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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.”
At a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.
“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.
Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.
To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.
However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.
That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.
The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.
All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.
When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed
“the attempts made in the statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].
In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:
“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].
Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.
Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam
Last week, American social media evangelist and orthodox Catholic Michael Voris visited the Netherlands for two lectures. He also recorded an episode of The Vortex, his regular program on ChurchMilitant.tv. Watch it below:
Some may disregard Voris as overly alarmist, but I think he is rather spot-on. When it comes to transmitting the faith in its entirety, we are faced with enormous challenges in the Netherlands, a society which generally does not accept the existence of absolute truths and a division between right and wrong.
I am also glad to see that he is evidently not alone in this, as Bishop Rob Mutsaerts’ words, quoted by Voris, fit in well with the general theme of this talk.
“The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Indeed, “only in adoration can a profound and genuine reception mature. And it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord that then strengthens the social mission contained in the Eucharist, which seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another.” 
”The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). In these words the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman.
Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, N. 66 and 88.
These words about the value of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI open a prayer card issued by the Dutch bishops on the occasion of the Feast of Corpus Christi, this June 2nd. This year the day will be marked with a worldwide Holy Hour of Adoration, as called for by Benedict XVI as he opened the Year of Faith. The power of prayer before the physical Lord should never be underestimated, but a simultaneous effort should be truly significant.
The prayer card continuous with a Gospel passage that reflects this same unified nature of the Church:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples. I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.
Gospel of John 15:1-11
Finally, a short prayer by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, perhaps chosen not entirely by coincidence, as he is the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit Order of which Pope Francis was a member:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
Suscipe, St. Ignatus of Loyola
 Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2005): AAS 98 (2006), 45.
Photo credit:  AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito
In the run-up to tomorrow’s inauguration of King Willem Alexander there has been much attention paid to Catholic notions of kingship. While Christ is the one King, the Church also teaches much about the duties of earthly kings. Bishop Jos Punt’s homily is an excellent example of the latter. It also contains an interesting glimpse of the religious landscape of the Netherlands and the role of tolerance, as well as a theological explanation of the globus cruciger. Recommended reading (for Dutch readers, the original text).
A recording of the Mass, by Dutch public television, may be viewed here.
In closing, some words by Father Jim Schilder, priest of the basilica of St. Nicholas:
“Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. But is also two days before the inauguration of our Crown Prince. That is, you could say, a moment of renewal. A threshold to a new era, without breaking with the past. That is also what we see in this time of Easter. On the one hand it is a time of revolutionary renewal through the resurrection of Christ, and on the other hand a time of a new covenant rooted in the old. It is still about the way that God wants to travel with us, about his continuous invitation to follow Him. We can do this by answering the call of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This goes beyond the two commandments He gave before, and which were already present in the Old Testament: To love God, and your neighbour like yourself. In the Gospel of John He asks us to love each other as He has loved us. His love was characterised by the fact that His entire earthly life was devoted to the other. “I have come to serve.” May the same, we pray, also be true for our new head of state.”
Photo credit:  Isabel Nabuurs,  Fr. Jim Schilder.
A few days before the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, Pope Francis has sent the royal couple his best wishes and assures them of his prayers fo them and their family. This was announced today by the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, which will host a special inauguration Mass on Sunday in Amsterdam’s Basilica of St. Nicholas. The Holy Father has also expressed his closeness to the faithful at that Mass.
A major celebration, the Mass will feature Mozart’s “Krönungsmesse” and Handel’s “Alleluia”, performed by the Capella Nicolai of the basilica and the Bavo choir of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Bavo in Haarlem.
“Sold out” within hours, the Mass will be open to some 600 faithful, including several politicians, military officials and the Queen’s Commissioner for the province of Zuid-Holland. The royal house will be represented by the Grand Mistress of Her Majesty the Queen. Church representations come in the form of Cardinal Simonis and Nuncio Archbishop Dupuy, as well as representatives of the Orders of Malta and the Holy Sepulchre.
The Mass will be broadcast live on Dutch public television.
Photo credit: The future King and Queen with Pope Francis shortly after his election/Reuters.
Many hope that Pope Francis will undertake something of an overhaul of the Roman Curia, to bring it up to date and make it more efficient. But a Dutch cardinal may have proposed much the same thing more than 80 years ago, so Sandro Magister suggests. Citing a recently published book from the Vatican Secret Archives in honour of its vice-prefect, Dutch Father Marcel Chappin S.J., Magister discusses an older work, published anonymously in 1931. It offers strong criticism against the bishops and Curia of the time.
“Aliquando autem totus episcopatus alicuius nationis ita est compositus, veluti si coecorum, claudorum et infirmorum omne genus esset refugium,” (Sometimes, however, the whole of the episcopate of a country is composed as if it were a place of refuge for the blind, the lame, and the sick of all kinds.)
