A blackbook for Bishop Mutsaerts

The Dutch bishops got something special in their mail today: a black book documenting the “offensive statements and hurtful actions” of Bishop Robert Mutsaerts. The author? Father Jan Peijnenburg, the priest who was removed from active ministry last year after it became known that he had been living with his lover for the past 46 years, breaking his oath of celibacy and now his oath of obedience to his bishop.

It is a sad affair, really. and the only response it merits is one of pity. Father Peijnenburg broke his oaths and tried to be a priest without living a celibate life; an impossibility, and he knew it full well. The fact that he got away with it for 46 years is immaterial. The Church asks her priests to live celibate lives. That is not something that Bishop Mutsaerts suddenly came up with. He is merely the bishop who finally acts against those priests who do not follow the rules they agreed to follow. And that, I suppose, makes him the bad guy.

The other bishops will take note of black book and that will be all. All we can hope and pray for is that Fr. Peijnenburg will see the error of his ways, and that he will receive the help he needs in doing so.

Accompanying the black book is a ‘white book’ with ‘renewing thoughts’: no doubt the same unoriginal thought that has affected the Church in this country under the misunderstood banner of ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ for the past decades.


Stats for December 2011, and the entire year

With 5,496 views in December, 2011 closed off quite well when it comes to the traffic this blog received. For the third month in a row, it’s been well over 5,000. In the top 10 we find various topics, both positive and negative. Since the month’s been quite a ride, I am actually glad that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look:

1: The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?” 76
2: Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory 73
3:  Het probleem Medjugorje & Communication problems, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say 50
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests & “By popular demand”, Bishop Punt’s excellent homily 47
5: The Dutch Church’s emotional storm 45
6: Homily at the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Jan Hendriks 44
7: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 37
8: The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg 34
9: O Adonai! 31
10: The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet 30

Naturally, when we look back at the whole of 2011, the numbers are higher, if a little lower than those for 2010. But that may be explained by the unusual peak of July 2010, which led to some 4,000 more visitors than 2011’s final tally of 59,496. The 2011 top 10 is nicely varied and includes a number of posts from the previous year. Here it is:

1: The Stations of the Cross 592
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 572
3: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 421
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests 406
5: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 292
6: Under the Roman Sky 273
7: Cardinals according to John Allen 268
8: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 258
9: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 254
10: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 233

In August of last year we welcomed the 100,000th visitor. The number now stands at 123,945. Who knows, maybe we’ll reach 200,000 in this year?

Looking behind

As the year of Our Lord 2011 draws to a close, I happily join the ranks of the countless media channels creating overviews of the years past. And both for this blog, as well as the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and abroad, it has been a tumultuous year, both positive and negative. Taking this blog as the goggles we use to look back, blog, Church and wider world become unavoidably intertwined, but, in a way, that is how it should be.

In January, we saw the announcement of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the resignation of Rotterdam’s Bishop Ad van Luyn being accepted, and the launch of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s Twitter adventure.

February was the month of interesting considerations by Bishop Schneider about Vatican II, shocking new developments in the abuse crisis, the announcement of a undeservedly short-lived experiment with the Extraordinary Form in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the first signs that all is not well in Belgium, but also three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, and the vacancy of Berlin.

March brought us disturbing news about Bishop Cor Schilder, an extensive message for Lent from the Dutch bishops, disaster in Japan, the announcement of a great ecumenical media project for Easter, and the annual Stille Omgang in Amsterdam.

April: the month of the consecration of Bishops Kockerols, Lemmens and Hudsyn, the first EF Mass in Groningen’s cathedral, further attempts at repressing religious freedom in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium uniting in shock to further improprieties from Roger Vangheluwe, the pope’s birthday, further personal attacks against Archbishop Eijk and the first preparations for Madrid.

In May we saw and read about the death of Bin Laden, the beatification of John Paul II, the first Vatican blogmeet, the appointment of Bishop van den Hende to Rotterdam, the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, a prayer answered, a papal visit to Venice, enraging comments from the Salesian superior in the Netherlands, and subsequent press releases from the Salesian Order.

June was the month of papal comments about new evangelisation and sacred music, the end of EF Masses in Groningen, the pope visiting Croatia, a new bishop in Görlitz, Bishop van Luyn’s farewell to Rotterdam, advice on financial compensation for abuse victims, Archbishop Eijk taking over as president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, and the death of Cardinal Sterzinsky.

In July, Bishop Rainer Woelki went to Berlin, there was more preparation for Madrid, Bishop van den Hende was installed as bishop of Rotterdam, the pope visited San Marino, Luxembourg received a new archbishop, Bootcamp 2011 took place, Bishop Liesen appeared on EWTN, Blessed Titus Brandsma ended his Twitter adventure, and the crimes of Anders Breivik hit home for Dutch Catholics.

August was a big month because of the World Youth Days in Madrid, but we also learned about Archbishop Dolan’s explanation of the Vatican, freedom of conscience being curtailed, the 100,000th visitor of this blog, and the Liempde affair exploding in the media.

