A final rebuttal from the archbishop

Following the quick official response to the Volkskrant article that blamed Archbishop Wim Eijk of all manner of things, the aforementioned newspaper now publishes a letter from the archbishop himself and admits that “the editorial office of the Volkskrant concludes in hindsight that more rebuttal could have been given and publishes for that reason this letter from Msgr. Eijk.”

As I wrote about the article when it was first published, it is a shoddy piece of work based on old news and unsubstantiated claims from people who believe that their own personal vendetta against the archbishop should be fought in public. It is good to see that the Volkskrant now admits almost as much and publishes the letter from the archbishop, which follows here in my translation.

The contents of the publication on the front page of the Volkskrant of Monday 18 April lead me to write a response.

Anyone is free to disagree with the policies followed by me as archbishop in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, such as the financial cuts which were deemed very necessary and thus put in practice. The fact that two Catholics apparently turned to the Pope to complain about me will not have dictated the newsworthiness to place the article on the front page. After all, anyone is free to do that as well. The newsworthiness seems to have lain in the nature of the complaints made against me.

I have need of a rebuttal in response to a number of evidently false claims which in turn are the basis of a number of complaints, although I can’t respond to all factual inaccuracies in this short letter. I am accused of having hired investigators to search the computers of my fellow bishops while I, considering the autonomy of the dioceses and the lack of hierarchical relations between me and my fellow bishops, in no way have the capacity, let alone the actual opportunity, for that. Such an investigation can therefore only take place if a detective agency would use unlawful means. This serious accusation misses any basis in fact. Since my appointment I gave not a single detective agency any assignment, let alone to investigate the private computers of other clergymen, as I am wrongly accused of in the article. There has also never been any request from my regarding the dismissal of Msgr. De Korte, bishop in Groningen-Leeuwarden.

The claim that I fired my “seriously ill financial advisor” is also incorrect. The contract with Mr. Boeser was ended after proper consultation, after Mr. Boeser had recovered from his serious illness for a number of months. In the communications regarding his departure he himself indicated to be ready for a new challenge.

I am also wrongly accused of having closed the Ariënskonvikt, the seminary in Utrecht, when this would have been unnecessary on financial grounds, considering an inheritance of several millions. This accusation seems to be based on an e-mail from Mr. Hemels to Mr. Boeser, in which Mr. Hemels refers to the possible inheritance. After having read the article in the Volkskrant, Mr. Hemels has informed the editorial office of the Volkskrant that, in an answer to his e-mail, Mr. Boeser confirmed to him that – sadly – nothing is known of this inheritance.

Msgr. dr. W.J. Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht

And now here let the whole nasty mess rest.

“Criticism is fine, but slander is a different story”

Words from Archbishop Wim Eijk in response to the ridiculous claims made against him in the Volkskrant. Katholiek Nieuwsblad published a short interview with the archbishop in which he counters these claims. Yesterday the Dutch bishops released a joint statement to the same effect. It’s a shame that that statement and this interview asre not picked up by the major newspapers, whereas the Volkskrant article – a shoddy piece of work – was.

Here is my translation of the interview, conducted by Jan Peeters:

KN: The core element of the criticism which you received this week, seems once more to be the closing of the Ariënskonvikt. As you said you fear in November of 2009, the criticism seems to be leading its own life. Is that true?

Abp. Eijk: “It is true that Ms. Stienstra again proclaims in the media that millions have been left in legates to the Ariënskonvikt, but we don’t have them. I haven’t heard anything about this from others in the past year either – her statement is not true. Once again: the Ariënskonvikt was closed at the time because of the deficient finances and the small number of students, which meant there was not enough of a community life.”

In April of 2011, the Volkskrant repeats criticism which you have tried to refute almost 18 months ago. There must be some truth in it, people may think…

“It remains to be seen if people think that. False accusations do not become automatically ‘true’ because they are proclaimed again 18 months later.”

