The Dutch bishops yesterday decided to streamline the process by which people can have their names removed from parish records. Other than some media are reporting, it is not being made “easier”, but the bishops intend to have the same regulations applied throughout the Church province.
The plan is that a single letter to the parish in which a person was baptised or received into the Church will suffice to remove someone from the baptismal and other records that exist. In effect, this person will no longer be registered as Catholic and, by distancing himself from the Church, will not be able to receive the sacraments.
In the past, bureaucracy sometimes got in the way, especially when a case involved several parishes or even dioceses. Different regulations in different places meant that the process could sometimes take a long time, even involving lawyers and legal action. By enforcing the same regulations everywhere this problem should be removed.
Related to this is the case of Father Frank Michael As, parish priest in the parish of St. Michael, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. People expressing a desire to leave the Church received the following letter from the priest:
“You can no longer receive any sacrament, in which Christ wants to come to you. You will not be able to have a Catholic funeral. You are denying Christ and His Church.
I am afraid that you do not consider yourself worthy of eternal life and have blocked yourself from the entrance to eternal life and resurrection. That way you will end up in eternal oblivion, where no one will ever miss you.
I can only advice you to convert to Jesus Christ to achieve life.
With regret over the calamity that you have called over yourself, the Church bids you farewell.”
A serious tone which seriously upset people, and that led Fr. As to remove much of this from the letters he sends. The reason for doing so is mainly to avoid a media frenzy. But in the end, Father is right. The Church is in the business of saving souls, and removing oneself from the Church is a serious danger to one’s soul.
Any decision has consequences, and people are better off knowing those. Fr. As’s letter does nothing but informing them of the consequences of them leaving the Church.
But all this does not address the real issue: why do people want to leave the Church, and what can we do to make them decide to stay? True, the number of people leaving is not great (15,000 – less than half a percent - in 2012), but people still do so. The only thing we, as Catholics, can do, is exercise honesty and openness, and a willigness to listen, without denying any of the truths we hold there. These truths of faith and human destiny are what the Church exists for, and they are for all people. If we succeed in communicating that, perhaps some people will see that their issues with the Church, however serious and justified, can be solved and can be seen in a context which is far greater than any of us. It’s hard to do so alone, so let’s try and help people who are struggling with the Church and their own faith.
The Church is not a bogey man or an evil institution, but our means of salvation which Christ has given us. And that is a thing of exceeding beauty.