Pope Francis’ recent suggestion that a commission should be formed to study the form and fucntion of female deacons in the early Church (with, one would think, an eye on their possible re-introduction into the life of the Church today) has led to much enthusiasm and outrage, both for all the wrong reasons.
The papal comments came as an answer to the question if the permanent diaconate could not be open to men and women alike. It being a spontaneous question-and-answer session, the Holy Father obviously did not have all the necessary information at the ready, so he chose to share what he recalled from conversations with a Syrian theologian he used to meet in Rome, well before he became Pope.
And those recollections immediately point out some of the problems in equating male and theoretical female deacons. The latter’s role was found in sensitive and private situations between women: baptism, which at that time was performed by full immersion, but also cases in which a woman would have to present the physical evidence of an abusive husband! The differences with the duties of a male deacon – who has financial and charitable responsibilities, as well as clearly-defined duties in the liturgy of the Mass – are clear.
A 2002 study by the International Theological Commission, summarised here, also states this, and further reaffirms the unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders – the grades of deacon, priest and bishop. A deacon is, at least in theory, able to be ordained as priest and bishop. The Church only has the authority to ordain men, not women (as Pope Francis has pointed out more than once), so in regard to the sacrament, female deacons are not possible.
Many of the duties of a deacon can be performed perfectly well by a woman. In fact, as Father Dwight Longenecker points out, in many parishes, women are already in charge of finances and run the charitable efforts of the community. You don’t need to be ordained for that. Pope Francis is not wrong when he started his answer with the half-joke that the female deacons of the Church are the religious sisters.
That leaves the duties for which ordination is a prerequisite: the liturgy of Holy Mass, such as, for example, reading the Gospel and giving the homily. Here, the deacon or priest does not do anything for himself: he performs the duties of proclamation and teaching of Christ. He is an alter Christus. The Church teaches that this is no act or show, but a sacramental reality, which we are asked to acknowledge in faith.
Some have chosen to see Pope Francis willingness to look into this matter as evidence that he wants female deacons, which is a ridiculous conclusion to draw. By that reasoning, Pope St. John Paul II wanted the same thing when he asked to International Theological Commission to study the matter…
Pope Francis said he wants clarification in this matter, and a conclusion along the lines of the 2002 study is no less a clarification than one that says, yes, there can be female deacons. But, it has to be said, all signs indicate that we should not expect the latter conclusion to be drawn.
After a 10-month vacancy, and just before it hosts the biggest national Catholic event of the year, the 100th Katholikentag, the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen has a new bishop. He is 63-year-old Heinrich Timmerevers, until today one of the five auxiliary bishops of Münster, where he was regional bishop for the diocese’s northern exclave of Oldenburg and Vechta. The news was announced today at noon in Rome and Vechta, where the bishop currently resides.
Heinrich Timmerevers was born in the small town of Garrel, southwest of Oldenburg, as second of six children in a farmer’s family, and attended school in nearby Cloppenburg, where he graduated in 1972. he studied theology and philosophy in Münster, where he also entered the seminary. For a short time he studied in Freiburg, but returned to Münster for his graduation in 1977. In 1997 and 1978 he attended a spirituality course of the Focolare movement, which he got to know in seminary, in Rome.
Bishop Reinhard Lettmann of Münster ordained Heinrich Timmervers in 1980. Until 1984 he worked as a priest in Visbek, not far from his native Garrel. He then became subregent of the Collegium Borromaeum, Münster’s diocesan seminary and was attached to the cathedral of St. Paul. In 1990 he returned to Visbek. He represented the kfd, the Catholic Women’s Community in the Oldenburg pastoral area.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Heinrich Timmerevers as an auxiliary bishop of Münster, with the titular see of Tulana. At the same time, Bishop Lettmann appointed him as episcopal representative in Vechta for the entire northern area of the diocese. Bishop Lettmann, together with then-auxiliary Bishop Werner Thissen (later archbishop of Hamburg, now retired) and retiring auxiliary Bishop Max Georg Freiherr von Twickel (now deceased), consecrated him on 2 September 2001. Bishop Timmerevers chose the German phrase “Suchet, wo Christus ist” as his episcopal motto. In 2002, the new bishop joined the cathedral chapter.
In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Timmerevers is a member of the commission for vocations and Church ministry and the commission for Adveniat, the German bishops’ charity arm for Latin America. In the past he was a member of the youth commission. Since 2012, Bishop Timmerevers is also a chaplain for the Order of Malta.
Bishop Timmerevers will be the ninth bishop of Dresden-Meißen since the diocese restoration in 1921. The diocese is located in eastern Germany along the Czech border, covering most of the state of Saxony and small parts of Thuringia and is part of the Church Province of Berlin, togetehr with the Diocese of Görlitz and the Archdiocese of Berlin. With the appointment of Bishop Timmerevers, all these sees are filled again. In Germany, the dioceses of Aachen and Limburg now remain vacant.
