This photo is doing the rounds on various Christian websites and blogs, mostly in America. It’s been online since 2014, but I’ve come across it twice in the past few days. Perhaps an indication of increasing popularity?
But what’s so special about this photo? It’s an atmospherically-lit view of the sanctuary of a Catholic church, emphasising the vertical dimension of the building. An image you can probably take in countless churches across the world (well, churches of a certain age and architectural sophistication, at least).
It’s special in only one way, and only to a select group of people. The church in the photo is the church I attend, the Cathedral Church of Saint Joseph in Groningen, seat of the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden (well, as soon as we have one again…). The photo was uploaded on Skitterphoto, a website collecting stock photos that may be used for free (one of the reasons it has made more than a few appearances on websites and blogs).
Seeing such a familiar view pop up on different websites made me look twice and wonder what the reason behind it was. It’s not a very exciting reason, granted, but it’s a nice idea that ‘my’ church can be appreciated by people across the world. Because it is a rather nice church, to be honest.
It was one of the more unexpected choices, and for the new bishop the change will be big in several ways: he goes from the north to the south of the country, from a diocese with few Catholics to one with many, from a part of the country where people are fairly down to earth, to one where the Dutch concept of ‘gezelligheid’ has a natural home and where people are sometimes brutally honest. It will be interesting to see what bishop and diocese bring each other.
The new bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is 60-year-old Gerard de Korte, until today the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. And this scribe’s bishop at that. In yesterday’s blog post I already characterised Bishop de Korte as a popular shepherd. He is personable, interested, with a keen sense of the hearts and minds of other people. That makes him well suited to represent the Catholic Church in relations with other Christians, a talent he has made one of the focal points of his mission. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, such ecumenical effort is a necessity and a value. How it will take shape in ‘s-Hertogenbosch will be very interesting to see.
In a message leaked prematurely via Twitter, Bishop Hurkmans congratulated Bishop de Korte, and expresses a few wishes to him and the faithful of ‘s-Hertogenbosch:
“I wish very much that you, as a society, may live in confidence with the new bishop. You and I, we, live in a time of many and great changes. Especially now it is good to stand on the solid ground the faith offers us. God is our Creator and Father. He wanted all of us and included us in His plan of love.
Secondly, I wish for you all that you may remain hopeful with the new bishop. Evil and death are in the way of us all. They supplant hope. Jesus Christ broke the power of sin and opened the way to life. We celebrate this in the Eucharist and from it we draw hope every time. With that, as a new community around Christ, we can be a sign of hope in our society.
Lastly, I wish for the new bishop and you all to remain in love. That this may be the basis of your life. The Holy Spirit lives in us. He plants love in us and continuously strengthens the divine life. This makes love bloom in us. Love can reinforce our community. Love will let us live for each other in the Church and in the world.
Remaining in faith, hope and love is more than guaranteed when we participate in unity in a healthy life of the Church. I gladly wish Msgr. Gerard de Korte people who say yes to their vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate and the religious life, people who will work with him in the life of the Church, people who make the Church present in the world. People who support him in his prayer and proclamation, on being close to people and managing the diocese.”
Bishop Hurmans, now bishop emeritus, closes with a word of gratitude, despite beginning his letter by saying that he has said enough about his retirement.
“I thank you all for the faith, the hope and the love which I was able to keep among you. I hope to be able to be a witness of that in a simple way, trusting in the Sweet Mother of Den Bosch and living from the Holy Eucharist, until my death.”
Bishop de Korte has been the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden since 2008. Before that, from 2001 to 2008, he was auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, where he also worked as a priest since his ordination in 1987. He is a historian and served as seminary rector before his appointment as bishop. In Groningen-Leeuwarden he was a bishop on the road, travelling to every corner and sharing the major celebrations of Easter and Christmas between the cathedral in Groningen and the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden. Ordinations were also shared between the two cities: those of deacons, as pictured at left, in Leeuwarden, and priests in Groningen. He leaves a diocese in the midst of the greatest reorganisation in recent history: the reduction of its 84 parishes to 19. May the vacancy of the seat in St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen be a short one.
In my blog, Bishop de Korte has made frequent appearances, and translations of his writing may be found via the tag cloud in the left sidebar. Just click on the tag ‘Bishop Gerard de Korte’.
Despite the appointment coming before Easter, Bishop de Korte will mark the Church’s greatest week in Groningen-Leeuwarden. His installation in ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist will follow on 14 May.
In hindsight, this was perhaps the most Franciscan option in the Netherlands. Bishop de Korte fits the profile of what Pope Francis wants in a bishop (although other bishops are often unfairly depicted as being in opposition to the Holy Father): an open communicator, close to the people, a shepherd who smells like the sheep. These qualities may go a long way in resolving the polarisation that plagues parts of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In recent years more than one community has broken with the diocese, and the person and approach of Bishop de Korte, a man of dialogue and a strong voice against hate and distrust, may go a long way in setting them back on a course towards reconciliation.
