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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.
In his homily at the Chrism Mass yesterday evening, Bishop Gerard de Korte briefly referred to the upheavals in the Church. The Vangheluwe case was mentioned, but also the very recent hubbub about the Volkskrant article, and especially the rumour that Archbishop Eijk wants Bishop de Korte removed from office as ordinary of Groningen-Leeuwarden. In a sort of reply to that whole rumour, he said:
“I can tell you that, God willing, I intend to be with you for a long time yet.”
I have been thinking about what this line implies. Seen in the context of the entire introduction of the homily, I think it was unnecessary lacking. The bishop referred to what we have all read in the media regarding the archbishop. I think it can be safely assumed that most people are aware of the Volkskrant piece, but how many have heard of the bishops’ joint statement that that piece was nonsense? Too few, I fear. So, with only the former piece of writing in mind, and the image that creates of Archbishop Eijk, the line from Bishop de Korte can very easily be understood as an act of defiance against the archbishop, as if what the Volkskrant wrote is true.
“I do not intend to give in to the demands of the archbishop, and will be with you a long time yet.” There is no denial of the claims, no clear refutation of their accuracy. To the ears of many, I fear, it will be understood of a confirmation that something is amiss in the relationships between the bishops of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Utrecht. And be fair, it is clear that there is. But to this extent? I hope,a nd actually think, not.
Bishop de Korte is being unnecessarily unclear. As a member of the Dutch bishops’ conference, he is one of the signatories of the statement that refuted the claims made in the Volkskrant, but now, in his homily, he seems to suggest something different.
Personally, I don’t like to see my current and former bishop in disagreement. We are a small enough Church province as it is, with only seven ordinaries. We don’t need disagreement, we need a clear voice of the Church in society. That is our task as faithful, but most certainly also the duty of the bishops.
But I guess that is how it sometimes works. Msgrs. Eijk and De Korte are two very different men, with different personalities and different approaches to things. But the focus should instead be on what they share, and, through their ordination as priests and consecration as bishops they share a lot.
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.”
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.
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.
The Volkskrant reports today that a homosexual Catholic, Mr. Robèrt Cooijmans is going to report Fr. Luc Buyens, the priest who denied Communion to an openly homosexual man last week, with discrimination. He states: “My church can’t exclude anyone. There is no ground for that in the Bible.” A statement that is evidently incorrect, and indicative of Cooijmans’ knowledge of his own faith. And I won’t even start about the ‘my church’ business.
Cooijmans bases his claim on the fact that he has always received Communion without problem and polls by pro-homosexual media are said to say that as many as 94% of priests make no issue out of it. Does that validate the claim of discrimination? Of course not. If anything, and if true, it indicts the priests in question for ignoring Church teachings. Sadly, that is all too common in this country. And it may be cause for problems for Fr. Buyens too. I highly doubt that any court will accept the case, but the fact that this has no become an exclusively gender- and sexuality-based affair is a bit problematic.
Denying Communion to practising homosexuals is simply an obligation for every priest. But the same goes for divorced person, or people who live together unmarried or anyone who lives in a state of grave sin. Making this an exclusively homosexual affair is therefore counterproductive and incorrect. Sadly, I think that both sides in the argument may be to blame for that. Fr. Buyens for not being consistent and the media for hyping it as discrimination.
In the end, though, I think the court will consider this a matter of Church law, and Church law is very clear on this.
The misunderstanding and violent need to be proven right becomes painfully clear in other parts of the Volkskrant article quoted above. “We want to see if Communion will also be postpone there [the cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch] if we are present,” says Giovanni Nijenhuis, chief of gay organisation Embrace Pink. “It is important for us all that the church acknowledges that homosexuality is a disposition, which has nothing to do with moral preconceptions”.
“We’ll totally confuse them,” he said about the planned protests.
This is not about intelligent debate, this is an emotional and childish need to be proven right, even if that is not the case.
What we Catholics should do is not lower ourselves to their tactics, but offer clear and concise explanations of the truth. That Communion is not a right, that excluding people from Communion is not a matter of discrimination, that is not limited to homosexuals alone, that Communion is not the sole way of being part of the Church, and that the Church is neither a democracy nor a human club of which anyone, no matter what they do and how they live, can be a part. The Church, like any gathering of people, has rules that regulate it and improve its members. Denying those rules is like playing a football game and being upset when the referee calls foul when you don’t follow the rules of the game. “But football is for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to make their own rules!” That’s not football, that’s chaos.