Cardinal-designate Eijk: Doctor, Defender of Life

Interview With Archbishop of Ultrech as He Awaits Red Hat

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By Paola De Groot-Testoni

ROME, FEB. 14, 2012 ( Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk, 58, archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands, knows the toll that secularism takes on the Church. But he carries on, distinguishing himself as a doctor and a priest in his fierce battle in defense of human life from conception to natural death. 

This weekend, the archbishop will join the ranks of the College of Cardinals. ZENIT spoke with him leading up to the consistory.

ZENIT: Last Jan. 6 you and 21 other prelates received your appointment as cardinals from Benedict XVI. Was it a surprise?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: Yes and no. The see of the archdiocese of Utrecht is very old; it was founded in 695 by St. Willibrod. The first archbishop of Utrecht, who also became a cardinal, was Jan de Jong. During World War II he condemned the deportation of Jews and it was probably for this reason that he was created cardinal in 1946. Since then, all the archbishops of Utrecht have become cardinals, but it isn’t automatic. Moreover, the Church in the Low Countries is being reduced, while in other countries she is growing. It is and remains the Pope who decides and I was pleasantly surprised when I learned about it.

ZENIT: How are you preparing for the forthcoming consistory, which will be held in a few days, on Feb. 18?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: In the first place, I am preparing for the forthcoming consistory with prayer. Moreover, I am preparing myself interiorly on the subject of the consistory: the new evangelization. This is also an urgent topic for the Low Countries, and I am curious to learn the experiences of the other members of the College of Cardinals. Then there are also practical things — I have given a series of interviews and purchased the appropriate attire: there is also this aspect.

ZENIT: What does it mean to you to belong to the very selective College or “club” of Cardinals? Is it an honor or rather a responsibility?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: I am happy and pleased by this appointment because it is a real honor. However, still more important: It is an extension of my vocation to the priesthood and the episcopate. To be a cardinal means to have a consultative role for the Holy Father and the world of the Church. And in case of the Pope’s death, it is the cardinals who must choose his successor in the conclave. In this connection, it is a task of great responsibility. I am also happy that the Dutch Church can again be represented by a cardinal. This demonstrates that we still enjoy Rome’s trust, despite the serious recession that the Church here has been going through in the last decades.

ZENIT: The Church in the Low Countries is still shaken by the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors. Is your red hat an encouragement on the part of the Holy Father? An act of trust?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: I see the scandal of sexual abuses disconnected from my creation as cardinal. As the Church in the Netherlands, we must do in-depth research on the scandal of abuses and then take a great number of steps. The fact that, as archbishop of Utrecht, I am being created cardinal is encouraging for the Dutch Church, but it has no connection with the scandal of sexual abuses.

ZENIT: What is the Church in the Netherlands doing to surmount this crisis and to prevent similar tragedies in the future?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: The Dutch episcopal conference recently worked closely with the Conference of Dutch Religious, the organization that presides over the Orders and Congregations. We have an independent commission headed by former Minister Deetman, which has the task of drafting a map of sexual abuses in the Church between 1945 and 2010. On the basis of advice of the Deetman Commission, in 1995 we created the independent ecclesiastical foundation Help and Law so that the procedure of denouncement and the offer of assistance are organized separately. This led to an independent foundation according to Dutch law: the Counseling and Monitoring Foundation on sexual abuses in the Roman Catholic Church. Within this foundation there are four independent organisms: the Meldpunt (point of communication or contact, editor’s note), where individuals can denounce sexual abuses; the Help Platform after sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, where individuals can be helped by trustworthy persons or can be sent to someone who can help them; the Commission for Denunciations of Sexual Abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, where the denunciations are addressed, and the Compensation Commission for sexual abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, which has begun to enlarge the economic compensation for victims. A group of contact was also created on sexual abuses with groups representing the victims, so that institutions involved in the problem and individual victims can have contact with the diocesan administrators, religious orders and congregations.

