In Utrecht, a statue for a Pope

Pope Adrian VIAlmost 500 years after his death, the only Dutch Pope will be getting a statue in his native city of Utrecht. Out of an initial sixty, three sculptors will be invited to make a design that will eventually be turned into a full scale statue. As a possible location the Pausdam in the old centre of the city is being considered, although the sculptor will have a say in that.

Pope Adrian VI was Pope for less than two years, in 1522 and 1523. Although he was born in Utrecht, there is some debate about whether he can be considered a Dutchman. The city was the heart of the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, part of the Burgundian Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire. There was no sovereign Dutch state to speak of at the time, so Adrian VI can also be considered a German Pope. Whatever his nationality, he was the last non-Italian Pope until Pope St. John Paul II.

Before becoming Pope. Adriaan Florensz, as his birth name was, worked his way up in the world. Vice-chancellor of Louvain University, personal advisor to the governess of the Habsburg Netherlands, tutor to the future Emperor Charles V. Heading to Spain in 1515, he was made Bishop of Tortosa  and Inquisitor General of Aragon in 1516. He was created a cardinal in 1517. During Emperor Charles’ minority, Cardinal Adriaan was co-regent of Spain, and regent when the adult Charles was in the Netherlands in 1520.

In 1522, Adriaan was elected to the papacy as a compromise to break the deadlock between Spanish and French candidates. The new Pope arrived in Rome in August of 1522, more than seven months after his election. Wanting to be a peacemaker  to unity the European princes against the Turks, Pope Adrian VI is perhaps most notable today for seeing the need to reform the Curia, which he privately considered part of the reason for the Protestant revolt. He died in September 1523 and is buried in the Santa Maria dell’Anima church in Rome.

paushuizeIn Utrecht there are few reminders of Pope Adrian, but most visible is the house he had built there for his retirement when he was still a cardinal. Of course, he never lived there because of his election to the papacy. The house is used today as a presentation space for the King’s  Commissioner and the provincial government. In 1985, Pope St. John Paul II visited the house.

A statue commemorating the only pontiff to hail from what would one day become the Netherlands would certainly be a fitting addition to the city where he was born. A further valuable addition would be a renewed recognition of the role Pope Adrian VI played in Europe and in the Church.

Archbishop Léonard looks to the future

léonardIn an interview for the campus newspaper of the Catholic University of Louvain, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who is the university’s Grand Chancellor, speaks about the future, which includes what may well be his last year as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

Archbishop Léonard will reach his 75th birthday on 6 May 2015, little over a year from now.

“The rule is that you tender your resignation to the Pope around your 75th birthday. It is up to him to decide what happens then. Sometimes, depending on the situation and your health, he will ask you to stay on a bit longer. The archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Meisner, is 80! In other situations you retire. I will do what will be asked, and enthusiastically so. It is a wonderful duty. I meet so many people, from soldiers to prisoners, from professors to young families. That gives an unimaginable wealth to life. If I am allowed to continue doing that a while longer, I would be very grateful. When I retire, I will also enjoy that very much. Didn’t I say a priest had to be flexible?”

In a television interview, the archbishop said a bit more about his retirement plans.

“Once retired I would like to live near a shrine in Belgium or France, to hear confessions or give conferences. I do intend to leave the dioceses of Mechelen-Brussels and Namur, since I have already been active there for so many years.”

André-Joseph Léonard was a priest of the Diocese of Namur from his ordination in 1964 to 1991, when he was appointed as that diocese’s bishop. In 2010, he was appointed as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

The rest of the interview, which also touches upon the Catholic identity of the Catholic University of Louvain, science and faith, the archbishop’s work as Grand Chancellor, priesthood in past and present, the future of evangelisation, Pope Francis and Archbishop Léonard not being made a cardinal, can be read in my translation here.

Photo credit: KU Leuven – Rob Stevens

University professor and seminary president to head Liège

delvilleAs the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.

Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:

  • 1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
  • 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
  • 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
  • 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
  • 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
  • 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s  College, Catholic University of Louvain.
  • 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.

The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.

Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.

Photo credit: Belga.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Ries passes away

Monsignor Julien Ries of Belgium, a formA cardinal for only one year and five days, Julien Ries did not receive his red hat as the result of a succesful career in the hierarchy. The Belgian prelate rather received it for his work in the quiet of his study and the lecture hall. This morning he passed away at the age of 92.

Julien Ries was born near Arlon and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Namur in 1945. After a few years working as a parish priest and history teacher, Father Ries taught history of religion at the Catholic University of Louvain. After that university was split in a Flemish and a Walloon section in 1968, he remained at the latter. He remained there until his retirement in 1990.

A highly  productive author, Fr. Ries was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 2012. Consecrated a bishop a week before the consistory, he held the titular see of  Belcastro, and later became Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia.

With more than 600 publications to his name, Cardinal Ries was convinced that those were the reason for being made a cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI studied his work closely, and in 2012, Cardinal Ries said in an interview: “He phoned me more than once to congratulate me, when he had read a book of mine.”

Cardinal Ries’s work was best know for its focus on religious anthropology and humanities. In 2009, he donated his library and all his notes and correspondence to the Catholic University of Milan.

Cardinal Ries was never an elector. With his passing the total number of cardinals drops to 208.

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.