The Radboud University is one of just two Catholic universities in the Netherlands. The Dutch bishops have now decided that it may no longer call itself Catholic.

The Dutch Bishops Conference released a statement last week, saying that the foundation which supervises the Radboud University Nijmegen and its university hospital will be stripped of the title ‘Catholic.’

It’s the latest development in a long-term conflict between the bishops and the foundation. Since 2014 there had been problems surrounding the appointment of board members. These were previously formally appointed by the bishops, who in recent years however rejected a number of the nominated candidates. The breaking point always being the degree of Catholicity of the candidates.

The foundation required board members to at least “respect and discern” Catholic identity; however, the bishops wanted to appoint only members who are actively religious and maintained a Catholic state of life.

The foundation decided to take the case to court. According to the foundation there was “a fundamentally different view of what constitutes a Catholic identity and how it should be safeguarded.”

“At the same time, the pool of candidates who meet all requirements is getting smaller by the day,” they said.

In July a court ruled that the foundation could temporarily appoint board members and restructure both the university and its hospital, each with its own board, without the consent of the Dutch bishops. This meant only one member of every board would still be appointed by the bishops.

The bishops think this is too great a limitation. In addition, both parties do not expect that their different viewpoints in this case will converge. The bishops therefore decided to withdraw the title ‘Catholic.’

Both the bishops’ conference and the foundation indicated that they want to ensure that the decision is properly settled for all involved. The foundation said last week that it deeply regrets the decision made by the bishops, but respects it.

The reason the Dutch bishops had a say in the appointment of board members has everything to do with the history of the university in the east of the Netherlands, which was established in 1923 under the name Catholic University Nijmegen by a foundation set up by the Dutch bishops in 1905.

With their own university, Dutch Catholics sought to promote the emancipation of Catholics in the Netherlands, who at that time were strongly underrepresented in public administration, the legal profession, medicine, and other sectors.

This article was translated for Crux by Susanne Kurstjens – van den Berk.