Goodbyes and welcomes – Bishop de Korte’s big day

It has been a busy day for Bishop Gerard de Korte, the culmination of what he himself calls a “confusing and hectic” week, but a day on which he also made a positive impression in his new diocese. The official announcement of his appointment came in a press conference where he, flanked by his new auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts and his predecessor Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, emphasised several times that the focus of his first year will be to get to know his new diocese and its people. And since he only learned of his appointment on Monday, he will not have spent his days formulating his policies before seeing where he was to be a bishop. Following the answering of questions from some 25 reporters assembled in the bishop’s house adjacent to the Basilica of St. John, Bishop de Korte met with the mayor of his new home city and then got a tour of the buttresses and rooftops of the basilica.


In a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Bishop de Korte describes his feelings and hopes for the coming time:

“Dear priests, deacons and pastoral workers
Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Last Monday our Nuncio, Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, came to Groningen to inform me that Pope Francis had appointed me as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

You will understand that the past days have been confusing and hectic for me. After seven and a half years I have to let go of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, which is very dear to me. Confident in Christ, you know my episcopal motto, and hoping for a friendly welcome in the new diocese, I accept this new assignment.

My appointment will also raise questions among you. What will happen now? Who will be the new bishop? At this time a few things are clear.

Until Saturday 14 May, the day of my installation in Den Bosch, the Pope has appointed me as Apostolic Administrator and I will continue to have final responsibility for the management of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden.

A major responsibility will by for the cathedral chapter in the coming time. The canons must choose a diocesan administrator for the period from 14 May until the installation of the new bishop. They also have the duty to create a terna, a list of three suitable candidate bishops.

For now I ask you to pray for me, that I may have the strength to continue working on the proclamation of the Gospel and the harmonious building of the Christian community. And to pray that the canons may make good decisions in wisdom.

I pray for a good future of our diocese and for a good successor who will want to work for a cordial and clear faith community.

With kind greetings and united with you in Christ,

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”

The Dutch Bishops’ Conference congratulated Bishop de Korte on his appointment. Conference president, Cardinal Eijk, said:

“We know Msgr. De Korte as a colleague who greatly committed himself for his diocese and provided with conviction an important Catholic voice in the social debate as holder of the portfolio for Church and Society on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference. We pray for and with him that he may be a blessing for the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and sincerely congratulate this diocese with this appointment.”

Bishop de Korte spoke with the cardinal, who is in Rome for meetings of the Pontifical Academy for Life, over the phone and said that the latter congratulated him most kindly. But of course, the rumours that the bishop and the cardinal can’t stand each other remain…

Wim van de Donk (King’s Commisioner in Noord-Brabant), Bishop Gerard de Korte, Ton Rombouts (mayor of ‘s-Hertogenbosch) and Bishop Antoon Hurkmans.

 Judging from the reactions on social media, people in ‘s-Hertogenbosch are over the moon with their new bishop, and in Groningen-Leeuwarden they are sad to see him go. Of course, there are other opinions of well. Father Cor Mennen, parish priest and member of the cathedral chapter of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and well-known for his orthodox standpoints, said that he is not cheering just yet. And, speaking as a Catholic in Groningen-Leeuwarden, I would say sadness is not the emotion I associate with the bishop’s leaving (but I am also not glad about it, either). I find myself looking forward instead of back: it is an exciting time as we await who the new bishop will be, and it interesting to see what the future will bring for Bishop de Korte and the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

Changes in ‘s Hertogenbosch – past, future and some guesses

With the announced retirement of Bishop Hurkmans it is a good time to look back an ahead. In his letter announcing his retirement, the bishop already indicated that a new period was beginning, a time of transition followed by a new bishop at the helm of the numerically largest diocese of the Netherlands.


The Hurkmans era, to call it that, began in 1998, when he was appointed on the same day that his predecessor, Bishop Jan ter Schure, retired. Unlike the latter, who had the misfortune to have been appointed when the polarisation between modernists and orthodox (in which group the bishop could be grouped) was at a final high point, Bishop Hurkmans was and is considered an altogether kinder and approachable man. That does not mean that he avoided making the difficult decisions, and especially following the appointment of two auxiliary bishops in 2010 (later whittled down to one, as Bishop Liesen was soon appointed to Breda), there were several major cases in which the diocese stood firm against modernists trends. But these things never came easy to him. The general idea that I have, and I am not alone, I believe, is that Bishop Hurkmans was altogether too kind to be able to carry the burden of being bishop. He accepted it, trusting in the Holy Spirit to help him – as reflected in his episcopal motto “In Virtute Spiritu Sancti” – but it did not always gave him joy. That said, while he is generally considered a kind bishop, there remain some who consider him strict and aloof, in both the modernists and orthodox camps. As bishop, you rarely win.

