Bishop Gerard de Korte, Theologian Laureate

korteLast night, during the annual night of theology – during which Dutch theologians look back on and celebrate recent developments in the field – Bishop Gerard de Korte was elected as the first “theologian laureate”. The title is an unofficial one and the most recent one after the “most talked about theologian” and the “theologian of the year”.

Bishop de Korte will be an ambassador of theology for the coming year and will be commenting on current affairs from a theological point of view (much like he does in his recently-launched blog). He was one of three nominees and won with a clear majority.

It all sounds nice, of course, but in reality the bishop’s title will not make a major difference. At most it will be putting theology, the person of the bishop and the Catholic Church in the spotlight. But Bishop de Korte has been doing much of what the title asks of him for at least the past five years. In the bishops’ conference he is the go-to prelate for matters of Church and society, so he often speaks on behalf of the conference on television and radio, and he frequently contributions opinion pieces and articles to written media,the diocesan website and his aforementioned blog.

A recognition of his work, then, with the hope that it may continue and bear good fruit.

Documenting the moving of monks

I have written before about the planned move of the Cistercian monks of Sion Abbey to the island of Schiermonnikoog. The community is now renting a house where the brothers live in groups of three to scout the terrain and find a new permanent home for their community. On the Sunday of Pentecost, the monks celebrated their last public Mass at Sion Abbey. While they haven’t left that place yet, the monks do not want to host faithful for Masses and prayer services when they can’t guarantee those service to take place on set times.

The big new development in the story, however, is that the entire project will be documented by a film crew, for a documentary that is expected to air sometime in the spring of 2018. Filming has already begun and will last until the end of 2017.

Broeders-strand monnik de film

It sounds to be like a wonderful project to document an extraordinary event like this: monks of one of the stricter orders in the Church not only downsizing, but also looking ahead to the future with a new foundation on an island that is named for them.

For now titled “Monnik” (Monk), the documentary will use the move as a context in which to find answers to some questions. From the summary on the website:

“What moves them to be a monk today, contrary to all the demands of modern society? What are they looking for in this simple existence with possession, no career perspectives, no relationships or family, no autonomy or freedom, no visible successes? What do they find there, hidden behind cloister walls, in the order’s rigid hierarchy, subject to a strict schedule of prayer, study and labour? Did they lose their own identities to the uniformity of the habit?

[…]

MONK is a reflection of the timeless spirituality of the brothers at a critical time in their order’s history and in their personal lives. Their existence, filled with many hours of silence and prayer is seemingly pointless. But would this ancient uselessness perhaps not show something of the basis of human existence?”

The makers of the documentary have secured almost half of their expected budget of 200,000 euros. They accept donations via this page.

My bishop has a blog

bloggingSo, my bishop now has a blog. As well as a spiffy new design of the diocesan website to host it on. This makes Bishop Gerard de Korte only the second Dutch blogging bishop, after Bishop Jan Hendriks, who blogs on his own website. It’s a small group, that’s true, but at least it’s there. I am very much in favour of bishops maintaining a blog which is more than just the monthly columns on diocesan websites (which I don’t deny have their value).

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop de Korte is no stranger to writing, as he contributes regularly to newspapers and other media about current affairs. His blog can add a new level to these writings, as it can also be used for more personal reflections. And the bishop has realised that, since in his second post he not only mentions his taking part in a pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Order of Malta, but also expresses his pleasant surprise at being nominated for the title of “national theologian”. Topics like these, which not only give factual accounts of things that happen, but also add a more personal reflection of the bishop, can be very useful in communicating what he stands for and what the Church has to say. That is certainly true for his blogging colleague, Bishop Hendriks, who regularly shares homilies and photos of Masses, pilgrimages and other things he takes part in and finds useful to write about. Via these personal notes people are exposed in an accessible way to the greater wealth of Catholic life and faith.

So, welcome to the world of blogging, bishop! I hope it’s a good experience and I’m looking forward to future posts.

Archbishop Léonard at 75, time to look back and ahead.

léonardToday Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard marks his 75th birthday, and his letter of resignation will be delivered to the desk of Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, who will forward it to Rome. All this is foreseen in canon law, but the immediate outcome has several options.

