Bishop Ernst marks 75 years of priesthood


He is the nestor of the Dutch episcopate, and at 99 years of age Msgr. Huub Ernst is the 8th oldest bishop in the world today. Last Tuesday he marked the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, with a solemn Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony* in Breda, the same church were he offered his first Mass in 1941. As the retired bishop of Breda is confined to a motorised wheelchair, he concelebrated the Mass, which was offered by Breda’s current bishop, Msgr. Jan Liesen. They were joined by Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Breda from 2007 to 2011, as well as the current and retired vicars general of the diocese.

Bishop Ernst was one of two priests ordained by Bishop Petrus Hopmans on 7 June 1941. After two years working in the parish he was called to a life of study, education and management. He was vicar general under Bishop Gerard de Vet (bishop of Breda from 1962 to 1967) and succeeded him upon his untimely death. Bishop Ernst, considered a progressive (but not so much that the liberal 8 May Movement did not succeed in alienating him) but also a wise and well-spoken theologian, would remain in office until 1992, followed by an uncommonly long two and a half years as apostolic administrator, until Martinus Muskens was appointed as his successor in late 1994.

After his retirement, Bishop Ernst remained available for certain important events. Not only did he consecrate Bishop Muskens in 1994, but he was also one of the co-consecrators of Muskens’ successor, Hans van den Hende, in 2006. Bishop Ernst has lived long enough to see three bishops succeed him and survived his immediate successor. In 2007 he condemned the proposal of the Dominicans to have lay people be given the possibility to offer Mass as “incorrect, senseless and not the right solution”. In 2010 he was called to testify in a sexual abuse case, claiming that important information was withheld from him when he was asked to appoint a Salesian priest who would later abuse again, after which Bishop Ernst fired him.

While Bishop Ernst is one of the oldest living bishops, he is even higher on the list of most senior bishops by ordination to the priesthood. Only four living bishops were ordained before Bishop Ernst, and among them is another bishop from the Dutch language area. He is Belgian-born Bishop Jan Van Cauwelaert. Now at the age of 102, this Antwerp-born prelate of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was vicar apostolic and later bishop of Inongo, now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About his current life, Bishop Ernst said:

“When I had to end my duties because of my age, I experienced that, while possessing a clear mind, I was definitely losing my physical strength. I concluded from that that my task would now be to stand in my own life for what I looked for in the offices. Experiencing this, I said, “Chaplain again, invisibly present. Without this being expressed amid the others who believe. The images I carry with me from my time in the chaplaincy express the relationship in which we live. It is a life of gratitude.””

*It wasn’t the cathedral back then, although it had been between 1853 and 1876, and has been again since 2001.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

Thoughts about the next bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Apparently there are people who look to me to predict who the new bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden will be. Well, surprisingly, I don’t know. I am not privy to the deliberations of the seven-priest cathedral chapter of the diocese, let alone the thoughts of the other bishops, the nuncio or the Pope.

Bishops de Korte and Hurkmans in Den Bosch, on Saturday. Behind them Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts.

But we can make guesses, for whatever that is worth. To do so, we can first take a look at the recent history of bishop appointments in the Netherlands. While auxiliary bishops are virtually always chosen from among priests and therefore need to be consecrated as bishops first, ordinaries – bishops who lead a diocese – rarely are. It is more usual for a new ordinary to be transferred from another diocese, as happened with Bishop de Korte on Saturday, or an auxiliary bishop being chosen. This happened, for example, when Bishop Jan Liesen was picked for the Diocese of Breda in 2011. He was auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch before that.

