Do not deny churches access to information about their membership, citizens urge government

afbeelding-site-sila_05-bijgesnedenA government intention to abolish the system that supplies municipal information about  church members to local parishes has led to the most successful Internet consultation yet. Following an appeal from the bishops, among others, 17,000 signatories when through the trouble of lodging their complaints against a possible abolishment of the SILA system, which automatically forwards municipalities’ information about the death or moving of parishioners (while keeping  this information confidential). This allows parishes to remain informed when members newly arrive or when parishioners die.

Responses mentioned the desire of parish groups to be able to continue visiting the eldery in care homes, but also of families who appreciated being welcomed in a new parish. There is also the fear of elderly faithful that the parish might loose track of them. The positive contribution of parishes to society, some said, is denied by politicians who wish to shut down this system as it exists now.

Government ministeries can use consultations about concepts for law proposals, ministerial regulations or general government decisions. The results may be used to adapt these proposals or decisions, but they are not binding.

SILA, short for Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie, is used by seven churches and church communities, among them the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and collects and manages information about the church affiliation of private citizens who are registered members of one of the seven churches who use SILA. Municipalities only register who is known by SILA, but can’t see to which church they belong. Any mutations in the status of these citizens, such as death or relocation, is forwarded to SILA, which does now the specific church affiliation and can send the relevant information to the correct church community. In reverse, SILA also informs municipalities about new church members or church members who wish to be removed from the database.

The decision to bar SILA from information from the basic registration of citizens is taken to streamline the way in which the registration functions, and is one of several measures to assure this. The repsonsible government department is the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, headed by Minister Ronald Plasterk. He is a member of the PvdA, which suffered a significant loss of seats in last week’s elections, and will therefore most likely be succeeded by a member of another party, with the PvdA relegated to an opposition role. What that means for the proposal and the results of the consultation, however, remains to be seen.

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Elections – the Christian loss

Compared to some countries, our national elections are a subdued affair, but they happened yesterday all the same. Three quarters of the population went out to vote, and, as many will know, this resulted in a victory for the PvdA and the VVD, comparable to Labour and the liberals respectively. What the results also show is a resounding loss for the confessional parties, the parties with a Christian identity (although there are variations in that identity).

Of the 150 seats in parliament, a mere 21 went to one of the Christian parties, CDA, ChristianUnion and SGP. CDA lost 8 seats, CU remained at 5 and SGP gained 1.

Looking back at previous elections, this is the lowest overall score for these or other Christian parties. Between 1956 and 1963 the number of seats hovered as high as 80. Since then is has steadily been declining, with a temporary reversal of fortunes in the late 80s and early to mid-2000s.

There still remains an option that a Christian party will be part of the coming coalition, since PvdA and VVD do not have a majority in the senate together, but in my opinion that chance is slim.

A difficult choice in the voting booth

In the Netherlands it’s time to make a difficult decision again: who to vote for in the national elections? It’s never an easy choice, with so many issues going on and so many parties to choose from. And the fact that this election was somewhat unexpected due to the government’s collapse a few months ago does not help either. And when you’re not too enthusiastic or informed about the machinations of politics, the dilemma seems complete.

But vote I will. It’s a right, but also a duty. So the choice is not if I’ll vote, but for whom. And that’s the problem. I’m Catholic (there’s a surprise) and a try to live according to Catholic social teachings, so that is why I try to see reflected in the party programs. And many parties (although some would hate to admit it) agree with what the Church has to say about many topics, but none do so for the full 100 %. In the Netherlands, a Catholic vote is not possible.

So the choice becomes negative. What party is the least divergent? Many Catholics vote left. PvdA, SP and GreenLeft (Labour, Socialists and Greens respectively) are popular. Others vote right: VVD (Liberals) mainly. And traditionally Catholics find a political home among the Christian Democrats of the CDA. And there is the PVV of madman Geert Wilders of course: a one-issue party that looks to be getting many votes out of spite. Will Catholics vote for him? Hard to say.

All these options can be defended (even the PVV, to an extent). But when it comes to combining certain specifically Christian issues (life and the role of religion in society, but also health care and education) and recent events in the media (the abuse issue and demonstrations about the ‘right’ to receive Communion), the choice becomes limited.

