The bishop and the blogger

“I am known as the ecumenical bishop, although some bloggers are none too happy about that. So be it.”

Words from Bishop Gerard de Korte in his homily on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The festive Mass, offered by the bishop in concelebration with the diocesan vicars and the cathedral administrator, and attended by the majority of the diocesan clergy and the bishops Punt, Van den Hende and Woorts, as well as Cardinal Simonis, took place on Saturday morning. Bishop de Korte looked back on the past 25 years, but also ahead to the years that are coming.

Ecumenism is  major theme for the bishop; it is, one could say, a defining characteristic. As an illustration, among the guests at the Mass were representatives of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and the Old Catholic Church, whom the bishop regards as “friends in the faith”. But this ecumenical focus has also caused some to look with wary eyes at his activities. And among these, there are some very vocal bloggers and users of other social media.

Bishop de Korte, quite possibly because of these wary – and often rather aggressive and personal – comments, has been rather critical about Catholic bloggers in the Netherlands. In the past he has written about the need for bloggers to remain charitable and be careful for what they commit to the screen, which, sadly, led to a renewed round of criticism and attacks, not only aimed at Bishop de Korte, but also at those who dared to express support, like yours truly. Accusations of slander were even leveled at me at one point. Just an illustration.

Regarding the above, Bishop de Korte’s apparent opinion of bloggers and users of social media, illustrated by the quote I shared above, can be explained. But it is sad that he has been given this impression. For not all bloggers are hostile to priests and bishops, even if they can, at times, be quite critical of their words and actions.

Should we then reply with a similar “so be it”? I don’t think so. Bloggers have things to say. Not to blow my own trumpet here, but let’s face it: you don’t  start a blog and devote time to it, sometimes for many years, without having a thing or two to say. We should then look at how we communicate. If our way of communication causes people to ignore the message and even consider bloggers to be peripheral, we are doing something wrong.

Of course we should not simply be quiet when we disagree, but neither should we resort to personal attacks and name-calling. Any possibility of a quick resolution will go straight out the window in that case. I may personally regret that my bishop chooses to focus so much on ecumenism instead of a clear Catholic teaching in our secular society, but that does not mean I’ll denounce him as a heretic or worse, as some do.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch/Bisdom Groningen-Leeuwarden

Congratulations to the new diocesan vicar

The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden announced yesterday the name of the priest who succeeds Vicar General Johan te Velde, not as vicar general, but as regional vicar. He is 35-year-old Father Arjen Bultsma.

Msgr. te Velde recently announced that he would lay down his function as one of the diocese’s two vicars general in order to become a Benedictine monk. Msgr. Peter Wellen remains as the single vicar general, and is also a regional vicar for the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. Fr. Bultsma will be regional vicar for the province of Friesland and the Noordoostpolder, basically the western half of the diocese. He also remains in fucntion as parish priest in four parishes in western Friesland.

Despite his young age, the new vicar accepted the assignment after a few days’ consideration, and says he sees it as a vote of confidence from the bishop. As a focal point for his work as regional vicar, Fr. Bultsma mentions a serious understanding of the lessons of Vatican II, especially the baptismal or common priesthood of all the faithful:

“Who are they, how and where do they live and what are their talents. And then: what is needed to keep building up the Church and proclaim the Gospel with that. This approach brings the people in the church together, laity and clergy, in a necessarily communicative, but also mutually reinforcing way.”

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch

Stats for August 2011

Despite my two-week absence from the blogosphere, the past month managed to see 3,779 page views. It’s the lowest total since December, sure, but it goes to show that I can be away from the blog for a while without numbers plummeting completely into the single digits. In the top 10 of most popular posts we’ll see which topics are responsible for the continuing interest.

Another high point this month was the crossing of the 100,000 threshold. In fact, on the same day that I returned from Spain, 23 August, the 100,000th visitor since January 2010 popped by. It’s only numbers, but it still makes me pleased.

One to the top 10!

1: A priest never walks alone 72
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 61
3: Calling in the bishop 38
4: Blog shutting down. Temporarily, that is & Seculiere deskundigen willen dat de paus zijn beleid aanpast. Hoe kunnen we uitleggen dat hij dat niet kan? 27
5: Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden & WYD destinations – Zaragoza & Goodbye, we’ll keep in touch (via social media) 26
6: No refusal allowed for civil servants in Groningen 25
7: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 24
8: World Youth Days on TV, and my personal blogging plans & Oddie continues where Dolan stopped & The departure begins… 23
9: Congratulations to a Philippine bishop 20
10: Archbishop Dolan explains the Vatican 19

Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden

Following the recent retirement of the vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Father Leo van Ulden, the diocese announces that he will be succeeded by two new vicars general. Perhaps this is a reflection of the workload that has lain upon the shoulders of Fr. van Ulden in the past 11 years.

Vicar general Johan te Velde

The basic hierarchy of the diocese used to consist of four men: the bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte; the vicar general, Fr. van Ulden; and two regional vicars, Fathers Johan te Velde and Peter Wellen. And it is these latter two men who have been appointed to the position of vicars general.

In a statement announcing the appointments, the diocese explains: “In this way no priest needs to be removed from the parishes. At the same time this construction allows for cuts in the diocesan budget.”

Fr. te Velde will be responsible for liturgical tasks (not surprising in the least), while Fr. Wellen will be focussing on ecumenical contacts.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of a bishop in the running of the diocese, and while it is rare for any of the relatively small Dutch dioceses to have two vicars general, it is allowed. A bishop is free in appointing and removing them, although their term as such expires when the bishop dies or is appointed to another diocese.

Joy in photographs

Ordination season seems to be bearing proper fruit worldwide this year, and the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, in its own small way, joyfully participated in that as well. With the ordination of Father Tjitze Tjepkema and Deacons Pascal Huiting and Maurits Damsté our diocese gains three spiritual, intelligent and socially-minded men, if the words of Father Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar, are anything to go by. Bishop Gerard de Korte ordained the three men in a two-hour-plus Mass attended by some 400 people. The two new deacons are transitional deacons, and will be ordained to the priesthood on 29 October. Sadly, it was not allowed to take photos during the Mass, so I didn’t snap any inside the cathedral. Still, the photo to the left may give an indication of the gold-and-white flying against the clear blue sky of a lovely spring morning outside the cathedral of Saint Joseph in Groningen.

Speaking about photos, two galleries have appeared on Flickr of the annual Guild procession to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. I participated in that and wrote about it on the blog before. The first gallery, courtesy of Mr. Geert van Duinen, may be viewed here, and the second, by Marjo Antonissen, is here. Images of devotion, prayer, and also hard labour, because those banners don’t get themselves to Warfhuizen, certainly not when the strong wind of the Hogeland does its best to blow them all the other way. Carrying a banner depicting Saint Ludgerus, I can safely admit that I offered up my efforts of pushing the saint to the hermitage.

Showcasing the unique mix of devotion and levity, is below photo of a common sight in Warfhuizen: Brother Hugo when he needs to get somewhere reasonably fast, relying on his trusty scooter.

What a priest does in his free time

A photo from the day for all altar servers in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, organised on the 28th of May, showing Father Peter Wellen enjoying a slide down one of the attractions in the theme park where the day was held. Some 400 children attended the day, which included a Mass celebrated by Bishop de Korte, a lunch and ample time to play in the park. The priests present evidently joined in in the latter as well.