Goodbyes and welcomes – Bishop de Korte’s big day

It has been a busy day for Bishop Gerard de Korte, the culmination of what he himself calls a “confusing and hectic” week, but a day on which he also made a positive impression in his new diocese. The official announcement of his appointment came in a press conference where he, flanked by his new auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts and his predecessor Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, emphasised several times that the focus of his first year will be to get to know his new diocese and its people. And since he only learned of his appointment on Monday, he will not have spent his days formulating his policies before seeing where he was to be a bishop. Following the answering of questions from some 25 reporters assembled in the bishop’s house adjacent to the Basilica of St. John, Bishop de Korte met with the mayor of his new home city and then got a tour of the buttresses and rooftops of the basilica.

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In a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Bishop de Korte describes his feelings and hopes for the coming time:

“Dear priests, deacons and pastoral workers
Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Last Monday our Nuncio, Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, came to Groningen to inform me that Pope Francis had appointed me as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

You will understand that the past days have been confusing and hectic for me. After seven and a half years I have to let go of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, which is very dear to me. Confident in Christ, you know my episcopal motto, and hoping for a friendly welcome in the new diocese, I accept this new assignment.

My appointment will also raise questions among you. What will happen now? Who will be the new bishop? At this time a few things are clear.

Until Saturday 14 May, the day of my installation in Den Bosch, the Pope has appointed me as Apostolic Administrator and I will continue to have final responsibility for the management of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden.

A major responsibility will by for the cathedral chapter in the coming time. The canons must choose a diocesan administrator for the period from 14 May until the installation of the new bishop. They also have the duty to create a terna, a list of three suitable candidate bishops.

For now I ask you to pray for me, that I may have the strength to continue working on the proclamation of the Gospel and the harmonious building of the Christian community. And to pray that the canons may make good decisions in wisdom.

I pray for a good future of our diocese and for a good successor who will want to work for a cordial and clear faith community.

With kind greetings and united with you in Christ,

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”

The Dutch Bishops’ Conference congratulated Bishop de Korte on his appointment. Conference president, Cardinal Eijk, said:

“We know Msgr. De Korte as a colleague who greatly committed himself for his diocese and provided with conviction an important Catholic voice in the social debate as holder of the portfolio for Church and Society on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference. We pray for and with him that he may be a blessing for the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and sincerely congratulate this diocese with this appointment.”

Bishop de Korte spoke with the cardinal, who is in Rome for meetings of the Pontifical Academy for Life, over the phone and said that the latter congratulated him most kindly. But of course, the rumours that the bishop and the cardinal can’t stand each other remain…

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Wim van de Donk (King’s Commisioner in Noord-Brabant), Bishop Gerard de Korte, Ton Rombouts (mayor of ‘s-Hertogenbosch) and Bishop Antoon Hurkmans.

 Judging from the reactions on social media, people in ‘s-Hertogenbosch are over the moon with their new bishop, and in Groningen-Leeuwarden they are sad to see him go. Of course, there are other opinions of well. Father Cor Mennen, parish priest and member of the cathedral chapter of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and well-known for his orthodox standpoints, said that he is not cheering just yet. And, speaking as a Catholic in Groningen-Leeuwarden, I would say sadness is not the emotion I associate with the bishop’s leaving (but I am also not glad about it, either). I find myself looking forward instead of back: it is an exciting time as we await who the new bishop will be, and it interesting to see what the future will bring for Bishop de Korte and the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

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Day two – meetings and a rousing homily

On the second full day of the ad limina visit, the Dutch bishops were first received at the Congregation for Catholic Education by the Prefect, Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Secretary Archbishop Angelo Zani and Undersecretary Father Friedrich Bechina, whose language skills allowed him to speak Dutch with the bishops. The second visit was to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect, received them with Secretary Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer and Adjunct Secretary Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia. About this visit, Bishop Jan Hendriks blogs:

“A fair amount of attention was given to the procedures regarding sexual abuse. A positive part of that discussion was that a first and preliminary judgement of the Congregation on the general guidelines to prevent sexual abuse – which the bishops’ conferences had prepared and presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – was extremely favourable.”

Some bishops later also visited the Pontifical Councils “Cor Unum”, for the Family and for Justice and Peace.

