University chaplain ‘As though an arm has been chopped off’

26 Oct 2020

The university is no longer Catholic, but campus chaplain Jos Geelen does not think that will affect the University Chaplaincy. He is however concerned about the atmosphere at the university. 'Soon we'll be carrying out science with no heart.'

University chaplain Jos Geelen is happier than you might expect given yesterday’s news. He laughs a lot during our phone call. The news wasn’t new for him; the Bishop of Den Bosch had already told Geelen that the designation of ‘Catholic’ was to be withdrawn from the university before it was announced. ‘Here at the University Chaplaincy, we’re not planning any prayer vigils or anything’, he laughs.

Were you taken by surprise?

‘No. Even less so, because the matter has been going on for such a long time. The bishops take issue with matters at Radboud university medical center, such as abortion and euthanasia. I think that the opening of the transgender centre (Radboud university medical centre opened a clinic for children up to 15 years – ed.) was the last straw. I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do about this development. But what I do wonder is why the bishops don’t renounce their affiliation with just the hospital. I kept hoping for a different outcome. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you can surely find a way to cooperate.’

Geelen says he’s disappointed in both the university and the bishops. He believes, as you might expect, that the designation ‘Catholic’ enhanced the university. ‘For example, even before the decision, religious medical students were coming to me because they feel they can’t discuss their questions of conscience with their professors’, says the chaplain. ‘They just get turned away. And that gets to me. That’s why I felt, and feel, that being a Catholic university is an enrichment.’

Does the loss of the designation have any further influence on that?

‘The university says that they will continue to act according to the principles of the Catholic ideal: compassion, community, family. Yes, for now they will. But I’m afraid that it will fade in the next ten years. And we’ll be carrying out hard science here; there’ll be no heart in it anymore. There were always discussions between the bishops and the university board but that’s really no problem. I honestly believe that in five or ten years time, a new generation of students and staff will come, that thinks ‘There’s a lot to be said for that Catholicism’ but by then it will be too late.’

How will all this affect the University Chaplaincy?

‘I’m convinced that the funding for the University Chaplaincy will continue. The bishop will do his very best. I know he will do all he can to retain the connection between church and university, and therefore the students.’

And will your job change?

‘I don’t think so. Both the bishops and the university took the trouble to inform the University Chaplaincy personally. That shows a great deal of respect. I assume that this respectful attitude will be continued. We’re an open house and that gets us a lot of appreciation. It’s possible for all sorts of practices and beliefs to co-exist here: there’s a quiet room, DITO comes here (organisation for young lgbtqi – ed.) and Muslims and other Christians are also welcome. Whether or not the university is Catholic, we have already achieved this.’

Does the decision affect the image of the university in your opinion?

‘The word Catholic was no longer mentioned anywhere in the name and we know that people do not necessarily choose the university because it’s Catholic. However, it wasn’t necessary to change the articles of association. You don’t change the constitution either just because you don’t get your own way. In that sense, I think it’s a shame. The Catholic identity comes with a message: everyone is welcome here. It´s as though you’ve chopped off an arm. You can live with just one arm but life’s better with two.’

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