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Yet another conflict erupts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch as the diocese removes a priest and a deacon from their parish. The reason: they refuse to cooperate with the diocese’s plans to merge parishes. As has become standard, it seems, in these situations, the parish council has resigned and the clergymen announced to hold and alternative Mass in a nearby school, despite the diocese’s decision to remove both men from active ministry for now.
But Father Richard Schreurs (pictured) and Deacon Hans van der Laar, formerly of the parish of St. Anthony in Best, have relented from doing the latter after the diocese pointed out that, in holding alternative services, both men would place themselves and their faithful outside the Church, which can be understood as being excommunicated. It is important to note here that the diocese does not threaten to punish the priest and deacon, but excommunication is something that we call upon ourselves by our actions, without any formal declaration from ecclesiastical authorities. In that sense, it is not so much a punishment levelled against a person by a priest, bishop, or even the Pope, but the recognition, by the Church, of a situation that has come into being.
In the past few years there have been several instances of local clergy, faithful and communities disagreeing quite audibly with the diocese. In more than a few cases, this was triggered by the diocese acting against trends which had been allowed to develop for years, but it’s not completely honest to lay the blame with the diocese. Reinforcing Catholic teaching and spiritual life can only be a good thing, but it is also understandable that feelings get hurt if people have the impression that things that seemed to have been allowed for years are suddenly no longer allowed. The standard Catholic situation has, in the minds of the people, become the exception, after all.
The situation outlined above is somewhat different, however – not a difference in teaching and practice, but a refusal to go along with the wishes of the diocese – but the way both parties act is quite the same. And much of the reason why this happens must be a clear lack of communication to the outside world. If people feel misunderstood and attacked by the other party, like in St. Anthony’s (church pictured), they turn to others to have their stories heard. In this case that is often the media who, sadly, often spin the stories in their own ways. Of course, conflicts needs to be able to be resolved by the parties involved, if necessary through mediation by a third party. This situation has somewhat escalated, so it may be a bit more difficult to resolve as it should be. Part of that resolution is a clear understanding by the parish in question that it is not an island, but part of a diocese. Likewise, the clergy must realise they owe a level of obedience to their bishop and can’t just strike out on their own. On the other hand, diocese and bishop must work towards the best resolution for the conflict, and that includes making sure that a level o trust and confidence is maintained. If the other party feels to need to go public with their story, some of that confidence has already been lost.
Is that the end of the story, then? Happily, it is not. We need only look back at some other recent conflicts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In the parish of San Salvator, faithful refused access to Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who had been appointed as administrator of the rather liberal parish. Faithful broke away and held their own services just around the corner. Today, the parish is young and alive under the guidance of Fr. Geertjan van Rossem and recently ordained Fr. Patrick Kuis (both pictured, with a group of children preparing for their First Communion), is active in social media and has a newly refurbished church as the architect intended. But, it must be added, the breakaway community still exists and continues to be active outside the Church.
Similarly, in Tilburg, the student chaplaincy received a new priest who intended to return Catholic practice and faith to the daily proceedings of the community, which lead, once again, to the parish council resigning and many hurt feelings displayed in the media, even before the new priest, Fr. Michiel Peeters, had been able to start his work for the chaplaincy. In this case, the faithful who quit did not take a group of faithful with them, but the ‘success’ of Fr. Peeters’ appointment and the new direction of the chaplaincy still remains to be seen, although it seems that there is definitely some successful outreach to students.
Photo credit:  montfortanen.nl,  Irene Wouters,  San Salvatorparochie
It’s been a good month, as the momentum of last month continued well into the first half of November. Some tweaks in the WordPress stats layout show me that search engines are the most important tools by which people find this blog – 1,120 this month alone. But much gratitude must also go to those blogs who link to me, first and foremost Rorate Caeli, who keep a keen eye on the developments in the traditional field in the Netherlands. 388 people came here via them this month. The sum total number of views in November was 5,868, and here are the 10 most popular posts:
- The weak case of the disobedient priests 328
- Celebrating five years at St. Agnes 142
- The elderly priest and the diocese – a simple case of right and wrong? 61
- The change the Church needs & Berlin is vacant – herald of things to come? 40
- An impression of a unique occasion 39
- Revelations trigger revelations- further developments around Bishop Cor Schilder & Het probleem Medjugorje 37
- “I was not I who gave you the breath of life” – death merchants at the door 36
- Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 35
- Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 33
- The first Advent letter of 2011 & Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese 29
An excellent blog post on the website of the parish of Saints John and Clement in Waalwijk*, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, titled, “It is not the Church that needs to change, but you and I”. Taking the recent bush fires in the diocese (Reusel, Liempde, San Salvator, and also Waalwijk, where the previous pastor was less than popular) as a starting point, the unnamed author takes a firm stand against liberal, often elderly faithful who consider themselves progressive and want to change the Church, or at least their parish, in a product of our times.
