Church and politics

Johannes Cardinal de Jong (1885-1955) was chairman of the Dutch bishops'conference when the mandate of 1954 was published.

Since the counterproductive reception of the episcopal mandate of 1954 – which, among rather a lot else, forbade Catholics to be members of socialist parties and unions – the Dutch bishops have refrained from giving any advice on how to vote. An understandable thing to do, perhaps, certainly considering the climate of the decades to follow: Vatican II and the minor storm of iconoclasm that followed, and the general distrust of anything organised, including religion, in the 1960s. But at the same time, it is at odds with the bishops’ duties as shepherds. They are tasked to lead Christ’s flock, after all, in all things faith-related. Deciding on who to vote for may certainly be influenced by a person’s beliefs, so an episcopal declaration on what parties are more in line with Catholic thought and which are not would not be too strange.

Before the good old ‘separation of Church and State’ is dragged out again, it would be good to realise that no such thing actually exists in the Dutch constitution. As Tom Zwitser points out, the constitution speaks of a much more diffuse relation between Church and State. The concept of freedom of religion – which is a constitutional right – is much more applicable here. Of course, Church and State should not be at odds with one another, but in certain cases the relation between can certainly be mutually beneficial. And as for the individual voter: he or she gets inundated with all manner of advice on who to vote for anyway…

That said, the bishops’ conference maintains their position of not officially indicating parties that Catholics should not vote for, although they can certainly offer their own personal opinions. Bishop Gerard de Korte did so quite recently, and while he did warn against the trend of populism in politics (as he has done since 2007), no party is to be expressly excluded, he says.

Fr. Harm Schilder

Although the bishops reiterated their position in 2006, saying that it is not up to the Church to recommend specific parties,  “but to put forward those issues that the Church considers important”, individual priests do sometimes speak out against specific parties. Recently, Father Harm Schilder, parish priest in Tilburg and focus of a long-running conflict about his church bells and the volume they are said to produce before early morning Mass, did so in his homily on Sunday:

“The parties who were expressly against the ringing of the church bells were the PvdA, Greenleft and the SP [left wing parties all]. They are also against the Church. They are allowed to. But it is desireable that churchgoers do not fall for that at the upcoming elections. As the old saying goes: do not kiss the hand of he who hits you.”

Although this is clearly an advice based on a specific local issue, it’s no less valid for it. Local politics will slightly differ per city and from national politics, but they do affect each other. The PvdA leading the call for protests at Mass in ‘s Hertogenbosch, for example, is in my opinion a clear indication that I can’t in good conscience vote for them in tomorrow’s municipal elections (if I was thinking of doing that, I might add).

The importance of politics and elections is for me a natural reason to look for advice and guidance from the corners that also help me in other situations. The Church in her teachings and personified in priests and bishops is one of those. I believe there is much to be gained with a bishops’ conference that is not afraid to speak out clearly and publically on matters, to offer advice when needed. That will certainly lead to much resentment initially, both within and without the Church. After all, we are a people that does not like being told what to do. But sometimes we need it. We needed it as children, and since we never stop growing up and learning, we will always need it.

In the temple in Jerusalem, old Simeon warned the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph that Jesus would be “a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2, 34). The same will be true for anyone who chooses to follow Him.

Emotion vs. reason

“We only know rights, we’ve forgotten our duties.” Word from Fr. Antoine Bodar in an interview about the protests that disturbed Mass in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last Sunday. His words resound with me and some thoughts I’ve been having when I wonder, in my own pseudo-psychological way, about how the current situation came about. Why does a fairly simple disagreement result in a situation which is essentially criminal?

There are a few factors to this, but what strikes me most is the highly emotional response from, in this case, homosexual rights supporters. An emotional response to something which seems to affect someone so personally is only natural and therefore very understandable. It is in many ways instinctual: we feel threatened so we lash out in defense. We do it when we are afraid, angry, insulted, but also when we’re happy – impulsive actions in the rush of the moment.

But as civilised and reasonable developed people, we may pride ourselves on the fact that we are not governed by instincts alone. At some point, in order to reach at the very least a certain level of understanding (not even agreement yet), we must transcend the purely emotional and enter into a reasoned and objective debate about the issue in question.

In our modern society, where the only certainty is that there are no certainties, an emotional response is encouraged. A subjective attitude towards reality is very compatible with emotion, after all. But the second step towards the objective and reasoned debate, is no longer made by the public at large. Emotion has now become the final stop, even the ‘objective’ approach. I saw it personally on Sunday and we may all read it in the various media that report on the situation in the diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Today I read from a pro-homosexual rights source that the diocese had come about and now allows homosexuals to receive Communion. An objective listener would have known that the diocese has said that throughout this crisis. Nothing has changed, but the latest statements only seem new because it had not managed to reach the ears of the protesters before. The blindness of subjective emotion blocked it.

In many ways this is a regression towards immaturity. As children we learn to transcend the emotional response and find solutions through objective approaches. As adults we know to curtail our emotions when necessary in order to not worsen a given problematic situation. But in modern society, which teaches that we all have our own reality, that there are no certainties but our own, often no longer knows how to transcend the emotion. After all, if I feel something, the reasoning goes, it is my own valid reality. The emotional becomes the objective approach for many.

The Church teaches that there is an objective Truth, independent from our emotions. It transcends us, so in order to know and understand It, we must in turn transcend our emotions. to come closer to the Truth that is Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t ignore our emotions by any means, but we must give them their proper place. That is ultimately the way to reach understanding and, perhaps, acceptance.