The prevalent image is that Msgr. Eijk does not allow contradiction and sidelines or fires people who are critical about him. In how far is that image true?

“That image is not based on facts. In various consultation structures and in meetings with parish councils I get continously replies and sometimes also criticism. I certainly take advantage of that, but, on the other hand, I did not become bishop to win the popularity prize. I can’t please everyone. Criticism is fine, but slander is whole different story. Whoever publically calls me a liar has a problem: I can’t work with someone like that. But in all honesty, I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary.”

You are also accused of acting authoritarian, that you do not involve people in decisions, but present them with accomplished facts. You do you see that yourself?

“Upon my installation as archbishop I found a diocese on the edge of bankruptcy. Quick and robust measures were necessary. In such an ’emergency situation’ there sometimes wasn’t time to garner support, I am aware of that. Because of that promptness people have sometimes felt ambushed by decisions. But in that period there has also always been discussion: with the members of the staff of the diocese, the chapter, the council of priests, the Council for Economic Affairs. By now there is more time for discussion; For example, all the parish council now come by to discuss the pastoral-liturgical policy plans.”

It is well known that your relations with the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden were strained when he was still your auxiliary bishop. Later you and your auxiliary bishops have made your complaints about him in a letter that was leaked to the press. What is true about the claim that you wanted to have him removed from office as a bishop?

“That is pure nonsense. In a press release earlier this week, the bishops’ conference have made it know that at no time such a request was made to Rome.”

The accountant of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden has accused you of an ‘un-Christian attitude’. Is it true that you demanded his resignation?

“No, that is not true. I did, among other things, ask for public apologies for his words.”

It is said you even hired investigators to find the one who ‘leaked’ the letter. Is it true,and did you find the ‘leak’?

“That is a ridiculous accusation. From the archdiocese there has been no contact with whichever investigating bureau whatsoever, let alone that “Msgr. Eijk sent investigators to his bishops to check their computers,” as the Volkskrant wrote. The bishops’ conference distanced itself also from this in a mutual statement. The suggestion was made in cooperation with the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, to try and find who leaked the letter, for example by hiring such a bureau together. But nothing has come from that.”

 Following the closing of the Ariënskonvikt you are said to also want to close your own cathedral or the St. Augustine church. Is that true?

This too is an urban legend. It is not up to the archbishop to close a church building. It’s the parish that takes that initiative; it owns the church building. The archdiocese did ask the parish council for a thorough finaincial planning for the next several years regarding the buildings. That was necessary because the parish wanted to take a number of decisions which involved large sums of money. That requires the authorisation of the bishop. A long term planning was not suuplied by the parish, which was reason for the Council for Economic Affairs to give a negative advice for now. That can not lead to the conclusion that, as far as the diocese is concerned, one of the churches must be closed; when the parish supplies a good planning, the CEA may still advice positively.”

The former parish house of the cathedral, which until the closing housed part of the konvikt, has to be sold. For whom are the proceeds?

“The parish house is property of the Salvator parish (the parish in the inner city of Utrecht) and the p[roceeds of the sale will fully benefit this parish.”

There are said to be ‘earmarked donations for Utrecht’s seminary. What will happens with that money now that the Ariënskonvikt is closed?

“Insofar as there are ‘earmarked’ donations for the seminary, these will go to the Priesteropleiding Fund. This will pay for the education of the semrians of Utrecht.”

How many seminarians does the archdiocese have and where do they study?

At the moment, the archdiocese has five seminarians. Three of them study at the Tiltenberg, the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. One seminarian lives in the city of Utrecht and the fifth studies at Bovendonk and lives in Breda.”

Is it true that they are not allowed to study in Tilburg? Isn’t that still a vote of no-confidence towards your own Faculty of Catholic Theology?