There it boils down to those parties who call themselves Christian: CDA, ChristenUnie (Christian Union) and SGP (Politically Reformed Party). CDA and ChristenUnie have been in government, while the SGP has always been a small opposition party, but nonetheless the most consistently Christian. They’re all chiefly or totally Protestant though, with the SGP being openly anti-Catholic.

Comparing the three, I conclude that the ChristenUnie is the best choice. Although solidly Protestant, they have been actively trying to involve Catholics in their party. Originally fully pro-life they did succumb to compromise, but that is the nature of Dutch politics. I don agree, but I understand. CDA is Christian in name only and SGP, as I said, is openly anti-Catholic. Despite the party’s qualities that is a major stumbling block for me.

What will we be getting? Perhaps a Liberal/Left combination? VVD, PvdA, GreenLeft? Maybe the PVV will get too involved (something I hope for: it may mean they´ll collapse within the year because they suddenly have responsibility). CDA will likely end up in opposition. D66 (possibly the most anti-Catholic choice we have) may turn out to be instrumental when it comes to forming a coalition, and perhaps, in a smaller way, the ChristenUnie will be as well. Chances of the end result being good are slim though. The major leftwing parties are openly antagonistic to the Church: the PvdA called for the Communion protests during Mass and GreenLeft  head Femke Halsema called the Church part of an axis of evil… Nice, that :$

But even the best options are not amazing. Dutch politics, like the country itself, is much secularised, and issues of faith, ethics and morality do not play a major part or are openly attacked or ridiculed. We will have to struggle on.

Bertone’s grain of truth

Massimo Introvigne

Via Eric Masseus I find yet another interesting article. Author Massimo Introvigne writes about moral panic in the light of the abuse crisis, focussing especially on the occurence of pedophilia among priests. It’s an interesting piece in itself, so go read it.       

What drew my attention, also in light of the comments by Fr. Federico Lombardi about Cardinal Bertone’s statements linking pedophilia and homosexuality, is the following passage:  

While it may hardly be politically correct to say so, there is a fact that is much more important: over 80 percent of paedophiles are homosexuals, that is, males who abuse other males. And – again citing Jenkins – over 90 percent of Catholic priests convicted for sexually abusing minors have been homosexual. If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

Philip Jenkins

 

The Jenkins that Introvigne refers to is historian and sociologist Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University, who has done a study about the influence and value of moral panic and how it contributes or blocks resolving a problem. He concludes that they usually don’t help at all. It reminds me of my opinion, mentioned here before, that modern society often remains stuck in the emotional response, indeed the moral panic of Jenkins’ study.       

In considering the above statements, I would also like to include a few words  from Fr. Lombardi. About Cardinal Bertone’s comments he said: “[R]eferred to here obviously is the problem of abuse by priests, and not in the population in general.”       

If we then take the priestly population as our subject, rather than the wider population of all people (men and women, hetero- and homosexual), we do see a different picture. The Zenit article I linked to above also mentions:       

These statements are backed by the report published in 2004 by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, regarded as the most complete report on the sexual abuse crisis.       

On studying the charges of sexual abuse presented against clerics between 1950 and 2002 in the United States, the report stated that an overwhelming majority of the victims — 81% — were males.       

Considering these facts and studies, we can draw some conclusions: in the priestly population, for various reasons, sexual abuse is chiefly of a homosexual nature (a possible reason could be the fact that most children and young people who had regular dealings with priests were male). In that sense Cardinal Bertone was correct. It was a clumsy thing to say, but it now seems he did have the data to back it up. If only he’d made that clearer.       

Of course, such conclusions do nothing to resolve the problem. They don’t help the victims or the offenders. What they do allow, is a renewed consideration of the formation of priests (here I go again). Introvigne also writes:       

If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

And isn’t that directly related to the political and social climate? As far as the sexual revolution goes, it ran absolutely rampant in the 1970s. In the Netherlands, for example, political parties and members of parliament actively advocated legalising pedophilia (the same parties and individuals which now viciously attack the Church, as a poignant aside. PvdA, I’m looking at you).       

This is no excuse for the crimes committed by priests, but they point at the main problem. That is not homosexuality, celibacy or pedophilia, but the formation and education of priests. A priest is a man of God who, if he works in a parish, is also a man of the world. There is a careful balance to be achieved there, which is not always easy, especially for seminarians and young priests who are only just getting started. In order to maintain that balance you need clear demarcations and a good development and awareness of yourself. From my own limited knowledge of seminaries, that formation is part of the tripod of their education program, at least in the first few years: philosophy, theology and spiritual formation.       

