A rapid retirement for Bishop Wiertz

IMgr. F.J.M. Wiertzn a circular letter to be read out in the parishes of his diocese next Sunday, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond informs the faithful that he has asked Pope Francis to be allowed to retire on his 75th birthday on 2 December. ND.nl broke the news this morning. Normally, the request for retirement is sent upon reaching that age, and then it can take months or even years before the retirement is accepted.

The Holy Father responded positively to the bishop’s request. In addition to retiring immediately, Bishop Wiertz has also asked not to be appointed as apostolic administrator for the period between his retirement and the installation of a new bishop.

In his monthly column, Bishop Wiertz asks for prayer:

“I speak from experience when I say that it is very important for a new Church leader to know that he is supported by the prayer of many.

That is why I wish to urge you to pray in the coming months for the Church in our diocese, and for a good shepherd, teacher and manager.”

The bishop, who has headed the southeastern diocese since 1993, has been struggling with health issues for some time now. His eyesight has been progressively failing, as he revealed in May of 2016.

In February of this year, a poll held among priests of the Diocese of Roermond revealed that the new bishop should be a man in the line of Pope Francis: communicative, no stranger to social media, and able to be strong and inspirational in his policies.

Bishop Wiertz was the oldest serving bishop of the Netherlands, and also the most senior in terms of years served. His 24 years in office is the longest period since that of wartime Bishop Jozef Lemmens, who served from 1932 to 1957.

In his retirement, Bishop Wiertz has decided to take up residence in Maastricht, the city where he was parish priest from 197 to 1985. Maastricht oncde also hosted to oldest cathedral in what is now the Netherlands, and is today also a titular see (currently vacant).

Here follows the full text of the circular letter:

“Brothers and sisters,

“Jesus Christ is the same: heri, hodie, cras.” Thus writes the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Hebrews: “yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8).

The world is changing, the times are changing and the Church is naturally also changing. But our mission remains the same: to proclaim Christ in every era and carry His Gospel to the ends of the earth.

It is now more than 24 years since Pope Saint John Paul II appointed me as bishop of Roermond. In the past years I have tried to proclaim Christ in this office. I have said before that that is a mission which requires more people. One man alone does not possess all the talents needed to fulfill the office of bishop.

Luckily I can say that I have had the support in all those years of the immediate coworkers in the diocese, in the staff, the chapter, the advisory councils, the seminary, the colleges of priests and deacons, of the pastoral workers and catechists and the many volunteers in parish councils, work groups and parishes. All of them – all of you – have helped me in word and deed to fulfill the office of bishop through liturgy, catechesis, charity and pastoral care. I thank you all.

I especially thank my auxiliary bishop Everard de Jong and vicar general Msgr. Hub Schnackers and their immediate predecessors in those offices, with whom I have worked in great kindness and friendship. My thanks to all who – each in their own way – have worked to proclaimed Christ is immeasurable. The Church in the Diocese of Roermond, as we know it today, is due in large part to them.

I am obviously aware of my limitations, sins and shortcomings. I realise that, over the course of the years, there have been people, also among you, who have been hurt because of what I did. For that, I wish to appeal to your gift of forgiveness.

Recently, Pope Francis once again called upon all bishops to present their resignation when they rech the age of 75. Since I hope to reach that age on 2 December, I have presented my resignation to the pope several months ago, and I have already received a positive response from him.

In my letter of resignation I also asked the pope not to appoint me as administrator of our diocese after 2 December. This because of my greatly reduced vision. This means that I will really finish my episcopal activities on 2 December.

In canon 412 and 413, canon law allows a bishops who is prevented from fulfilling his pastoral duties to let the chapter appoint a temporary administrator. He will govern the diocese in my name until a new bishop has been appointed.

On Saturday 9 December I will bid my farewell in a celebration of thanksgiving in St. Christopher’s cathedral, and subsequently at a reception in De Oranjerie in Roermond. I have been able to fulfill the office of bishop with great joy. There have definitely been difficult times, but I can look back in great gratitude on the almost quarter of a century in which I could be your bishop and could walk through the times with you. They have been happy years.

I will bid you farewell in the certainty that Christ remains the same as He was, as He is and as He will be in the future: the Son of the living God, our Saviour, on whom we can establish all our hopes, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

On this occasion I gladly ask for your prayer for a good successor on the seat of Roermond. On the intercession of Our Lady Star of the Sea, who is so loved in our entire diocese, I wish you salvation and blessings. In my new place of residence in Maastricht I hope to be united with you in prayer for some years.

I wish you all well. Adieu, adieë, until before God.

Roermond, 4 october 2017
on the feast day of Saint Francis,

+ Frans Wiertz,
bishop of Roermond”

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The bishop and the professors – presenting reality

Last month I wrote about a curious manifesto from the hands of a group of professors who criticised the general trend of parish mergers in the Dutch dioceses. I wrote then,

“[t]hey warn that mergers, which are ongoing or planned in virtually all dioceses, will destroy the “flourishing, sparkling and adult faith communities, in which lay faithful contribute in modern ways, adapted to local circumstances to faith life and liturgy, in open communication with local authorities” that have sprung up in the second half of the previous century.”

Although the manifesto failed to engender much attention in our outside the Church, apart from certain modernist circles (keen as they are to agree with anything that criticises one or more bishops and their actions), Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden did offer a response today, both in the Nederlands Dagblad and on the diocesan website.