“Three of the five seminarians may, as a transitory rule, complete their education at the FCT. This is no longer possible for new students. That is not a vote of no-confidence towards the FCT, but it has to do with the disappearance of the link between the Ariënskonvikt and the FCT. At the konvikt the students lived in community and there they received the spiritual and psychological formation which is also part of the education of a priest. To follow classes at the FCT from the Tiltenberg is very difficult due to the distance. And he who studies at the FCT with being rooted in a community lacks the psychological formation. So practical concerns make the FCT no longer an option.”

Did you take notice of the appeal that Ms. Stienstra is to present to the pope against you? In what way is an (arch)bishop free to create policy?

“Ms. Stienstra did not send her appeal to the archdiocese. I can say nothing about it.”

Bishops counter crazy claims

In all honesty, I am very pleasantly surprised – and a bit relieved – that the bishops’ conference was able to release a common statement about today’s statements in the Volkskrant. Their track record in quick responses to developing news stories has not always been the best, although I do think it is improving. Let’s see what they have to say:

The Dutch Bishops’ Conference wish it to be known that the article of 18 April in the Volkskrant contain a number of manifest errors. For example, contrary to what the Volkskrant writes, Archbishop Eijk has never submitted a request to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to have Bishop de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden removed from office.

In addition, the article claims that “the relations in the Church province have worsened because Msgr. Eijk employed investigators to search the computers of clergymen for information that is displeasing to the archbishop.” This too is not the case. There has been no contact with whatever investigations company, let alone that “Msgr. Eijk himself recently sent investigators to his bishops to check their computers,” as the Volkskrant writes.

Finally, there is no case of a looming “great delay of major projects within the dioceses”: the dioceses are autonomous in realising projects, although cooperation is certainly sought and found in some areas. Neither is anything known of “putting initiatives on the back burner to turn the bad financial tide in the dioceses.”

The two sources named in the Volkskrant article, the ladies Stienstra and Schreur, have indicated that the appeal to the Congregation for the Clergy has not been sent yet. It still remains to be seen to what conclusion, if any, this sordid affair will lead.

Pope to rein in Abp. Eijk? Not likely when this is the best ‘proof’ against him

A misleading title, old news and unsubstantiated claims: it must be a Dutch newspaper writing about the Church again. And it is.

Daily the Volkskrant devotes some space to a piece informing the readers, per the title, that Catholics think that the pope should call Archbishop Wim Eijk to order. The reason: he has apparently lost all credit with orthodox Catholics. Well, that’s news to me, but once the names of two people showed up in the piece, the claim is understandable. Ms. Nelly Stienstra and Ms. Erica Schruer have a long history of public disagreement with the archbishop, and have often turned to name-calling in blogs and public media. In my humble opinion, these two people are hardly objective sources in such matters.

The newspaper piece also presents the orthodox Contact Rooms-Katholieken group, of which Ms. Stienstra is the chair, and the Latin Liturgy Society, of which Ms. Schruer used to be the chair, as credentials, although these groups have either no official standing in either the archdiocese or in Rome, or are simple not involved in these matters at all.

A 32-page appeal sent to the Congregation for the Clergy (the current prefect of which, Cardinal Piacenza, has come out in defense of Abp. Eijk before), detailing the reasons why the archbishop should be reined in, is a mysterious document of which the archdiocese’s press chief knows nothing. Some of the reasoning in said document is detailed in the article, although the accuracy seems very doubtful. For example, it mentions that a spat between Archbishop Eijk and the accountant of his previous diocese, Groningen-Leeuwarden, caused the former to request the dismissal of that diocese’s current ordinary, Bishop Gerard de Korte. Other accusations say that the archbishop has ordered the investigation of the personal computers of clergymen – and even other bishops – for information that they are less than positive about him. Both are claims that not only seems quite ludicrous, but also very doubtful when seen in the light of (secular and canon) law.

