Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese

A look at the proposed new parishes in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden after the mergers and reorganisations, as presented today by Bishop Gerard de Korte. It’s a bold plan, which aims to cut back the number of parishes from 81 to a mere 19. The reasons are multiple, including both financial and pastoral concerns. The reorganisation is set to be completed by 1 January 2018.

As a resident of this diocese, the plan also affects me and those in the parish where I live and attend Masses (which are, incidentally, not the same). I am therefore quite glad that the parish of St. Martin in Groningen (number 10 on the map), which includes the cathedral, remains unchanged. In a cartographical oddity, though, the southern suburbs of the city remain split off as they are today, but will be merged with the parishes in Haren and Zuidhorn – all parishes which today lack priests.

Other interesting plans include the merger of the parishes of Dokkum and Bergum with the island parishes of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog (3 on the map); the large  and, as far as Catholics are concerned, empty quarters of Drenthe (14 and 16); and the parish along the German border (19), traditionally Catholic because of the Catholic peat workers moving there in the 19th century.

The new parishes, which the bishop says will be “learning, diaconal communities working out of the Eucharist”, may often be big, it will once more allow each parish to actual have its own resident priest. Hopefully this’ll mean the start of a turnaround away from the too-ubiquitous “Word & Communion services” that take place every Sunday throughout the diocese.

Archdiocese of Utrecht on the map

More than once, I lamented the fact that the Dutch dioceses offer virtually nothing in the way of maps of their areas of jurisdiction. Whereas dioceses, and even parishes, abroad sometimes have appealing and useful maps of their territory, in the Netherlands we have to make do with the vaguest of indications of what diocese begins and ends where – a bit of this province, a part of that.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht now makes a start in filling that gap. On this map we find the borders of the archdiocese and of the 49 parishes – the result of mergers and consolidation. Also indicated are the locations of churches and parish offices.

Now, it must be emphasised, as the makers of the map do, that the map is not excessively accurate. “It is a general indication. The map is not meant to indicate the borders of parishes to the centimeter.” Still, it does indicate some of the anomalies that are ever present along diocesan boundaries: stretches of empty (or not so empty) land which one would expect to belong to one diocese, actually belong to Utrecht, and vice versa.

The image at the top of this blog post also show how Catholicism is spread in this part of the Netherlands. A very strong presence in the south and east (and also west, but that is also due to the fact that that area is more heavily populated anyway), and not so much in the centre and north; areas that are traditionally very orthodox Protestant, part of the Dutch Bible belt.

A good start of the process of offering accurate map of the Catholic Netherlands, offering ample room for development and improvement.

Mapping the dioceses

One of my guilty pleasures has long since been the study of maps – both the aesthetic of beautifully made maps, as the subjects they depict. The course of boundaries of countries and provinces and especially the reason why these are where they are. The resources to entertain this pleasure are plentiful: atlases and online maps are readily available everywhere. But as a Catholic there is a field which is a bit harder to study: the maps of dioceses.

Since the early centuries of Christianity the Church has felt the need to organise itself geographically. The faithful of specific areas fell under the legal jurisdiction of one bishop, who was also their chief shepherd, the successor to the apostles, although he would often delegate duties to his priests. After all, a bishop can’t be everywhere at the same time.

In many ways, that is still the situation: the worldwide Church is divided into Church provinces, which are divided into dioceses, which, finally, are divided into parishes. Church provinces often coincide with (parts of) countries, but dioceses can have interesting and seemingly random boundaries. Often, especially in Europe, they are the remains of historical borders  of countries and peoples.

Sadly, it is pretty hard to come by maps that show the boundaries of dioceses. Some websites of bishops’ conferences show them, especially in western countries, but they are few and far between. So, for anyone interested in finding out what part of a country falls under which diocese, there is often much puzzling to be done.

Luckily, not so for the dioceses of the Netherlands. The map to the left comes from the website of the Dutch Church province, and it shows that most of the boundaries of the seven dioceses coincide with those of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. But there is only one diocese, Roermond, which covers completely the same ground as a province: Limburg. All other dioceses show deviations from the better-known boundaries of the provinces.

In the north, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden covers three provinces: Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland, and part of a fourth: the Noordoostpolder is part of Flevoland. Also, the southern border of the diocese does not coincide with the southern border of Drenthe. When the diocese was established in 1955, some parishes in Drenthe were excluded, while others in the province of Overijssel were included.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht consists of the province of Utrecht, the middle part of the province of Flevoland, almost all of Overijssel (except for those few parishes mentioned above), and most of Gelderland (except for the part south of the River Rhine). Earlier those month, the archdiocese also lost two parishes, one to Haarlem-Amsterdam and the other to Rotterdam.

The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam consist of the province of Noord-Holland and the south-western part of Flevoland (the only province divided over three dioceses), and one parish in the province of Utrecht (as mentioned above).

The Diocese of Rotterdam almost totally coincides with the province of Zuid-Holland, except for the aforementioned parish in Utrecht.

The Catholic south of the Netherlands is neatly spread over three dioceses: Breda consist of the province of Zeeland and the western half of Noord-Brabant; ‘s-Hertogenbosch has the eastern half of Noord-Brabant as well as the bit of Gelderland beneath the Rhine; Roermond has been mentioned above: it consists of the province of Limburg.

The Dutch situation is mostly a practical one, with the basis found in the number of Catholics present in an area, as well as the social cohesion between cities and areas. Parishes have been transferred from one diocese to another based on their relations with neighbouring parishes and communities.

In other countries, for example in Germany, the boundaries of dioceses are based on situations from the past. German dioceses are often based on the long-gone principalities of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, which makes for strange but interesting situations where dioceses consist of two or more distinct parts.