“It’s better in Heaven…” – On the death of Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet

lescrauwaetLess than two weeks ago, a short tweet from a priest friend broke the news that Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet was coming to the end of his earthly life. That end came today. At the age of 90, the retired auxiliary bishop of Haarlem leaves a heritage of study, education and engagement in numerous fields, from Church politics to ecumenism. Bishop Lescrauwaet was the second most senior Dutch bishop, with only the emeritus Bishop of Breda, Huub Ernst, before him.

Joining the congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart after a youth in Amsterdam, young Jos Lescrauwaet followed his formation as a priest during the war; his philosophical studies in Stein, Diocese of Roermond, and his theology in Raalte, Archdiocese of Utrecht. His ordination in 1948 was followed by a doctoral thesis in 1957 on a topic that would mark the rest of his active ministry: ecumenism. As a theologian, he taught systematic theology at the University of Tilburg and various subjects at the seminary of his congregation, also in Tilburg.

Originally one of the contributing authors to the journal Concilium, Fr. Lescrauwaet followed the example of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar and started writing for the more orthodox Communio. He was one of the editors of the Dutch edition of that journal when it was launched in 1976.

Bishop Lescrauwaet’s theological expertise led to several high-profile appointments. In 1969 he became a member of the International Theological Commission. He was chairman of the council of the disastrous (though not disastrous through his fault) Dutch Pastoral Council (1966-1970) and secretary and expert during the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, called by Pope John Paul II to repair some of the damage done in previous years.

lescrauwaetThis latter function played a part in his appointment as a bishop later on as it did for most other priests involved, such as the later bishop of Rotterdam, Ad van Luyn. In 1983, Fr. Lescrauwaet (at right, pictured around that time) was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem and Titular Bishop of Turres Concordiae. He was consecrated by the Coadjutor Bishop of Haarlem, Msgr. Henny Bomers, appointed on the very same day as Bishop Lescrauwaet (Bishop Bomers was already a bishop, having been ordained in 1978 as Vicar Apostolic of Gimma in Ethiopia). Bishop Ernst of Breda and Bishop Jan de Kok, Auxiliary of Utrecht, served as co-conserators.

As auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Lescrauwaet was active in many fields, and not necessary always only within the Diocese of Haarlem. These activities were often ecumenical in nature. In the final years before his retirement, Bishop Lescrauwaet was a member of the board of the Dutch Council of Churches.

It is said that there have always been tensions between Bishops Bomers and Lescrauwaet, and that these were the reason for the latter’s frequent absence from the diocese. Some blame the bishop for this absence, but those who knew him personally cherished him for his pastoral acumen and his sense of humour, which was evident even when discussing the most difficult of theological concepts.

lescrauwaetBishop Lescrauwaet retired in 1995 at the age of 71, for reasons of age and health, and returned to the south, where he had worked and lived before his appointment to Haarlem. He moved into the diocesan seminary of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, the St. John’s Centre, and picked up his old job of teaching theology again. He also served as spiritual counsellor of the seminary. At left, he is pictured with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, during the celebration of his 90th birthday last year. Ultimately, in 2011, the bishop moved back to Tilburg, to live in the retirement home of his congregation.

The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam announces that Bishop Lescrauwaet’s  funeral will take place from the Basilica of Saint John in Den Bosch, the cathedral near which he spent most of the years since his retirement, on 23 November. The Mass starts at 10:30. The day before, faithful will have the opportunity to visit the late bishop at the St. John’s Centre, the diocesan seminary around the corner from the basilica.

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, [2] ANP – Cor Out, [3] Sint-Janscentrum


Just a bishop in the Lord’s vineyard – on the death of Bishop Bluyssen

Bluyssen“The death of Msgr. Bluyssen has affected me deeply. He was the bishop who ordained me a deacon and a priest. At my consecration as bishop he was one of the concelebrants. My appreciation for him is great. For seventeen, he was bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch with all the beauty, but also with all the difficulties that this office brings with it. His kindness, tranquility and wisdom have helped him in his task. As bishop emeritus he continued to follow and sympathise greatly with the Church, the diocese of Den Bosch. In addition, he loved to study, wrote books and celebrated life with family and friends. Of course, like many others, Msgr. Bluyssen suffered through developments in the Church, but he was able to see them in a larger perspective. I will also miss the paternal presence of Msgr. Bluyssen at diocesan celebrations, which he always tried to attend. I am confident that Msgr. Bluyssen is now with the Lord, together with Mary and the saints. After all, like we do, he believed in a God of the living, and not in a God of the dead.”

