Kevelaer provides a bishop again, bringing Münster back to five

This week, the Diocese of Münster saw the its full roster of auxiliary bishops, no less than five of them, completed again. And like the last time, it is the rector of the Marian Shrine of Kevelaer who gets to wear the mitre.

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^Rolf Lohmann, the newest auxiliary bishop of Münster, before the chapel in Kevelaer holding the image of Our Lady, which launched alomst four centuries of pilgrimages.

Msgr. Rolf Lohmann was appointed on Tuesday following the transfer, in April of last year, of Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers to Dresden-Meißen. As mentioned before, there is a strong tradition in German dioceses for the vicars of the various pastoral areas to be made auxiliary bishops. Münster has five of these pastoral areas, and thus also five auxiliary bishops.

Bishop-elect Lohmann will be assigned to the pastoral area of Niederrhein, the southwestern-most part of the diocese, adjacent to the Dutch diocese of Roermond and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (and a small part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht). This includes the old cities of Kleve, Wesel and Xanten, as well as Kevelaer, the major pilgrimage site dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in northwestern Germany, which continues to draw large numbers of pilgrims.

The new auxiliary bishop was ordained in 1989 and served in various parishes until 1997, when he was appointed as rector of the shrine of St. Ida in Lippetal-Herzfeld. In 2007 he became a member of the cathedral chapter and in 2011 he succeeded the then newly-appointed auxiliary Bishop Stefan Zekorn as rector of Kevelaer.

Bishop-elect Lohmann enjoys a close friendship with another auxiliary bishop of Münster, Wilfried Thiesing, who he succeeds in Niederrhein. Bishop Thiesing now resides in Vechta as episcopal vicar for the northern Oldenburg area, but comes from Niederrhein. The friendship between Thiesing in the north and Lohmann in the south should serve to bring the diocese closer together, Bishop Thiesing joked.

The appointment comes at a special time for Msgr. Lohmann. As rector of Kevelaer he has been preparing and looking forward to the 375th anniversary of the Kevelaer pilgrimage, to be celebrated at the end of May and beginning of June. With his new assignment, his role in that celebration will be different than he expected. Bishop-elect Lohmann considers the pilgrimage to be the future of the Church. As bishop, he wishes to continue contributing to a renaissance of pilgrims.

As bishop, Msgr. Lohmann will hold the titular see of Gor, in modern Tunisia. A date for his consecration is yet to be announced, but it will robably be before the summer holidays. Canon law dictates that a bishop must be consecrated within three months after the announcement of his appointment.

Photo credit: Michael Bönte

A social media-using bishop who doesn’t overstay his welcome, please

coat of arms roermondThe next bishop of Roermond should be a social media user, but is to stay in office for 15 years at most, a poll amongst priests of the Diocese of Roermond by newspaper De Limburger has revealed. The successor of Bishop Frans Wiertz, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 in December, should be communicative, using social media and other means to reach people. He should also be a bishop in the line of Pope Francis, with strong and inspirational policies. Several priests have said that the diocese’s management has been slowly dying down in recent years. Bishop Wiertz has been at the helm of the southern Dutch diocese since 1993, which makes him the most senior among the Dutch bishops.

A consequence of the need for fresh management and policies is that a bishop shouldn’t stay in one place for too long. “Ten, fifteen years is nice, but then it is  time for a new one,” Father Harrie Broers says. Father Jos Spee, the dean of Venlo, adds, “Different times need different challenges and that is why change is needed on time. Therefore it’s best to appoint a bishop in his mid-sixties. He will cease automatically at 75.”

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz

Bishop Wierts was appointed at the age of 50. Recently, his eye sight has been failing, although he hopes to be able to continue in his office until turning 75 on 2 December. Since 1998, Bishop Wiertz has been assisted in his duties by auxiliary Bishop Everard de Jong.

A social media-using bishop would certainly constitute a change in the Dutch episcopate. Although some bishops have dabbled in using twitter or a blog, only Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, is an active blogger who also uses Twitter and Facebook, and not only to share, but also to communicate with his followers.

Bishops coming, bishops going – a look ahead at 2017

On the threshold of 2017, a look ahead at what we may expect when it comes to the leadership of the various dioceses in Northwestern Europe.

266px-BisdomGroningenLocatieThere have been years when the changes were rather significant, but 2017 does not look to be one of those. At the start of the new year, three dioceses are without a bishop: Groningen-Leeuwarden in the Netherlands (map at right), Mainz in Germany and the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim in Norway. It is a safe bet that the first two will receive their new bishops in 2017, but Trondheim may well be left as it has been for the past seven years: without a bishop, and with the bishop of Oslo serving as Apostolic Administrator. But on the other hand, for a see that just built and consecrated its new cathedral, and which, like the rest of Norway, has seen a significant increase in Catholic faithful, this does not seem like a situation that will continue forever. So who knows what the year will bring.

