2014, a year in review

As the year ends, it is once more time to look back at the past year in this blog. It wasn’t quite 2013, but there was still enough to write and think about. I have been a bit less active in writing, for reasons of real life, but the number of page views in 2014 still topped out at close to 100,000. An altogether satisfactory number.

In this review of the year, I will look back on various topics that kept us busy in 2014.

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands

jaimeThere have been many interesting things going in locally, some positive, some negative, but together they reflect the life of the Catholic Church in this country. From Roermond, the case of Bishop Frans Schraven, a martyr for the faith in China, was sent to Rome in light of a future beatification. The financial numbers of 2012 were published and showed a continued downward slope. The Dutch government sent a new – and royal – ambassador (pictured at left) to the Holy See. The Congregation for the Religious sent their second man to meet representatives of religious orders in the Netherlands. Monks of a declining abbey announced that they would be moving to a small island of the northern coast of the country. Personally, I experienced aprocession warfhuizen rain-soaked but satisfying pilgrimage (at right) to another religious site in the north. The Dutch bishops felt the need to stand up against a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and they also announced the upcoming publication of a new Missal translation. My own diocese saw the ordination of two new transitional deacons, while the sole hermit residing in that same diocese also announced the good news of his own upcoming ordination. Protestant clergy discovered the benefits, if not the deeper meaning, of the Roman collar. A community fighting the biography simonisclosing of their local Church appeal to the Pope. Catholic Voices, the successful communications initiative from the UK, launches a Dutch chapter. The retired archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Ad Simonis, is the subject of a major biography (cover at left). And in Nijmegen, the Diocese announces changes to the local university chaplaincy.

Cardinal Eijk

eijkThe archbishop of Utrecht remains unenviable as he continues in his work as president of the Bishops’ Conference, member of the Curia in Rome, and all too often a scapegoat. This year, he made headlines when stating that the decisions of the Council of Trent are still current, which caused resentment among ecumenical partners. He was also accused of vetoing a papal visit to the Netherlands, which turned out to be quite untrue, and the bishops ended the rumours by releasing a joint statement.

The seminaries

ariënsinstituut seminariansBy the end of summer, a debate erupted about the future of the seminaries in the Netherlands. Some parties advocated the creation of one or two major seminaries, while others were in favour of continuing with the current six. The majority of seminary directors seemed to favour the first option. Earlier in the year, the Archdiocese of Utrecht, restarted its own seminary (first class, staff and family at left).

Pope Francis

cardinals consistoryThe world remains interested in Pope Francis, and it was no different in this blog. First up, there was his first consistory, in which he created 16 new cardinals, including a fair few unexpected ones. The Holy Father was interviewed by young people from Belgium (at left), an interview that was also televised. Later, the verse vis,luc van looy, francisPope also sent a personal note to the Netherlands, to the participants and organisation of the Catholic Youth Festival. 50,000 altar servers from Germany made a pilgrimage to Rome, where Pope Francis spoke to them. The national Church of the Dutch, the Church of the Frisians, marked the anniversary of its dedication, and Pope Francis sent a note of congratulations. The Pope’s decision to terminate the appointment of the commander of the Swiss Guard led to much rumour, which proved pope francis curia christmas addressunfounded later. Pope Francis clarified this and other questions in a new interview. By the end of the year, Pope Francis announced his second consistory. Finally, his Christmas address to the Curia caused new shockwaves, but deserves a good reading by everyone.

New appointments

101020marx250There has been a fair amount of new appointments in 2014, and especially in Germany. First Fr. Herwig Gössl was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg. Cardinal Reinhard Marx (at left) was elected as the new president of the German Bishops’ Conference, in addition to his many other duties. In Essen, Bishop Franz Vorrath retired and Fr Wilhelm Zimmermann was appointed as new auxiliary bishop. Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg retired while his successor remains to be appointed. Fr. Stefan Oster was woelki32appointed as the new Bishop of Passau, and Fr. Stefan Burger was the new Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau. The Diocese of Erfurt was finally given a new bishop in the person of Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, after waiting for two years. The biggest appointment of the year was in Cologne, where Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (at right) returned from Berlin to succeed Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Mgr%20Bert%20van%20Megen2-loreWhile there were no new bishops in the Netherlands, a Dutch priest was appointed to represent the Holy See in Sudan and Eritrea. Father Bert van Megen (at left) was consecrated by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

In Rome, there were also some notable appointments: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera left the Congregation or Divine Worship to become Archbishop of his native Valencia. He was later succeeded by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Lastly, Pope Francis appointed a new camerlengo and vice-camerlengo.