The resignation may be accepted immediately, after which a Diocesan Administrator will have to be appointed. The resignation may als be postponed for either a set or undefined period. In any case, the Holy See press office bulletins, which announce retirement and new appointments, will be enthusiastically scrutinised.

In any case, the relatively short period that Archbishop Léonard occupied the seat of Saint Rumbold is coming to an end. It is a time of looking back, as well as looking ahead. Back at the past five years and ahead to whomever the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels may be.

Archbishop Léonard was appointed at roughly the same time that I started this blog, and my translation of an earlier interview with him caused one of the first peaks in visitors here. Ever since his appointment, he was considered a likely candidate to be made a cardinal, which however never happened. But this never caused him grief.

One of the first major obstacles on his path was the revelation that the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had been guilty of sexual abuse. As president of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, all eyes were on Archbishop Léonard. Shortly afterwards, the archbishop went to Rome for the ad limina visit. In an interview he discussed the Vangheluwe case, as well as education and the shortage of priests. Shortly before his own retirement, the archbishop was judged guilty of negligence in a case of sexual abuse.

201104070920-1_andre-leonard-veegt-taart-weg-en-vervolgt-voordracht-About education, he later had to correct misunderstandings about his comments, something that would mark the following years as well. Notable were his comments about AIDS as a form of immanent justice. This seeming difficulty in understanding between archbishop and media even led to the archbishop’s spokesman resigning. Among many clergy and faithful, even politicians, Archbishop Léonard was not popular because of his clear voice and these misrepresentations, although in pastoral contexts he was widely loved, for example when 22 Belgian children died in a coach crash in Switzerland. Adversity, however, sometimes had the upper hand, as the archbishop was the recipient of pies (above right), pizza, slaps and water to his face. These attacks never aroused anger in him, however. On the contrary. Following that final assault, Archbishop Léonard wrote a very kind letter to all who had expressed support for him.

In Brussels, Archbishop Léonard was soon faced with the need for new bishops, as his auxiliaries left to Namur and Bruges. In 2011 he recieved three new auxiliary bishops.

In 2012, Archbishop Léonard led his diocese in a new evangelisation of cities, one of the first porjects of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

Archbishop Léonard took part on two Synod of Bishops assemblies, where he spoke on the reality of evil, as well as the role of women in the Church. In the 2012 Synod he was a member of the Commission for the Message.

Following the election of Pope Francis, Archbishop Léonard offered a Mass of thanksgiving in Brussels.

Last year, Archbishop Lëonard started looking ahead to the future, even clearing up some misconceptions about his upcoming retirement.

ordination léonard fraternity of the holy apostlesAfter his retirement, and contrary to his previously expressed wish to leave Brussels, Archbishop Léonard will live with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, a priestly fraternity which he founded in 2013 (at left, Archbishop Léonard is seen ordaining one of the fraternity’s priests in October of 2014). Priests from this fraternity, inspired by Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, are currently entrusted with the pastoral care of two parishes in Brussels. Whether this will be a temporary arrangement or otherwise, remains to be seen.

As for the future for Mechelen-Brussels, we can only guess. But there are some possibilities we may investigate. The metropolitan see of Mechelen has been held in turn by archbishops from the Flemish and Walloon parts of Belgium. While Pope Francis, who makes the final appointment, is probably not one to be bothered overly much by such considerations, preferring to choose the best man for the job, whether he be from Flanders of Wallonia, it is a sensitive issue in Belgium. I expect therefore that the new archbishop will come from one of the Flemish dioceses or that part of the archdiocese which lies in Flanders. Archbishop Léonard, after all, is a Walloon, and his predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, hails from Flanders.

