It doesn’t seem that I missed a whole lot in my week-long absence from the Internet, at least not when it comes to Catholic news in the Netherlands. Everyone still seems upset with the whole Fr. Vlaar business, even though the measures taken by Bishop Punt seem clear: a month at a convent or abbey, followed by another month doing some other work, before the question of Fr. Vlaar’s return to Obdam becomes an issue again.
The media devote much time and space to the issue (something reflected in a fairly consistent increase in the page views of my blog, too). The Protestant newspaper ‘Reformatorisch Dagblad’ publishes an interview with various people about the question of why things have gone so far as we have seen in Obdam (and which we also see elsewhere). One of those people in Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam. The interviewer asked him about a point raised in the bishop’s (clumsily translated) letter to the faithful in his diocese: “Frankly speaking I was very surprised and disappointed that the faithful do not spontaneously apprehend/understand that this goes way too far.”
Bishop Punt elucidates:
“In my opinion it is connected to the secularisation which has taken place in the past decades in the Netherlands. We have placed ourselves and our needs and desires in the centre of attention. God has become at most a function of ourselves. What does He mean to me? What do I get out of faith? If He is able to increase our happiness, we are willing to let Him into our lives. But if not, we part ways.
“That God is alive and that we were created in His image and owe our existence to Him, that awareness has strongly weakened. Apparently the Church failed in her duty to raise people in the truths of the faith [I’ll say…]. This makes it pertinent for us to find new ways to bring the reality of God and His purpose with our lives powerfully to people’s attention. They no longer know who He is. They don’t know Him anymore. They have lost sight of Him.”
Like any society, the Dutch one is pluriform. There are generalities, but the individualistic nature of modern western society has enlarged the individuality that is already present in modern man; their unique person, their customs, habits and priorities. To generalise will therefore never do complete justice to the situation. However, I do believe Bishop Punt is correct when he makes the above sweeping statements about the Church in the Netherlands.
In a recent discussion in the chat room at SQPN.com, Fr. Roderick Vonhögen explained about the situation in the Netherlands regarding liturgical abuses. A mainly international audience such as the one at SQPN, while undoubtedly aware of abuses, generally has no full sense of the extent of the problem. Fr. Roderick said that the situation is 100 times worse than it is in the United States, and I don’t think he is wrong.
Bishop Punt’s raising of new ways to educate people is indeed pertinent. At the moment the Church does not succeed in that. Existing methods gather to a minority of existing Catholics and are invisible beyond the Church. Faith education must be lifelong (since we never stop learning and growing closer to (or further away from) God), thorough, consistent and suited to modern society and modern people. That does not mean denying the truths of the faith in order to achieve that. But truths that are at right angles to modern life must be stated forcefully, not softly whispered.
In that context, the above statements from the bishop are a start. A good start, perhaps, but just a start nonetheless.