The Synod

eijk synodThe big topic in the second half of the year was the Synod of Bishops’ Extraordinary Assembly on the family. In the eyes of the rest of the world, Germany remains a focal point of liberal trends that are at odds with Catholic teaching. That is not always true, but some bishops did strengthen that opinion. Bishop Ackermann of Trier was the first to be criticised for his comments on marriage and sexuality. From Brazil, Austrian-born Bishop Kräutler made comments on celibacy, the ordination of women and the Eucharist, and is said to have the Pope’s blessing to develop these ideas further in johan-bonnyBrazil. In Belgium, Bishop Johan Bonny (at left)was the loudest voice to advocate changes in the teachings on marriage, both before and after the Synod. At the Synod, Belgian Cardinal Danneels spoke in favour of mercy, but did not go as far as Bishop Bonny. In the Netherlands, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts explained that the Synod was not about changing doctrine, and Bishop Gerard de Korte stressed the importance of mercy and finding new words to reach people. How doctrine can change remains an important question.


tebartzSpilling over from last year, the final acts of the case of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (at right) and the Diocese of Limburg played out as it became clear that the Vatican did not want the bishop to stay. He was to retire and Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of neighbouring Paderborn was appointed as Apostolic Administrator. The last statement of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst spoke of forgiveness and a new beginning. Bishop Grothe presented an overview of the situation since then in his letter for Advent.

Sexual abuse

gijsenThe sexual abuse crisis, while quieter than in the past, still continues, with a few shocking revelations and continuing developments in helping the victims. In 2014, three claims of abuse against the late Bishop Gijsen (at left) were deemed plausible, and the late Bishop Niënhaus, auxiliary of Utrecht, was revealed to have been guilty of sexual abuse. Shortly after the news about Bishop Gijsen, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond offered a Mass of penance and reconciliation and said that there is no excuse for sexual abuse by people of the Church. Later, a court decision forced the bishops to continue accepting new claims of abuse by deceased perpetrators, or cases which happened too long ago to be pursued by a court, until well into 2015.

International events

frans van der lugtThis blog has a clear focus on the local Church in Northwestern Europe, and also on Rome of course, but sometimes events in other parts of the world deserve a place here. In fact, the most-read blog post of the year, with more than 3,900 views, is in this category. It is the sad news of the death of Fr. Frans van der Lugt (at right) in Syria. Another death, this time because of a car crash, was vital wilderinkthat of Dutch-born Bishop Vital Wilderink (at left) in Brazil. Also in South America, the retirement of the Bishop of Paramaribo, also a Dutchman, mad me wonder of his successor would be a native son of Suriname. And then there was the shocking crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine, shot down by rebels, killing 298 people.

From Rome

marriageAnd lastly, Rome also had its say in various developments and decisions which came down to us. The Congregation or Divine Worship urged for restraint in the sign of peace during Mass, Pope Francis married 20 Roman couples and changes in the Curia gave some indications of the future.


In 2014 the following cardinals returned to the Father:

  • José da Cruz Cardinal Policarpo, Cardinal-priest of San Antonio in Campo Marzio, Patriarch emeritus of Lisbon
  • Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, Cardinal-Patriarch, Patriarch emeritus of Babylon of the Chaldeans
  • Marco Cardinal Cé, Cardinal-Priest of San Marco, Patriarch emeritus of Venice
  • Duraisamy Simon Cardinal Lourdusamy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie alle Fornaci fuori Porta Cavalleggeri, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Archbishop emeritus of Bangalore
  • Bernard Cardinal Agré, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Crisostomo a Monte Sacro Alto, Archbishop emeritus of Abidjan
  • Francesco Cardinal Marchisano, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, President emeritus of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See
  • Edward Bede Cardinal Clancy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Vallicella, Archbishop emeritus of Sydney
  • Edmund Casimir Cardinal Szoka, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Andrea e Gregorio  al Monte Celio, Archbishop emeritus of Detroit, President emeritus of the Governorate of the Vatican City State, President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission or the Vatican City State
  • Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini, Cardinal-Priest of Santo Spirito  in Sassia, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
  • Jorge María Cardinal Mejía, Cardinal-Priest of San Girolamo della Carità, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist emeritus of the Vatican Secret Archives

