The Vatican has not yet deregistered Radboud University

In the Papal Yearbook for 2022, Radboud University is still listed as a Catholic university. Remarkably, since the fall of 2020, Radboud University is no longer allowed to use the term ‘Catholic’. Anyone seeking clarification encounters new mysteries.

Every year since 1860, the Vatican has presented Pontificio years or the papal yearbook. In addition to a list of all popes, the red book with the golden inscription of the Città del Vaticano contains contact information on cardinals, bishops, dioceses, congregations, and orders belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.

Radboud University and Annuario Pontificio 2022. Photo: Vox

The Catholic universities also have a place in the hefty book. And what name appears on page 1723, between the Catholic universities of Niagara Falls and Ottawa? That from Radboud University Nijmegen, including address, telephone number and e-mail and name of Rector Magnificus Han van Krieken.

This is special, because in the autumn of 2020, the Dutch Episcopal Conference removed the term ‘Catholic’ from the Catholic University Foundation (SKU), the then board of Radboud University and Radboudumc.

‘Representation of reality’

Have the bishops been ignored by the Vatican? Or does the mention of the university in the papal yearbook suggest negligence on the part of the compilers? A tour of Vox various representatives and experts of the Roman Catholic Church do not immediately create clarity.

A spokesman for the Vatican wrote in a short email that yearly contains a list of all Catholic universities “established or expressly approved by the Pope or the Old Congregation for Catholic Education.” He does not want to answer questions about the Dutch bishops’ use of the term ‘Catholic’.

Rick Torfs. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Professor of canon law at KU Leuven and former rector of the same Catholic university Rik Torfs explains that yearly is a kind of guide showing all the possible institutions, organizations and dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church. ‘It’s not an official document, but it’s obviously a representation of reality.’

‘Another situation for Holland and the universal church is not possible’

But what is the reality at a non-Catholic Catholic university? Does this mean that the Vatican does not agree with the Dutch bishops’ decision to remove the term ‘Catholic’ from Radboud University? Torfs does not think so. ‘The Roman Catholic Church is one, so a different situation for Holland and the universal church is not possible,’ he says. He says he cannot answer further questions ‘due to confidentiality’.

Good Christians

Gerard de Korte, who has contact with Radboud University as bishop of Den Bosch, has also noted that Radboud University is still included in the papal annual calendar.

Gerard de Korte. Photo: Erik van ‘t Hullenaar

In a written answer, the bishop answers cryptically when asked what it means to him. He points out that Catholic universities must abide by the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae which was issued by Pope John Paul II. The Vatican’s legal document states, among other things, that research at Catholic universities must also include a theological perspective, and that students must be educated to be good Christians. We get exactly the same answer from a spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference.


In any case, after the canonization of Titus Brandsma (1881-1942) on 15 May in Rome, there was recently a lot of contact between the church and the university. A delegation from Radboud University took part in the canonization of the priest, professor and rector of the Catholic University of Nijmegen – now: Radboud University – under the leadership of Pope Francis on Sint-Pietersplein. According to De Korte, this festive moment has once again strengthened awareness of the university’s Catholic roots.

In Rome, Rector magnificus Han van Kriekens, Chairman of the Board Merel van Vroonhovens and several deans often crossed the paths of Cardinal Wim Eijks and Bishop Gerard de Kortes. In addition to the canonization, it happened at a party for Brandsma in St. Paul’s outside the walls and at a thanksgiving party for pilgrims in St. Peter’s Church. Rector Van Krieken and Cardinal Wim Eijk were also present at a lunch hosted by the Carmelites – the religious order to which Titus Brandsma belonged.

‘Hopeful characters’

Is there a chance that Radboud University may again use the term ‘Catholic’ in the future? Church representatives appear to be holding the door open. “Calling oneself a Catholic should be accompanied by content and give shape to Catholicism,” a spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference said. “The bishops are always open to discussing this.”

Bishop De Korte sees hopeful signs. He refers to the results of the dialogue sessions in which students and staff at Radboud University brainstormed about the university’s identity. “I understand from the results of the internal dialogue that took place in the past year that the university is in favor of a permanent bond with Catholicism,” says De Korte.

‘The formal, statutory role of bishops will not return’

Still, it seems unlikely that in the future the bishops will again get a finger in the pie at Radboud University. Just before the trip to Rome, Han van Krieken said Vox that the formal, statutory role of bishops in relation to the foundation board has been cut. “He’s not coming back either,” the principal said at the time. An entry in the papal yearbook will probably not change that.

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