Then there are also claims that the papal nuncio, Archbishop Bacqué, has been mediating between the archbishop and the other bishops in the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. Large financial projects of the dioceses, the article says, are being put on hold because of the archbishop’s behaviour in running the archdiocese. As if he has much of a say in the way other dioceses manage their finances.

As for the truth behind the matter? I don’t pretend to know much of it. Certainly, Archbishop Eijk and his way of working are not loved by everyone. But these claims are quite unbelievable when considering the person of the archbishop, the legality of the suggested steps taken by him, the lack of objectivity of the main sources of the story, and the lack of previous news about much of the events mentioned (there is more in it, but that is all old news).

Easter is coming. The media’s eye is on the Church even more at this time of year. And people with personal vendettas against prelates and other Church officials use it to win another battle in their ongoing war. Such a pity that the result is such very shoddy workmanship.

Settling the matter?

A very interesting development in the ongoing argument concerning Archbishop Eijk’s decision to fire a volunteer, Ms. Nelly Stienstra, from parish duties, after she had publically made him out to be a liar. As we know she then went public with her allegations, some true, others not, and her lawyer, Ms. Erica Schruer, followed suit by publishing a private letter to the archbishop on her blog. It now becomes clear that the archbishop forwarded the issue to Rome, where Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, concerned himself with clarifying matters. He sent a letter to Archbishop Eijk, dated 18 January, and that letter has now been released to the public. Here is the Dutch version, and the English translation is at the bottom of this post.

There is a press release from the archdiocese here, from which I highlight the second paragraph:

“Earlier this month, Archbishop Eijk had made an appointment to meet with Ms. Stienstra and her advisor, Ms. Schruer, to give her the opportunity to explain her vision and actions. But this meeting was cancelled by both ladies a few days in advance, because of “the archbishop’s comments in the media about Ms. Stienstra.” Ms. Stienstra requested mediation from Msgr. van Luyn or Msgr. de Korte. When asked about it, both said not to be willing. If mediation would prove to be not possible, Ms. Stienstra wanted to go to the diocesan office of litigation. The archdiocese points out that Stienstra’s advisor, Ms. Schruer, has depicted Archbishop Eijk in the past weeks as someone who lies and who follows a “culture of account settlement”. She has also suggested that Msgr. Eijk was unable to find co-consecrators for the consecration of this Saturday, a fact [sic] that he could use “when tendering his resignation on health grounds, because his work would have been made impossible, losing the logic of cause and effect out of sight – but that is a chronic problem with this patient.”

All the same, Msgr. Eijk was willing to have an open conversation, but that is now no longer an option. Putting the question to the diocesan litigation office is, following the letter from Msgr. Piacenza, now also pointless: Rome has already decided that Msgr. Eijk acted within his rights. The litigation office can’t judge that.”

The difference in attitude between the archbishop on the one hand and Ms. Stienstra and her advisor on the other is striking. Whereas the archbishop only went public to correct the allegations made against him or to communicate something factual, his opponents published every allegation, private communication and even dragged in other events (such as the consecration of the two auxiliary bishops, other issues in the archdiocese and Church province and even abroad) to take potshots at the archbishop.

I wonder what they’ll try next. To me it seems the matter is settled. It’s not a nice situation, but the archbishop was within his rights.

 

Congregation for the Clergy

From the Vatican, 18 January 2010

Most Reverend Excellency,

Concerning the question if your Excellency can prevent a lay person from performing the duties of lector during the Eucharist in the cathedral, the following:

According to can. 230, $2 of the Code of Canon Law, “Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation…” the judgement of suitability for this appointment lies in the first place with the diocesan bishop and only subordinately to the priest who performs pastoral care for the community he is responsible for “under the authority of the diocesan bishop.” (can. 519).

Since, as can. 838, $1, says: “The direction of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, according to the norm of law, the diocesan bishop.” The regulation of the holy liturgy is solely submitted to the authority of the Church. In a specific Church it is the diocesan bishop who, iure nativo, is repsonsible for the liturgy, he regulates is and at the ministry of the sacrament (cf. cann. 838 $1 and 4, 841).

