Bishop de Korte’s election advice – the problems of voting Catholic in the Netherlands

While bishops usually tend to avoid giving voting advice, at least when it comes to specific parties, Bishop Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch recently did do so on a personal title. In an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad he said,

bisschop-de-korte“As bishops we realise that you can’t say that, if you are Catholic, there is a single party to vote for. From a Catholic perspective, something can be said in favour of all parties.”

But the bishop makes one exception to this rule. Geert Wilders’ PVV, which has ideas which are “contrary to the Catholic idea about a just society. They way that they pit populations against one another, abandon the freedom the religion, attack the rule of law – “fake parliament”, “fake judges”… These are things that should make us very reserved.”

The PVV continues to score in the opinion polls, also among Catholics, and Bishop de Korte’s remarks have had their share of criticism. But while the bishop’s comments focussed on the positives to be found in irtually all parties, the criticism focussed on those elements in party’s programs which are incompatible with Catholic teaching. How, critics asked, could any Catholic in good conscience vote for a party which promotes anti-life measures such as abortion and euthanasia? As I mentioned in my recent article for The Catholic Herald, only two parties, both Christian, are pro-life: the Christian Union and the SGP, although it must be added that the PVV is at least hesitant about further liberalisation on these topics.

This is a valid criticism, and a Catholic vote must take the position of parties on these (and other) topics seriously. But Bishop de Korte is not saying that all positions of all parties, except those of the PVV, should be supported by Catholics. On the contrary, he merely acknowledges that all parties promote positive aspects which a Catholic can get behind, while, although he does not say so explicitly, they may also support things a Catholic should oppose. There is no clear black or white when it comes to casting a Catholic vote in these elections.

pvv-logo-560x190Why single out the PVV, then? Are their positions more abhorent than those of other parties? The tone of their way of doing politics is certainly not one we should promote, and their singling out of parts of the population and disrespect for the rule of law when it does not agree with their positions are indeed problematic. For Bishop de Korte these seem to be decisive factors. For others, like myself, the respect for life (both born and unborn) may be equally decisive, and in that context the left-wing parties such as GroenLinks and SP are just as undeserving of my vote. Singling out the PVV is too simplistic: no party is perfect, and when you say that  “something can be said in favour of all parties,” an honest reading wil also show that that includes the PVV.

Bishop de Korte gave a personal opinion, the reasoning of which I do not fully agree with, although I share his decision not to vote for the PVV. But that is my opinion. Others may reach another conclusion in good conscience, based on the priorities they focus on. As long as it impossible to cast a vote which is in full agreement with Catholic teaching, this is the situation we are stuck with.

A Catholic tendency towards extremism?

Now that the election results are as good as in, I find what seems like a disturbing link between Catholicism and extremist views. I wonder what the reason behind that could be? Are Catholics more prone to vote right wing? Are they more susceptible to populist sloganeering? Are they just not very good thinkers? I’m generalising, of course, but the ‘evidence’ is striking.

Geert Wilders’ populist one-issue party PVV has gained a great victory nationwide (they’re the third part now, with 24 seats), but in municipalities in Limburg, the most Catholic part of the Netherlands, they are easily the largest. Maybe the fact that Wilders is from Limburg himself has something to do with that, but I wonder…

I’ve also come across other instances of Catholic intolerance and extremism, especially towards Muslims. The recent discussions about the murder of Bishop Padovese of Anatolia, which looks more and more to have been a sacrificial killing, brings out people with degrees in generalising. Examples are in the replies to this post in Father Z’s blog, and this post at Rorate Caeli.

The two situations outlined above are different, the one political, the other religious. But intolerance lies at the root of both. Maybe Catholics still feel oppressed (and in certain cases they are right to feel like that) and that they must violently oppose society’s general trends? Certain social trend deserve opposition, but surely openness  and ethical treatment of people of other faiths surely do not? We may disagree, fine, but here we see a division of “we are good and they are evil”.

It’s simplistic, dangerous and quite disconcerting.

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.

A cabinet has fallen. Now what?

I’m no politician, and I’m not really interested in politics and I don’t know a lot about politics. I knew that the cabinet had been discussing a possible extension of the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan and that the PvdA (social democrats) had been against that. Last night the cabinet fell over the issue, as the socialist cabinet ministers collectively quit.

Below is the statement made by Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende:

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“Later today I will offer Her Majesty the resignation of the ministers and state secretaries of the PvdA.  I will place the portfolio’s, the office and the functions of these ministers and state secretaries at her disposal. As chairman of the council of minister I have sadly had to conclude that there is no fruitful means by which this cabinet of CDA, PvdA and Christen Unie could continue.

In the past days you have been able to see that the unity was tarnished by established facts. By statements that are contrary to recent decisions as made by the cabinet and reported to the House. Those statements put a political mortgage on amicable debate. They got in the way of diligence. Towards our men and women in Afghanistan, but also in our relationship with our NATO partners.

Today we have tried to see in the council of ministers if trust could be re-established. A reaffirmation of the agreements we made ten days ago in the Treves Hall and which were published in the letter of notice to the House would have laid a foundation for a continued cooperation. The ministers responsible would have been able to propose an option that was satisfactory to the cabinet – if possible before 1 March.

For a minority in the cabinet this was a bridge too far. When trust is lacking, an attempt to agree on content is doomed to fail. At most it would mean the start of a new controversy in the future. Especially concerning the challenger facing the Netherlands: they don’t require the easy way, but decisiveness.

The continued existence of a cabinet can never be a goal in itself. It should be about work and welfare in the Netherlands – now and in the future. And about the influence that the Netherlands can reasonable have on a better world. That is the intention of my colleagues and me when we started three years ago. Collectively and individually we experience the defeat of having failed in this. But that does not change the facts and the conclusion we have had to draw.

Now is not the time to delve deeper into the question of blame – let alone to provide a definite answer. I trust that you will respect this.”

Source 

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Law dictates that national elections must be held within three months. And with the public opinion polls heavily favouring populist and right-wing tendencies, I fear the result. While the Christian democrats of the CDA still take the highest share in prospective votes, Geert Wilders’ populist PVV is a very close second. It’s a scary prospect, although there is always the example of earlier populist parties: Pim Fortuyn’s LPF or Rita Verdonk’s TON. They started out with a bright future, but soon imploded.

Judging by the media, the general trend would be towards the right, with both D66 and the VVD likely to win seats. The left-wing has already started to block off options, with Green Left leader Agnes Kant axing any possible coalition with D66, whom she accuses of being to right.

So, we don’t just have municipal elections to look forward to on 3 March, but also national elections between now and May. No idea yet who I will vote for, so I guess some studying of programs is in order.