Whereas 2013 saw the death of more than a few bishops in Northwestern Europa, in 2014 we lost only two:

  • Bishop Hubert Luthe, Bishop emeritus of Essen
  • Bishop Wolfgang Kirchgässner, Titular Bishop of Druas, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Freiburg im Breisgau

A personal message from the Pope

francisExpanded for the first time into a two-day festival, and also for the first time on the grounds of Mariënkroon Abbey, west of Den Bosch, the annual Dutch Catholic Youth Day was treated today to a personal message from Pope Francis. Dated to 25 June, the message uses the three-bullet point format that Pope Francis also often employs in his homilies. The three keywords, however, came directly from the festival’s theme: New, Pure and Intense.

The Holy Father recalls the topics he announced in his first Message for World Youth Day: the Beatitudes. It is, he writes, “a concrete programme of life that can serve as a guide on the path to true happiness.” Latching on the theme, Pope Francis claims that “the message of Jesus’ Beatitudes is new,” invites us to contemplate Jesus’ purity of heart, and reminds us that “young people want to live intense experiences!” These three point the way that Jesus “himself has taken,” that He is.

I have also made a Dutch translation of the message.

The General Report for the Ad Limina – The portfolios

Continuing with our translation of the general report that the Dutch bishops will be handing to Pope Francis in the first week of December, we arrive at the second part, in which the various portfolios within the Bishops’ Conference are described, as well as some developments within the fields they cover.

It would seem that each portfolio holder has written a short text. These are sadly not written for easy reading. They are dry texts intended to convey information, and their length prevents the inclusion of much detail.

Below, I will briefly list the main points in each text.

logo TSTVocations and Education to Church Ministry (Wim Cardinal Eijk): Mentions the intended merger between the three Catholic theological faculties in the country. The Faculty of Catholic Theology (logo pictured) of the University of Tilburg, but located in Utrecht, was the result. Two faculties participated, while the third lost the right to dispense ecclesiastical grades. No mention is made of the seminaries.

Liturgy, Church Music, Bible and Christian Art (Bishop Jan Liesen): This department tries to emphasise the fullness of liturgical life through letters and liturgical books. There is special attention for new translations of the Roman Missal and the Bible as used in the liturgy.

Catechesis (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): There are projects about First Communion and Confirmation,  a series of six catechetical magazines on topics like birth, suffering, forgiveness and education, a catechesis method for children and teenagers. New goals are new forms of evangelisation and catechesis and more investing in the volunteer force.

basisschoolEducation (Bishop Jan Hendriks): Government policy and secularisation put pressure on Catholic education. Ways are sought to improve relations between Church and schools and increase religious knowledge of teachers.

Youth (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): Pastoral care is mostly presented in national events (Catholic Youth Day, diocesan events). The number of youth groups is slowly decreasing, but young Catholics are increasingly present on the Internet and in social media.

Communication and Media (Bishop Frans Wiertz): Little interest from secular media in Church and faith, except for the sexual abuse crisis and the election of Pope Francis. Fewer financial means to invest in communication. There seem to be new chances in new media (seriously? Seem to be?)

prisonPastoral care in Justice and Health Care (Bishop Everard de Jong): Pastoral care in prisons takes place in close cooperation with the state. Most hospitals and nursing homes are secularised, making providing pastoral care more difficult. It is being ‘professionalised’ and thus becoming more secular. There are very few priests available in this area, and the challenge is to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and dioceses, and dioceses and institutions.

Church and Society (Bishop Gerard de Korte): The bishop meets twice annually with representatives from various areas of society, including political parties and unions. The bishop tries to spread Catholic social thought via the media.

Ecumenism and Contacts with the Eastern Rites (Bishop Hans van den Hende): There are direct ecumenical contacts with the Protestant Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental and Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Alliance and the Pentecostal churches. Expressions of ecumenism include a joint declaration on Baptism and a nationwide Week of Prayer for Unity.