There are currently five auxiliary bishops in the Netherlands. In order of precedence they are:

  • Bishop Everard de Jong, 57, Titular Bishop of Cariana and Auxiliary Bishop of Roermond
  • Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, 55, Titular Bishop of Bistue and Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht
  • Bishop Herman Woorts, 52, Titular Bishop of Giufi Salaria and Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht
  • Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, 57, Titular Bishop of Uccula and Auxiliary Bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch
  • Bishop Jan Hendriks, 61, Titular Bishop of Arsacal and Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam

dejong_hulpbisschop_0Of these, Bishop de Jong (at left) may have the best cards. A bishop for 17 years, he was allegedly in the running to succeed then-Bishop Eijk in Groningen-Leeuwarden back in 2008. Ultimately that appointment went to Bishop de Korte, but his time may now have come. Coming from a large diocese, he has relatively little experience with the process of parish mergers and consolidations as it is taking place in Groningen-Leeuwarden. This could speak against him.

Of the other four, most attention has been on Bishop Mutsaerts. Seen as the opposite of Bishop de Korte in several ways, many assume that he will be removed to another diocese fairly soon. The likely choice is, of course, Groningen-Leeuwarden. In how far there is a basis in fact for this assumption remains to be seen. It is said that Bishops Mutsaerts and De Korte get on fine personally, and the latter would see the advantage of having an auxiliary bishop at his side as he familiarises himself with his new diocese.

Bishops Hoogenboom, Woorts and Hendriks are possible choices to come to Groningen, but at the moment none really stands out as being more likely than the others. When it comes to the communication and opennes of Bishop de Korte, Bishop Hendriks perhaps comes closest. For the cathedral chapter he could be an option if they want to see the line of Bishop de Korte continue. The auxiliary bishops of Utrecht are reputed to be more in line with Cardinal Eijk.

Of the other ordinaries in the Netherlands two are certainly too old to be transferred to another diocese: Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam is 70 and Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond 73. With the mandatory retirement age of bishops set at 75, they can safely assume that they will remain in their dioceses. Another ordinary who will not be appointed is of course Cardinal Wim Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. He was the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden from 1999 to 2008 and as a rule bishops do not return for a second shift, so to speak (although canon law does not preclude it). A return would be seen as a demotion anyway, what with Eijk being an archbishop and cardinal.

bishop van den hendeThis leaves only two other ordinaries to be considered: Rotterdam’s Hans van den Hende (at right) and Breda’s Jan Liesen. Bishop van den Hende is a native of Groningen-Leeuwarden, serving as its vicar general before being appointed as coadjutor bishop of Breda in 2006. If he was to come home, it would mean his third appointment as ordinary, after Breda and Rotterdam. While not impossible, it is quite unlikely. And with only four years as bishop of Breda and almost five years and counting in Rotterdam, he may be excused for wanting to stay in one place for a while longer. That’s better for his diocese, too.

Bishop Jan Liesen has been in Breda since 2011 and before that he was auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch for a year and change. There is nothing really excluding him as an option for Groningen-Leeuwarden, except for his short time in Breda. Stability must be considered: it is probably not a good idea for the diocese to start looking for its third bishop in les than ten years.

So, in my expert opinion (ahem…), if the new bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden is to be picked from among the other bishops of the Netherlands, Bishop Everard de Jong and Jan Hendriks have the best odds, with Bishops Liesen, Hoogenboom and Woorts as possible runners-up.

Pope Francis’ second Dutch appointment, which will certainly not happen before the end of May, and perhaps, as Bishop de Korte suggested, not before the year’s final months, could be a surprise. A priest native to Groningen-Leeuwarden may be a bridge too far just yet, but whatever will happen, it should be an interesting couple of months before us.

Photo credit: [1] Chris Korsten

One day until number 10 – New bishop of ‘s -Hertogenbosch to be announced tomorrow

359px-Wapen_van_bisdom_Den_Bosch_svgThe rumours now strong enough that several media outlets have also announced it, we can welcome the new bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch at 11am tomorrow. The official announcement from the Vatican will follow at noon.

 Retiring Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who announced his stepping back for health reasons in September, will either retire immediately, or stay on as administrator of the diocese he led for almost 18 years. If he retires immediately, it is conceivable that Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts will be appointed as administrator, although the cathedral chapter may also appoint another priest from their number. Bishop Mutsaerts, however, already took over a significant number of the duties of Bishop Hurkmans when the latter was taking it slower because of his health.