In 2011 he took a first medical leave for unspecified health reasons, and a second one began in 2014. While he regained some of his strengths, as he indicates in his letter, it was not enough.

hurkmans ad limina

^Bishop Hurkmans gives the homily during Mass at Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, during the 2013 Ad Limina visit.

In his final years as bishop, Msgr. Hurkmans held the Marriage & Family portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference. It is perhaps striking that he was not elected by the other bishops to attend the upcoming Synod of Bishops assembly on that same topic – Cardinal Eijk will go, with Bishop Liesen as a substitute. Before a reshuffle in responsibilities in the conference, Bishop Hurkmans held the Liturgy portfolio, and as such was involved with a new translation of the Roman Missal, the publication of which is still in the future.

Bishop Hurkmans was also the Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Netherlands, and as such he invested new knights and ladies at the cathedral in Groningen in 2012.

Mgr. Bluyssen

^Bishop Hurkmans buried several of his predecessors, such as Bishop Bluyssen in 2013

At 71, Bishop Hurkmans is young to retire, as 75 is the mandatory age for bishops to do so. Still, it is not unprecedented when we look at the bishops of ‘s Hertogenbosch since the latter half of the 20th century. Bishop Johannes Bluyssen retired, also for health reasons, in 1984 at the age of 57. Bishop Bekkers died in office in 1966 at the age of 58. Bishop Willem Mutsaerts, related to the current auxiliary bishop, retired in 1960, also aged 71. As for Bishop Hurkmans, may his retirement be a restful one.

mutsaertsLooking at the future, the inevitable question is, who’s next? Who will be the 10th bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch? Guessing is risky, but there are some likely candidates anyway. In my opinion, one of the likeliest candidates is Bishop Rob Mutsaerts (pictured), currently auxiliary bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch. He has been taking over a number of duties from Bishop Hurkmans during the latter’s absence, and he is at home in the diocese. Speaking against him is his sometimes blunt approach to problems, especially when Catholic doctrine is being disregarded, which does not always sit well with priests and faithful alike (although others, including myself, appreciate him for his clarity and orthodoxy.

Other possible options are one of the other auxiliary bishops in the Netherlands: Bishop Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Bishop Hoogenboom and Woorts of Utrecht and Bishop de Jong of Roermond. I don’t really see that happening, though, with the sole exception of Bishop de Jong. He is southerner, albeit from Limburg, while the others are all westerners, and that does mean something in the culture of Brabant. Still, it has happened before.

Anything’s possible, especially under Pope Francis (and this will be his first Dutch appointment, and for new Nuncio Aldo Cavalli too). Diocesan priest and member of the cathedral chapter Father Cor Mennen once stated that he would not be opposed to a foreign bishop, provided he learn Dutch, if that means the bishop gets a good and orthodox one. I don’t see that happening just yet, though.

And as for when we may hear the news of a new bishop? Usually these things take a few months at most (although it has taken 10 months once, between Bishops Bluyssen and Ter Schure). The summer holidays are over in Rome, so proceedings should theoretically advance fairly quickly. A new bishops could be appointed and installed before Christmas then.

Panic takes over… and all responsibility flies out the window

Sigh… sometimes you have to wonder what people are thinking, not least people who provide a professional service to the Church and the faithful. One such case erupted this afternoon, and was smothered within hours, but not before the damage was done. And the guilty party? Not just the media who should do a lot more fact checking when writing about the Church, but also the publishers of Mass booklets in the Netherlands, the Norbertine abbey of Berne.

silent_nightWe’re no longer allowed to sing Silent Night at Christmas Mass this year, they panicked. When making the Mass booklets they felt so bad about all the songs the bishops wouldn’t allow them to print anymore: the aforementioned Christmas staple, but also the songs by Huub Oosterhuis (a good thing if those were banned). And although the order came from Rome, they said, they Vatican wasn’t to blame, because the ‘fluffiest Pope evur’ surely wouldn’t allow such a nasty thing. No, the Dutch bishops had told Rome to ban the songs. Bad bishops.