In his new diocese, Bishop de Korte will undoubtedly continue to stress the importance of catechesis. Back in 2012 he said, “It may sound dramatic, but I sometimes feel that only a great catechetical offensive can secure Catholicism in our country. Without it, the strength of our faith seems to continue to weaken and Catholics become more and more religious humanists for whom important aspects of classic Catholicism have become unfamiliar.” Other emphases of his new task will be ecumenism, religious life and active Catholic communities.
In the Dutch Bishops’ Conference this appointment does not change much, although several commentators have chosen to see it as a blow for Cardinal Eijk, outgoing president and predecessor of Bishop de Korte in Groningen. The two prelates have not always seen eye to eye, and they have clashed on occasion, although how much actual truth there is behind the rumours will probably remain guesswork. In the conference, Bishop de Korte retains his one voice, and continues to hold the portfolios that formulate Church relations with the elderly, women and society. Actual change will only occur when a new bishop is appointed for Groningen-Leeuwarden, and perhaps not even then: if the new ordinary up north is one of the current auxiliary bishops in the country, the composition of the bishops’ conference remains the same as it is now.
Now, we could make the assumption that Cardinal Eijk would have liked to see a bishop in ‘s-Hertogenbosch who was more in line with himself, but that is guesswork. And besides, as I have pointed out before, the cardinal and the bishop may have different personalities and talents, their policies (for example, about the closing of churches and merging of parishes) are not always all that different.
In recent years, Bishop de Korte has appeared as the voice of the bishops’ conference, especially in the wake of the abuse crisis. This will not change, I imagine, even if the crisis has abated somewhat. Although the bishops in general remain hesitant to embrace the resources of the media, Bishop de Korte is the one whose face and name appears most frequently. He is a blogger on the diocesan website, writes books and articles and even appears on television every now and then. This is something that he should continue to do so: he is well-liked by many in and outside the Church, and knows how to communicate to both. And that is a value we need in our Church today.
More to come.
Photo credit:  ANP RAMON MANGOLD,  Roy Lazet,  Leeuwarder Courant, , ANP,  edited by author
Image credit: Collecte schaal, Kees de Hond (1979)
This blog is a labour of love, flowing from my interest in the topics I write about and the perceived interest of readers in the English speaking world and beyond. In the past weeks I have seen a surge in page views here and sharing of my blog posts on social media and in other blogs and websites (I suspect the Synod may have had something to do with that…) It is always a joy to see that happening and every link and retweet is appreciated. It is one of the reasons I keep on doing this, in between my daily chores, work, family, Church and social activities.
You can also show your appreciation by donating financially, not to Her Sisterness above, but via the handy PayPal button below or in the left sidebar. Your donation, no matter how great or small, will help in my continued blogging and contribute to the upkeep of the small household I call home, the place from where I blog.
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They continue to be the subject of much criticism. Some claim their views have been victorious at the Synod, others say they have not. Some say they are manipulating the media, relishing in their rebelliousness… Well, that’s all fine to write lengthy articles, opinion pieces and blogs about, but I continue detesting conspiracy theories, and rather take people at face value and at their word (which does not mean I agree with them on all matters). On that note, here is my translation of the message of the German bishops who participated in the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, at the conclusion of said meeting:
^The German participants in the Synod: Aloys and Petra Buch, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Archabbot Jeremias Schröder OSB
“We conclude the Synod of Bishops in Rome with gratitude. For three weeks we have debated and struggled intensively and encouragingly, controversially and honestly with representatives from all over the world, dug into theological questions and addressed the realities of life of the family. Above all, these weeks were a spiritual wealth: in the celebration of the Eucharist, in common prayer and fraternal conversation we have sought ways in which the mission of the family in Church and world can succeed.
At the basis of our deliberations, next to Holy Scripture and Tradition, were the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et spes, 1). In this spirit we grappled theologically and practically with the needs of the family.
The Synod of Bishops took seriously the situation of families as they are: open, honestly, differentiated globally, but similar in many ways. Across all cultural divides, marriage and family are a constant value of human coexistence. We are therefore grateful to Pope Francis that he followed the synodal way on this topic. It began with the worldwide questionnaire of the Vatican and the Synod of last year. The current conclusion is not the end, but a colon. We must continue on this road for and with the family. No other global institution undertakes such a global contemplation with worldwide participation on the topic of the family.