Bishop Mutsaerts is also the most likely candidate to become the new ordinary, judging from various polls and expert opinions. Other names mentioned are those of Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary of Utrecht; Msgr. Ron van Hout, vicar general of ‘s Hertogenbosch; Bishop Jan Liesen of neighbouring Breda (and former auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch); and even Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden (although this, in my opinion, is more reflective of his general popularity than anything else). Or it may be someone else completely, of course.

Whoever the new ordinary may be, he will be the first Dutch appointment for Pope Francis (not counting his appointment of Dutch Archbishop Bert van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan and Eritrea) and also the first that Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, Nuncio to the Netherlands since March of last year, worked on. This first Franciscan appointment in the Netherlands will be interesting in light of the continuity (or lack thereof) with the appointments made under Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope emeritus is responsible for the vast majority of Dutch bishops being appointed. One of the exceptions was Bishop Hurkmans himself.

Location of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is the largest Dutch diocese in number of Catholics: 1.1 million in 2014, which is roughly half of the diocese’s entire population. It can trace its history back to 1559, when it was created out of territory belonging to the Diocese of Liège. In 1629 it vanished again, to be re-established as an Apostolic Vicariate in 1648. In the following centuries it lost territory to Breda and gained it from the Diocese of Antwerp and the smaller Apostolic Vicariates of Grave-Nijmegen and Ravenstein-Megen. In 1853, as the Catholic hierarchy was re-established in the Netherlands, ‘s-Hertogenbosch became a diocese again. The new bishop will be the tenth ordinary since then.


For Groningen and Rotterdam, 60th birthdays

60 years ago today, the Dutch dioceses of Groningen and Rotterdam were officially established. This was the most recent major change in the composition of the Dutch Church province (in 2005 and 2008 respectively, Groningen and Haarlem changed their names to Groningen-Leeuwarden and Haarlem-Amsterdam, but those changes did not include any territorial modifications). In addition to the establishment of two new dioceses, which brought the total number to seven, parts of dioceses were also exchanged: Haarlem received some territory from Utrecht, and Breda was expanded with areas previously belonging to Haarlem and ‘s-Hertogenbosch.


^Maps showing the location of the Dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden. Rotterdam was formed out of territory belonging to Haarlem, located to the north and south, while Groningen was taken from Utrecht to its south.

The creation of Rotterdam and Groningen was initiated by Pope Pius XII, who entrusted the practical matters to the Internuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop Paolo Giobbe, who went to work immediately and issued a decree on the 25th of January of the following year, coming into effect a week later, on 2 February. The Apostolic Letter commanding the changes was titled Dioecesium Imutationes, Changes in Dioceses, a rather unimaginative title which describes the purpose rather well. There is a PDF file of a Dutch translation of this Letter available here.

Below I present an English translation of the relevant text describing the new dioceses, as well as the other territorial changes. It is a translation of the Dutch translation, which was written in rather official words which may even seem archaic to modern ears. But my translation will hopefully get the message across.

“From the territory of the Archdiocese of Utrecht we separate that part containing those areas which are commonly called Groningen, Friesland and Drente, plus the Noordoostpolder, and we will make that territory a new diocese which we will name the Diocese of Groningen, after the city of Groningen, which will be the head and seat of the new diocese. In this city the bishop will reside and have his seat, namely in the church of the Holy Bishop and Confessor Martin, which we will therefore elevate to the dignity of cathedral.

Additionally, we seperate from the Diocese of Haarlem that province called Zuid-Holland, and make it another diocese, namely Rotterdam, to be called such after the city of the same name. This renowned city, which we will make the residence of this new diocese, where the episcopal seat will be established by the bishop in the church of the Holy Martyr Lawrence and the Holy Confessor Ignatius, self-evidently with the rights and dignities befitting a cathedral.

Lastly, we separate from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that part, which in Dutch is called the Gooiland and add it for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Haarlem.