frmennenWell, reality is a bit different, as Father Cor Mennen (pictured), advisor to the Nationale Raad voor Liturgie (National Liturgy Council), explains. The Mass booklets are printed according to a list of approved songs. As Bishop Jan Liesen, who holds the liturgy portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference, confirms, Silent Night and others songs may be added to the list in the future, but at this time they have not which is why they are not included in the booklets. This is a new process, as in the past every song would have to be individually approved. As Fr. Mennen says:

“With this approach we want to avoid having to discuss every individual song. Silent Night isn’t on the list yet, but the approval is, as far as I know, only a matter of time. The song is uncontroversial. Parishes arent doing anything wrong if they sing it.”

Now why on earth didn’t the publishers know this? Or rather, why did they choose such a panicky reaction, which was eagerly lapped up by the media? They really should have known better. The only thing this achieves is a bad image in the papers. Oh, look at that silly Church and those power-hungry bishops banning everything the people like… And I wouldn’t want to feed the people who now think those songs really are banned.

Pretty irresponsible behaviour, I would say.

Bishop and clergy of ‘s-Hertogenbosch not to be prosecuted

Fr. van Rossem

Coming full circle, a topic from the start of the year reaches a conclusion at the end of it. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans and Fathers Cor Mennen, Luc Buyens and Geert-Jan van Rossem will not be prosecuted for denying Communion to practising homosexuals and for defending that Church law.

Two men had lodged complaints in the wake of Fr. Buyens’ decision and the subsequent protests during Mass at the cathedral of St. John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They accused the priest, his bishop, the cathedral administrator Fr. van Rossem and blogging priest Fr. Mennen for discrimination and incitement to hatred. But the court decided yesterday that there is no case of this according to criminal law. Church law is outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Father Mennen’s blog posts fall under his right to express his convictions. He didn’t address homosexuals in general, the court ruled, but discussed a case within the Church which he considers unacceptable. That is his right.


Pink roses

COC head Henk Krol and demonstration organiser Cor Strik lay roses at the church of the Immaculate Conception in Oss

It’s Mad Tuesday at the annual fair in the town of Oss. A day that has been annexed by the homosexualists* to celebrate an excessively sexualised lifestyle, in addition to the other days that have been created for that same purpose. Part of this year’s addition was a demonstration at the Catholic church in the centre of the town, where Father Cor Mennen is parish priest. Some 200 people handed out pink roses and placed more at the church. Fr. Mennen was, as he had said earlier, not in town (he is unavailable for comment at his vacation address in Switzerland), so the demonstrators were prevented from giving roses to him personally. In the end some 500 roses were left at the church.

What was the purpose of this demonstration, which I discussed in this blog earlier? Organiser Cor Strik and COC chief Henk Krol said it was to invite the priest to enter into dialogue with the homosexualists. This after Fr. Mennen had already spoken with Mr. Strik last week, even sending him a bunch of white and yellow roses and the wish that he have an enjoyable Mad Tuesday. That was evidently not the kind of dialogue that Strik and Krol had envisioned, so the demonstration went ahead.

Mr. Strik also revealed he did learn something, when he said that “a host is not something to demand, but respect is.” Sadly, that sentence was preceded by the statement that, “Our action is not aimed at [Fr. Mennen] personally, but against the Catholic Church as a whole.” So that means that it was aimed at Fr. Mennen personally, and against all practicing Catholics. You can’t say, “Oh, we’re going to attack some of your beliefs, but it’s nothing personal”. That’s just naive and condescending.

So what is their purpose? What ‘dialogue’ do they want? Weekly meetings in which Fr. Mennen repeats Catholic teachings about Communion, sin and sexuality? Or could it be that they do not want true dialogue,  in which both parties participate, but which does not automatically assume the total acceptance of one opinion over the other, but instead want the Catholic Church to say: “No, you’re right. We were wrong in teaching that the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of our Lord, is too important to be approached with any sort of preparation or received without consequence. Our understanding of sexuality was wrong: it is okay to do whatever anyone wants to, and yes, your sexual preference is the most important part of who you are as a person. In fact, we were wrong to teach anything, to have any rules at all. So we’ll just lie down here and you can walk all over us and everything that we hold dear, okay?”