Within the bounds of his own authority and in agreement with the regulations published by the Holy See, the bishop is allowed to establish norms for the liturgy, taking into account special circumstances and local needs. Clergy and faithful are bound to these norms, including any exempt institutes: “Within the limits of his competence, it pertains to the diocesan bishop in the Church entrusted to him to issue liturgical norms which bind everyone.” (Can 838, $4)

Since the faithful, “even in their own manner of acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church” (209, $1) and “are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church” (212, $1), is, seen in this perspective, he who incites a hostile attitude, in word and deed, to the bishop, clearly not suited for the role of lector in liturgical acts. The bishop can very well take comparable steps, since he “is bound to promote the common discipline of the whole Church and therefore to urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws”(can. 392, $1) and “he is to exercise vigilance so that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially regarding the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and the veneration of the saints…” (can. 392, $2).

Wishing your loyal pastoral care much fruitfulness,
In greatest regard,
Yours in the Lord,

+Mauro Piacenza
Tit. Archbishop of Vittoriana
Secretary

Correction

It turns out that a rather bad mistake snuck into the interview with Archbishop Eijk. He claimed that the letter that the emeritus priests sent to him was printed in Trouw, and that he blamed them for that. That never happened. The fact that the letter was sent was made public, but the contents are still private, and rightly so. But the error does mean that my hints that these priests are playing the ‘blame game’ is not correct.

I can only guess the reason for the mistake, but perhaps the archbishop was referring to Nelly Stienstra’s letter, which was made public (by her own lawyer, no less). The situation is somewhat similar.

Archbishop Eijk on TV

I watched the interview with Archbishop Wim Eijk on TV last night, and while there was much information that we already knew, I generally liked the impression that the archbishop gave. A self-proclaimed hesitant media figure – he does not like giving interviews – he came across as serious, knowledgeable and firm, while some personal touches did shine through.

I won’t go over the reasons for his past decisions here – those have been covered extensively elsewhere – but some quotes are worth taking a look at.

On his decisive style of management, he said

I am someone who is decisive, yes. I discuss well, I orient myself. I first try to get a good picture of what is going on, or else you can’t take any decisions. I think I’m also very clear in that, in what I want. I am also someone who knows what he wants, that also makes a difference, of course.

No, avoiding conflicts is not my nature, not at all. On the contrary, I believe that if you ignore a problem, it will come back later with double the force. No, you really must deal with a problem.

See, management… in the first place it is a matter of common sense. Just using your common sense. And in the second place you have to take good advice. […]  You absolutely have to delegate certain things, some things you simply can’t do yourself. But I am ultimately a manager who is the spider in the web.

That’s certainly the unpopular position to take in our culture. But the fact remains that the Church is not a democracy. As the archbishop also said, the Church works with a one-man responsibility. He is the man, he has the responsibility.

On the criticism against his unpopular decisions:

Cutting and reorganising are never fun. At a certain point it becomes a fact, and people can’t deny it any longer […] And for those concerned it is never enjoyable. But, no matter you bring the message, it is still a bad message. But I think that people sometimes say things without really having full knowledge.

I agree. Most of the emotional outpouring following some of the archbishop’s decisions were not based in a through knowledge of the case. Not that that makes them less valid, though.

On the letter that a few emeritus priests wrote to him, and which they made public:

See, there are numerous ways in which, and people do that, in which you can offer criticism, and ask questions.

Did you blame them?

Yes, I do blame them.

Like the Stienstra case, it is simply not ethical to make a personal disagreement public. It doesn’t do anything to reach a solution, so the only point can be to play the blame game.

On the disagreement with Bishop de Korte about closing the Ariënskonvikt:

We have spoken extensively about it together. I also explained to him why it was necessary en we decided to – he did hear before I told the students, but in the end we spoke about it and we also decided  not to discuss it publically.