From the Diocese of Haarlem we separate the part which includes most of the province of Zeeland, and from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch the entire strip of the deanery of St. Geertruidenberg, and we join both areas for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Breda.”

The reasons for the creation of the new dioceses are given as the growth in number and activities of the Catholics in the Netherlands, as well as the perceived need to redistribute the means and possibilities according to the needs present, to safeguard the divine truth and to promote the social environment. The size of the dioceses was also an obstacle for the bishops to conduct regular visitations to all parts of their sees. Haarlem stretched all along the western coast of the country, and by detaching Rotterdam and adding Zeeland to Breda it was roughly halved in size. The same is true for Utrecht, which stretched from the great rivers in the south to the islands of the northern coasts, and from the major cities in the west to the rural areas along the German border. The creation of the Diocese of Groningen meant that it now stretched only half as far north.

niermanFinding bishops for the new dioceses did not take overly long. Both were appointed on the same day, 10 March 1956. In Groningen,  it was the  dean of the city of Groningen, Pieter Antoon Nierman (pictured at left, in a photo from 1969). He was consecrated in May by the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Bernard Alfrink. Fr. Jan Alferink, a retired priest of the diocese, recalls those days, when he was studying philosophy in seminary:

“There were about eight or nine students from the north. We did not go to the installation of Bishop Nierman in Groningen. We simply had classes. Today you’d go there with a bus. Bishop Nierman later came to us to get acquainted. The new diocese was a completely new experience. The Archdiocese of Utrecht was very big, of course. Those who worked in and around Groningen did regret the split, as it made their work area smaller. We did not experience it to be a disappointment.”

SFA007005231In Rotterdam the choice fell on the dean of Leyden, Martien Antoon Jansen (pictured at right in a photo from around 1960). He was consecrated on 8 May by Bishop Johannes Huibers, the bishop of Haarlem.

Since 1956, Groningen has had four bishops and Rotterdam five. Both have given an archbishop and cardinal to the Dutch Church: Wim Eijk (bishop of Groningen from 1999 to 2007, cardinal since 2012) and Adrianus Simonis (bishop of Rotterdam from 1970 to 1983, cardinal since 1985).

The bishops of Groningen:

  • Pieter Antoon Nierman, bishop from 1956 to 1969.
  • Johann Bernard Wilhelm Maria Möller, bishop from 1969 to 1999.
  • Willem Jacobus Eijk, bishop from 1999 to 2007.
  • Gerard Johannes Nicolaas de Korte, bishop since 2007.

The bishops of Rotterdam:

  • Martien Antoon Jansen, bishop from 1956 to 1970.
  • Adrianus Johannes Simonis, bishop from 1970 to 1983.
  • Ronald Philippe Bär, bishop from 1983 to 1993.
  • Adrianus Herman van Luyn, bisschop from 1993 to 2011.
  • Johannes Harmannes Jozefus van den Hende, bishop since 2011.

359px-Wapen_bisdom_Groningen-Leeuwarden_svgIn their 60 years of existence, both dioceses have struggled with the challenge of being Catholic in a secular world. Rotterdam became even more urbanised and multicultural, while Groningen had its own blend of Protestantism, atheism and even communism, with a few Catholic ‘islands’. For the northern diocese the course of choice was ecumenism and social activism, making the Church visible in society, while trying to maintain the Catholic identity where it could be found. Church attendance, while low like in the Netherlands as whole, remains the highest among the Dutch dioceses. The diocese will celebrate the anniversary today, with a Mass offered by the bishop at the cathedral, followed by a reception.

Wapen_bisdom_Rotterdam_svgThe Diocese of Rotterdam also has a taste of Groningen, as its current bishop hails from that province and was vicar general of Groningen-Leeuwarden before he became a bishop (first of Breda and in 2011 of Rotterdam). His predecessor, Bishop van Luyn, was also born in Groningen. Ecumenism and an international outlook have marked the diocese, as well as its proximity to the world of politics. The royal family lives within its boundaries, parliament is located there, as are many diplomatic missions, including that of the Holy See in the form of Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The 60th birthday of the diocese will be marked on 6 February, with a Mass at the cathedral.