Words from Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, second successor of Bishop Johannes Willem Maria Bluyssen, who died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday morning, as his heart surrendered after a life of 87 years in the service of the Church.

bluyssenBishop Jan Bluyssen hailed from Nijmegen and was ordained in 1950 by Bishop Willem Mutsaerts, and served as a parochial vicar in Veghel before studying spirituality in Rome. Returning to the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, he taught at the diocesan seminary in Haaren and also became spiritual director there. On 28 October 1961, Blessed Pope John XXIII appointed him as auxiliary bishop of the diocese, serving with Bishop Willem Bekkers, the ordinary. Bishop Bluyssen was made the first and to date only titular bishop of the see of Aëtus in modern Greece. After the unexpected death of Bishop Bekkers, Bishop Bluyssen was appointed to succeed him in October of 1966. The photo above shows the bishop shortly after his appointment, returning from a post-conciliar meeting in Rome. Bishop Bluyssen served until he offered his resignation for health reasons in 1983. This was granted on 1 March 1984.

Bishop Jan Bluyssen was the last surviving Dutch Council Father. Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, he attended several sessions and was involved in several post-conciliar meetings on the liturgy. Bishop Bluyssen was the last bishop to be consecrated in the pre-conciliar rites. It is then perhaps paradoxical that he is considered a member of the more progressive wing of the Dutch bishops in the 1960s and 70s, who did most to change the liturgy and the Church in the Netherlands as a whole.

As a bishop, Bluyssen was continuously affected by health problems surround his heart, which ultimately led to his early retirement in 1984. Following his retirement, Bishop Bluyssen devoted himself to writing, of which his memoirs, Gebroken Wit (Broke White), published in 1995, are most notable.

The years of Bishop Bluyssen’s episcopate were  turbulent ones in the entire Dutch Church. The Second Vatican Council had started an unintended chain reaction in which everything was questioned, from the way parishes should function to how the liturgy should be celebrated, even to what the Church and faithful should teach and believe. Bishop Bluyssen was often allied with the more progressive movements, questioning much with them and trying to put the new thoughts into practice. In the seventeen years that he was ordinary, Bishop Bluyssen closed the seminary in Haaren and saw the number of active priests, as well as new seminarians, drop dramatically. Bishop Bluyssen made sure that things remained quiet in his diocese in the time surrounding the special Synod on the Dutch Church that Pope John Paul II convened in 1980. Partly in response to these developments was the appointment of his successor, Bishop Jan ter Schure, who was generally far more conservative and in line with Rome.

Bishop Bluyssen was deeply conscious of his own limitations and failings. This sense of reality, his esteem for people as carriers of the faith and his own modesty made him hugely popular, both during and after his time as ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The more formal and serious side of being a bishop, which Bishop Bluyssen described as “being bound to the Gospel, bound through loyalty to Christ, whose task I am called to perform … which comes to me via and through the Church”, was coupled with his being a positive and winsome conversationalist.

With the death of Bishop Jans Bluyssen the Dutch Church has lost a good man, a true man, with good and bad sides, a man of faith and a man of the people. Despite his failing health, he remained a integral part of his erstwhile diocese, for far longer than the 17 years he served as its bishop.

On Tuesday, the bishop will lie in state in the bishop’s house, where faithful may visit on Tuesday evening, and Wednesday afternoon and evening. A Vespers for the repose of Bishop Bluyssen will be offered on Wednesday evening at 7 at the cathedral basilica of St. John. His funeral will take place on Thursday from the same church, starting at 11.