The Synod has shown the great importance that the Church attaches to marriage and family. There was already a great consensus on this question during the deliberations. The Church encourages people to live marriage and family and the make an effort to continue faithfully on this way and endure difficulties. The Synod emphasised that the normal everyday life of the family is a witness. At the same time we are called to find ways to strengthen and accompany the family. This can happen, for example, by advocating in favour of the family in social policies, especially also for large families or single parents, using state legislation to promote the family and recognising its value for society. This must also and especially happen within the Church, for example through the corresponding training of pastoral workers to accompany families, through better marriage preparation and guidance, especially in the first years of marriage, but also through counselling services and facilities.
It became clear during the Synod that Church guidance is required, especially during times of hardship, for example when raising children is difficult, when family members are ill or disabled, requiring much care and attention, when spouses are fighting, when people are separated and remarry. Here it is important to recognise not only what the Church does, but also to say honestly where we have failed as Church: misconceived efforts to uphold Church teachings have repeatedly led to harsh and merciless attitudes, which caused people pain, especially single mothers and children born outside of marriage, people living together before or in place of marriage, people with homosexual orientation and divorced and remarried people. As bishops we ask these people for forgiveness, as we formulated in our working group.
We are grateful that the Synod has expressed an appreciation for interfaith marriages and underlined the character of the path of life in marriage and family, while a more positive view of the path before marriage was also discussed. On the topic of divorced and remarried people the necessary distinctions of situations were addressed in the text. It was attempted to avoid generalisations. The Synod is clear that every situation in life must be considered individually. In hindsight we would have wished for more courage to deal with the realities more intensively and recognise them as signs of the times in which God wants to tell us something, but we also recognise that we have learned to go along with other cultures and experiences.
The Synod of Bishops advises the Pope. We will accompany the way forward with our prayers. Pope Francis now has the task to use the wealth of results for the Church. The Holy Father can only take decisions for the entire Church, where he always stand for the unity of the Church and the further synodal path, as he said himself in his historic speech last week.
What was considered in the Synod, we will develop and make concrete at home. As Church we accompany and live with the people, the spouses, the families, especially also with the oppressed, with their joys and hopes, sorrows and fears. Questions which occupy us now are these: How do we open, and not close, the way towards Christ? How do we fully integrate people in the Church? How do we become a Church with open doors? And how do we relate to families in the most difficult situations, such as refugee families, to make a life in dignity possible for them, as the Gospel shows? How can we encourage a new spring in the pastoral care of families in general?
The final text of the Synod of Bishops opens perspectives for action and gives impulses for further theological thought. That will also be incorporated in the message of the German bishops about marriage and family, which we are currently working on. What is important is this: the synodal path of the Church continues. Perhaps it has only just begun. The Church stays on the path and with the people, also in the questions of marriage and family. We, as Church in Germany, want to continue on this road with Pope Francis. Encouraged and strengthened we return to our dioceses.”
Note: This story is developing as many questions have arisen about the contents of the letter and the names of the cardinals who signed it. Treat it with much care.
First there was the 5 Cardinals Book and the 11 Cardinals Book, and now we have the 13 Cardinals Letter. Via Sandro Magister comes a letter that 13 cardinals sent to Pope Francis on the eve of the Synod, on 5 October. In it, they express their concerns and questions about the revised processes of the Synod.
The cardinals, among them Cardinal Eijk, claim that the Instrumentum laboris is flawed in parts and has an excessive influence on the discussions and the final document (if there is even going to be one). The fact that debate is limited to the small language groups and that there is no voting on propositions or the composition of the drafting committee of the reworked Instrumentum are also points of concern. The cardinals also say that anyone tasked with drafting anything should be elected, not appointed. The new procedures, they say, are not true to the spirit of the Synod and their reason for having been made remains unclear.
Their concern that the deliberations of the Synod on a pastoral topic will become dominated by the theological/doctrinal question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried has in part proven to be unwarranted. Many Synod fathers, not least from the west, have insisted that the Synod is about much more than that question. But as this issue continues to make headlines and dominate the reports and opinion pieces, the letter’s final paragraph remains interesting to read:
“If [the question of Communion for divorced and remarried faithful dominates the deliberations], this will inevitably raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, her doctrines and her disciplines to changes in culture. The collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.”
The letter has been signed by the following cardinals:
Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna
Thomas Cardinal Collins, archbishop of Toronto
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York
Wim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht
Péter Cardinal Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and relator general of the Synod
Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, archbishop of Durban and one of the presidents delegate of the Synod
George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Major Penitentiary
Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Angelo Cardinal Scola, archbishop of Milan
Jorge Cardinal Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas
André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris and one of the presidents delegate of the Synod
Some have chosen to see this letter as an act of opposition to Pope Francis by overly orthodox prelate who don’t much like the Pope anyway, which, in my opinion is overly simplistic. While a number of the thirteen also contributed to the aforementioned 5 an 11 Cardinals Books and are know to be more conservative in theological and doctrinal matters, others (such as Cardinals Dolan, Collins and Vingt-Trois) are at least less vocally so. Their presence on the list of authors may reflect the more universal nature of the concerns.