Sorry, but as along as there are Catholics who take their faith seriously, who understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ, that can never happen. Is that wrongful discrimination? No, that is teaching for the benefit of all who are called (all who are called, so not all who feel like it) to receive their Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament and in their hearts. Just as we understand that the education of our children is important, and that parents act out of the best interest for their children, so we should understand that the Church educates and acts with regards to the faithful she is responsible for.

*A word not coined by me, but which I use here to refer to those people who treat sexual preference as the overriding defining characteristic of a person – as if sexuality solely dictates who I am as a person – and furthermore use it as a political tool.

Photo by Hans van der Poel

More clarity needed about Communion

Various media have reported on the reactions triggered by a homily from Deacon Edwin Veldman, in which he spoke about homosexual acts being inherently sinful. It caused some people to leave the church before the end of Mass and Fr. Cor Mennen, pastor of the parish in which Deacon Veldman works, to pay attention to it in an article on Catholica.

At the same time, the COC has announced that they want to take their discussion with the parish council in ‘s-Hertogenbosch to a higher level: the bishops. The topic of the discussion is, of course, the question of actively homosexual people receiving Communion. The Church teaches that only people in a state of grace can receive Communion, and with homosexual acts being a sin, those practicing them are not in a state of grace. The Dutch situation is complicated further by the fact that many people apart from homosexuals receive Communion in a state of sin, but the attention is on the latter. A feeling of them being singled out is perhaps understandable in that light. But that, of course, changes nothing about the actual teachings around the reception of Communion.

Judging from the articles I read, the focus of the discussion now revolves around homosexuals ‘feeling welcome’ in parishes and services. That has, of course, never been questioned. The Church welcomes (or should welcome) everyone, but she can not close her eyes to their errors, mistakes and sins. The purpose of the Church is to lead people to God and so also to prepare them for the encounter with Him. Since God transcends us so much (he literally stands outside creation) it is logical to assume that we need to prepare, often even change before we can meet Him. And we meet Him most closely in the Eucharist, when we receive Him at Communion. If we don’t prepare ourselves for Him, by conforming to Him as much as we can (which, admittedly, is not a lot), if we don’t take His commandments and words seriously, Communion is an empty ritual. Worse, since it is the Lord we receive, it becomes a profanation. We place ourselves above Him, consider ourselves more important, better judges of ourselves than He is. In another context, Archbishop Ranjith of Colombo calls this ‘self-idolatry’ (A special circular on the Year of the Eucharist, 2.1*).

Anyway, back to the COC’s plan to take their issues to the bishops. Obviously, they, like everyone else, have a right to contact the bishops about anything they wish, and I think this specific issue deserves an official response from the bishops. That won’t just benefit the Church, but also the faithful, the COC and other parties involved. What we need, everyone who has something at stake here, is clarity. An explanation about Church teachings and the reasons why some things are possible and some are not. And, most importantly, we deserve clear, expansive and thorough education about the Eucharist and Communion.

* I will pay attention to this letter at a later time.

Stats for June 2010

A few days late, but here they are nonetheless (mostly for myself, I’ll admit)

June was a slightly better month than May, although the news and the topics I wrote about diminished a bit in the second half of the month. 3,652 page views were registered, bringing the total since the beginning of January to 22,582. As I thought, it did indeed cross the 20,000 somewhere around mid-June.

The ten most popular posts were the following:

1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution (167)
2: St. Boniface Day 2010 (130)
3: Ouellet to the Congregation for Bishops (81)
4: The curious case of Bishop Walter Mixa (68)
5: Cardinal Newman to be beatified by the pope, officially announced (62)
6: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie – onofficiële vertaling (60)
7: Msgr. De Kesel to Bruges? Wow (54)
8: Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Amsterdam (52)
9: A difficult choice in the voting booth (48)
10: Father Cor Mennen had better look out… perhaps (44)

The high ranking of my post about the St. Boniface Day is mainly due to a link from my favourite Dutch blogger (for a giving value of ‘favourite’), who saw fit to use it as one more tool to attack my bishop, albeit not very convincingly (seriously, I’m suddenly an authority on  how many people attend an event?). Anyway, spike in stats – always nice.

Speaking of bishops, they and other curia members were the trend in the search terms. Msgr. Gänswein (yes, still), Bishop Mixa and the Venerable Cardinal Newman were all popular.

And lastly, can I say how very happy I am to see my translation of Msgr. Marini’s address on the liturgy still lingering in the top 10? Oh, I just did.