Interreligious Dialogue (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Cooperation exists with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Deus Caritas Est and the Vatican II documents are basis for further contacts.

punt ethiopiëMission and Development (Bishop Jos Punt): There is solidarity and creativity in the parishes, often aimed at local projects. These can be integrated in national actions. There is also a decline in financial contributions to missionary projects. (At left: Bishop Punt on a missionary visit to Ethiopia)

Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) (Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom): The bishop participates in the two meetings per year of the COMECE, and subsequently reports to the bishops’ conference about it. Several COMECE projects are put into practice in the Netherlands.

Marriage and Family (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): Good marriage preparation and family amenities are promoted for the new parishes. Numerous movements assist the Church in these goals.

Handboek-katholieke-medische-ethiekMedical Ethics (Wim Cardinal Eijk): The cardinal lectures on this topic in the Netherlands and abroad, and also teaches the subject at the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and writes articles for various publications. He also maintains political contacts to emphasise the topic, and has published a handbook on medical ethics (pictured), which is currently being translated into English and Italian.

Relations with Judaism (Bishop Herman Woorts): Several meetings between Jewish and Christian communities take place, in relation to the remembrance of the Holocaust and several Jewish feasts. All dioceses should have their own working group for relations with Judaism.

Movements and New Communities (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): These are fourteen movements and communities recognised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Religious and Secular Institutes (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Three to four meetings per year have led to mutual dialogue and confidence and has brought bishops and religious closer together.

Church and the Elderly (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Two elements are important: representation and comfort on the one hand, and questions of life and death, the younger generations and hope on the other. This is achieved through celebrations and speaking engagements.

Church and Women (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Consisting mainly of contacts with the Union of Dutch Catholic Women, in two meetings per year.

Our Lady of Lourdes BasilicaPilgrimages (Bishop Herman Woorts): The bishop takes part in the annual meeting of the three official pilgrimage organisations. Important now is the creation of a new pilgrims’ book related to the publication of an interrim Missal, probably sometime in 2014. The bishop takes part in various pilgrimages and celebrations.

Pastoral Care for Workers in Carnivals, Circuses and Shipping (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): There is a well-ordered nationwide parish for shipping workers, with its own parish priest and group of volunteers. There is an annual meeting with the bishop.

Beatifications and Canonisations (Bishop Frans Wiertz): There have been four canonisations and three beatifications in the Dutch Church province since 1998. There are three Blesseds awaiting canonisation.  There are 13 further cases, of which three have reached the stage of Venerable. Three cases have had their file sent to Rome, and two files have been handed over to dioceses abroad. Three or four more candidates are being considered to have their processes started.

The reports are very factual and while the describe intentions, plans and wishes, there is no indication of how these are to be realised, nor how effective any projects are.

Striking – and disappointing – is the conclusion from Bishop Wiertz as holder of the communications portfolio that “here seem to be new chances in new media”. These chances have been there for years, and many Catholics in the world are exploiting them. There is a world to be won on the Internet for the Church in the Netherlands, a world that is barely being explored at this time.

The General Report for the Ad Limina – the first part

Logo BisschoppenconferentieToday the Dutch Bishops’ Conference published the general report on the Catholic Church in the Netherlands that will be presented to Pope Francis during the ad limina visit that will take place from 2 to 7 December. This report comes accompanied by reports on every diocese, which the individual ordinaries will present. Those reports remain confidential, but the general report is public. In due time, I will be posting the entire report in English. For now, however,  a look at the first part, which aims to give an overview of the state of the Church in the Netherlands, and some of the ongoing developments that dictate current policy and trends.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands

The time that the Roman Catholic Church was a great people’s church. lies some decades behind us. We are developing into a church of choice with, especially in the southern dioceses, elements of cultural Catholicism. Before us lies a future in which people who want to be Roman Catholic do so expressly out of a conscious choice. We are investing in the new evangelisation, deepening of the faith and of the personal relationship with Christ. In recent years we anchored ourselves clearly on the basics of our Catholic identity. The richness of the Roman Catholic Church, with her sacraments, social teaching, liturgy, documents and the diversity of offices and ministry has been painted and communicated more clearly and we will continue to work on that.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands exists in a situation of decline, which has begun long ago. In 25 years the number of members dropped by 1 million to 4,044,000 Catholics. At this moment, 24.1 % of the total population is Roman Catholic, and that makes her the largest group of faithful in the Netherlands.