The day began, however, with Holy Mass offered at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral. Bishop Frans Wiertz, ordinary of Roermond and in age the most senior member of the conference (except for Bishop van Burgsteden, who is retired but retains some duties in the conference), gave the homily. Bishop Wiertz was clearly much inspired by yesterday’s audience with Pope Francis, and he spoke about the importance of evangelising by witnessing as the saint we celebrate today, St. Francis Xavier, did.

bishops vesting before Mass at St. John Lateran

About this saint, Bishop Wiertz said:

“What is notable in this young missionary is his zeal and his drive to proclaim the Gospel. When he had been in India for about a year, Francis wrote: “Throngs of people here do not get into contact with Christ for the simple reason that there is no one ready […] to tell them about it.” There were too few labourers for the harvest. But that did not stop Francs Xavier from continuing his holy mission and proclaim the Gospel. You could wonder what he thought to be able to do in that immense country of India.

wiertz homily st. john lateranAfterwards he went to Japan, which at that time was most certainly an unassailable fortress. But he managed to reach the emperor and was even permitted to proclaim his faith. Francis Xavier would certainly have been aware of the fact that he could not convert the entire world. And he must have realised that not everyone he baptised was as enthusiastic in putting his faith into practice. But that did not stop him from wanting to continue witnessing of Christ.

In that respect he is a great example for us. His words, “Throngs of people here do not get into contact with Christ”, could have been about our country in 2013. The statistics of Church attendance and reception of the sacraments could be dejecting. But dejectedness does not help us forward. Continuing in patience with expressing the Gospel does.

I recall that during our previous ad limina visit then-Cardinal Ratzinger kept repeating one word: “Patienza, patienza!” Patience, patience! Not the stream, but the drop of water wears down the rock.”

All this, Bishop Wiertz explained, must be an encouragement  to the bishops to do nothing more or less than this: to make Christ present in society, in all aspects of their ministry: liturgy, proclamation and certainly also in diaconal ministry: the pastoral care for the poorest and marginalised.

“A patient and loving sound that it can be different. That our existence does not need to end in loneliness, but that there is a God who is interested in us and cares for us. That may be crystal clear to us. But I don’t need to tell you that there are entire generations in our country who have never heard of Christ and His loving message.

It is our duty to do what we can to change that. To witness of Christ’s message. Like Francis Xavier did. Just about alone in those enormous Asian nations. It seemed an impossible task. But he started it! Convinced as he was of God’s Spirit guiding him.”

Inspiring, rousing words, even.

Photo credits: [1] The bishops vesting for Mass, Bishop Jan Hendriks, [2] RKK – Christian van der Heijden

“Recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare” – improvements in helping the victims

In a five-page letter to Justice Secretary Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have once again underlined their firm intention of providing recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare for the victims of sexual abuse within the Church.

The letter, signed by Cardinal Willem Eijk for the bishops and Brother Cees van Dam for the KNR, also gives an overview of what has been done, is being done and will be done to further implement the recommendations of the Deetman committee, as published in December of last year. Among the improvements that the bishops and the KNR intend to implement is an increased level of monitoring how the aforementioned measures are being executed. Mr. Deetman and the members of his committee will take care of annual evaluation, and the bishops and the KNR will do the same. A first such report will be presented on May 15th.

The letter then lists four important developments since the last time parliament heard, among others, then-Archbishop Eijk. These are:

  1. The creation of a ‘contact group’, chaired by Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam, which works in addition to personal meetings of bishops and superiors with victims and victim groups, and will serve as a sort of safety net for victims when progress in their case should stagnate. The contact group has spoken with victim group KLOKK on the first of March, and has planned a subsequent meeting on 5 April.
  2. The Aid Platform is discussing further optimalisation of aid to the victims with KLOKK and Slachtofferhulp Nederland.
  3. A uniform code of conduct for the entire Church province is in the works, to further unify the previously fragmented management structures of the various dioceses and religious orders.
  4. All future priests, deacons, pastoral workers and others with a mission from a bishop, as well as certain religious men and women who work in pastoral care are now required to present a certificate of good conduct. This has long been the case for people who work in education, for example.

The letter is rather silent about the recent castration issue, but that is only logical. Mr. Deetman will be heard by parliament tomorrow about that very issue.

A final important issue that the letter addresses is the statute of limitations. Following a question from Secretary Opstelten, the bishops and the KNR write that that has been invoked in one case, a case that yet awaits a verdict from a judge. Only in civil procedures that aim for financial compensation outside the means that have been provided by the Church, can the statute be theoretically invoked. In my opinion, it would be better if it were never invoked, not least because that is exactly what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith generally does in these cases, as that congregation’s promoter of justice, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, revealed earlier.

Lastly, the letter comes with a few statistics, which show how much progress still needs to be made before the current claims and complaints have been processed. 2,364 reports and 919 complaints have been received over the course of 2010, 2011 and the first months of 2012. Of the 257 complaints processed, 157 have been declared justified, 57 unfounded,  have been settled amicably, and 40 have been retracted or deemed inadmissible. Since the middle of January, 86 requests for financial compensation have been received; a verdict has been reached in seven of these.

I am sure that many will find fault with some of the details of the letter and the things described in it, but in my opinion, it is a good indication of exactly what has been done in recent months, often behind the scenes and in private. And that is admirable. There is always room for progress, and the letter allows for that. It looks beyond the current situation and take the first steps to prevent something like this ever again.