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.

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.

Religion just a choice?

This morning I was browsing through one of those free newspapers you find at bus and train stations, and I came across a letter sent in by a reader. Said reader fulminated against protests lodged by political party SGP about the use of the lyrics of the Green Day song ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ in a secondary school exam. The SGP complained about those lyrics because they perceived them to be anti-Christian. That by way of providing context. The writer of the letter wrote that people of faith shouldn’t complain, because religion is ‘just a choice’ and ‘they shouldn’t bother other people with it’.

For the record, I don’t agree with the SGP position on this. But I also don’t agree with the letter writer. Religion or faith can’t be limited to ‘just a choice’, as if it is the same as the choice of what colour socks I’m going to wear on a given day. Because that is all that the word ‘choice’ entails: a conscious decision to do something or other some certain way.

When I look back at the road I’ve travelled in the past years, I can say it did start with a choice: not the choice of being Christian or not, but rather the choice of going to see what Mass was and to talk about it with people. From there it quickly developed into something far greater. My decision to let myself be baptised came from a growing conviction that it was the right thing to do: it was not about what I would like, but about what I thought I’d need. I said yes to that sacrament because I had grown to believe that it was something I needed to do to be able to live my life to the fullest.

In that way the ‘choice’ became the foundation to my entire life. It is far more than something that merely appeals to me; it is the framework, reference and source of who I try to be and do.

Saying then that religion is ‘just a choice’ completely misses the point. When I see, read or hear something that is an insult to my faith, it is also an insult to me, and I should be allowed to ‘bother others with it’. That is simply an element of human social conduct, and a tool that society uses to maintain cohesion: there are lines that must be drawn, otherwise society becomes a shapeless chaotic mass. Calling others out for their statements not only protects me from future insults, it also points others to the effects of what they’re saying.  And hopefully we can all learn from that.

The lyrics of the Green Day song, although making heavy use of religious imagery, are not an insult, but it’s easy to see how a superficial glance at the words may lead some to conclude otherwise.

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

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.