The bishops respond to the Solidaridad bust-up

Following  the media bust-up by charity Solidaridad – who ended their cooperation with the bishop’s conference (giving a fabricated story as a reason) and then sent a letter to all parishes encouraging them to do the same – the bishops have sent a letter to all parish councils explaining what really happened. 

They are obviously not feeling particularly charitable towards Solidaridad, and rightly so: Solidaridad’s actions were very much out of bounds, and ignorant to boot. 

Anyway, below is the letter as drafted on the authority of Bishop Punt on behalf of all the bishops. 


Dear council, 

Last week you received a letter from Solidaridad. This has led to indignation, not just with the bishops but with many in the missions. More about that later. First I want to inform you, admittedly prematurely – the discussion is ongoing – about the state of business. From the media alone you can impossibly form a good picture. 

Changes in the missionary field 

For a significant amount of time the missionary field in the Catholic Church has been changing a lot. In the past decades various missionary organisations have gone through important developments: increase in scale, mergers and a greater government participation. This often also led to statutory changes of adaptations of goals, blurring the specific religious identity. By cooperating with new partners church funds now represent but a small part of the total budget of large missionary organisations. In itself this development is understandable. But the missionairy visibility of the Church ahs become somewhat threatened because of it. To protect this and to reformulate the relations with the Church, Msgr. Dr. J. Punt, as referent for Mission and Development, has entered into discussions with a number of missionairy organisations on the following criteria: 

1) Transparency. 

By including Church missionary actions into larger aid and development organisation, many parishes experience their own missionary actions as not transparent enough. In dialogue with the implementing partners, the bishops strive to offer the faithful openness and transparency on projects, the spending of funds, overhead costs and the goals achieved. 

2) Churches help churches. 

This means that we want to use as much as possible our own channels for aid. The Church after all has a unique global network with very short lines through missionaries, dioceses, congregations, Church institutes, partner parishes, etc., making adequate and fast aid possible. Many parishes are already using this to the full. It is about allowing churches in the south to state their own priorities, help the poor themselves and fulfill needs, instead of us deciding it for them. This way of working prevent organisation dictating what the people need from western paternalism or ideology. Churches in developing countries continuously identify projects, not just in church development, but especially in education, health care, agriculture, etc. 

4) Input. 

This is about the question of how to realise these principles in new agreements and a new structure. It after all is about the efforts of faithful and parishes and the funds that have been collected in and by the churches. The new structure includes the establishment of an ‘Episcopal Commission for Mission and Development Cooperation’. This will have the task of guaranteeing a balanced campaign or project lost. It will do in close dialogue with the implementing organisations, but will keep the final say in the matter. Where else would that lie? Where is the logic in Solidaridad’s desire for the board of an independent aid organisation to have full say in how to spend church funds? 

In good consultation 

missionary organisations will surely recognise the principles above. The dialogue about this 0 which is still ongoing – has always taken place in a constructive atmosphere. Solidaridad too understood the need for renewal. For themselves, however, they envisioned a different future and broadening of their identity and they took concrete steps to that end. On 11 November 2009 the board of Solidaridad requested the bishops per letter to be allowed to drop to final regulations that still tied them to the Catholic Church. They also added that the Protestant Church in the Netherlands had already ended their ties with Solidaridad. The letter from the board describes this as a win-win situation: “From our side the return of the mandate of implementing organisation for the Advent Action, and from your side the release of a statement of no objection for passing the new statutes. In our opinion creating a mutual space is the best approach.” It is their clear wish to continue as an independent, not-ecclesiastic organisation. The Church would get the space to give a new missionary structure to the Advent Action. 

Solidaridad quits 

After the bishops had agreed to this proposal, the roles are suddenly reversed in a dramatic press release from Solidaridad on 10 February. Solidaridad suddenly attacks the bishops with allegations and suggestions. The purpose seems clear: One the one hand, Solidaridad wants to completely separate from the bishops and on the other hand they want to take the parishes with them to keep receiving money from them and the faithful. To the bishops this is obviously unacceptable. The commentary in the Trouw newspaper was equally surprised: “It is peculiar that Solidaridad urges the parishes to be disobedient and ignore the new Advent Action of the bishops. For clarity’s sake, let this means of collection go.” 

We will trust in your own wisdom to inform your parishioners in due time about the disappearance of Solidaridad from the collection schedule, without burdening them needlessly with details. As soon as there is news about the new content of the Advent Action we will inform you. 

Wishing you a fruitful Lent,

With Regards,

On behalf of the bishops of the Netherlands,


Drs. G.H.A. Kruis, secretary general a.i. 