In Groningen-Leeuwarden, the new bishop will succeed Bishop Gerard de Korte, who was appointed to ‘s-Hertogenbosch in March. Almost ten months in, the vacancy is the longest for the Dutch Catholic Church in recent years. The new bishop of Mainz will follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who led that ancient see for 33 years.

Bischof-Norbert-Trelle-Foto-Bernward-MedienThere are a few bishops who will reach the age of 75 in 2017, and thus will offer their resignation. In Germany, these are Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann of Würzburg on 12 May and Norbert Trelle (at left) of Hildesheim on 5 September. Joining them is Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond in the Netherlands. He will be 75 on 2 December, but I would not be surprised if his retirement will be accepted earlier, as the bishop has been struggling with eye-related health problems.

There is one bishop serving past the age of 75. Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent has been asked to continue serving for another two years, so that Belgian see will remain occupied for the duration of 2017.

A less certain area to make predictions about is the appointment of auxiliary bishops. I expect, however, that two German dioceses will receive one auxiliary each. The Archdiocese of Hamburg has been without auxiliary bishops since October, when Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke retired. As the archdiocese is being reorganised, the number of auxiliary bishops will be decreased from two to one, and we may well see one of the three new area deans (representing the archdiocese’s constituent areas of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg) to be made a bishop. Further south, the Diocese of Münster has confirmed its request for a new auxiliary bishop after Heinrich Timmerevers was appointed to Dresden-Meißen in April. This will bring the number of auxiliary bishops back up to five, one for each pastoral area.

vilniaus_arkivyskupas_metropolitas_audrys_juozas_backis_2In Rome, lastly, there will be no new consistory. Only four cardinals will reach the age of 80 and so cease to be electors. They are Audrys Backis, Archbishop emeritus of Vilnius, Lithuania (and former Nuncio to the Netherlands) (at right); Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop emeritus of Aparecida, Brazil; Attilio Nicora, Pontifical Legate to the Basilicas in Assisi, Italy; and Lluís Martínez Sistach, Archbishop emeritus of Barcelona, Spain. The number of cardinals who will be able to participate in a conclave will still be 116 at the end of next year, so there will be no need to bring their numbers up.

In the Vortex, empty parishes and poor priests? Some nuances

A recent episode of Michael Voris’ The Vortex about the Catholic Church in the Netherlands has led to some questions about whether it is really true that more than 1,000 parishes will close  in the coming decade and Dutch priests will have to find jobs in the secular world, or even become tenants of the few remaining faithful in a secular wasteland. Or so the tone of the piece comes across.

As ever, there is some truth in the matter, but the situation is somewhat more nuanced than suggested. In this post I want to  highlight some ofhe intricacies of the situations.

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkIt is true that the number of parishes in the Netherlands is decreasing. And it has been for some time now. But it is inaccurate to claim that parishes are shutting down. Rather, parishes are merging with their neighbours to create larger parish clusters or megaparishes. This happens in most Dutch dioceses, and it is an organisational change, virtually always triggered by financial reasons and the lack of priests. The exact form that these mergers take differs per diocese. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, where I live, the parishes are merging, but with local faith communities continuing to come together, sometimes without a church building of their own. Or so the diocese, and especially our former bishop, Msgr. de Korte, hopes. Priests are tasked to travel in their parishes to minister to the faithful. In the Archdiocese of Utrecht, the new megaparishes have socalled Eucharistic centers assigned, churches where Holy Mass is celebrated every Sunday, while other churches in the parish will host Mass less frequently. I have compared the two approaches, as promoted by Cardinal Wim Eijk (at right) and Bishop Gerard de Korte, here.

aa%20Staatsiefoto%20Mgr_%20Wiertz%201_06KLEINThe idea that priests may need to find jobs comes from a speech made by Bishop Frans Wiertz (at left) of Roermond in October. Speaking at an annual meeting of the diocese, he discussed the current state of affairs in the Church in the Netherlands, comparing it with the Church in other countries.  He also spoke about the financial side and described how the network of institutionalised social support, by the government but also by the Church, is now reaching its financial limits. While it is a good thing to support anyone who needs it, that support can not continue forever, or become a right for all. Quoting the bishop:

“A parallel development has been going on in our Church, in contrast to all those countries I have visited. Earlier this year I asked a parish priest in Sri Lanka how he managed his livelihood, who took care of it. He said, “The people here are too poor, they can’t afford it. And the bishop? How would he have to do it? He can’t pay all the priests.” So I asked him how he earned his daily rice. He said, “I just work.” He was a teacher at a school. On the side. So parish priest and at the same time teacher at a school. He did that for forty hours a week. He taught English, history and of course religion.