The website of the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, which went offline for a few hours following the announcement of the new bishop, features a letter of Bishop Timmerevers to his new flock:
“Dear sisters and brothers,
Today Pope Francis appointed me as new bishop of Dresden-Meißen. In the past week, Dean Klemens Ullmann informed me of the election by the cathedral chapter. It moved and pleased me greatly, but also worried me inside. I took several days until I was able to accept with all my heart this vocation and the renewed calling of Jesus to follow Him.
But I am willing and will leave my Oldenburger homeland, to come to you in the diocese. I am supported by the word addressed to Abraham (Gen. 12:1): “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. I gladly accept this new calling and mission in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen. I look forward to the people living there, to the many encounters and conversations. I also look forward to being Church together with you. I came as a learner to you and want to learn new things.
The Catholic Church in your diocese exists in a situation of diaspora and has kept the faith in difficult times. This impresses me greatly. I look forward to the challenges that await me, and will be happy to have you show me your country.
I rejoice in serving the people in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen from now on, to strengthen the Christians, to build up the Church and make her present in the world. For these tasks I pray for God’s blessing and for your active support.
It was one of the more unexpected choices, and for the new bishop the change will be big in several ways: he goes from the north to the south of the country, from a diocese with few Catholics to one with many, from a part of the country where people are fairly down to earth, to one where the Dutch concept of ‘gezelligheid’ has a natural home and where people are sometimes brutally honest. It will be interesting to see what bishop and diocese bring each other.
The new bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is 60-year-old Gerard de Korte, until today the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. And this scribe’s bishop at that. In yesterday’s blog post I already characterised Bishop de Korte as a popular shepherd. He is personable, interested, with a keen sense of the hearts and minds of other people. That makes him well suited to represent the Catholic Church in relations with other Christians, a talent he has made one of the focal points of his mission. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, such ecumenical effort is a necessity and a value. How it will take shape in ‘s-Hertogenbosch will be very interesting to see.
In a message leaked prematurely via Twitter, Bishop Hurkmans congratulated Bishop de Korte, and expresses a few wishes to him and the faithful of ‘s-Hertogenbosch:
“I wish very much that you, as a society, may live in confidence with the new bishop. You and I, we, live in a time of many and great changes. Especially now it is good to stand on the solid ground the faith offers us. God is our Creator and Father. He wanted all of us and included us in His plan of love.
Secondly, I wish for you all that you may remain hopeful with the new bishop. Evil and death are in the way of us all. They supplant hope. Jesus Christ broke the power of sin and opened the way to life. We celebrate this in the Eucharist and from it we draw hope every time. With that, as a new community around Christ, we can be a sign of hope in our society.
Lastly, I wish for the new bishop and you all to remain in love. That this may be the basis of your life. The Holy Spirit lives in us. He plants love in us and continuously strengthens the divine life. This makes love bloom in us. Love can reinforce our community. Love will let us live for each other in the Church and in the world.
Remaining in faith, hope and love is more than guaranteed when we participate in unity in a healthy life of the Church. I gladly wish Msgr. Gerard de Korte people who say yes to their vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate and the religious life, people who will work with him in the life of the Church, people who make the Church present in the world. People who support him in his prayer and proclamation, on being close to people and managing the diocese.”
Bishop Hurmans, now bishop emeritus, closes with a word of gratitude, despite beginning his letter by saying that he has said enough about his retirement.
“I thank you all for the faith, the hope and the love which I was able to keep among you. I hope to be able to be a witness of that in a simple way, trusting in the Sweet Mother of Den Bosch and living from the Holy Eucharist, until my death.”
Bishop de Korte has been the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden since 2008. Before that, from 2001 to 2008, he was auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, where he also worked as a priest since his ordination in 1987. He is a historian and served as seminary rector before his appointment as bishop. In Groningen-Leeuwarden he was a bishop on the road, travelling to every corner and sharing the major celebrations of Easter and Christmas between the cathedral in Groningen and the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden. Ordinations were also shared between the two cities: those of deacons, as pictured at left, in Leeuwarden, and priests in Groningen. He leaves a diocese in the midst of the greatest reorganisation in recent history: the reduction of its 84 parishes to 19. May the vacancy of the seat in St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen be a short one.
In my blog, Bishop de Korte has made frequent appearances, and translations of his writing may be found via the tag cloud in the left sidebar. Just click on the tag ‘Bishop Gerard de Korte’.
Despite the appointment coming before Easter, Bishop de Korte will mark the Church’s greatest week in Groningen-Leeuwarden. His installation in ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist will follow on 14 May.