Saying “the homosexuals did it” is pointless for finding a solution. But the facts above must be taken into account: we need them to figure out the problem and resolve it. The moral panic as described by Introvigne and Jenkins blurs those facts, and so does more damage for the sake of political correctness. Reality hurts. A lot sometimes. But sometimes pain makes us stronger. I am convinced that we, society as a whole, must relearn that.

Katholiek protest tegen NCRV (2)

Once more a post in Dutch, sharing the follow-up to the wholly unsatisfactory reply from the NCRV following the open letter that was sent to the TV network on behalf of Catholics and several Protestants on the sacrilege committed in tv show Man Bijt Hond. The new letter wonders on whose behalf the reply was sent, and also asks if the author even understood the reason of our concern. We now ask for clarity and a reply to those concerns instead of an explanation of things that are, at best, peripheral.

———————

NCRV-directeur Coen Abbenhuis reageerde op maandag 15 maart met een e-mail op een Open Brief die eerder die dag namens de katholieke blog-community naar de NCRV was gestuurd om bezwaar te maken tegen heiligschennis in het tv-programma Man Bijt Hond. Abbenhuis’ antwoord is ook te vinden op de NCRV-site als officiële verklaring:

http://www.manbijthond.nl/reactiencrv

Dit antwoord is onzes inziens beneden alle peil en daarom gaat de het protest tegen deze actie van de NCRV door. De Open Brief met een actuele lijst van mensen die haar onderschrijven vindt u hier:

http://beautifulblues.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/katholiek-protest-tegen-heiligschennis-door-ncrv/

Al bijna tweehonderd namen staan onder de brief. Onder hen een twintigtal katholieke priesters en diakens. Ook komt er veel steun uit protestantse hoek en heeft een volledige parochie zich achter de Open Brief geschaard. U kunt nog steeds uw steun betuigen!

De actie wordt vanaf nu aangetrokken door blogster Observatrix (www.observatrix.nl). Onder haar naam is er, in overleg met katholieke bloggers, een antwoord verstuurd naar de NCRV. Als bijlage bij dat antwoord is de Open Brief met een actuele lijst van ondertekenaars meegestuurd. Dit is ons antwoord:

Geachte heer Abbenhuis,

Hoewel het ons nog steeds onduidelijk is of u namens het NCRV-bestuur schreef of op persoonlijke titel, nemen wij de vrijheid om toch te reageren op uw e-mailbericht van 15 maart j.l. Uw antwoord stelt teleur in twee opzichten. Ten eerste omdat u in veel woorden weinig nieuws zegt en de excuses die door de redactie van het programma “Man Bijt Hond” nog wel waren gemaakt, niet eens herhaalt. Ten tweede omdat u in uw antwoord geen blijk geeft te hebben begrepen waar de kern van ons bezwaar ligt.

In uw antwoord verwijst u naar de ‘licht-satirische’ opzet van het programma “Man Bijt Hond”. Blogger Anton de Wit benadrukte dat hij geen man met lange tenen is en satire zeer kan waarderen. Dit zal voor de meeste ondertekenaars van de Open Brief gelden. Echter wat De Wit ook aantoont is dat de heiligschennis uit “Man Bijt Hond” met geen mogelijkheid satire kan worden genoemd. Zoals het op het blog van ondergetekende Erica Schruer treffend werd geformuleerd, luidde uw antwoord in feite: jammer dat u van heiligschennis de humor niet kunt inzien. Ook christenen doen regelmatig aan satire, maar in de vorm waarin de NCRV het goot was er geen sprake van christelijke, maar juist van anti-katholieke en daarmee dus ook anti-christelijke satire. Daarmee heeft u als omroep in feite uw identiteit geloochend.

U verwijst in uw brief ook naar het protest tegen de katholieke Kerk in de St. Jan in Den Bosch, dat georganiseerd was door het COC en de Gaykrant en werd gesteund door de PvdA en de SP. Dit was de aanleiding voor het “Man Bijt Hond”-item. Voor de Kerk was ook deze gebeurtenis méér dan pijnlijk. Ten eerste omdat er een eredienst werd verstoord en het risico van een moderne ‘beeldenstorm’ nadrukkelijk in de lucht hing. Ten tweede omdat niemand behalve de SGP het opnam voor de vrijheid van eredienst, terwijl het verstoren van religieuze bijeenkomsten bij wet verboden is, en de Kerk en de gelovigen daarin bescherming en respect mogen verwachten.