Moreover, be it in the Commission for Denunciations or in the Platform of Assistance an advisory committee has been formed with representatives of the victims and with groups of victims themselves. Other points being taken into consideration are prevention, further harmonizing of the rules of conduct for those who work in ministry in dioceses, in religious orders and congregations and the diffusion of pointers for members of pastoral groups. In addition, a “certificate of good conduct” will be obligatory.

ZENIT: The new evangelization is one of the priorities of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. He has even instituted a new dicastery for it and also the forthcoming synod of bishops this October will be dedicated to the topic. What is the situation in the Low Countries?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: The new evangelization is absolutely necessary, also in the Low Countries. Many young people don’t know the difference between Easter and Pentecost: Religious knowledge is very low. However, there are signs of hope: Every year in the archdiocese almost 200 adults become Catholics. The enthusiasm of their faith is a force for recruitment. This is true also for young people who go to the World Youth Days. We hope that the spark of that group will also light others. It is easier today, than 30 years ago, to speak with young people about the content of the faith. People are again happy with this proposal.

ZENIT: Cardinal-designate Eijk, you are a doctor by formation. What is more, your specialty is biomedical ethics. Can you tell us what impelled you to choose this line?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: Before choosing the priesthood, I studied medicine for a number of years. Bioethics is a branch of moral science, which is concerned with the ethical aspects of interventions in human life: abortion, euthanasia, artificial insemination. In connection with these inherent moral questions at the beginning and end of life, the Church has, of course, her vision, but it is also important to be knowledgeable about scientific developments. At the end of 2010, thanks to my co-authorship, the Catholic Manual of Medical Ethics was published, which deals with these topics.

ZENIT: The topic of your doctoral thesis was euthanasia, a widespread and legal practice in Holland but categorically rejected by the Church. For what reason?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: As I already mentioned, for a certain number of years I studied medicine and was specializing as a fellow when I decided to respond to the priestly vocation. Cardinal Simonis, then bishop of Rotterdam, knew about my medical experience and suggested a medical argument as my thesis, because knowledge in the Church in this field is rather scarce. I found that euthanasia was a very interesting topic. In the hospital where I worked as a doctor in 1978 and 1979, specializing in internal medicine, there were doctors who performed euthanasia and marveled at the fact that the youngest assistant — I was then just 25 years old — had objections of principle in this regard.

ZENIT: Your episcopal motto is “Noli recusare laborem” (Do Not Reject
Work).Can you explain why you chose it?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: I chose this motto when I was appointed bishop of Groningen. The text is based on the words that St. Martin of Tours (316-397) spoke on his deathbed. He wished to express the devotion to his call to the very end: he was willing to die, but also to live to continue serving the Lord and his Church. He presented himself completely at the disposition of the Lord and I thought it was important to express this attitude in my motto. I see the appointment as bishop as an extension of my vocation to the priesthood which I received from God. The priesthood, in fact, means to live at the service of the Lord for the building of his Church in submission to all that might happen by following that road, certain that nothing happens without the presence of God. Another reason for the choice of this motto was that St. Martin is the patron of the city of Groningen. When I transferred to the Archdiocese of Utrecht the motto could remain the same: St. Martin is also the patron of the city of Utrecht.

ZENIT: A very personal question. In 2001 you were stricken by cerebral apoplexy and your recovery was long. How do you now see this difficult moment, also from the spiritual point of view?

Cardinal-designate Eijk: It was a difficult period, because I didn’t know how much I had recovered and if I could exercise again my task as bishop. It was also a period of solitude, even if many people were close to me and supported me. I learned much in those months, among other things to turn myself completely to God, to be patient — by nature I am rather active — and not to rebel. In that period I was also able to experience the presence of the Lord. God gives himself, but does not impose himself, and he does not let man fall. Moreover, that period led me to feel a stronger solidarity with my neighbor especially if he is sick.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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