By merging parishes and stimulating cooperation between parishes and parish groups, we want to assure that the local parish remains or becomes a thriving and attractive faith community. From these larger parishes or parish groups missionary initiatives are undertaken, searching for new possibilities to familiarise people with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands performs her mission in a strongly secularised society. In it she does not want to retreat as on an island, but remain in dialogue with government, society, other Christians and followers of other religions and philosophies.

1. Developments

  • The reorganisation of the Bishops’ Conference support structure was completed this year.  On the diocesan level there were reorganisations of the diocesan curia and a restructuring of ecclesiastical life. Ambitions, priorities and organisations must be adjusted to a decrease of available personal and financial means, the size of the faith community and the way in which one participates in the community. It makes the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands a “Church in conversion”.
  • knox_bible_openedThe bishops and their coworkers make parishes aware of their missionary duty and the importance of decent catechesis in the parishes, which makes, attuned to the various stages of life, people familiar with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of the Church. In the past fifty years there has not been enough attention for systematic education in the faith in accordance with the teaching of the Church. A multi-year religious education program for children, youth and young adults, developed by employees of the Diocese of Roermond, is also promoted in other dioceses. Much is being done for a good formation of the countless volunteers who take care of catechesis in the parishes. On multiple sides means of assistance are being developed, such as pastoral care with an emphasis on presence in the concrete lives of people, the use of new media, the Alpha Course and initiatives of new movements.
  • Within the context of the mergers of parishes, parochial caritas foundations are also being merged, creating larger and stronger caritas foundation able to create a diaconal face for the larger parishes. A missionary Church must also give clear witness of the Gospel in the diaconal works of love.
  • Mergers of parishes and decline – with the unavoidable consequence of closing church buildings – create unrest and pain in many places.
  • wydPolicy and the joining of forces regarding the pastoral care of young people have led to a successful Dutch participation in the World Youth Days in Cologne in 2005 (3,500 participants), Sydney in 2008 (700 participants), Madrid in 2011 (1,250 participants) and Rio de Janeiro in 2013 (300 participants). The World Youth Days in Rio de Janeiro drew fewer participants because of the distance and the high costs related to the journey. Additionally, the previous World Youth Days (Madrid) took place only two years earlier, which made the time to save money shorter. The annual Catholic Youth Day draws every years some 1,500 young people from all over the Netherlands. The World Youth Days especially deepened the Catholic faith of many participants, as well as the formation of their personal prayer life and active participation in Church life. There is special attention for the follow up of the World Youth Days through youth activities in the dioceses and on a national level. The dioceses also develop their own programs for youth activities.
  • The Passion is the name of a musical event organised by Roman Catholics and Protestants, in which the story of the passion of Christ and the Gospel of Easter take centre stage, and which since 2011 has taken place annually on Maundy Thursday, every time in a different location. It is broadcast live on television. Famous artists portray the roles of Christ and others who appear in the passion and the Easter Gospel. The event is a missionary chance to present the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ in a modern way to a large audience. In 2011 the event drew almost 1 million viewer. In 2012 there 1.7 million. In 2013 no less than 2.3 million viewers tuned in to The Passion.
  • There are some fifty Catholic immigrant communities and some thirty immigrant parishes (of which a few are Catholic parishes of the Eastern rite) These immigrant Catholic faith communities are often very vital and introduce experiences and expression of the Catholic faith from their country or culture of origin. In that way they contribute to a new momentum in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands.
  • In words and action the bishops follow a clear policy regarding the ecclesiastical, liturgical and sacramental life concerning the position and duty of priests and deacons, as well as pastoral workers and other lay ministers.
  • RKK_logo_paars_magentaThe social relevance of the Church plays a role in her relation to the government, the society, the other churches and church communities, as well as to other religions and philosophies. An important tool is the allocated broadcast time for the Roman Catholic Church (RKK), which the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Katholieke Radio Omroep (KRO) fill in cooperation. National government carries the costs for the RKK. This time offers special opportunities to reach Catholics and non-Catholics. But the government has decided to stop financing the RKK and withdraw the licenses of all religious broadcasters, so also including the RKK, in 2016. That is why it is important that the KRO continues expressing her Catholic identity in her own broadcast time. In cooperation with the bishops, the KRO will take over the broadcast of the Sunday Eucharist and a few programmes of the RKK. In addition, the bishops are investigating if there are more affordable means to broadcast programmes with a Roman Catholic identity, for example via Internet television and radio.
  • Whereas the principle of the separation of Church and state originally guaranteed the prevention of state interference with Church affairs, this separation is now used by some to urge for a religious neutralisation of the public domain. This helps in the privatisation of religion and faith. The bishops are in favour of Church and state being clearly separate from one another, both administratively and organisationally. This does not, however, mean a separation between faith and conviction on the hand, and politics on the other. The Roman Catholic faith implies a clear and develop social doctrine, a rich source of inspiration for civilians and politics. The opinions of secular groups in society are, like religious opinions, not neutral.