These concerns over the Instrumentum laboris are hardly limited to these 13, judging by the commentary by, to name but one, Archbishop Mark Coleridge in his delightful blog posts from the Synod. Another prelate, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, hardly a mean old orthodox reactionary, has also said that the Instrumentum is flawed, but that its purpose is to be sacrificed.
The Synod is a venue of discussion, and that is exactly what we’re getting. Not only about the topic at hand, but also about the best ways of running these affairs. This is all the more prudent as rumours have begun to circulate that the Synod of Bishops will become an even more permanent and regular fixture of Church governance.
Edit: four of the alleged signatories of the letter, Cardinals Angelo Scola, André Vingt-Trois, Mauro Piacenza and Wilfrid Napier have now denied signing this letter. It remains to be seen what this means for the reliability of the letter and other cardinals on the list.
For the past two weeks, my fiancée and I have been vacationing in Sweden and Denmark, and on Sunday the 19th we attended Mass at Copenhagen’s cathedral of St. Ansgar. Bishop Czeslaw Kozon offered the Mass, and proved to be a kind and gracious host at the charity lunch in the cathedral garden after Mass. He asked us not only about our holiday and daily life, but, when I told him I try and sometimes blog about Church affairs in the Netherlands and sometimes also Scandinavia, also about recent developments in the Church here: parish mergers, Church closings and what that meant for faithful and priests alike. A validation of sorts that there is definitely interest in the Dutch Catholic Church from abroad.
Of course, we also took in the cathedral church itself, of which I share a number of photos below. St. Ansgar’s cathedral is a small church as cathedral go, and shares the Bredgade street with the Orthodox Church of St. Aleksandr Nevskij and the impressively domed Frederiks Kirke, also known as the Marble Church. Acorss from the latter lies Amalienborg castle, the residence of Queen Margrethe II.
St. Ansgar’s is the cathedral of the Diocese of Copenhagen, which covers the entire country of Denmark, as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The cathedral was consecrated in 1842, and was put on the same footing as a cathedral in 1942. In 1953, upon the establishment of the diocese, St. Ansgar’s really became a cathedral.
The cathedral has enjoyed one papal visit, in 1989, when Pope St. John Paul II toured the Nordic countries.
A view towards the sanctuary gives an overview of the cathedral. Apparently there had recently been a wedding, judging from the roses decorating the pews. The pews are the originals installed in the 19th century and some still bear the coat of arms of the Habsburgs, as the church was under the protection of the Austrian legate in Copenhagen.
A closer look at the sanctuary, with the cathedra at the centre. This was a change made by Bishop Kozon, whose coat of arms can be seen above the chair.
The dome over the sanctuary is decorated first with images of the Blessed Virgin and various saints of import for Denmark and northern Europe as a whole. Above them are Jesus Christ with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and at the top is God the Father.
The windows are all decorated with one saints each. These were installed on the initiative of Bishop Johannes von Euch between 1885 and 1894, replacing the original clear panes.
The organ in the choir loft, installed here in 1995.
In the right aisle, adjacent to the sanctuary, stands the baptismal font with a quote from Mark 16:16: “Salvus erit, He is saved”, in front of a painting of Saint Ansgar, who shared the Gospel in modern northern Germany, Denmark and Sweden, eventually becoming archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen.
To the left of the sanctuary, an image of the Blessed Virgin with the Child Jesus, a gift from Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I, and plenty of burning candles in front of it.
An overview of the entire front of the cathedral.
One last glimpse.
In the church garden there was a charity lunch, with the proceeds going to the local Caritas. We enjoyed strawberry tarts, juice and wine, as well as the blooming garden and the conversation with some of the faithful and Bishop Kozon.
Last night, during the annual night of theology – during which Dutch theologians look back on and celebrate recent developments in the field – Bishop Gerard de Korte was elected as the first “theologian laureate”. The title is an unofficial one and the most recent one after the “most talked about theologian” and the “theologian of the year”.
Bishop de Korte will be an ambassador of theology for the coming year and will be commenting on current affairs from a theological point of view (much like he does in his recently-launched blog). He was one of three nominees and won with a clear majority.
It all sounds nice, of course, but in reality the bishop’s title will not make a major difference. At most it will be putting theology, the person of the bishop and the Catholic Church in the spotlight. But Bishop de Korte has been doing much of what the title asks of him for at least the past five years. In the bishops’ conference he is the go-to prelate for matters of Church and society, so he often speaks on behalf of the conference on television and radio, and he frequently contributions opinion pieces and articles to written media,the diocesan website and his aforementioned blog.
A recognition of his work, then, with the hope that it may continue and bear good fruit.