Harsh words, but who wrote them? The only hint is a synonym: “Paulus Bernardus a S. Catharina“. And there are some who say that this is, in fact, Willem Marinus Cardinal van Rossum, in 1931 the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The reasons for thinking that he is behind the writings is, to me at least, obscure, as no element of the synonym seems to be linked to the person of Cardinal van Rossum.But, then again, as a member of the very Curia he so strongly criticises, Cardinal van Rossum may well have had reason to keep his identity secret.
“Christ is everything for me, the centre of my life, from Baptism to death. He is the personification of God, showing s how to live in intimate union with God, how to literally embody that great and incomprehensible God. Or, as the Gospel of John tells us, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father”. When you become the Body of Christ together, you experience in a fundamental way that you belong together and support one another.”
With this quote from Bishop Muskens himself, Bishop Jan Liesen marked the beginning of the farewell ceremony of the ninth bishop of Breda. Lying in state in the Cathedral of St. Anthony, the church that he himself had elevated to cathedral in 2001, Bishop Tiny Muskens was hailed by faithful and clergy alike. His funeral Mass took place this morning in the cathedral, and was followed by a private funeral in the town of Lieshout, where the late bishop was born in 1935.
Among the faithful bidding him their last farewell was a group of sisters from Indonesia, where Bishop Muskens worked for eight years for the local bishops’ conference.
The funeral Mass was offered by Bishop Liesen in concelebration with Cardinal Wim Eijk, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam (Bishop Muskens coadjutor and successor) and Archbishop André Dupuy, the Apostolic Nuncio, as well as several dozen priests of the Diocese of Breda. The other Dutch bishops attended as well.
Completely in the style of the ‘Red Bishop’, there was a collection for the local food bank in Breda, which distributes food and other necessities to the poor, after the Mass.
Photo credit: Ramon Mangold
A group of professors (retired and otherwise) in the Netherlands have joined forces and written a manifesto to the Dutch bishops to voice their concerns about the ongoing effort of consolidating and merging parishes and faith communities in the Dutch Church province. They 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 professors’ concerns are undoubtedly genuine, there are a number of problems with the manifesto, which I will outline below.
First there is the outline of the problem, which I have summarised above. The existence of such “flourishing communities” is considered ”a great good”: they offer a home to active Catholics, which has g”reat existential value”. But, the professors say, the bishops are intent on destroying that by creating enormous parishes with a single council. And the reason that the bishops are doing this? The shortage of priests.
This is a clear untruth. As many bishops, confronted with similar concerns in their own dioceses, have said time and again: parish mergers are chiefly dictated by financial and demographical concerns: small parishes will, in the future, no longer have the financial means to support themselves, and the number of faithful is expected to drop over the coming years. It has been doing so for years already. And yes, the number of priests is certainly relevant in that context. But it is not the sole reason for consolidating and merging parishes and communities.
What the professors completely miss or ignore in their manifesto is the bishops’ duty to communicate and protect the faith. They say that the mergers are smothering the specific identities and expressions of parishes and communities. Measures imposed from above destroy the unique expressions of faith in these small communities. But what if these expressions are at odds with the teachings of the Church, with the faith that the bishops are tasked to protect? I would dare say that that is the case in too many communities in the Netherlands and Europe as a whole. Imposed measures, of whatever nature, are not so one-dimensional as to merely want to limit identity and expression. They can, and often also do, serve to assure the continued existence of such expressions, but always in union with the Church that Christ established.
Another odd conclusion that the manifesto describes is that the macro level (the Church province) which, the professors say, is characterised by bureaucratic and financial structures and cultures, can’t intrude on the micro level, the local faith communities, which are characterised by communicative action, mutual understanding, agreement and meaningfulness. But neither level exists in isolation, so some level of “intrusion” must occur, since both levels are interdependent. A model by which a group of faith communities continues to exist under one parish council, as is foreseen in virtually all the plans for mergers, will allow the micro level to continue operating as it should, and will prevent the problems that are now looming on the horizon: lack of financial means and a dearth of volunteers as the number of faithful drops.
As I have said, the concerns of the professors are undoubtedly genuine, but their cause is not served by inaccurate projections of reality. All the bishops who are currently facing the prospect of parish mergers have been quite open about the reasons behind it, and in many cases they have emphasised the need for thriving communities on the local level. Placing them under a unified parish council within the larger framework of the diocese does not mean their end. Bishops can’t end that, but neither can they be solely responsible for the communites’ continued existence. That is in the hands of the communities themselves. In many placers, things can’t continue for very long as they are now, but they can if the structures that are needed are in place, and if faithful everywhere work towards it, keeping their communities alive in Christ. Only they, and He, can do that. A bishop can’t, and neither can he prevent it.