This part of the report is fairly factual, although it does give an idea of where the priorities of the bishops lie. It is fairly policy-driven and therefore automatically rather far removed from the daily experience of faithful and their pastoral needs and wishes. That is an ongoing issue in the Church in the Netherlands: it is still difficult to make the step from policy to practice, from the discussions and plans of the bishops to the daily affairs and experiences of people. That is a gap that needs to be closed from both sides.

The bishops will have arrived in Rome by 1 December, when they will offer a Mass at the Church of the Frisians, with Cardinal Eijk as the main celebrant. This Mass will be broadcast live on television.

Stats for November 2012

And so the liturgical year draws to a close as we mark the start of the new one tomorrow, and this blog happily marked the 200,000th visitor some weeks ago. 200,000 visits since I began almost three years ago? For some blogs that is next to nothing, but for me it is a reason to be grateful. Thank you.

Onward to the top 10 of last month, when we saw 6,262 visits.

1: Intolerable tolerance 103
2: “On the edge, but not marginal” – Fr. Radcliffe on the “official Church” 90
3: Maranatha – a Catholic future for Tilburg’s students 68
4: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass 64
5: A second Red Dawn risies 56
6:In gratitude – Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows 46
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 45
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 39
9: Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring? 38
10: Criminal or careless? Bishop Gijsen accused in Iceland 37

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Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring?

A short while ago I wrote about my concerns about the Catholic voice in the media in the Netherlands. I especially focussed on the lack of unity and the tendency towards infighting which characterises the Catholic presence on  especially social media.

On Sunday, I was at the annual Catholic Youth Day in Den Bosch, where my concerns found some resonance and also an indication of the road towards a resolution. First there was  short conversation with Mr. Jeroen Goosen, director of Katholiek Nieuwsblad. Of course we briefly spoke about the tv appearance of that weekly’s editor Mariska Orbán de Haas, which sparked my initial blog post. And while I think that media training is a great asset for Catholics in the media, I also think that Mr. Goosen was right when he said that some media outlets are out to place the Church in a bad light, regardless of the intentions of what the person being interviewed brings to the debate.

Father Roderick Vonhögen later reminded me that it’s not merely about what we do, but that God works with us, literally. We are the tools He uses. And if He can work with me, who can’t He work with?

Lastly, there was the workshop I attended, organised by Amsterdam-based Leidenhoven College, about Catholic Voices. This initiative in the UK has managed to train Catholics for thoughtful, intelligent and positive media interventions and involvement on behalf and for the Church. This example is already being followed in several countries, and the Netherlands may soon be one of them. I think that Catholic Voices is just what we need. As I mentioned earlier, we have the talent and enthusiasm among Catholics in regular and social media. Over the course of Sunday and yesterday I have become increasingly enthusiastic about this, and I intend to try and do my part to contribute to what Catholic Voices aims to do.

Catholic Voices operates according to ten principles, organised in three sets, which are equally applicable in media settings as in social and family circumstances:

Set 1: core argument

1: Look for positive intention behind the criticism (reframing).

– Understand the case against the Church.
– Find the positive intention in the case (the concern that a person has in making the case).
– Agree with this positive intention.
– Start your response from here.

Set 2: Further content

2: Show, don’t tell. Use examples, not platitudes or slogans.
3: Think in triangles. Decide on three core points you wish to bring across in a conversation.

Set 3: Form

4: Shed light, not heat. Keep your calm, do not allow the conversation to turn angry.
5: People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel. Making good points in an arrogant way won’t win people towards your side.
6: Be positive.
7: Be compassionate.
8: Check your facts, but avoid robotics. Don’t just list facts like an automaton.
9: It’s not about you. It’s not personal, and it’s about God and His Church.
10: Witnessing, not winning. Making your points should be your focus, not winning the debate.

