Last month I wrote about a curious manifesto from the hands of a group of professors who criticised the general trend of parish mergers in the Dutch dioceses. I wrote then,
“[t]hey warn that mergers, which are ongoing or planned in virtually all dioceses, will destroy the “flourishing, sparkling and adult faith communities, in which lay faithful contribute in modern ways, adapted to local circumstances to faith life and liturgy, in open communication with local authorities” that have sprung up in the second half of the previous century.”
Although the manifesto failed to engender much attention in our outside the Church, apart from certain modernist circles (keen as they are to agree with anything that criticises one or more bishops and their actions), Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden did offer a response today, both in the Nederlands Dagblad and on the diocesan website.
It goes without saying that the bishop is unable to agree with the manifesto’s claims. He especially disagrees with the claim that the parish mergers and general scale expansion is some authoritarian policy, enforced from above. He writes,
“Our country has seven independent dioceses and each bishop has their own approach. Without wanting to write an apololgy, I want to indicate briefly how I have started the process of mergers in the Northern diocese. Following my installation as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden in September of 2008, I conducted a tour of meetings with the pastoral teams and parish councils of my diocese. It soon became clear to me that the more than 80 parishes were not future-proof. Cooperation and mergers are called for to keep as many faith communities as possible afloat. The existing parishes are incorporated in 19 new parishes, which largely coincide with existing parish cooperations and partnerships. This plan, by the way, was not enforced from the top downm but was first allowed to develop for a year. I and my staff have explained the plan as clearly as possible in 19 information meetings, and allowed teams and councils to respond. Their remarks were included in a definitive plan which has to be completed in 2018. Adminstrative upscaling can, by the way, coincide very well with pastoral downscaling. In any case, I didn’t want to authoritatively enforce anything, but I have always wanted to work to create as large a support base as possible.”
This to illustrate the reality of the process, which is quite distinct from perceptions that may exist in several quarters. But to reunite reality and perceptions, Bishop de Korte pleads for an intensive dialogue. “Communication and perseverance”, he writes, are especially required now.
Mergers and upscaling are not a goal in themselves:
“Without wanting to sound panicky, we can say that the advancement of the Gospel is at stake. [...] The purpose of the new diocesan organisation and parish structure is the (renewed) introduction of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our part of the world. There is not time to lose for this task, and it requires every faithful. Especially now, every faithful is called because of their baptism. The faith if the baptism must be lived. That way we can evangelise, with actions and words.”