In hindsight, this was perhaps the most Franciscan option in the Netherlands. Bishop de Korte fits the profile of what Pope Francis wants in a bishop (although other bishops are often unfairly depicted as being in opposition to the Holy Father): an open communicator, close to the people, a shepherd who smells like the sheep. These qualities may go a long way in resolving the polarisation that plagues parts of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In recent years more than one community has broken with the diocese, and the person and approach of Bishop de Korte, a man of dialogue and a strong voice against hate and distrust, may go a long way in setting them back on a course towards reconciliation.
In his new diocese, Bishop de Korte will undoubtedly continue to stress the importance of catechesis. Back in 2012 he said, “It may sound dramatic, but I sometimes feel that only a great catechetical offensive can secure Catholicism in our country. Without it, the strength of our faith seems to continue to weaken and Catholics become more and more religious humanists for whom important aspects of classic Catholicism have become unfamiliar.” Other emphases of his new task will be ecumenism, religious life and active Catholic communities.
In the Dutch Bishops’ Conference this appointment does not change much, although several commentators have chosen to see it as a blow for Cardinal Eijk, outgoing president and predecessor of Bishop de Korte in Groningen. The two prelates have not always seen eye to eye, and they have clashed on occasion, although how much actual truth there is behind the rumours will probably remain guesswork. In the conference, Bishop de Korte retains his one voice, and continues to hold the portfolios that formulate Church relations with the elderly, women and society. Actual change will only occur when a new bishop is appointed for Groningen-Leeuwarden, and perhaps not even then: if the new ordinary up north is one of the current auxiliary bishops in the country, the composition of the bishops’ conference remains the same as it is now.
Now, we could make the assumption that Cardinal Eijk would have liked to see a bishop in ‘s-Hertogenbosch who was more in line with himself, but that is guesswork. And besides, as I have pointed out before, the cardinal and the bishop may have different personalities and talents, their policies (for example, about the closing of churches and merging of parishes) are not always all that different.
In recent years, Bishop de Korte has appeared as the voice of the bishops’ conference, especially in the wake of the abuse crisis. This will not change, I imagine, even if the crisis has abated somewhat. Although the bishops in general remain hesitant to embrace the resources of the media, Bishop de Korte is the one whose face and name appears most frequently. He is a blogger on the diocesan website, writes books and articles and even appears on television every now and then. This is something that he should continue to do so: he is well-liked by many in and outside the Church, and knows how to communicate to both. And that is a value we need in our Church today.
More to come.
Photo credit:  ANP RAMON MANGOLD,  Roy Lazet,  Leeuwarder Courant, , ANP,  edited by author
Not unexpectedly, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Brussels today again repeated his support for female deacons in the Catholic Church. His comments come after a promise to try and work towards giving women more responsibility in the Church. Regarding the latter he is of course fully in line with Pope Francis, who not only wants to increase the role of women, but of laity in general in the Church.
But when it comes to the ordination of women, be it to the diaconate or the priesthood, the matter is quite different. It is clear that it is impossible for the Church to ordain women to the priesthood, and I will not discuss that here.
On the Facebook page of the press office of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, which has reported on these comments from the new archbishop, I left the following commentary (in Dutch, but in an English translation here):
“It can certainly be discussed. But I do not think it is possible. Why would only ordained persons be able to play an important role in the Church? Pope France emphasises that (non-ordained) lay people should be given and take on more responsibility. Yet we keep seeing people, both men and women, who consider ordination as the greatest good, and even a right.
And then there is the question of the nature of the diaconate: it is the first grade of the priesthood, which is not possible for women. Even just because of this, a female diaconate would be essentially different from that of men. Similar names do not remove the differences. I think it is healthier not to hide the differences, but work within the possibilities for men and women towards a Church in which everyone can take their responsibilities, without considering ordination as a prize or right.”
While the number of vacant dioceses in Germany now numbers three (Limburg continues to be without a bishop since March of 2014, Dresden-Meißen has been awaiting a new shepherd since June of this year, and Aachen became the third vacancy last week), the appointment of auxiliary bishops continues smoothly. Since June of this year the Archdiocese of Cologne, which usually has three auxiliaries for each of its pastoral areas, has had only two as Bishop Manfred Melzer retired in that month. Today his successor was appointed. He is 63-year-old Msgr. Rolf Steinhäuser.
Bishop-elect Steinhäuser will have episcopal responsibility, under that of the archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of course, of the Central pastoral area of the archdiocese. This area includes the city of Cologne itself, as well as Leverkusen and the Rhein-Erft area. Before his new appointment, which came as a surprise to him, the new auxiliary bishop was a non-resident canon of the cathedral, head of the Edith Stein retreat house, and official for the new evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Of his appointment, Bishop-elect Steinhäuser said, “I was very surprised, as I had already assumed that my current assignment would be the last in my life. As auxiliary bishop I want to contribute to reform and formation of the Church, in the line of Pope Francis.” Looking ahead to the future, he added, “I hope that my duties as auxiliary bishop will allow me much direct contact with people, and that I can accompany them in the important moments of their lives”.