Voorts spreekt u uit dat de NCRV het doel heeft mensen recht te doen, ‘ongeacht hun seksuele geaardheid’. Dit wekt de suggestie van een zeker eenzijdig respect, waarvan godsdienst geen deel uitmaakt. Als het gaat om het afkeuren van het niet uitreiken van de Communie aan homoseksuelen acht de NCRV blijkbaar elk middel geoorloofd, tot de grootste schoffering en heiligschennis aan toe. Ons protest heeft daarentegen niets te maken met de seksuele geaardheid van Wagemakers, maar met de respectloze manier waarop hij in NCRV-zendtijd met de Hostie omsprong.

De belangrijkste constatering is dat uw brief inhoudelijk niet ingaat op de bezwaren die zijn geuit in de Open Brief, die inmiddels door 150 mensen en een katholieke parochie is onderschreven en ieder uur door meer mensen wordt onderschreven. Daarnaast regent het ook negatieve reacties op de website van “Man Bijt Hond”. Door de heiligschennis die in dat programma is gepleegd, af te doen als uitingen van ‘gelijkwaardigheid en verdraagzaamheid’, toont u aan dat de betekenis die u aan die twee begrippen geeft niets meer met de christelijke visie te maken heeft. Wij kunnen ons niet aan de indruk onttrekken dat de NCRV is opgegaan in de grote massa van seculiere omroepen.

Wij verzoeken u zeer dringend uw standpunt te heroverwegen en daarvan terug te komen. Recent bij een incident in Maleisie pleegden twee medewerkers van een islamitisch tijdschrift heiligschennis door de Hostie te ontvangen en vervolgens uit te spuwen. Daarover ontstond veel commotie. Zij boden uiteindelijk daarvoor hun verontschuldigingen aan met de volgende woorden: “Het is niet de bedoeling van Al Islam om de christelijke godsdienst te beledigen, noch om christelijke bedehuizen te ontheiligen”. Van een nominatum christelijke omroep als de NCRV zou tenminste hetzelfde mogen worden verwacht. In het onverhoopt geval u niet tot betere inzichten komt, zullen wij onze bezorgdheid ook op andere plaatsen aan de orde stellen.

Met vriendelijke groeten,

—————-

The list of signatories to the open letter has continued to grow over the past days. Here is the list as it stands now:

R.T. van Mulligen
Parochie HH Michael en Clemens
G. Wilkens, priester
F. As, priester
H.J.P.T. Broers, priester
Ch. van Buijtenen, priester
J. Goris, priester
W.J.J. Grondhuis, priester
R.J.M. Kerssemakers, pastoor-deken
K. Loodts, priester
C. Mennen, priester
Pater J. Nielen MHM
M. Peeters, priester
G. van Rossem, priester
H.C.W. Schilder, priester
C. Stam, priester
G.M.J. van der Vegt, priester
W. Veth, priester
A. van Aarle, diaken
J. Grubben, diaken
A.B.M. van Kempen, diaken
I.W.G. Molenaar, diaken
Broeder Hugo, heremiet
S. Volkers, seminarist
Alina Bonen OFS
Fieke, postulante in de Carmel D.C.J.
P.M. Tassel OCDS
J. Ackermans
Angela ___
R. Bangma
G.E. van Beek
J. van Beek
A. van Berkel
A.J.M. van Berkel
A.M.C. van Berkel
F.S. Blaauw
J.J. Boekee
H. de Boer
M. Boerma
R. Bol
A. Bonen
B.S. Bosma
E. Bötticher
L. Brans
J. Brouwers
M. Buurman
W. Cromwijk
S. Dankers
O. Dhaene
J. Dhaene
B. van Dijck
M.E.A. Dommeck – Kuyt
M. Donders
G. Drijfhout
M.B.A. van Elswijk
F. Erkens
J. Erkens
Y. Fehr
L. Feskens
J. Flierman
J. Friederichs
P. Frissen
J.H. de Geest
J. van Gool
E. van Goor
J. van Gorp
T. de Groene
L. de Groene
E. de Groot
N. de Groot
W. de Groot
G.E. Hageman
N.J. Hageman
F. van der Have
W.M.C. Heemskerk
M. Hendriks
M.V. van Heusden
J. van den Heuvel
G. Holterman
P.M.A. Hoofs
P.H.W. Huiting
J.H.P. van Iperen
M. van Iperen
A.J.M. Janssen
H.A.M. Janssen – Rombouts
F.J. de Jong
J.C.M. de Jong
H. Kaptijn – Verzijlbergh
Kees ____
M.J. van Kleef
H. Knabben
A. Koole – Bart
N. Kuipers
R. Kuipers
P. Kuis
D. Lagarde
R. Lagarde
S. Leferink op Reinink
T. Letsch
N. Lioce
D.P.J. van Lith – Woestenberg
R.B. Lok
J. Lont
J.M.E. Lont
R. Marks
M.J. Marks – Meekel
F. van der Meer
F. Meijneke
F.E. Mélotte
D. Milis
T.J.M. Mom
M. Nagtegaal
J. Nederlof – Erens
C. Nelson
H. Nolden
A. Nolden
N. Nolden
J. Nolden
R. Nolden
C. Nolden
L. Nolden
M. Nolden
L. Nolden
A. van Norde
P. Offermans
D.P.J. Oostveen
J.P. Oostveen
J.J. van Peperstraten
M. Pijnenburg
M. Polkowski
M.B. Pronk
E.M. Raats
J. Rademaker
L.C.C. Reuser
A.F.M. Scheerboom
C. Scholten
H.D.L.M. Schruer
L. Schruer
P.M. Schruer – Zoetmulder
H.W. Schulkes
M. Semere
E.M. Slegers
P. Somerwil
T. Spee – van Heijster
I. Spijker
N. Stienstra
A. Spijker-Huiges
S. Steijaert
J. Strengholt
M.I.M. Terlaak
G. Tomicic
Toon ___
G.A. van der Toorn – Piebenga
J. Trum
W.L. Tuyl
S. Uiterwijk
C. van der Valk
J. van der Valk
A. Valstar
G.J.M. Vehof
A. Verboord
P. Verhoeven
J.G. Verhoeven – den Uijl
J. Vermeulen
S. Verschuur
W. Verswijveren
M. Viehoff
L. Vloedbeld
E.H.J. Vossenberg
M. de Vries
M. de Vries
M.J. Webster
W.J.M. Webster – van Gool
R. Weerdenburg
H. Westerveld
J.P. Winkels
A.J.A. de Wit
M. de Witt
M. Wolterink
F. Wouters
E. Wouterse
H.K.M.G. van Zandwijk – Bruin
P. van Zoest

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.

Political support from an unexpected corner

The disruption of Mass in Den Bosch has not gone unnoticed in parliament. Of course, PvdA chair Lilianne Ploumen and local representatives of the same parties called for these disruptions (so inciting an unconstitutional act), but other parties remained very quiet. But now the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, the SGP, spoke up in defense. Remarkable, since the SGP is hardcore Protestant and traditionally quite anti-Catholic. But now they intend to ask questions in a general Christian context. After all, who’s to say that it’ll end with disrupting Mass? Protestant services run the same risk.

On the party’s website are the questions that MP Kees van der Staaij has sent to the Justice and Home secretaries. He specifically focusses on the protests as criminal acts according to Article 146 of the criminal code, which states:

Below are MP van der Staaij’s questions to the secretaries:

1 Did you take notice of reports that protesters disturbed a church service in ‘s Hertogenbosch and intend to protest more often like this?

2 How do you judge such forms of protest? Is the government willing to distance itself forcefully from utterances sich as demonstrative hand clapping and loud protests that disturb church services?

3 Does the Public Prosecutor, also in light of article 146 of the criminal code, intend to take steps against these church service disruptions? If not, why not?

4 To what extend can calling for protests at or during church services with the risk of actual disruptions of church services be tackled according to criminal law?

5 What options do justice and police, or mayors have to undertake anything against threatening disruptions of church services? What will the government undertake to prevent a repeat of such disruptions?

6 Are you willing to answer these questions as soon as possible?

Good questions, although I am skeptical about the answer to them. I sadly doubt that this is a priority for any other party.