Photo credit: [1] Paul Kriele, [2] Peter van Zoest/ANP Historisch Archief, ANP, [3] Wim Jellema/wimjellema.nl

A big pebble in a small pond – looking back at Bishop Gijsen

gijsenBishop Joannes Gijsen, who passed away at the age of 80 today, has left a mark on the Church in the Netherlands. Virtually all elements of his service led to comments, criticism, questions and, also, admiration and support. From his appointment in 1972 to his sudden retirement in 1993, his troubled time as ordinary of Roermond and his efforts to maintain a form of Catholic education in the Netherlands, his surprise appointment to Reykjavik and the comparisons between life there and back home (which often saw the Dutch situation in a bad light); Bishop Gijsen made his share of ripples in the pond of the Church.

But in the very first place, Bishop Gijsen must be understood as a man of faith, Asked if he ever experienced any doubt about his faith, he said in an interview in 2007: “True doubt? No, never! I am convinced that the Roman Catholic faith holds the fullness of all knowledge of God and man.”

He lived his life as a bishop that way, as he illustrated in that same interview:

“We’re all priests of the Catholic Church, and especially a bishop has responsibility for the entire Church. You must be able to be deployed anywhere. Of course, it is something else if you can’t because of health or something. But if you’re healthy, you can never say “no”.”

“If, somewhere in northern Iceland, there are a few Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith, you must be able to offer it to them. Our Lord didn’t say: I want to convert the entire world in one go. He went to backward little Palestine and walked around there for three years, if not less. He reached only a few people. But that nonetheless became the foundation of the faith that reached the entire world.”

Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen was born on 7 October 1937 in Oeffelt, a village in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, just on the border with the Diocese of Roermond. He was ordained for that latter diocese in 1957, by Bishop Joseph Lemmens. Although he spent some time in the parish, he was mainly a teacher at the seminaries in Kerkrade and Maastricht, and a student of theology and Church history in Münster and Bonn. In 1972, he was appointed as the 22nd bishop of Roermond, a move that was quite controversial, as the new bishop was known as conservative and his appointment as one imposed from Rome. Reflecting the latter, Bishop Gijsen was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in Rome, with the archbishops of Utrecht and Armagh serving as co-consecrators. Cardinal Alfrink, the archbishop of Utrecht, would have preferred a consecration in Roermond as a first step towards reconciliation, but was evidently overruled. Bishop Gijsen was installed at St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond on 4 March 1972.

As bishop, he modernised the diocese in the line of the Second Vatican Council,determined as he was to put the Council’s documents into practice. In that sense, Bishop Gijsen was not so much a man of the “spirit of Vatican II”, but of the true Council. As a former teacher himself, he worked to maintain some form of true Catholic education in his diocese, with mixed results.

mgrgijsenoverledenBishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, today describes Bishop Gijsen as follows:

“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice. He wanted to be loyal to the Pope and the Church. He wanted “to prepare the way for the Lord”, as his motto was. That moved him, among others, to start a seminary at Rolduc, which has formed some 175 priests, including five of today’s bishops (among them Msgr. J. Punt and myself). As Pope Paul VI hoped and expressed, that little plant has borne fruit for the entire country.”

Above: Bishop Gijsen, third from left, pictured with Bishops Punt (second from right) and Hendriks (far right) and several other priests educated at Rolduc, photographed in May of this year.

In January of 1993, Bishop Gijsen suddenly and unexpectedly retired as bishop of Roermond. He moved to Austria to become the rector of a convent. Although rumours abounded about the reasons, the bishop would later explain:

“I have never had Crohn’s Disease, and I have always enjoyed the support of the Vatican. I can deny rumours of that nature without a doubt. I left because the doctor told me: “If you stay for one more year, you’ll either have a stomach perforation or an intestinal disease from which you will not recover, or you’ll have an aneurysm or a stroke. There is no way you’ll be able to keep this up. You must stop now!” That was the reason why I quit so suddenly. It was sudden for me as well. Agreed, the danger of a collapse was also caused by the developments and the experiences of those twenty years [as bishop in Roermond]. But it was mostly exhaustion.”

