomé (now 86)
  • DUPONT, Georges-Hilaire: Bishop of Pala (now 92)
  • FERNANDES DE ARAÚJO, Serafim: Auxiliary Bishop of Belo Horizonte (now 87)
  • GARAVITO JIMÉNEZ, Gregorio: Auxiliary Bishop of Villavicencio (now 93)
  • GARAYGORDÓBIL BERRIZBEITIA, Victor: Prelate of Los Ríos (now 96)
  • GARCIA AYALA, José de Jesús: Auxiliary Bishop of Campeche (now 102)
  • HADDAD, Grégoire: Auxiliary Bishop of Beirut and Jbeil (Melkite) (now 87)
  • HAYES, James Martin: Auxiliary Bishop of Halifax (now 88)
  • HERRERA RIERA, Eduardo: Auxiliary Bishop of Cumaná (now 84)
  • HUNTHAUSEN, Raymond Gerhardt: Bishop of Helena (now 90)
  • JOBST, John: Vicar Apostolic of Kimberley in Western Australia (now 92)
  • LANDRIAULT, Jacques: Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria in Ontario, later Bishop of Hearst (now 90)
  • LEONARDO, Felice: Bishop of Telese o Cerreto Sannita (now 97)
  • LEULIET, Géry-Jacques-Charles: Bishop of Amiens (now 102)
  • LIMA DOS SANTOS, Caetano Antônio: Bishop if Ilhéus (now 95) (renounced the priesthood in 1970)
  • LIRA, Pedro Reginaldo: Bishop of San Francisco (now 96)
  • LOURDUSAMY, Duraisamy Simon: Auxiliary Bishop of Bangalore, later Coadjutor Archbishop of Bangalore (now 88)
  • MALBOIS, Albert-Georges-Yves: Auxiliary Bishop of Versailles (now 96)
  • MATHIAS, Alphonsus: Bishop of Chikmagalur (now 84)
  • MCKEON, Myles: Auxiliary Bishop of Perth (now 93)
  • MCNAUGHTON, William John: Bishop of Incheon (now 85)
  • NGANGA A NDZANDO, Louis: Auxiliary Bishop of Lisala, later Bishop of Lisala (now 89)
  • NICOLOSI, Salvatore: Bishop of Lipari (now 90)
  • NKALANGA, Placidus Gervasius: Auxiliary Bishop of Bukoba (now 93)
  • NOËL, Laurent: Auxiliary Bishop of Québec (now 92)
  • ODONGO, James: Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo (now 81)
  • PADILLA LOZANO, José Guadalupe: Bishop of Veracruz (now 91)
  • PEARCE, George Hamilton: Vicar Apostolic of Archipelago of the Navigators (now 91)
  • PIMIENTO RODRIGUEZ, José de Jesús: Bishop of Montería, later of Garzón-Neiva (now 93)
  • PIÑERA CARVALLO, Bernardino: Bishop of Temuco (now 96)
  • PIRES, José Maria: Bishop of Aracuaí, later Archbishop of Paraíba (now 93)
  • PLOURDE, Joseph-Aurèle: Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria in Ontario (now 97)
  • QUINTERO ARCE, Carlos: Bishop of Ciudad Valles (now 92)
  • RAMALHO DE ALARCÓN SANTIAGO, José Mauro: Bishop of Iguatú (now 87)
  • RAMÍREZ SALAVERRÍA, Antonio José: Bishop of Maturín (now 94)
  • RAMOUSSE, Yves-Georges-René: Vicar Apostolic of Phnom-Penh (now 84)
  • RIBEIRO DE OLIVEIRA, Antônio: Auxiliary Bishop of Goiânia (now 86)
  • SAHAGÚN DE LA PARRA, José de Jesús: Bishop of Tula (now 90)
  • SANA, André: Bishop of Aqra (Chaldean) (now 91)
  • SAPELAK, Andrés: Auxiliary Bishop of the Faithful of the Eastern Rites of Argentina (now 92)
  • SEPÚLVEDA RUIZ-VELASCO, José Trinidad: Bishop of Tuxtla Gutiérrez (now 91)
  • SFEIR, Nasrallah Pierre: Auxiliary Bishop of Antiochia (Maronite) (now 92)
  • SOL, Andreas Peter Cornelius: Coadjutor Bishop of Amboina, later Bishop of Amboina (now 96)
  • SZYMANSKI RAMÍREZ, Arturo Antonio: Coadjutor Bishop and later Bishop of San Andrés Tuxtla (now 90)
  • TATO LOSADA, Eloy: Vicar Apostolic of San Jorge (now 88)
  • THOHEY MAHN-GABY, Gabriel: Coadjutor Archbishop of Rangoon (now 84)
  • TSIAHOANA, Albert Joseph: Auxiliary Bishop of Diego-Suárez (now 84)
  • VAN CAUWELAERT, Jan: Bishop of Inongo (now 98)
  • VERSTRAETE, Daniel Alphonse Omer: Prefect of Western Transvaal (now 87)
  • VILNET, Jean-Félix-Albert-Marie: Bishop of Saint-Dié (now 90)
  • WARREN, Douglas Joseph: Auxiliary Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes (now 93)
  • YOUN KONG-HI, Victorinus: Bishop of Suwon (now 87)
  • ZARZA BERNAL, Anselmo: Bishop of Linares (now 96)

Two of the names in the list are printed in italics. They indicate the bishops who either renounced their priesthood or left the Church altogether, sometime after the Council. So, while they participated as Council Fathers, we should not expect them to make an appearance in Rome in October.

Many others may also not be able to make it, considering their advanced age. The youngest, Cardinal Arinze, is 79, many are in their in 80s and even 90s, and there are even three centenarians. Among those staying at home, I expect, is Bishop Bluyssen, the only living Dutch bishop who attended the Council – although, as the story goes, he was often left at home “to mind the store” as Bishop Bekkers attended the sessions in Rome.

It will be interesting to see at least some of the former movers and shakers of the Church launch a new effort of evangelisation and catechesis across the world.

A golden anniversary to go unmarked

“Because of the actuality and out of respect for the victims of abuse, I consider it, in all humility, inappropriate to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination in a grandiose way.”

A short statement from Bishop Johannes Bluyssen who will mark the 50th anniversary of his consecration to bishop on 27 December. Or won’t mark it, as it turns out. An understandable decision, obviously, but a bit sad all the same. Plans were for the emeritus bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch to offer a solemn Mass in the cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, whose feast day it’ll also be on the 27th.  The bishops age (he’ll turn 86 in April) and health did not allow for much more.

Bishop Bluyssen was ordained a priest in 1950 and a bishop in 1961, at the age of only 35. He worked as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, with Aëtus as titular see, and became ordinary after Bishop Willem Bekkers resigned in 1966. Bishop Bluyssen resigned from the post in 1984.

Bishop Bluyssen is one of only three bishops of Dutch decent who participated in the Second Vatican Council, although he would often remain at home while Bishop Bekkers went to Rome, and the only one who was bishop in a Dutch diocese. The others are Bishop Willem Demarteau, emeritus of Banjarmasin, and Bishop Andreas Sol of Amboina, both in Indonesia.

Catholic and secular media have recently interviewed Bishop Bluyssen for his anniversary. The bishop lamented the lack of elan he sees in the post-conciliar Church and criticises the actions of the diocese about anti-celibate and sanctioned priest Jan Peijnenburg. Msgr. Bluyssen admitted to knowing about the priest’s cohabitation with his girlfriend and cautioned them time and again. He didn’t see fit to remove Peijnenburg’s priestly faculties or sanction him in other ways, though.

Photo credit: Jaap van Eeden