The consecration of the new bishop, who has been given the titular see of Thuburnica in modern Tunisia, is scheduled for 10 January. It may be assumed that Cardinal Woelki will be the main consecrator, with auxiliary bishops Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff serving as co-consecrators.
Bishop-elect Steinhäuser is a native son of Cologne, having been born there in 1952. He was ordained as a priest in 1977. From 1984 to 1997 he was involved in the pastoral care of youth, first in Bonn and later in the entire archdiocese. In 1997 he became the city dean of Düsseldorf. Pope Saint John Paul II gave him the title monsignor in 1998, and in 2006 he joined the cathedral chapter.
After almost 18 months, Paramaribo and the entire country of Suriname will once more have a bishop, and for only the second time in its almost 200-year history, the bishop is a native son.
Father Karel Choennie, pictured below with Apostolic Administrator Fr. Antonius te Dorshorst and episcopal vicar Fr. Esteban Kross at today’s press conference announcing his appointment, was vicar general under the diocese’s previous bishop, Dutchman Wim de Bekker, who retired in May of 2014.
Bishop-elect Choennie was born in Suriname in 1958, He studied pedagogy at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and subsequently at the minor seminary in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He received his licentiate in pastoral theology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. He served in various parishes in Paramaribo, became a member of the diocesan curia in 2001 and vicar general in 2005. This office was suspended upon the retirement of Bishop de Bekker in 2014.
The diocese reports that the new bishop will be consecrated in early 2016. According to canon law this must take place within three months after the appointment, in this case before 11 February. The identity of the main consecrator is unknown at this time, but it is a safe bet that emeritus Bishop de Bekker will be the one. After his retirement he remained in Suriname, living in the town of Groningen, west of Paramaribo.
Bishop-elect Choennie, as mentioned above, is the second bishop of Paramaribo born in Suriname. The first native bishop of Paramaribo was Msgr. Aloysius Zichem, who is now 82. He was bishop from 1971 to 2003. All other ordinaries have been Dutch, reflecting the colonial history of Suriname.
The Diocese of Paramaribo, which covers all of Suriname, is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. It was established in 1817 as the Apostolic Prefecture of Dutch Guyana-Suriname, promoted to an Apostolic Vicariate in 1842 and became the modern diocese in 1958.
The first half of November is ordination season in the Dutch dioceses, with this year one priest and eleven deacons (six transitional and five permanent) being ordained in five dioceses.
On 31 October, Bishop Frans Wiertz ordained Deacon Miguel Ángel Pascual Coello, for the Neocatechumenal Way in the Diocese of Roermond. He will be ordained to the priesthood next year.
Last Saturday, November 7th, Father Jochem van Velthoven was ordained Bishop Jan Liesen for the Diocese of Breda.
^Newly-ordained Fr. van Velthoven with Bishop Jan Liesen (photo: J. Wouters)
In the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, retiring Bishop Antoon Hurkmans ordained five deacons: Hans Beks, Gideon van Meeteren, Henri Vermeulen, Rien van der Zanden and Pieter Zimmermann. Deacons Gideon and Pieter are transitional deacons.
^Five new deacons for ‘s -Hertogenbosch (photo: Wim Koopman)
On Sunday, Bishop Hans van den Hende ordained Deacon Boris Plavčić for Rotterdam. He is also a transitional deacon. Deacon Boris is of Croatian decent and speaks of the difference between Croatian and western European culture in an interview before his ordination: “The Netherlands and Croatia are two different cultures and I feel at home in both. When I am here in the Croatian parish, or in Bosnia where I grew up, I find that my vocation can shine, so to speak, through the way in which the faith is lived and shared there. I will be ordained for the Diocese of Rotterdam. Here you find the challenge to bring God where He does not automatically gets the time from people.”
Next weekend will see the last group of deacons being ordained, in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. They are: Paul Leferink, Jeroen Hoekstra, Jan-Jaap van Peperstraten and Mariusz Momot, with the latter two proceeding on to the priesthood next year.
Prayers for the newly-ordained, the soon-to-be ordained and all who may be called by the Lord to serve Him in the vineyard of His Church.
^In closing, a very sweet photo of the oldest and youngest bishops of the Netherlands at the ordination of Fr. van Velthoven: 98-year-old Huub Ernst and 51-year-old Hans van den Hende. Both were bishops of Breda in the past. (Photo: J. Wouters)