Dear people, this was also the situation in our country until about 1960. There was no set salary for priests then. In one prosperous parish the priest received a higher salary and in the other parish, which had nothing, he had to survive of the gifts that the people brought him. In the Middle Ages the priest had a garden and he had to grow his own vegetables, and he sometimes had some cattle as well. There are stories of parishes where the chickens flew through the church.

Of course, I do not want to return to that situation.But I do want to say that, analogous to the state, the Church introduced social arrangements: roughly the same salary for all priests. They count on that too. Parish councils take care of it. A solidarity arrangement was introduced. The diocese receives money from parishes to help other parishes, for example when rebuilding and painting is needed and there is no money for it. That all functions, as long as not everyone calls upon it. But when it has become a right, and the rich parishes also want to receive those 20 percent – I don’t know how high those percentages are – from the diocese – from other parishes – it no longer works.

I am strongly convinced that we need another form of financing in twenty years. And that priests must all be missionary then, and willing to contribute to the costs of their livelihood. If it isn’t necessary, that is fine by me. I also do not want to invoke it, but when you, as a missionary, are not willing to give something yourself, what kind of missionary are you?

This is a vision of the future. I am not saying it will be reality. I also do not say it needs to come in a hurry. We have the time. I think it will take at least 20 years… The people in the parishes will have to maintain their own church and also the priests, it can’t automatically come from somewhere else. I think that this is a future which we must at least acknowledge.”

Bishop Wiertz was speaking from his heart, as a bishop on the verge of retirement, and his speech was in many ways that of a bishop taking stock of the Church he is about to leave in the hands of another. He was certainly not painting a depressing image, or outlining some new policy. Taking inspiration from the flourishing churches he encountered on his travels abroad (Bishop Wiertz visits one of the countries where his diocese sponsors missionary and charitable activities every year), he wants to encourage the Church in the Netherlands to move forward into the future from a current situation which is, indeed, not wholly positive or even encouraging. The Michael Voris program which inspired this blog post is not wrong when it notes that there are problems. Howver, that does not mean that there are faithless wastelands where church bells once tolled, or poor priests plowing windswept fields just yet. And even if there were… we have faith, hope and love. Even a mustard seed of either can grow into something great.

Small miracles – In Lourdes, Bishop Wiertz gets personal

Visiting Lourdes with faithful from his diocese last week, Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz related a personal story about his deteriorating eyesight. The 73-year-old bishop, the most senior of the active bishops in the Netherlands, has been suffering from an increasing loss of his sight for a while now. And, as he puts it, “it will not get better”.

Perhaps Lourdes was the perfect place to share such a personal experience of a physical ailment. Here, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, thousands of pilgrims come every year to seek healing from what ails them, and the diocesan pilgrimage led by Bishop Wiertz (together with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, recently retired from ‘s-Hertogenbosch) was no different.

Bishop Wiertz gives no indication that it prevents him from doing his duties as bishop. As he explains, it forces him to focus more on listening instead of watching, and each word he reads requires more time, so perhaps he has to take things a little bit slower. But he has an auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Everard de Jong, at his side to lead the Diocese of Roermond with its 1 million faithful. For now, we need not expect yet another round of bishop appointments.

The full text of Bishop Wiertz’s homily follows below:

“You may have noticed this week that I always read my text with a little light. That is because I can no longer see very well. I will turn 74 this year and even bishops are not safe from all sort of old age ailments. But you need not feel sorry for me: I am in good health for my age. Except for those eyes. Sight is failing. And it will not get better.

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A while ago this bothered me, as I have to read, and read out, much. And in my free time I like to read books: novels, history, theology. I manage with those lights, but I’m not as fast as I used to be. That is no disaster, but it is a nuisance. Until I discovered something a few months ago. Since I have to read more slowly, I also read with more attention. Every word becomes clearer, so to speak. It sticks more and I reflect on its meaning more.

Walking around here in Lourdes, I wonder if this eye problem does not also have a deeper meaning. I may see a little less, but I also got something in return. A more intense awareness of the meaning of words. And in conversation listening becomes more important than looking.

God lets us have new experiences before we realise it ourselves. I do not mean to say that all illnesses or physical defects are a good thing. Not at all. Over the course of the years I have spoken to more than enough people who really suffer. My ailment is like nothing in comparison. But I have also learned from these sick and handicapped people – here in Lourdes, but also in the parishes where I have worked – that there is only one way to overcome suffering: by going through it. And at the same time look for support with God.

