Cardinal Willebrands

Mission Statement Cardinal Willebrands Research Centre

J.G.M. Willebrands (1909-2006), legacy and inspiration

The Cardinal Willebrands Research Centre carries the name of J.G.M. Willebrands, archbishop of Utrecht and President to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The decision to name the Centre after the late Cardinal Willebrands implies a double program. First and foremost the Centre will foster Willebrands’ life and work as source of inspiration. In a more broad sense the academic program of the Centre exceeds the attention to the person of Willebrands, and fosters his heritage on the level of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Hence, the Centre’s research activities are marked by a double focus: on the one hand it aims at studying the lifelong ecclesial, ecumenical and interreligious commitment that characterizes Willebrands’ career, and it aims at promoting scholarly investigations into this career. On the other hand the Centre will focus on a broad spectre of research themes touching upon the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century.

Roman-Catholicism in an era of tension reform

Taking the person and legacy of Willebrands as a point of departure implies making particular choices on the level of research. In the first place the attention goes out to the biographical aspect related to ecumenical engagement. In this regards, the Centre strives at the preparation and publication of an academic biography of Cardinal Willebrands, with due attention to both his role in the Catholic Church of The Netherlands and his service to the ecumenical movement, in an era marked by important transitions.

This line of interest demands further investigation into the development of Catholicism, which, in the late nineteenth century as well as throughout the twentieth century, can be described as a religious tradition positioned amidst a multitude of tensions (e.g. between centralisation and subsidiarity, between dialogue and apologetics, between pastoral and doctrinal leadership). These tensions mark the career and activities of Willebrands as an ecumenical pioneer and deserve further study. At this juncture the Centre wishes to promote historical and theological research into the activities of Willebrands as well as other ecumenical protagonists marked by a Catholicism in transition.

Roman-Catholicism in confrontation with religious otherness

Looking the evolution of Willebrands’ ecumenical career in a preconciliar, conciliar and postconciliar Roman Catholic Church, a second line of research can be disclosed. A particular attention goes out to these documents and themes at the Second Vatican Council which bear the mark of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity: the document on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), on religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), and on the non-christian religions (Nostra Aetate).

Aside the fact that Willebrands has played a central role in the evolution of each of these domains, they can also be studies as loci of a Catholicism making the transition from a closed bulwark toward a community in dialogue with the contemporary world, marked by the – sometimes painful - confrontation with the existence and values of the religious other. This transition, accompanied as it is by movements of contestation and restoration, has posed challenges to the self perception of Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands as well as on a global scale. The study of such transitions and its ecumenical implications are at the heart of the research activities of the CWRC.