Simonis, the biography

biography simonisEven the numbers are impressive. Author Ton Crijnen spent an estimated 750 hours in conversation, spread over four years, with Cardinal Ad Simonis to create his biography of the retired Archbishop of Utrecht, which was published today. And the book shows the work put into it, clocking in at a whopping 591 pages.

Mr. Crijnen not only spoke at length with Cardinal Simonis, but also with 60 people who worked closely with (and sometimes against) the cardinal and who got to know him well. Among those who refused to speak with the author were two other cardinals: His successor in Utrecht, Wim Eijk, and his Belgian counterpart, Godfried Danneels. And then there were the additional hurdles of the archives of the Diocese of Rotterdam, where Cardinal Simonis was bishop from 1970 to 1983, not being accessible for research and the cardinal himself never keeping a diary or notes.

Cardinal Simonis speaks about numerous topics, a reflection of his 14 years as a priest, then 15 years as a bishop and finally 30 years as a cardinal. Some comments were published today on the website of the RKK, offering an interesting foretaste of the remainder of the book.

He speaks about his solid belief in the existence of hell:

“Not like a sea of fire, as Muhammad describes it, or like Dante’s lake of ice, but like a place where you are condemned to eternal loneliness. I doubt, by the way, if its population will be great, God is too merciful for that.”

About his won expectations regarding heaven and hell, he says:

“Although I hope I won’t end up in hell, I do think I need a time of purification after my death, before I am ready to meet the Lord face to face.”

When he was appointed as bishop of Rotterdam, Cardinal Simonis was often mentioned in one breath with Bishop Jo Gijsen, the bishop of Roermond as both were seen as the two conservative bishops forced upon the Dutch Church by Rome in the early 1970s. Cardinal Simonis knew Bishop Gijsen, who died in 2013, well, and was glad that he was not the only ‘Rome-oriented’ bishop.

“Although I did immediately think, knowing the straightforward mindset of Gijsen, “I hope this isn’t too much of a good thing.” I greatly admired his personality and completely agreed with his critical analysis of the situation in Church and society, but did think he expressed it sometimes too boldly.”

Cardinal Simonis never believed for a moment that Bishop Gijsen was guilty of sexual abuse. The complaints committee dealing with sexual abuse by clergy deemed two complaints against the bishop to be believable earlier this year.

In the run-up to the conclave that elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Simonis participated in the general congregations, although he did not stay in Rome to await the election of the new Pope. He did not have a great opinion of the proceedings, considering them to have been boring and sleep-inducing, because every cardinal wanted to have his say.

“Some, like Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, could hardly be heard. Based on what I heard there, I concluded that the actual conclave would take at least five days. Since my RyanAir return ticket would have expired by then, I decided not to wait for the result, but to fly back home. That was on 13 March.”

“When I heard who they had elected, I was stunned: Bergoglio! I had heard his name being mentioned during the preconclave, but I thought, he is 76 and is past his prime.”

“Why he was chosen? I think that the 19 South American cardinals agreed about his candidacy and then managed to convince their North American colleagues, so that Bergoglio got 30 or 40 votes in the first round of voting. That number was a magnet for the other cardinals, which ultimately led to his election.

Kardinaal Ad Simonis, kerkleider in de branding. Een biografie, is published by Valkhof Pers at a price of €39,50 (which is not much for a book this size).

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.

Happy birthday to Cardinal Simonis

Happy birthday to Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis, who today marks his 82nd birthday.


Cardinal Simonis was born in Lisse, then in the Diocese of Haarlem and today in the Diocese of Rotterdam, and became a priest of the Diocese of Rotterdam and later bishop of that same diocese, Coadjutor Archbishop and Archbishop of Utrecht, and Cardinal-Priest of San Clemente. He retired in 2007.

Happy Birthday to Bishop van Steekelenburg

Happy birthday to Bishop Hugo María van Steekelenburg, who today marks his 76th birthday.


Bishop van Steekelenburg was born in Wateringen, then in the Diocese of Haarlem and became a Franciscan priest and later bishop of Almenara in Brazil. He retired in 2013.

Happy birthday to Bishop Bär

Happy birthday to Bishop Ronald Philippe Bär, who today marks his 85th birthday.


Bishop Bär was born in Manado, in the Dutch Indies, and became a Benedictine priest, and later auxiliary bishop and bishop of the Diocese of Rotterdam, as well as bishop of the Military Ordinariate. He resigned in 1993.