Cover story -- Holland
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Issue Date:  December 14, 2007

-- Margaret McClory

Bishop de Korte
Smart, suave, he may be next Dutch cardinal

Throughout Holland the word is that Gerard de Korte has a good chance to become the next archbishop of Utrecht and eventually the tiny country’s next cardinal. He is currently the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese (one of only three auxiliaries in the seven Dutch dioceses). The current cardinal-archbishop, Adrainus Simonis, is retiring this month.

I met de Korte at his stately residence in Zwolle, 45 miles from Utrecht. Handsome, suave and looking younger than his 52 years, he handed me a page and a half of “talking points” for the interview and proceeded to explain them one by one. I feared a one-way conversation. The points stated that “the bishops cannot support” the Dominicans’ solution for the priest shortage, that any “relativity” in the matter of sacraments is “not acceptable,” that the question of married priests and women priests “is already decided.”

He moved through the talking points briskly, then leaned back in his chair as if to say, “Go ahead, shoot!” I did, and his answers were surprising. Despite his episcopal bearing, there was no arrogance or defensiveness in his replies. At one point he said, “There is a real tension today between the rules of the church and the lives of the people. We are supposed to help them find the good life, and it’s not easy.” I said many people had told me the bishops of Holland are hopelessly out of touch with the people, have nothing to say to them.

“I know,” he said. “We cannot reach the people now. I believe we must learn to listen, listen, listen. That’s what bishops are supposed to do.” Then he reminded me that bishops also have to defend the deposit of faith. I suggested that some teachings that were once thought to be in the deposit have been since removed and that some others need to go. He laughed, and this led to a friendly, extended exchange of ideas about to whom a bishop owes his first allegiance.

He showed me his collection of books by Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, whose theology he finds “creative and interesting.” But his preference, he said, is for the work of the Protestant Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who deeply influenced such Protestant theologians as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Neibuhr and Paul Tillich. Barth’s concept of God as transcendent, “wholly other,” contrasts starkly with contemporary images of God as intimately connected to individual human beings.

De Korte said he is working to establish a network of small faith groups called “Faith Now” in the archdiocese and he hopes to see it spread. And he is strongly supportive of a study by the bishops of the feasibility of ordaining qualified married men. “It’s unfortunate,” he said, “that some bishops don’t even want to talk about it.”

He leaves the impression that he is an intelligent man wrestling with the tension between his allegiance to Rome on the one hand and a genuine desire to be a bishop in touch with the people on the other.

National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007

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