Ordination season – eleven deacons and a priest

The first half of November is ordination season in the Dutch dioceses, with this year one priest and eleven deacons (six transitional and five permanent) being ordained in five dioceses.

On 31 October, Bishop Frans Wiertz ordained Deacon Miguel Ángel Pascual Coello, for the Neocatechumenal Way in the Diocese of Roermond. He will be ordained to the priesthood next year.

Last Saturday, November 7th, Father Jochem van Velthoven was ordained Bishop Jan Liesen for the Diocese of Breda.

liesen van velthoven

^Newly-ordained Fr. van Velthoven with Bishop Jan Liesen (photo: J. Wouters)

In the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, retiring Bishop Antoon Hurkmans ordained five deacons: Hans Beks, Gideon van Meeteren, Henri Vermeulen, Rien van der Zanden and Pieter Zimmermann. Deacons Gideon and Pieter are transitional deacons.

deacons den bosch

^Five new deacons for ‘s -Hertogenbosch (photo: Wim Koopman)

On Sunday, Bishop Hans van den Hende ordained Deacon Boris Plavčić for Rotterdam. He is also a transitional deacon. Deacon Boris is of Croatian decent and speaks of the difference between Croatian and western European culture in an interview before his ordination: “The Netherlands and Croatia are two different cultures and I feel at home in both. When I am here in the Croatian parish, or in Bosnia where I grew up, I find that my vocation can shine, so to speak, through the way in which the faith is lived and shared there. I will be ordained for the Diocese of Rotterdam. Here you find the challenge to bring God where He does not automatically gets the time from people.”

Next weekend will see the last group of deacons being ordained, in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. They are: Paul Leferink, Jeroen Hoekstra, Jan-Jaap van Peperstraten and Mariusz Momot, with the latter two proceeding on to the priesthood next year.

Prayers for the newly-ordained, the soon-to-be ordained and all who may be called by the Lord to serve Him in the vineyard of His Church.

ernst van den hende 7-11-2015

^In closing, a very sweet photo of the oldest and youngest bishops of the Netherlands at the ordination of Fr. van Velthoven: 98-year-old Huub Ernst and 51-year-old Hans van den Hende. Both were bishops of Breda in the past. (Photo: J. Wouters)

New beginnings and returning home at the Dutch seminaries

Everywhere the summer holidays are over, and that means that the seminaries are staring their new academic years as well. Notable among them is the Ariëns Institute of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, which opens its doors for the first time. After several years outside the archdiocese, the seminarians have returned to the city of Utrecht to live in the newly refurbished house and to study at the University of Tilburg in Utrecht or the Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Yesterday Cardinal Wim Eijk opened and blessed the house, which is home to six seminarians. A further two are studying parttime at Bovendonk seminary in the Diocese of Breda, one is spending a pastoral year in a parish, and four Colombian members of the Misioneros de Cristo Maestro live nearby, in their own communal house. The cardinal blessed that house a day earlier.

ariënsinstituut seminarians^The seminarians for the Archdiocese of Utrecht, posing in front of the seminary house with their families and Cardinal Eijk and auxiliary bishop Hoogenboom and Woorts.

At the aforementioned Bovendonk, 21 students for the priesthood or the diaconate  (re)started their studies and formation. They come from the Dutch dioceses of Breda, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the Belgian (Arch)dioceses of Breda, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the Belgian (Arch)dioceses of Antwerp and Mechelen-Brussels. Two seminarians from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden also live, not at Bovendonk, but in the Diocese of Breda, studying at the University of Tilburg.

bovendonk, diaconateThe eight men preparing at Bovendonk for service as permanent deacons.

The Vronesteyn centre in the Diocese of Rotterdam coordinates the formation of seminarians for that diocese. It has six men studying in the Dioceses of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Breda, as well as Eichstätt in Germany.