kockerolsThe Holy Father may choose to elevate one of the suffragan bishops of Flanders. These are Bishop Jozef de Kesel of Bruges, Luc van Looy of Ghent, Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt. Bishop Léon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop for the Flemish part of Mechelen-Brussels, and Jean Kockerols, auxiliary for Brussels (pictured at right), may also be added to this group. At 73, Bishop van Looy is too close to his own retirement to be a likely choice. The others are between 56 and 67, so their age is no issue. Three bishops (De Kesel, Lemmens and Kockerols) know the archdiocese well, as they serve or have served as auxiliary bishops in it. There are also bishops who are no strangers to Rome or to the Pope personally. Bishop van Looy accompanied the young people of Verse Vis when they interviewed the Pope last year. Bishop Lemmens worked in Rome before being appointed as auxiliary bishop and Bishop Kockerols is internationally active as one of the vice-presidents of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). Bishop Bonny had made headlines for himself in relation to the Synod of Bishops, so he will also not be unknown in Rome. The only relatively unknown bishop is Patrick Hoogmartens, but he, at least, has a motto that should appeal to the current papacy: “Non ut iudicet, sed ut salvetur” (Not to judge, but to save, John 3:17).

Or the Pope may decide to do something that hasn’t happened since 1925: appoint a priest who has not yet been a bishop anywhere else to become the new archbishop. Whoever he may turn out to be, he will facing a stiff task as a shepherd in an increasingly secular environment. It may be hoped that he will be both pastorally sensitive and doctrinally clear.

léonard coat of armsArchbishop Léonard’s coat of arms

Father goes viral – the Force is strong with this priest

Few priests have been the focus of so much media attention than Father Roderick Vonhögen in the past week. And it’s all positive too.

Following the release of the second teaser trailer of the upcoming seventh movie in the Star Wars series, Fr. Roderick, who is active in most social and regular media you can think of, decided to shoot a reaction video of his first viewing of the trailer.

First, here is the movie trailer (which, i must admit, had me grinnig broadly as well):

And here is Fr. Roderick’s reaction:

This video, which is by now approaching the 500,000 views, has been picked up and shared, to a flood of positive and enthusiastic responses, by sites like Buzzfeed and 9Gag, as well as Dutch and foreign television programs.

Fr. Roderick is working on a documentary on Star Wars and families, he writes on trideo.com. Why this priest’s fascination for a science fiction saga? Fr. Roderick explains:

“My passion for Star Wars, my media work and my presence on social networks has helped me to reach hundreds of thousands of people that I would otherwise never have met. In every Mass, I pray for them. I’m inspired by pope Francis, who asks us to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem most indifferent. If my goofy video has contributed a tiny little bit to the realization of that challenge, I’m a happy priest.”

Wit and wisdom – Archbishop Léonard explains the truth behind the headlines

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard wrote an article in this month’s edition of Pastoralia, the magazine published by the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, concerning his upcoming retirement. It is written with wit, but it is also a serious reminder about the nature of the mandate of a bishop, the priesthood and the hope of a Christian.

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“In December some media were moved to hear that I would be writing a letter to the Holy Father on 6 May, to make available my office as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. All those emotions were completely unnecessary, since some one hundred bishops will write a similar letter this year, on the occasion of their 75th birthday, as dictated by Canon Law (can. 401 § 1). It is up to the Pope to accept or deny this resignation.

Since normal news reports are not interesting to the media, some have wanted to interpret that future letter as a clear sign of discouragement or disappointment, or even as an expression of disagreement with Pope Francis! Such imagination…

Some reporters asked me if a hoped that my mandate would be extended for a few years, as was often the case for archbishops during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I replied that I did not hope for that. A Christian’s hope, and that of a priest, is rather directed at something much more important than the extension of his mandate. From that they concluded that I did not hope for an extension and wanted to retire immediately. As if “I do not hope that…” and “I do not hope for..” are synonymous. Well, the hope of a Christian and a priest is not so much to retire quickly, but to remain active in his mission for a long while. But from the media I draw the conclusion that people do not excel in logic, even when they have made words and language their profession…

In short: I ask my brothers in the priesthood and the faithful of the diocese not to be carried away by unfounded assumptions. What I hope for especially – in this and many other situations – is that the will of God will manifest itself in my life and that I will be sufficiently free to accept the Holy Father’s  decision, whatever it may be, with an equanimous heart.