The other side of the coin

In a rather surprisingly rapid move, the bishop’s conference have issued a response to the press release of Solidaridad regarding their spat. The press release has appeared on the websites of a number of Dutch dioceses and comes from the pen of Msgr. Jos Punt, bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam and referent for Mission & Development corrects the incorrect and incomplete story from Solidaridad. An excerpt (emphases mine):

Solidarid has been going through a period of ‘generalisation’ for a while now, and has expanded her originally Christian identity. For that reason the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has already statutory distanced herself  from Solidaridad. Solidaridad recently also requested the Dutch bishops’ conference to be allowed to drop the last conditions that still bind her to the Catholic Church. Msgr. Punt, bishop referent for Mission & Development has replied to that by saying that, if Solidaridad keeps managing the Advent charity project, there are two possibilities: either they relinquish the statutory changes and reinforce their identity, or they continue as an ‘implementing organisation’ and accepts that the final responsibility moves to a to-be-established ‘Episcopal Committee for Mission and Development’ (ECMD).
Msgr. Punt: “In service to the parishes and the faithful the bishops must obviously set these conditions to fulfill their duties of supervision and to guarantee total transparency about the utilisation of funds collected by the Advent charity. But Solidaridad chose to continue her development completely separate from the churches. The bishops respect this choice and will find a new realisation for the Advent charity.”
The 10 February press release by Solidaridad, and also their letter to the parishes, incorrectly puts ‘churches help the poor’ opposite the episcopal standpoint of ‘churches help churches’. Of course this means that ecclesiastic channels will be used for charity as much as possible. Goal is the make it possible for the churches in the south to set their own priorities in the care for the poor and their diaconate mission, instead of us deciding it for them. Many parishes already have good experiences with that and sometimes also suggest projects themselves. The Catholic Church has, after all, a unique worldwide network with very short lines – through missionaries, dioceses, congregations, partner parishes, etc. – which makes fast, cheap and reliable relief possible.
There is constructive dialogue with the other missionary organisations to reach good new agreements and procedures. Solidaridad’s public ‘slip-up’, because of premature and one-sided publicity, did cross the scheduled and careful supply of information to the faithful and parishes. More information will follow when the new structure is ready, in cooperation with the missionary organisations.
So, in essence, what Solidaridad wants is basically what the bishops also want: to allow local people to decide what the funds will be used for. But by dragging unrelated issues into it, Solidaridad presented the disagreement as one caused by the bishops, while it was the change in direction from Solidaridad that led the bishops to set terms for continued cooperation. It’s a bit sad, actually, and something that a little more care and objectivity could well have prevented.

Solidaridad, but not with the Church

A sad example today of the Church being blamed for adhering to her identity. Dutch charity Solidaridad, which works primarily for the poor in South America, has broken of all contacts with the Dutch bishops’ conference after the latter requested that their financial aid be used for goals which are in agreement with the faith. To that end, they requested more influence in how their money is used.

Press chief Wim Peeters, speaking on behalf of the bishops’ conference, said that Solidaridad was presented with two options: Have a closer bond with the Church, or become a general charity with collection slots on the roster just like other charities, for those goals that are in agreement with the Church’s teachings. Solidaridad initially chose the latter, according to Peeters. “It now seems that Solidaridad chose a third option. They don’t want any further contact with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Solidaridad director Nico Roozen regrets the increased adherence from the bishops to Catholic teaching: “The Church’s morality creates major problems in areas such as combatting HIV and suitable population politics. High Church opinions on the position of women in church and society and on homosexuality are limiting factors for emancipation. A certain matter of allowing now seems to be history. All the rules are once more strongly enforced.”

Well, that’s the standard complaint which goes far beyond a charity’s prerogative. The debate on women and homosexuality, for example, does not in any way limit charity towards them, as anyone who takes a proper objective look at the Church’s position will readily see. What I regret is the misunderstanding that the local Church (in this case in the Netherlands) must be separate from the ‘high Church’ in Rome. They are very much not separate, but one body. Perhaps it is about time that that ‘certain matter of allowing’ be ended, if it is in disagreement with what the Church actually believes and teaches. In Rome, Amsterdam or an Andean mountain village, the Church is the Church is the Church. Faith and teaching do not vary per region.

And as for Roozen’s comment about emancipation: well, what is Solidaridad? An emancipator or a charity? If the latter, I am certain that the Church will happily aid them where she can, as becomes clear from Peeters’ statement above. What the Church can not do, however, is fund charities which go against her own beliefs.

It’s just sad that it seems to come down to mudslinging and accusations of hunger for power whenever the Church dares stand up for her own identity.