It goes without saying that the bishop is unable to agree with the manifesto’s claims. He especially disagrees with the claim that the parish mergers and general scale expansion is some authoritarian policy, enforced from above. He writes,

bisschop de korte“Our country has seven independent dioceses and each bishop has their own approach. Without wanting to write an apololgy, I want to indicate briefly how I have started the process of mergers in the Northern diocese. Following my installation as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden in September of 2008, I conducted a tour of meetings with the pastoral teams and parish councils of my diocese. It soon became clear to me that the more than 80 parishes were not future-proof. Cooperation and mergers are called for to keep as many faith communities as possible afloat. The existing parishes are incorporated in 19 new parishes, which largely coincide with existing parish cooperations and partnerships. This plan, by the way, was not enforced from the top downm but was first allowed to develop for a year. I and my staff have explained the plan as clearly as possible in 19 information meetings, and allowed teams and councils to respond. Their remarks were included in a definitive plan which has to be completed in 2018. Adminstrative upscaling can, by the way, coincide very well with pastoral downscaling. In any case, I didn’t want to authoritatively enforce anything, but I have always wanted to work to create as large a support base as possible.”

This to illustrate the reality of the process, which is quite distinct from perceptions that may exist in several quarters. But to reunite reality and perceptions, Bishop de Korte pleads for an intensive dialogue. “Communication and perseverance”, he writes, are especially required now.

Mergers and upscaling are not a goal in themselves:

“Without wanting to sound panicky, we can say that the advancement of the Gospel is at stake.  […] The purpose of the new diocesan organisation and parish structure is the (renewed)  introduction of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our part of the world. There is not time to lose for this task, and it requires every faithful. Especially now, every faithful is called because of their baptism. The faith if the baptism must be lived. That way we can evangelise, with actions and words.”

Let me say once more…

(picture courtesy of Father John Boyle’s blog Caritas in Veritate)

As misleading headlines continue to appear left, right and centre (even in Christian newspapers such as the Nederlands Dagblad), the best source to find out anything sensible is still the pope himself. Numerous Catholic news sites offer full texts and quotations to counter the damage done by L’Osservatore Romano, who broke the embargo that was supposed to have stayed in place until tomorrow.

In a previous post I already linked to Jimmy Akin’s post about the subject, and I also have a Dutch translation of the same available here.

In closing I quote Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver:

In the context of the book’s later discussion of contraception and Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Pope’s comments are morally insightful. But taken out of context, they can easily be inferred as approving condoms under certain circumstances. One might reasonably expect the Holy Father’s assistants to have an advance communications plan in place, and to involve bishops and Catholic media in a timely way to explain and defend the Holy Father’s remarks.

Instead, the Vatican’s own semi-official newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, violated the book’s publication embargo and released excerpts of the content early. Not surprisingly, news media instantly zeroed in on the issue of condoms, and the rest of this marvelous book already seems like an afterthought.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t let confusion in the secular press deter you from buying, reading for yourself, and then sharing this extraordinary text. It’s an astonishing portrait of an astonishing man.

From Open, Disarming, and Inevitably Misunderstood.

Bishop de Korte opposed to celibacy? I think not

An article by Bishop de Korte in Nederlands Dagblad has – once more – greatly upset certain Dutch bloggers. “He wants to get rid of celibacy for priest!” they clamoured. Granted, it doesn’t take much for some people to get upset, and certainly not when it is Bishop de Korte who says or writes something, but I think that it is good to see what he actually wrote.

I did not translate the entire article because parts of it are taken from the pastoral letter that the bishop wrote earlier. Below are the sections in which he discusses celibacy.

—————–

Balance of power

In the media the assertion has frequently been made that celibacy is almost automatically the cause of the abuse. A life lived in abstinence must frustrate people. When sexual energy can’t be channeled normally there is a risk of derailment. But many experts have rejected the causal connection between celibacy and child abuse. Sadly, sexual abuse of minors happens in all layers of society. In sports, scouting, health care, education and, not least, within families. Experts claim that it is not celibacy but the strongly hierarchical balance of power within a fairly closed environment that is the reason for the abuse.

But did celibacy play no part whatsoever in the abuse? I think we must face this question honestly. It seems to me to be at least a good question for the committee. In that respect it is good to keep an eye on the historical dimension. Until far into the 1960s there was a strong anti-physical attitude in Catholic circles. For many sexuality was a necessary evil and prudishness was widely spread. In that environment many clerics made the vows of celibacy without an intense formation. It was mainly something of the head and hardly of the heart. It must be feared, therefore, that people with a suppressed pedosexual orientation have worked in boarding school. That is how a trail of pain and sorrow could be traced. Physical and sexual abuse have wounded children and young people for life. After many years of silence many victims only now dare to speak out.

Learning points

When it comes to experiencing sexuality, the Netherlands in 2010 is totally different. The prudishness of the past has been replaced by openness and even libertinism. It has become completely opposite of what it was in the past. Candidates for the priesthood and religious life choose celibacy in a totally different context. For years I was rector of the seminary in Utrecht. In that time I have guided young and older men towards celibate priesthood. In modern seminaries, students can reflect intensely on celibacy for years and so discover if they have the charism to live in abstinence. A happy and healthy celibacy requires a good social network of friends and family. At the same time Christian celibacy can only be understood from a friendship with Christ and the total commitment to the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 19:12). Loneliness and darkness of the soul are therefore the biggest threats for a well-lived celibate life.

—————–

It’s not a long text, and neither is it difficult. To conclude from it that Bishop de Korte is against celibacy for priests is ridiculous. He emphasises the need for good formation, chiefly in light of the enormous change in sexual morality (or lack thereof) in the Netherlands when compared to 30, 40, 50 years ago. And I think he is right to say that the key lies with good formation. If priests are required to live celibate, they must be able to and well prepared for it. In modern society celibacy is the polar opposite of what is considered normal. And since candidates for the priesthood are part of that society, their choice for celibacy must be a conscious choice made by head and heart.