Beyond the initial goal of providing a positive and well-rounded Catholic contribution to media debates, Catholic Voices in the UK soon became more. From their website:

CATHOLIC VOICES began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010. Inspired by that visit, it has become much more: a school of a new Christian humanism; and the laboratory of a new kind of apologetics.

Photo credit: Eric Masseus

Ever wanting to share Christ, the cardinal turns 80

Four-and-a-half years into his retirement as Archbishop of Utrecht, Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis – Ad in conversation – reaches another milestone today: his 80th birthday. A respectable age for anyone, of course, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “The span of our life is seventy years — eighty for those who are strong” (90:10a), but for a cardinal it is something of a further step back from the intricacies of the Curia, locally and in Rome. Upon reaching his 80th birthday, a cardinal can no longer vote in a conclave, to elect a new pope.

Luckily, it would seem that Pope Benedict XVI is still in reasonably good health for a man his age (even if the rumours of his suffering arthritis in his legs are true), so a conclave is still in the semi-distant future. I would be surprised, therefore, if Cardinal Simonis still harboured any hopes of participating in another one.

As the Psalmist continues about the years of our life: “their whole extent is anxiety and trouble, they are over in a moment and we are gone” (90:10b), Cardinal Simonis certainly had his share of anxiety and trouble. Ordained a priest in 1957, the dentist’s son from Lisse first made Catholic headlines at the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout, where the young priest, then in his late thirties, was a voice for orthodoxy and thus soon placed by many in the camp of the bad guys. Rome, however, thought otherwise, as Father Simonis was appointed to be the second bishop of Rotterdam. His appointment there, as well as that of Bishop Gijsen to Roermond in 1972, is often considered to have been Pope Paul VI’s response to the new liberalism in the Dutch Catholic Church, especially considering that the name of Fr. Simonis appeared on none of the ternae supplied to Rome.

Bishop Simonis would remain in Rotterdam for 13 years, until 1983, when he was appointed to be Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht under Cardinal Willebrands. At the end of that year, on 3 December Archbishop Simonis succeeded the cardinal, who continued for six more years as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As Utrecht’s archbishop, Msgr. Simonis was the principal host of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his cold reception in the Netherlands in 1985. Because of the hostility of many Dutch Catholics towards the bishops and especially Rome, personified in the pope, Archbishop Simonis was put under police protection for ten days. His elevation to the College of Cardinals in the consistory of 25 May 1985 is often seen as a way to strengthen the archbishop in his difficult position.

That difficult position did get easier over the years, as the climate in the Church mellowed, and Cardinal Simonis moved from being a voice of orthodoxy to one speaking for all Catholics, something that he considered to be an important attribute for all bishops.

In April of 2007, Cardinal Simonis retired and took up residence in a Focolare community in Nieuwkuijk. But even after his retirement, the cardinal remained a well-known face of the Church. His name appeared several times concerning abuse cases under his jurisdiction in the archdiocese, as well as ill-advised comments on national television. In recent year, many seemed to prefer to depict him as an evil genius, but the worst accusation that may, in my opinion, be brought against Cardinal Simonis is a naive attitude.

As  shown by his motto, Ut cognoscant te, Cardinal Simonis is driven by the desire to let people know Christ, doing so as a humble and friendly prelate who tends to first see the good in people.

The paths of the cardinal and I have crossed several times, although we never formally met. As chief celebrant at the Catholic Youth Day of, I think, 2007, during the installation of Bishop de Korte, and most recently in Spain during the World Youth Days, a constant was the cardinal’s health. In the years immediately following his retirement, his figure turned ever more stooped, but that seems to have reversed itself in later years. The quiet life seems to have done Cardinal Simonis good.

But now, as the Dutch Church Province is left without a cardinal elector, eyes turn to Cardinal Simonis’ successor in Utrecht, Archbishop Wim Eijk. With a consistory rumoured to be scheduled for this time next year, he is now among the chief candidates for the red hat, considering the fact that Pope Benedict tends not to appoint new cardinals in a country which still has an elector.

We will see how that turns out, but in the mean time, the only suitable way to wrap up this post, is with a heartfelt birthday wish to Cardinal Ad Simonis: ad multos annos!

Photo credits:
[1] NRC Handelsblad / Rien Zilvold
[2] Bisdom Den Bosch
[3] Ramon Mangold