The ‘protestants’ are often supported by former priests who either resigned their office, or are married and no longer active in a parish belonging to the diocese, or religious priests. They loudly demand democratisation and ‘adaptation to the times’ from the leaders of the Catholic Church who, supported by her bishops and a new class of priests and faithful, all over the world keep to Catholic teaching, which they draw from the unchangeable Gospel of Christ. Those who demand structural change from the Church call their opponents conservative, old-fashioned and stupid. They feel supported by the media and millions of baptised Christians who never, or only at very special occasions, see the inside of a church. All these critics only see a future for the Catholic Church if she adapts to the wishes and ideas of the majority. According to them, the people are the Church, and so they want the people to call the shots in a ‘reformed’ democratic church. Literally and figuratively.
The text mentions some of the examples of incidents I mentioned above, and then continues:
These are all examples which indicate that the Church keeps holding on to the sanctity of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, against the wishes of the majority of the Dutch people, that not only demands that the Church lets people choose for themselves between life and death, fidelity and infidelity, self-sacrifice or self-gratification, charity or selfishness, but at the same time demands that the Church sanctifies, by administering the sacraments, practices that are unchristian according to the Gospels, like the ones mentioned above.
The conclusion of the piece is a serious one:
The only thing that all the protesters and troublemakers achieved since the 1960s, with their anticatholic and unchristian actions, is that the younger generations threw out the baby with the bathwater, i this case the Christ child sent by God. With the result that many young people never or rarely go to a church anymore: Today – 1,400 years after the Christianisation by St. Boniface – the Church of Christ is faced for the first time with a young generation which has hardly learned anything (positive) about our faith and our Church at home and in school, and for the most part no longer knows what the good news of Jesus Christ is.
The piece further refers to the aged ‘revolutionaries’ of the Mariënburg club and the 8 May movement which sprung up in the wake of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, noting the disastrous results of decades of individualism and ill-informed protest. The final words of the article are attrubited to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata:
Blessed Mother Theresa was once asked what she thought should change first in the Church. He answer was, “You and I!”
*The parish of the intelligent, humble and over-so-sensibly Catholic Father Marcel Dorssers, a regular guest at the annual Credimus Bootcamp.
Photo credit: R.K. parochie St. Jan en St. Clemens
It’s been a good month here at the blog. Evidently, there have been several topics which drew much interest, since, numbers-wise, this his been the second-best month since I began. There have been 6,343 views, breaking the record of May and June of this year, when the numbers came close to 6,000. Still, this last month saw only a quarter of the views of that crazy July of 2010.
The top 10 of best viewed posts contains many local topics: the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop and the San Salvator soap opera which came to a conclusion this month. Older topics also remained of interest, with the previous archbishop of Berlin, the late Cardinal Sterzinsky, seeing some renewed interest. Let’s have a look.
1: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 85
2: Bishop Mutsaerts vs San Salvator 67
3: A long expected appointment 58
4: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 53
5: Twittering Cardinal Ravasi now turns to blogging 51
6: Het probleem Medjugorje 49
7: Assisi 2011, the official announcement, Bishop decline Mariënburg proposal to Protestantise Dutch Church 46
8: The artificial opposition of faith and dogma 45
9: Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 44
10 All Saints Day 42
It is exceedingly rare that a community of faithful breaks away from the Catholic Church, certainly when compared to the Protestant churches. But yesterday morning it happened. The parish council, fired earlier last week, of the San Salvator parish in Den Bosch, took many faithful with them in their misguided break away from the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. They will be continuing their services in a community centre around the corner from the church which they had used for the past years.
It is now up to Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who has been appointed as temporary parish priest, to install a new parish council and return the sacraments and the faith of the world Church back to the people of the surrounding neighbourhoods. Stating that the faithful have every right to defect, he says: “This no longer fits under the banner of the Roman Catholic Church, but apart from that I wish them all the best.”