Three years of recovery followed, after which Bishop Gijsen relayed his renewed availability to Rome. At that time, the Diocese of Reykjavik in Iceland had been vacant for more than two years, so Bishop Gijsen was sent to the see where his great uncle Bishop Meulenberg had served in the 1930s. He was initially sent to be Apostolic Administrator, but in 1996 he was appointment as diocesan bishop.

Where Roermond represented a time of struggle and management, Reykjavik was by far the more enjoyable of Bishop Gijsen’s appointments. In 2006, he spoke in an interview about his appreciation for the country and the Icelandic people:

“I encountered much understanding. Seen from Rome, Iceland, land of the Vikings, seems a barren and terrifying place. But it most certainly is not. Consider, for one, the weather: here in the city, in the shadow of the mountains, the temperature rarely drops below -5°C. […] From the very start I liked it here. I am very pleased with this place. Life at 66 degrees north is not that different from life in he Netherlands, at 53 degrees. But life is much more organised.”

In 2007, Bishop Gijsen returned home to the Diocese of Roermond and to his family. He moved in with one of his sisters in Sittard, and took on the pastoral care of a small convent. He shunned the media since then, devoting himself, no doubt, to his books and whoever came for a visit.

Looking back on his own life, something he was not too keen to do, Bishop Gijsen said, in the same 2007 interview quoted above:

“I have always tried to simply think along the same line as the Church. I have mainly tried to act on the basis of the Second Vatican Council, because that was our duty, especially for a bishop. I have done so with my abilities and with my inabilities and with the abilities of the people around me, and with their inabilities. We shouldn’t want to judge the result of that this soon. I think we should wait a while. I think you should never want to be your own judge, so I am not going to judge my own life; I’ll leave that to history.”

Today, many priests and bishops have been influenced in one way or another by Bishop Gijsen. As Bishop Hendriks said above, some 175 priests were educated at the seminary he started, but Bishop Gijsen also ordained and consecrated several bishops. In 1983, he ordained the future bishop Everard de Jong, and in 1985, the future Cardinal Wim Eijk. He also consecrated his own auxiliary bishops, Alphons Castermans in 1982, and Joannes ter Schure in 1984. The latter would become bishop of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch almost exactly two months later.

Of course, Bishop Gijsen suffered his share of criticism, and he was not afraid to offer it himself. Shortly before his appointment as bishop of Roermond, he accused the Dutch bishops of having “set the faithful adrift” following the disastrous pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout. He went his own way, and this in part was reason for Blessed Pope John Paul II to call a Special Synod on the Netherlands in 1980.


^Bishop Gijsen, right, with Pope John Paul II, during the latter’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985.

Most serious in his later years were several accusations that surfaced regarding sexual abuse, both in Roermond and in Reykjavik. While no accusations were deemed inadmissible in court, they do point towards serious mismanagement on the part of Bishop Gijsen.

Bishop Joannes Gijsen was not perfect. He had his flaws, but he was driven by an honest desire to be of service and to do what was needed. For that, especially during the 1970s and 80s, we should laud him.

The funeral is planned for 29 June, at 10:30 in the morning, from St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond. On the eve of the funeral, there will be a vigil Mass for the late bishop at the Carmelite convent chapel in Sittard.

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Roermond, [2] arsacal.nl, [3] Dagblad De Limburger

In grateful memory of JPII, a misplaced protest

Cover of the special Mass booklet created the National Liturgy Council

It is the first year after the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and while a Blessed’s feast day is normally limited to those places where he or she was active (in this case, the city of Rome and the country of Poland), special dispensation has been given for every diocese in the world to organise one celebration in this first year. The Dutch bishops have chosen this weekend, 32 years on the day after Blessed Pope John Paul II called a special Synod on the Church on the Netherlands, for this celebration to take place.

The most high-profile Mass for the Blessed Pope will be the one in the Basilica of Saint Lambert in Hengelo, Archdiocese of Utrecht, which will be televised. Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk is the main celebrant, and most other bishops are to concelebrate.