Luckily, nowadays doctors can do a lot to cure people are make physical suffering more bearable. But the best way to learn and accept your situation is through prayer. “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray,” we heard in the first reading. It doesn’t make you better in the literal sense of the word, but it can help you feel better.

God heals in a different way. He helps you discover things in your illness of handicap, things you weren’t aware of before. Call them small miracles who help you every day to handle life.

Many people know Lourdes because of the great miracles. But in all the years that I have been coming here I have never seen those. I did witness many small miracles. People who can handle things again after a pilgrimage. People who find out, here in Lourdes, that they can still do a lot of things themselves. Like me with my more intense readings and more intensive listening. A small miracle. It is nothing compared to the miracle Jesus performs for the royal official in the Gospel. His son lives again even before he realises it himself. And why? What did he do? Nothing more than taking Jesus’ word for it. We can have faith in Jesus, that all that we experience in our lives has meaning. Even when we do not see it ourselves.

That is why we can look for the small positive things that cheer us up. Small things which help us through the day, who make us able able to handle things for a while. The smile of someone we know. A kind word. The good care of volunteers. The fact that we are making such a beautiful trip together. These are small miracles that God gives us. Winks from heaven, which He uses to show us that He thinks of us and grants everyone healing in His very own way.

You will shortly recieve the laying on of hands. You may experience that as a sign that God is with you, that He gives you strength and helps you. Perhaps in a way that you haven’t thought of yourself. Let us always be open to God, who walks His own paths in healing, but never leaves us.

Amen.”

Photo credit: Organisatie Limburgse Bedevaarten

An end in sight? Taking responsibility for and compensating victims of sexual abuse

In the past five years, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, in the form of her various dioceses and religious congregations, processed a total of 3,656 reports of sexual abuse by clergy and other representatives of the Church, paying out almost 21 million euros in 699 of those cases. The expectation is that the final compensations will be awarded in 2017, which will be the end of the abuse crisis which broke in 2010 and mainly revolved around abuse which took place between 1945 and 1980.

The largest total amounts were paid out by the (Arch)dioceses of Utrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Roermond, as well as the Brothers CMM (which tops the list with 1,885,000 euros paid out in 64 cases).

Of the 3,656 initial reports of sexual abuse, roughly half (1,815) became actual cases (some of the initial claimants either never pressed charges or later withdrew them), and of these, 699 have resulted in a financial compensation in some form (out of 820 requests received – some of these are still to be processed and will receive a compensation in the future). This number does not include the cases which were settled in private between the parties involved, or those that were settled with the help of an independent mediator. In a significant number of cases, victims never requested financial compensation.

The annual report of the Meldpunt for sexual abuse in the Church, from which these statistics come, emphasises that secrecy in these settlements is standard. Several weeks ago, there was some consternation about Church entities requiring victims to remain silent about the settlement and the nature of the abuse they suffered. Evidence about perpetrators which becomes known through settlements can and is being used as supporting evidence in other cases, and the Meldpunt has frequently reminded Church institutions and victims’ groups of the need to inform them of settlements made, for that purpose. The Brothers CMM, the Salesians, the Brothers of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Brothers FIC and the Brothers of Charity have settled the largest number of reports and cases. This does not indicate any form of secrecy of protection of reputation, unless the secrecy clause was imposed against the victims’ wishes. If that has happened, they were free to settle a case outside the available channels provided by the Church, as some have done. If there were institutions who enforced secrecy, these should have a long hard think about their conduct…

It is clear that the damage done by abusive priests, religious and other Church workers has been great. The Church’s response has been likewise. In many cases the abusers are deceased, so this response must necessarily be given by their current representatives, even when those are innocent themselves. And it has been given willingly in most cases, in a structered and legal way. This approach has sometimes clashed with the inherently emotional nature of the acts and their lifelong effects on the victims. The Church has been accused of being clinical, slow and bureaucratic in dealing with abuse, and perhaps she has sometimes failed in being sufficiently open and pastoral towards victims. But she has taken responsibility, albeit too late in more than a few cases: abuse should never have been denied and hidden in the first place.

The fact remains that in many parts of society this is exactly what continues happening now. The Catholic Church has a reputation of being a haven for abusers, and as painful and wrong as that may be, it is something we must live with for now. The Church has accepted this burden and carries it, with an eye first on the victims and their rights and needs. That is something that other sectors of society could learn from. Sexual abuse of minors has happened and continues to happen, in families, schools, hospitals and other care facilities, sports clubs… Are the victims of that abuse heard? Do those people and institutions also take their responsibility, regardless of their reputation?

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.

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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