Considering the stubborn attitude of the San Salvator council in discussions with the diocese, and their hostile attitude to Church teachings personified, for them, in Bishop Mutsaerts, this was something of an inevitable consequence. But it is a great loss. For the people of the parish, who are deprived from the sacraments and the salvation Christ offers through them, and also from the communion with the rest of the diocese. In essence they have become a lone island whose actions are dictated by hollow feelings and empty words.
Photo credit: Omroep Brabant
The parishes of San Salvator in Den Bosch and Beheading of Saint John the Baptist in Liempde are some 20 kilometers apart, but when it comes to parish councils, they could be neighbours. Both have been in the news lately, with stories of disregard of Catholic teaching and a frank misunderstanding of authority, both theirs and others’.
In both parishes, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts has been working to resolve things, but with little result as far as the parish councils are concerned. In San Salvator, the parish council is now on the lookout for an alternate location to continue their fake Masses and Protestant church services. The parish church belongs to the diocese, after all, and if the parish no longer considers itself part of that diocese, it is only sensible that they can no longer pretend that are properly Catholic by using Catholic buildings and furnishings.
In Liempde, three of the seven parish council members have quit after Father Norbert van der Sluis (pictured)was not transferred to another parish. The council wanted that transfer after Fr. van der Sluis did not allow a funeral Mass for a man who died through euthanasia.
And this is the basic problem, both at San Salvator and in Liempde: parish councils overstepping their bounds. It’s a matter of understanding exactly what a parish council is for. It is not a democratic representation of the faithful, and neither does is decide on Catholic teachings and ‘policies’. A parish council exists to assist the parish priest in running a parish, with the pastoral and educational duties remaining those of the priest.
It is a matter of fact that the Catholic Church has a hierarchy; not a hierarchy for the sake of power, but for the sake of the faith. Our bishops and priests are our shepherds, they lead us towards God and teach us how to live our faith. Priests are called to these responsibilities and receive the Spirit to take them on through ordination. Their pastoral work does not happen in a vacuum, but within the context of parish and diocese, and ultimately the world Church. A parish council assists the priests in taking care of the worldly affairs of a faith community. For example, they take care of the finances, of maintenance of the buildings used by the parish, of scheduling programs and events, and keeping a proper record of the things that are done. The parish priest remains ultimately responsible for all that, though, but he can delegate. What he can’t delegate are such things as the celebration of the sacraments, prayer and education (although laity may assist in these).
Parish council members can’t take these things solely on themselves, even if they are without a priest for a certain time. They certainly can’t pretend to be able to overrule decisions taken by the priest in these matters, nor can they refuse the appointment of a priest, even if he’s the allegedly ‘very orthodox’ auxiliary bishop.
These things are not new. The same responsibilities of priest and parish council exist since the 1960s, so the council members of San Salvator and Beheading of St. John have no excuse to be unaware of them, let along of the faith of the Church, which has one or two things to say about the need for priests.
Over the past week or so, I have come across a number of instances in which the faith of the average churchgoing people is put in opposition to the rules or dogmas which are handed down from Rome. Some examples:
- The ongoing dispute between the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the parish of San Salvator (they have now claimed to be expecting a break with the diocese, looking for alternative locations to continue their ‘services’, and they will bar Auxiliary Bishop Mutsaerts from entering the church through passive resistance (although he is invited to attend one of their priestless Masses – what Masses?!)).
- An announcement of the Mariënburg-old-codgers’-club-of-’critical’-Catholics’ upcoming annual symposium centered around the question of what they still believe (judging from the words of chairman Erik Jurgens, who said he doesn’t need to believe in the Trinity or take the Creed seriously to be a good Catholic, they don’t believe in anything much).
- Retweets by the Dutch Dominicans of an article by a one of their own warning us against believing that Christ is, in fact, God.
- And, lastly, an assurance from theological publishers’ Berne Heeswijk that one of their new publication “will not be going the way of dogma, but the way of the faithful”.
Just some examples, but indicative of a trend that, although often not very visible, is still well alive. To me, the division between the faithful on the one hand and dogma on the other is an artificial separation, which is potentially very dangerous. It’s not as if these are not related or connected in any way.They are, and we need both.