This actually made me quite happy. It’s no fun to know that your former and your current bishop are arguing about something. 

On the Stienstra case:

Well, see, I think Ms Stienstra was rather fond of the Ariënskonvikt, for valid personal reasons. See, of course you can criticise the decisions of an institute, en perhaps also the way in which they are made. That is all possible. But what you obviously can’t do is say that false motives were used. […]  You are actually saying that the bishops lies. The word wasn’t used, but it did come down to that.

On his public image of a cold manager:

When I go to parishes people say “up close you’re not so bad.” The really appreciate the Eucharistic celebrations and i also hear, via my driver and others that the appearance is appreciated.

That’s certainly how I got to know the archbishop. He is a very pleasant, pastoral man when you talk to him face to face.

‘A courageous bishop’

A surprising article on the website of Katholiek Nieuwsblad. Surprising in that the author, Jan Peeters, takes the unpopular position and manages to given an overview of the recent decisions of Archbishop Eijk, which have caused so much discussion in his archdiocese these past months. Peeters’ position is, in my opinion, the unpopular one, in that he defends the archbishop who has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. Granted, not all of that criticism was unjust, but the article below shows that much can be defended.

I agree with the main point that Peeters makes; that the Dutch Church needs a doctor who is able to make the drastic decisions to heal things. And such decisions rarely make anyone popular, certainly not immediately.

That’s not to say that I agree with everything in the article. Especially the points he makes about Ms Stienstra and her reasons for acting the way she did are, in my opinion, unverifiable by anyone but herself.

In closing, an article that shows the big picture, although some emotion, or should I say frustration, shines through here and there.

A courageous bishop

Church historian Peter Nissen is a strange man: his long-held wish dream of a ‘bishop with balls’ has finally come true, and it’s still not right, because he is immediately ‘stalinist’.

For the strangers in Jerusalem: it concerns Wim Eijk, de archbishop of Utrecht, who was sharply attacked in Trouw over his policies. Eijk has the thankless task to safeguard the archdiocese, with drastic measures, from bankruptcy. He also considers I his task to have the financial side secure enough to assure continued wellbeing for the next ten years.

Eijk is probably the first Dutch bishop who has publicly indicated that the situation of the Catholic Church has gotten so precarious that he lets money flow back to local faith communities, through cuts in staff and supporting services. How hard the times are for them is something we’ll hear in the coming week during the start of the Kerkbalans fundraising campaign.

Hard reality

Or simply from the numbers: Between 1998 and 2008 the number of Churchgoing Catholics in Utrecht dropped with 41.9 percent to a meager 55,400 per week. These have to support 306 parishes: on average 181 often elderly parishioners per parish.

Eijk is the first to couple action to all concerned mutterings by turning every penny from the pockets of the faithful twice. Sadly and unavoidably that leads to job cuts. Even our national unions can’t avoid that. Eijk’s willingness to take that step shows backbone, because it is not easy and provides ammunition to his opponents.

A ‘bishop with balls’ therefore, to use the vocabulary of Peter Nissen. The image of a cold sanitiser that this creates works strongly to his disadvantage. We see another man than the likeable one in the interview after his long illness.

Playtime is over

The fact that Nissen does not welcome Eijk’s deciseveness may have to do with the fact that he became a ‘victim’ of it himself. Eijk’s opponents may shout that he can’t handle criticism, but on the other, the people are unable to deal with shepherd who truly lead. The playtime that has paralysed the Dutch Church province for the past forty years seems to be over now that there is an archbishop who firmly takes control. That is relatively new.

Nissen probably expected Eijk to concede when he pulled the university of Nijmegen out of the partnership with the Catholic universities of Utrecht and Tilburg which would lead to the Faculty of Catholic Theology. But he lost for his own university the long-desired Vatican recognition: Eijk was not fooled. Nissen is therefore not the objective oberser people take him for.