In September, the official website of the Dutch Church got a make-over, Archbishop Eijk wrote a thankyou note to the participants of the WYD, The Dutch bishops’ conference shuffled their responsibilities, and Pope Benedict visited Germany and delivered an important address to the Bundestag.

October, then, saw a successful reunion of the WYD troupe, Bishop Mutsaerts’ intervention in the ultra-liberal San Salvator parish, the bishops declining a proposal to Protestantise the Church, the consecration of Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the publication of Porta Fidei and the announcement of a Year of Faith, the appointment of a new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, the appointment of Msgr. Hendriks as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the first Night of Mary, and Assisi 2011.

In November, Cardinal Burke came to Amsterdam, the bishops accept and put into action a plan for financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse, the Peijnenburg affair made headlines, the pope went to Benin and heartwarmingly spoke to children, priests in Belgium tempted excommunication, Cardinal Simonis turned 80, Bishop Liesen became the new bishop of Breda, and a fifty-year-old letter showed that congregations new about abuse happening in their ranks.

This final month of December, then, saw the first fifty victims of sexual abuse being able to claim financial compensation, the presentation of plans for Metropolis 2012, Nuncio Bacqué’s retirement, the consecration of Bishop Jan Hendriks, pain and horror in Liège, the appointment of Archbishop André Dupuy as new Nuncio, and the publication of the Deetman report unleashing emotional reactions everywhere.

It’s been quite the year, but one with much to be thankful for. The truth sets us free seems especially apt in this final month, but can be applied to the entire year. May 2012 be equally open, honest, but also full of blessings for the Church, the people and everyone of us.

Thank you, readers, for the continued interest. That’s incentive to keep on doing what I do here.

A happy new year, and may God bless you all.

A golden anniversary to go unmarked

“Because of the actuality and out of respect for the victims of abuse, I consider it, in all humility, inappropriate to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination in a grandiose way.”

A short statement from Bishop Johannes Bluyssen who will mark the 50th anniversary of his consecration to bishop on 27 December. Or won’t mark it, as it turns out. An understandable decision, obviously, but a bit sad all the same. Plans were for the emeritus bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch to offer a solemn Mass in the cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, whose feast day it’ll also be on the 27th.  The bishops age (he’ll turn 86 in April) and health did not allow for much more.

Bishop Bluyssen was ordained a priest in 1950 and a bishop in 1961, at the age of only 35. He worked as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, with Aëtus as titular see, and became ordinary after Bishop Willem Bekkers resigned in 1966. Bishop Bluyssen resigned from the post in 1984.

Bishop Bluyssen is one of only three bishops of Dutch decent who participated in the Second Vatican Council, although he would often remain at home while Bishop Bekkers went to Rome, and the only one who was bishop in a Dutch diocese. The others are Bishop Willem Demarteau, emeritus of Banjarmasin, and Bishop Andreas Sol of Amboina, both in Indonesia.

Catholic and secular media have recently interviewed Bishop Bluyssen for his anniversary. The bishop lamented the lack of elan he sees in the post-conciliar Church and criticises the actions of the diocese about anti-celibate and sanctioned priest Jan Peijnenburg. Msgr. Bluyssen admitted to knowing about the priest’s cohabitation with his girlfriend and cautioned them time and again. He didn’t see fit to remove Peijnenburg’s priestly faculties or sanction him in other ways, though.

Photo credit: Jaap van Eeden

The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg

As the story of the elderly priest who had to choose between his girlfriend and the priesthood makes headlines far and near, and as he now plans to take the diocese to court over this, it may be interesting to take a look at the mistaken assumptions and broken promises of Father Jan Peijnenburg.

At his ordination, a priest makes certain promises. And since promises mean something, especially so before God, these are serious business. Here we find the five promises listed:

  • Promise to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops.
  • Promise to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.
  • Promise to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ handed down by the Church, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.
  • Promise to implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to their care by observing the command to pray without ceasing.
  • Promise to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice and to consecrate themselves to God for the salvation of all.
A Dominican friar makes his promises to Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, UK

Then, after these five, the bishop asks the priest, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” The positive response to this question, which is related to the first of the five promises above, means that he can be ordained. This promise of obedience is not a matter of superiority of the bishop (although his rank in the priesthood, having the fullness of Holy Orders, is above that of the priest, or presbyter), but forms a basis of practical unity in the local Church, a unity based on fraternity and familial love.

And here we immediately see the first error of Father Jan Peijnenburg. Instead of fostering a respectful and obedient relationship with his bishop, a relationship that will always allow room for respectful disagreement, he takes the bishop to court in order to force him to change his standpoint. All while knowing full well, one would hope, that his opinions on celibacy and priesthood are in disagreement with those of the Catholic Church.

And this takes us tot he second promises, or a part of it: the promise to teach the Catholic faith. A priest is also always a teacher, not least through his behaviour. At his ordination, Fr. Peijnenburg promised to teach the Catholic faith. He does not do so now, as he acts blatantly against what the Church teaches, even against the right of the Church to teach this.