Faith is our answer to God. As the Catechism tells us: “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” . God takes the first step, we respond. The faith is our response to God’s active revelation and gift. Since it comes from God, this gift is perfect, but our faith is not automatically perfect: it is, after all, our response, and we are merely human. Were our response perfect, the relation between God and us may have been something like that between a programmer and a computer: the programmer inputs something and the outcome of his input is perfect and predictable. We’d be mindless automatons when it came to faith. But we are not. God created us with free will, we are free to act and to choose in all we do, including our quest for God or our denial of Him.
A consequence of that free will is that we have to be active partners in our relationship with God, in our faith. God helps us, but we need to do some of the work ourselves as well. Otherwise, again, we’d be left without choice and freedom. God offers his assistance in that through the Church he founded (Matthew 16:18-19). In the Church we find the means to develop our faith, to allow it to grow.
In the Gospel of John we read the Parable of the Vine (15-1-11). Jesus tells us there: “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” And later: “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.”
Jesus asks us to remain in Him, to keep His commandments and His teachings, lest we be thrown away and come to nothing. Now, Jesus’ teaching includes some very clear dogmas, so to speak: He is God, there are various things we need to do and understand to be able to follow Him. In other words, there are certain rules we need to follow. Just like the sabbath was made for us, and not we for the sabbath (Mark 2:27), the rules are there for us, not we for the rules. They allow us to grow in faith, to reach our full potential. The rules are also educational: they teach us about God and His identity, and likewise about ourselves, through the things we say do and believe.
What’s the consequence of we do not follow the rules that Christ gave us, and which were later given to us by the Church with the authority given to her by Christ? We need only to look at San Salvator, Mariënburg, the Dutch Dominicans, Berne Heeswijk… and so many others. Places were faith is a matter of mere feelings and nice thoughts. We will wither and come to nothing.
There is no opposition between the dogmas and the faith of the common man, so to speak. The former helps the latter achieve his full potential, which does require a conscious effort and desire to achieve in us.
An interesting related question to this whole matter is what comes first: our conscience or the teachings of the Church? Father Juan R. Vélez offers an interesting article about that very question, offering answers based on the teaching of Blessed John Henry Newman. The article is also available in Dutch.
The bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch is once again planning to send out one of his auxiliaries to put out a bush fire in his diocese. He has appointed Bishop Rob Mutsaerts as temporary pastor to the San Salvator parish in ‘s Hertogenbosch. This parish has been without its own priest for a number of years and is said to have become a hotbed of DIY liturgy and liberal thought in frank opposition to bishop and Church. In 2009, after a homosexual ‘marriage’ was ‘blessed’ at the an Salvator, Msgr. Mutsaerts devoted a blog post to this parish, writing:
“I would not begrudge the parishioners a priest who is simply Catholic and who does not let himself be terrorised by the pastoral team which claims to be open to a church from below and wishes to do justice to the feelings of people, but in the meantime prove to be true dictators when people with true Catholic wishes show up. A normal familiar Requiem Mass is no an option. Neither is a Mass out of thanksgiving according to the normal liturgical books (only by exception and with great reluctance). A normal Sunday Mass? At San Salvator they have very extraordinary customs on Sunday, but it has nothing to do with a normal recognisable Catholic Mass. For them it is a sport to explain that there is much flawed in what pope and bishops propagate. In Orthen, the windows of the church have indeed been opened wide, with the result that there is a terrible draft and everyone has fallen ill. As a result of the draft all the familiar furnishings at least have been blown out of the church, leaving the average parishioner in the cold.”
After words like these it is perhaps no surprise that the parish council of the San Salvator have told the diocese that they will not be accepting Bishop Mutsaerts as their new pastor. But they do need a proper priest, it seems. If things have gotten this bad in 2009 (when the bishop wrote the above words), things will likely not have improved now. And in such situations, it is perhaps prudent to call things by their name. What is abundantly clear, at least, is that the parish council does not know where their right and duties lie.
It’s always sad to see when people with responsibilities in a parish (consciously or not) place their own vaguely-described feelings and interests before that of the people and the Church. It’s an upside-down world: Not our Lord comes to us, we create our own bridges to Him. The Church and all that is part of her are not our own creations to do with as we wish. If we do change the liturgy and distance ourselves from the diocese, then the name ‘Catholic’ becomes an empty word.
I hope Bishop Mutsaerts can turn things around for the better, and the faithful of San Salvator return to full communion with the Church, in both word and action.