Resentful of consisten?

The same goes just as much for fellow church historian Ton van Schaik. He too has some unfinished business with Eijk. The latter, when he was bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, though it unacceptable that a certain Van Schaik, who had publicly declared that Eijk was unfit to be not only a bishop, but even a priest, was a teacher at the Bovendonk seminary in which the diocese participated. He lost his position as teacher.

In Trouw Nissen calls these actions “almost stalinist practices. You may cheer for the leader and agree with his policies, or you’re out.” Disregarding the fact that the qualification ‘almost stalinist’ is a grave one for any historian, let alone a Catholic one, the reaction, no matter how ridiculous, is understandable in the Dutch context.

Anarchy

Our native Church is stuck in the anti-authoritarian attidude of the 1970s, when bishops barely acted out of fear for attack, as happened to Bishop Gijssen of Roermond and, later, his colleague Bomers in Haarlem, who suffered a fullblown coup.

The ultimate example is the affair around the recently deceased theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, who had received an official Vatican conviction for heretical ideas, but who was not sanctioned in any way, neither against his person nor his ‘teachings’. He was even given, with the support of several bishops, a university chair, which was then rapidly turned back by Rome.

Cultural difference

In this context the rumoured friction between the current and previous archbishops is not unthinkable. But is that not primarily a confrontation between two cultures? One who think that you can’t take drastic measures, and the other considering lack of action unacceptable? Eijk did not just inherit a financial mess, but also an atmosphere of everyone going their own way.

It is well know that Cardinal Simonis worked towards at least one weekly Eucharist in each parish, but encountered shrugs and mockery in his own diocesan council.

Changing of the guard

It is fully understandable that newly-arrived Eijk wanted to clean up. A new policy requires new people, and that causes resistance by definition, since for certain people it will mean a loss of power. It is foolish to accuse the archbishop of ‘power politics’ en ‘power concentration’ when he used his responsibility and makes decision. As if the former deans who formed the diocesan council did not play power politics or, according to some, even had the actual power. Together they were responsible for the policy of squandering that brought the archdiocese to the edge of bankruptcy. Former economist Jacques Klok’s statements in Trouw, that the diocese pumped 1.5 million euros annually into the ‘missionairy Church’, are evidence of utter recknlessness.

‘It wasn’t me’

Klok thinks it not opportune for Eijk to constantly nag about the financial mismanagement under Cardinal Simonis, but wasn’t that first and foremost Klok’s responsibility, who was the financial genius at the head of the economic council of the Dutch dioceses for years?

Did not Klok in 2003 gather a surprised press corps to deny that the archdiocese was bankrupt? It seems that Jacques Klok is trying to clear his own conscience to the detriment of the cardinal.

Well-considered

What some consider not calssy, let alone sympathetic is Eijk’s mentioning of impending bankruptcy at his installation. Was that kick at the departing people or an emphasis that the required measures were not his fault? Or was to wake everyone up to the looming measures? It worked, because the dismissal of the diocesan council caused very little discussion among the fauithful. That was well thought-out.

Tiltenberg substandard?

What does not fit in the negative image of Eijk as ‘ambitious job hunter’, is the closing of his own seminary, always a bit of prestige for a bishop. Some priests replied to the violent reactions with the understatement that they ‘never knew the konvikt was that good.’ There were three equal elements in the decision: lack of funds, too hew students and a good alternative, at least second best: the Tiltenberg seminary in Haarlem.

Out of the backyard

The archbishop also yielded his much-appreciated rector, Norbert Schnell, to the Bovendonk seminary, which had gone without a rector for two years, and which also delivered priests for Utrecht. Was that an attemopt to ‘buy off’ his colleague Van den Hende, or did he really want to optimally use his few means, even outside the boundaries of his own diocese? That is highly unusual in the Netherlands.