The seminaries of the Tiltenberg (Haarlem-Amsterdam), Rolduc (Roermond) and the St. John’s Centre (‘s Hertogenbosch) have not (yet) made statements about their numbers of seminarians this year.

Photo credit: [1] Ariënsinstituut, [2] R. Mangold

From six to one – the seminary question in the Netherlands

rector_BrugginkThe old debate about the number of seminaries in the Netherlands was restarted this week as the rectors of two of them – Fathers Jan Vries of Rolduc (Diocese of Roermond) and Gerard Bruggink (pictured at right) of the Tiltenberg (D. of Haarlem-Amsterdam) – both suggested that the Church in this country would be better served by having a single seminary for the entire Province, instead of the six that exist now.

Every Dutch diocese, except for Groningen-Leeuwarden, maintains its own seminary, although there is cooperation to a certain extent: professors and teachers often work at more than one seminary, and the one in the Diocese of Breda, Bovendonk, is specifically geared towards seminarians who begin their studies and formation later in life, next to a job. Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam send their seminarians, for their entire study or part of it, to Haarlem-Amsterdan, Utrecht or Bovendonk. In addition to this, the Neocatechumenal Way maintains two seminaries in the Netherlands and sends its students for several courses to either Rolduc or the Tiltenberg.

All in all, there are 76 fulltime seminarians studying at the several seminaries in the Netherlands, of whom 49 come from abroad. They are generally part of the Neocatechumenal Way. There are also another 11 parttime seminarians, who study next to their day job.

Huis%202%20klMost seminary rectors are in favour of merging the existing seminaries into one or two. Father Patrick Kuipers of the recently re-established Ariëns Institute (seminary building pictured at left), Archdiocese of Utrecht, says, “Personally, I am very much in favour of it. I think that the group of seminarians in the Netherlands is too small to be spread out over five or six institutes.” He thinks a group of 25 would be ideal, because that would form a true community. Father Norbert Schnell, of Bovendonk, relates that German colleagues say that 20 seminarians is the minimum required.

Fr. Bruggink wonders if it is even possible to maintain two seminarians, one according to the proper seminary model in which all education taking place in-house, and another following the convict model, in which some or all academic training takes place at a university of polytechnic. “I am very much in favour of maintaining the seminary format, if need be next to the convict form. Intellectual, pastoral and personal formation together with spiritual formation in one house, in one whole, is, I think, necessary for the future. I think that young people are attracted to that instead of the current fragmentation.”

There are practical considerations which all boil down to one thing: can the Dutch Church continue to support these five or six separate institutes into the future? The financial side of this is not the least, as the Church is not supported in any way but by the faithful. It is they who, ultimately need to support whatever structure of seminary education the bishops wish to maintain.

And, as all seminary rectors stress, it is with the bishops that the ball lies. Fr. Kuipers says, “I discussed it several times with Cardinal Eijk, who is responsible in the bishops’ conference for the seminaries. But that is all. The question is to what extent the bishops can let go of their own seminaries.” Fr. Vries of Rolduc simlarly states, “We can toss ideas about, but it’s the bishops who must hold the talks.”

sint-janscentrumOdd one out among the rectors is Fr. Filip De Rycke of the St. John’s Centre in Den Bosch. He admits that “sharing” teachers is a burden on people and that a larger group of students is better. But he also looks to Flanders, where all dioceses, apart from Bruges, joined forces. There is no outpouring of vocations there either, he states.

Deciding in favour of only one or two seminaries for the Church in the Netherlands would, in my opinion, have positive effects in several areas. It would allow for the formation of true communities which in turn would attract more prospective seminarians, and resources may be bundled: financially and in manpower (thus eliminating the concern that Fr. De Rycke mentions). Expertise is more effective when concentrated and communities form their members when they can actually be communities.

I hope that this question is picked up by the bishops, and that they are able to look at the bigger picture of the future of the Church in the Netherlands. We need priests and priests need the best formation and education on offer.