While still seeming to pondering what they exactly believe, the liberal Mariënburg group of ‘concerned’ Catholics managed to come to some form of action. Early last month, they sent a letter to the Dutch Bishops’ Conference proposing local pastoral councils to get the bishops back in touch with the regular faithful. That letter has now been answered by the president of the conference, Archbishop Wim Eijk.

He writes:

“The bishops hold the position that there are sufficient fora in the Dutch Church province and the Dutch dioceses which maintain good and intense contact with the faithful of the various dioceses. We think of the regular meetings of members of pastoral teams and workers in categorical pastoral care in the deaneries or vicariates, the Diocesan Pastoral Councils and of course the contacts that the bishops and their vicars have during their regular visits to the parishes. An extra pastoral council, the bishops expect, will not have any additional value.

“We have also discussed your point that the German Bishops’ Conference recently started a similar initiative to what you propose in your letter. We believe that this comparison is inaccurate. The German Catholic community, for one, is many times larger that the Dutch one. The Dutch Church province is characterised by the many very short lines between the curia of dioceses, deaneries or vicariates and the parishes.

We thank you for your letter containing your proposal, which we consider to be a sincere sign of your concern for the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, but for the aforementioned reasons, we will not be adopting your proposal.”

So there.

The Dutch bishops just before the Special Synod. Standing: Msgr. Huub Ernst (Breda), Msgr. Msgr. Ad Simonis (Rotterdam), Msgr. Jo Bluyssen ('s-Hertogenbosch) and Msgr. Jo Gijssen (Roermond). Seated: Msgr. Theo Zwartkruis (Haarlem), Cardinal Johannes Willebrands (Utrecht) and Msgr. Johann Möller (Groningen)

The Dutch Church province has a short history with the kind of pastoral councils that Mariënburg proposed, the most infamous being the Pastoral Council held in Noordwijkerhout between 1968 and 1970. That council, organised by the bishops’ conference in response to the Second Vatican Council, brought the abolition of priestly celibacy and various other liberal pet topics perilously close.Pope Paul VI warned against the developments in this council and, in 1980, Blessed Pope John Paul II convened a Special Synod to return the conference to unity and bring them back in line with the world Church. The appointment of orthodox bishops such as Simonis in Rotterdam (1970) and Gijssen in Roermond (1972) was a direct response to the Noordwijkerhout Council.

The Mariënburg society being a manifestation of the exact same sentiments that were put into words (and almost became reality) there, their proposed councils (leading to a National Council in 2014 or 2015) runs the high risk of being the same threat to internal and external unity that Noordwijkerhout was. It was only because of the appointments by Pope Paul VI and the prudent actions of the then newly-elected Pope John Paul II, who announced a Special Synod only six months after his election to the papacy, that worse was prevented. I don’t blame the current bishops for not wanting a repeat exercise…

And besides, the Catholic Church does not run on democratic principles, and nor should it. After all, we don’t derive our authority from a mandate of the masses, but from the once founder of the Church, Jesus Christ. And that’s just the way it works.

Photo credit: Ger Dijkstra & Zonen

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