But in this time, when the clouds of the abuse crisis still hang over us, a potential blemish has appeared. Mr. Frank Oude Geerdink, who was abused by a priest, has called for other victims to gather at the Basilica and stage a ‘silent protest’ in the presence of the bishops. Now, just like previous protests we’ve seen in the past years, this is completely misplaced. Mass is not the place for protest, since it is not primarily about policy or whatever passes between people. In essence, when a protest is staged at a Mass, the chief means by which we receive healing and reconciliation, and which belongs to God, is hijacked to merely make a point. This protest, which has trouble getting of the ground, by the way, is a protest against the lack of response from the bishops to the abuse committed by the Church. Now, the entire premise is wrong (the abuse is not committed by the Church, but by individuals) and the protesters must have missed the Deetman report and the initial reactions to it from the bishops and the religious superiors. While there is still more that needs doing for the victims the premise that the bishops stayed silent simply can not be upheld. Maybe that is the reason why, so far, only six people have signed up to join Mr. Oude Geerdink.

Two hopes, then; that the bishops continue working for the good of all the victims of sexual abuse; and that Sunday’s Mass will not be disrupted. That will simply do not an ounce of good.

Image credit: RKK/Dutch Bishops’ Conference

Bishops decline Mariënburg proposal to Protestantise Dutch Church

While still seeming to pondering what they exactly believe, the liberal Mariënburg group of ‘concerned’ Catholics managed to come to some form of action. Early last month, they sent a letter to the Dutch Bishops’ Conference proposing local pastoral councils to get the bishops back in touch with the regular faithful. That letter has now been answered by the president of the conference, Archbishop Wim Eijk.

He writes:

“The bishops hold the position that there are sufficient fora in the Dutch Church province and the Dutch dioceses which maintain good and intense contact with the faithful of the various dioceses. We think of the regular meetings of members of pastoral teams and workers in categorical pastoral care in the deaneries or vicariates, the Diocesan Pastoral Councils and of course the contacts that the bishops and their vicars have during their regular visits to the parishes. An extra pastoral council, the bishops expect, will not have any additional value.

“We have also discussed your point that the German Bishops’ Conference recently started a similar initiative to what you propose in your letter. We believe that this comparison is inaccurate. The German Catholic community, for one, is many times larger that the Dutch one. The Dutch Church province is characterised by the many very short lines between the curia of dioceses, deaneries or vicariates and the parishes.

We thank you for your letter containing your proposal, which we consider to be a sincere sign of your concern for the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, but for the aforementioned reasons, we will not be adopting your proposal.”

So there.

The Dutch bishops just before the Special Synod. Standing: Msgr. Huub Ernst (Breda), Msgr. Msgr. Ad Simonis (Rotterdam), Msgr. Jo Bluyssen ('s-Hertogenbosch) and Msgr. Jo Gijssen (Roermond). Seated: Msgr. Theo Zwartkruis (Haarlem), Cardinal Johannes Willebrands (Utrecht) and Msgr. Johann Möller (Groningen)

The Dutch Church province has a short history with the kind of pastoral councils that Mariënburg proposed, the most infamous being the Pastoral Council held in Noordwijkerhout between 1968 and 1970. That council, organised by the bishops’ conference in response to the Second Vatican Council, brought the abolition of priestly celibacy and various other liberal pet topics perilously close.Pope Paul VI warned against the developments in this council and, in 1980, Blessed Pope John Paul II convened a Special Synod to return the conference to unity and bring them back in line with the world Church. The appointment of orthodox bishops such as Simonis in Rotterdam (1970) and Gijssen in Roermond (1972) was a direct response to the Noordwijkerhout Council.

The Mariënburg society being a manifestation of the exact same sentiments that were put into words (and almost became reality) there, their proposed councils (leading to a National Council in 2014 or 2015) runs the high risk of being the same threat to internal and external unity that Noordwijkerhout was. It was only because of the appointments by Pope Paul VI and the prudent actions of the then newly-elected Pope John Paul II, who announced a Special Synod only six months after his election to the papacy, that worse was prevented. I don’t blame the current bishops for not wanting a repeat exercise…

And besides, the Catholic Church does not run on democratic principles, and nor should it. After all, we don’t derive our authority from a mandate of the masses, but from the once founder of the Church, Jesus Christ. And that’s just the way it works.

Photo credit: Ger Dijkstra & Zonen