In that respect I appreciate greatly the words of Pope Francis, who reminds his brother, cardinals, bishops and priests, that they are neither eternal nor irreplaceable, and in which he discourages every spirit of careerism and human ambition in servants of the Holy Church. Let he who has ears, listen!

Finally, until the time that my duty in Mechelen-Brussels ends, I would use all my strength for my task, with the same enthusiasm and the same gratitude as today. And when the time comes to bid each other farewell, I will live my priesthood – for the time that remains for me on this earth – with the same attitude and the same hope.

 + André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels”

From big to big – Msgr. Heße comes to Hamburg

HeßeApparently he did a good job in managing the transition from Meisner to Woelki, good enough to be entrusted with shepherding the flock in the nation’s largest pasture. Msgr. Stefan Heße (pronounced as “Hese”) succeeds Archbishop Werner Thissen as ordinary of Hamburg.

Shortly after Friday’s announcement that Hamburg’s cathedral chapter would name the new archbishop on Monday, the name of Msgr. Heße appeared in rumours, first in the Bild newspaper and later also in various Catholic media. In the past, these rumours have proven to be accurate more often than not, and so in this case. They point to a serious leak in the otherwise secret and complex process of electing a bishop in most of Germany.

464px-Karte_Erzbistum_HamburgThe Archdiocese of Hamburg is the largest diocese of the country, covering the states of Hamburg, Schleswigh-Holstein and the western part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In number of Catholics it is, however, among the smallest of dioceses. Its 400,000 faithful are a sharp contrast with the 2 million Catholics in Msgr. Heße’s native Cologne.

Hamburg fell vacant upon the retirement of Archbishop Thissen in March of last year. His successor will be the third archbishop of the see as it was reestablished in 1994.

Msgr. Heße was born in 1966 in a suburb of Cologne. Aged 48, he will be the youngest ordinary of a German diocese, and by far the youngest archbishop. He studied philosophy and theology in Bonn and Regensburg and was ordained a priest in 1993, by Cardinal Joachim Meisner. From 1993 to 1997 he worked in the parish in Bergheim, just west of Cologne, and from 1997 to 2003 he was a tutor at the archdiocesan seminary in Bonn, which was headed at the time by Msgr. Rainer Maria Woelki, the current archbishop of Cologne. In 2001 he became a doctor of theology. He led the pastoral care office of the archdiocese from 2003 to 2005 and was diocesan representative for radio and television until 2012. Msgr. Heße received the honorary titles of Chaplain of His Holiness and 2005 and Honorary Prelate in 2010. He subsequently became substitute to the vicar general and head of the personnel department of the archdiocese in 2006. In 2011 he joined the cathedral chapter. When Dominik Schwaderlapp became an auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Msgr. Heße succeeded him as vicar general. He was confirmed in that office after Cardinal Woelki became the new archbishop of Cologne in 2014.

Reputation, as fickle as that can be, indicates that Msgr. Heße is somewhat liberal, if such a qualification has any merit, and he has been generally praised for his work towards financial transparency of the Archdiocese of Cologne, an example that has since been followed by several other dioceses in Germany. In Hamburg he inherits a diaspora Church where ecumenical contacts are much valued. This is also visible in Hamburg’s best-known sainthood cause: that of the Martyrs of Lübeck, three Catholics priests and one Lutheran pastor, who were beheaded in 1943 for listening to enemy broadcasts, treason and demoralisation. Eyewitness reports state that there blood ran together on  the floor, which has since been seen as a potent symbol of ecumenism, not least by Pope Francis.

Msgr. Heße became known to the wider world when he was elected as diocesan administrator following the retirement of Cardinal Meisner, and it is said that his was one of the names on the final list from which the cathedral chapter elected the new archbishop. An archbishop he eventually becomes, if a bit farther from home than originally intended.

The consecration and installation of the new archbishop will be on 14 March.

As an aside, this is the third Stefan to be appointed as a bishop in Germany in less than a year, following Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg.

schwaderlapp hesse

^Msgr. Stefan Heße with Cologne auxiliary Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp, whom he succeeded as vicar general, during the German Bishops’ Conference spring plenary of 2014.