The other promises, while equally important, have less to do with the question at hand, so I’ll leave them be, not least because I have no means of knowing if and how Fr. Peijnenburg keeps them.

Another problem, which has been confirmed by people with knowledge about canon and secular law, is Fr. Peijnenburg’s claim that the right to marry trumps the freedom of religion. No one in the Catholic Church is forced to be or remain a practicising Catholic. It is a free choice, and one’s faith is lived in full freedom. In fact, lack of freedom can be a serious obstacle! If, for example, someone is married without freely wanting to, the subsequent marriage can be declared null. That as an example. If Fr. Peijnenburg now claims that the Church can’t keep him from getting married or even having a romantic relationship, he is in the wrong. He himself, by saying ‘yes’ to his bishop and by his ordination, promised to be faithful to what the Church teaches. And that Church teaches that priests must live celibate. That is no new rule, and one that Fr. Peijnenburg was certainly aware of. He simply does not agree with it, and considers that reason enough to consider his promises regarding that empty.

A final mistake he makes is his idea of the consequences of his decision to flaunt his promises and the rules of the club he freely joined: Fr. Peijnenburg claims that his priesthood has been taken away. That is an untruth and an impossibility. Once given, a sacrament (such as Holy Orders) can’t be returned or taken back. What has happened in this case is that Fr. Peijnenburg’s priestly faculties have been removed; he is not allowed to do any pastoral work or administer the sacraments in the parish where he lives. Not that he has any inclination to follow that prohibition… Fr. Jan Peijnenburg will always be a priest because he as ordained as one. He is not allowed to work as one because he seemingly has no intention to be true to his promises as a Catholic priest in the Latin rite.

And that is the core of this nasty and unnecessary conflict. It’s not about the desirability of celibacy or the meanness of the diocese out to destroy the love between two people. It’s about obedience and broken promises.

Photo credits:
[1] Brabants Dagblad
[2] Godzdogs

Stats for November 2011

It’s been a good month, as the momentum of last month continued well into the first half of November. Some tweaks in the WordPress stats layout show me that search engines are the most important tools by which people find this blog – 1,120 this month alone. But much gratitude must also go to those blogs who link to me, first and foremost Rorate Caeli, who keep a keen eye on the developments in the traditional field in the Netherlands. 388 people came here via them this month. The sum total number of views in November was 5,868, and here are the 10 most popular posts:

  1. The weak case of the disobedient priests 328
  2. Celebrating five years at St. Agnes 142
  3. The elderly priest and the diocese – a simple case of right and wrong? 61
  4. The change the Church needs & Berlin is vacant – herald of things to come? 40
  5. An impression of a unique occasion 39
  6. Revelations trigger revelations- further developments around Bishop Cor Schilder & Het probleem Medjugorje 37
  7. “I was not I who gave you the breath of life” – death merchants at the door 36
  8. Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 35
  9. Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 33
  10. The first Advent letter of 2011 & Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese 29

The elderly priest and the diocese – a simple case of right and wrong?

I’ve seen the story of the elderly priest who has been ordered to cease living with his girlfriend or be removed from the priesthood pop up in several international media, and while I usually don’t comment on such private matters, this fact is a reason to do so.

The priest, Father Jan Peijnenburg (who is not the emeritus archivist of the diocese, who has the same name), is 81 years old and has been living with his female friend for the past 46 years. Both are pictured to the left. Newspapers make of this friend his girlfriend, which would seem likely, because Fr. Peijnenburg is also the author of several recent leaflets in which he agitates against priestly celibacy, leaflets which he mailed to numerous people, the diocese claims.

Fr. Peijnenburg seems fairly resigned. If it’s a choice between his living with a woman or the priesthood, the priesthood will loose, he has said.

I can understand both parties in this case. The diocese is right when they say they can’t allow one priest to do what other priests are forbidden to do, even more so when this priest publically agitates against Church law. On the other hand, Fr. Peijnenburg has been ordered to make a change in a life that he has led for 46 years. That’s half a lifetime in any reckoning. Has the diocese truly been aware only since the leaflets have been mailed round? If so, it points to a pretty weak awareness of what its priests are up to. If not, why wait almost five decades before doing something?

Personally, without knowing the details, I think it would suit the diocese to be a little less rigorous in this matter. They are essentially right, but they have left it until virtually the very last minute to do something. But, the same goes for Fr. Peijnenburg. I can’t imagine he didn’t know what the laws of celibacy for priests entail. And if he disagrees with them, he should have drawn conclusions from that opinion. He has no reason to act all defiant when the diocese finally figures out what’s going on.

The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch seems to be cracking down hard on all sorts of errors and abuses, and it is about time it did. But since the diocese took a long time to do so, and thus allowed the errors and abuses to develop and continue (I’m also looking at San Salvator, for example), it would do well to get on a slightly smaller high horse and adopt a more pastoral attitude in dealing with these cases. But then again, the very same goes for the people who commit the errors and abuses…

Photo credit: Brabants Dagblad