Everyone admits that seven seminaries for the Netherlands is foolish, but the willingness to end that waste of energy, manpower and means was missing until now.

And that is how the archbishop was the first to do what many thought should have been done a long time ago: concentrate the seminaries in one or two locations. Until now no bishop wanted to be the first. That too is being courageous.

Circle Hendriksen

CRK chair Nelly Stienstra sees this all very differently. Cardinal Simonis was a regular visitor, just like Wim Eijk who was a ‘friend’. Those relations originated with former auxiliary bishop of Utrecht Th.G.A. Hendriksen, with whom Stienstra had a special bond and who became her housemate. That is how she became involved with the circle of orthodox priests and later bishops around Hendriksen. Those relations continued after his death in 2001 and next to cordial and fruitful contacts, resulted in open doors and influence for Ms Stienstra. That was also the case for the Ariënskonvikt: Stienstra lived across the street from one of its locations where she often came, went to Mass daily and which was a window into the heart of the archdiocese for her. Its closure abruptly ended that and the cordial contacts at the Maliebaan [location of the diocesan offices] are for now also seriously disrupted.

Complicating factor is the fact that Msgr. Hendriksen saw the konvikt as one of the two seminaries for the Netherlands. That made Stienstra’s objections against its closure intensely personal. It must have been an enormous loss for her.

The bishop lies?

In late December Eijk removed Ms Stienstra as a volunteer from his cathedral, because she had publicly declared that there were millions available for the konvikt. These statements have not been proven yet. She also accused the archbishop of “abuse of power and lack of humanity”.

She accuses the archbishop of being a despot, now that he has removed her for her criticism, after so much work on her part and despite their ‘friendship’. But wasn’t it ‘friendly’ Nelly Stienstra herself who initially publicly doubted the integrity of the archbishop and accused him in Trouw of “abuse of power and lack of humanity”?

Crisis of authority

Are Eijk’s actions truly vindictive, ‘stalinist’ or ‘despotic’? Or does the archbishop tyr to make clear that not everything should just be said? That some acts are not without consequence? He makes clear that he won’t be mocked. And that had became habit in the past forty years.

In 1984, Archbishop Simonis told young Catholics in Utrecht that there was not crisis of faith, but a crisis of authority in the Church. His succesor now tries to reassert that authority. That takes getting used to. That is necessary. Our terminally ill Church province, that saw the average percentage of regular churchgoes drop from 23.7 percent to a paltry 7.1 percent in 28 years, urgently needs a doctor. An able surgeon who saves what can be saved and removes what’s necessary and who does what is medically best. A cool person you can trust with your life. The rest is secondary for now.

An uncomfortable situation

Following the Ariënskonvikt affair, which spawned legitimate debate, there is now another discussion in a number of Catholic blogs that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Ms. Nelly Stienstra, chair of the orthodox Contact Rooms Katholieken group, translator of official Vatican documents and volunteer in the cathedral parish in Utrecht, has been told by Archbishop Eijk to step down from her duties in the parish. This after publically questioning his integrity and displaying her disregard of him during services, as a letter from the archbishop says.

I don’t know what is and is not true here, but it is not my place to know, let alone debate, either. The major problem is that someone saw fit to make public the private correspondence between two people by sending it to a blogger. It was subsequently picked up by other blogs, as these things go. Ms. Stienstra then responded through a press release voicing her disagreement with the decision.

Here we have a private matter made public to make others look bad – in this case the archbishop and the staff of the archdiocese. To me that seems very unethical. The archbishop has been criticised for not publically explaining his reasoning: he shouldn’t, since this is not something that concerns anyone but himself and Ms. Stienstra.

I have been doubting whether to write about this. Ideally I wouldn’t have for the exact reasons I mention above. But I decided in favour of it to share a different opinion about it all. A decision may be agreed with or disagreed with, and it may also be discussed. But a private matter between two people should remain so, and not be made a topic of public discussion.