Bishop Zwartkruis of Haarlem is 'bishop of the most turbulent diocese in an ecclesiastically turbulent country — Holland. All his decisions are subjected to an analysis by the world's television and press. This week he visited Britain and talked to only one newspaper—the CATTt0Liw HI.RAI.DBelow we reproduce hts Interview with Kevin Mayhew.
Kevin Mayhew: Bishop Zwartkruis, do you feel that the British press has been fair to the Church of Holland, or are its reports ill-founded or exaggerated?
Bishop Zwartkruis: Newspapers are generally more interested in the sensational than the ordinary. and this applies to what goes on in the Catholic Church as much as to anything else. Something happens in the Amsterdam University Chaplaincy. and the press pounces. When I take hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims to Lourdes, there is not the same interest.
Douglas Brown's statement in the CATII0LIC HERAtri that Dutch people have stopped going to Lourdes, or hide the fact if they do, is simply untrue. All pilgrimages are fully hooked and the overall numbers have not fallen.
It causes a stir to hear that a priest wants to get married and to go on being a priest. but the press doesn't follow me round the diocese. Every Sunday I celebrate the Eucharist somewhere away from home, and, believe me, that's the way to see the living faith with no nonsense about it: just people believing in God, in the Eucharist and in the Sacraments.
There's no falling off at all, and our Mass attendance rate of 55 per cent is, I believe, one of the highest in Europe.
Certainly, there's more of a tendency these days to say that to stay away from church is not to stop being a Catholic, But the thought behind this is that being a Christian is not a condition confined to a single day in the week.
There are one or two other things arising from Mr. Brown's article. For instance. this story about the Amsterdam chaplains throwing away the sacred species. I still don't believe it, but, if it is true, it will be dealt with by the commission I've appointed to supervise the Amsterdam experiment.
Remember, too, that what's happening in the students' chaplaincy is an experiment and is not typical of the life of the Church in the country; this is especially true of the liturgy. But. of course, journalists from all over the world make a beeline for the Amsterdam Chaplaincy church, and then go off and write about Holland!
Kevin Mayhew: But what about Fr. Vrijburg. who Douglas Brown says is carrying on as an ordained chaplain in the university, although he's now getting married? Brown also says that you're defying Rome in organising a special cadre of priests, licensed to take bible services and look after souls, but not to celebrate Mass. Is this true?
Bishop Zwartkruis: The suggestion that I or any of my
colleagues in the Dutch Hierarchy have defied Rome is untrue and deeply resented. Nor is there any question of organising a body of "nonsacramental" priests. The position about Vrijburg is that he was a Jesuit but has now left the Order, as he must do if he wishes to abandon the celibate state.
If he preaches today, it is because he has been granted the permission which can he given to any suitable layman to preach — you may have preached yourself. As for what he preaches. the supervisory body is there to ensure that what is preached in the chaplaincy church is authentic doctrine. Equally, he does not take part as a priest in the celebration of the Eucharist.
There Is no question of the chaplains wanting to abolish the institutional Church. Why else do you suppose they take all the trouble they do to go on working within the Church and to come to terms with the bishop?
As for myself, I've told them plainly that the bishop must supervise what goes on. He's not just there to he informed. This must be right if you take Christ's view of the Church and the bishop's role within it.
So to talk about an illicit situation is sheer nonsense. You may argue, if you wish, about the desirability of allowing a man who is not allowed to exercise his priestly functions to get into a pulpit and preach. Here you get involved in a theological discussion about the various functions within the Church.
But quite a few laymen are allowed to preach in Holland. and there is no inherent reason why Vrijburg should be excluded. He has, by the way, applied to Rome for dispensation from the rule of celibacy.
Kevin Mayhew: What about a married priesthood?
Bishop Zwartkruis: The Dutch bishops and all Dutch Catholics believe in the high ideals of celibacy and we deeply regret that the debate about obligatory celibacy has obscured the splendour of the ideal.
For this reason we have asked the special commission appointed through the National Pastoral Council to study the functions of the priest — with a special sub-commission to study celibacy; because we think that we should put before young people the real splendour of it all, but in terms adapted to our times.
Fr. Schillebeeckx recently said in a television broadcast that celibacy should be a sign, an example, for our times when sex is over-stressed and the whole world of sex becomes almost mercantile. It is at such a moment that priests and young people are needed to demonstrate the ideal. You have a parallel in the Irish priest who puts the aim of total abstinence to his people, not because he thinks it is wrong to drink, but because he wants to inspire moderation in its use.
However, there may be situations in which the Church must at least consider the possibility of ordaining married men. The Cardinal in Indonesia was telling me the other day that it would he very useful in his part of the world to he able to ordain. say, the head of a village who, together with his wife, commands local respect. The same might be true, in our own industrial society, of factory workers. Why do we talk so much about priestworkers and not about workerpriests? I know people in my own circle who would be eminently suitable for this role.
We must fact the facts. Your paper has published details of the falling number of ordinations and The rising number of priests who are leaving the priesthood. In Holland we have commissioned a scientific investigation of the situation. We must have the facts on the table before we can decide what to do. Decisions, too, must he taken in discussion with the rest of the world episcopate — with the Pope at the centre of it all.
There might be a case for some sort of pluriformity in this matter. At the recent vocations conference at Lucerne I realised what great differences there are from one country to the next. A Yugoslav bishop told me he had no difficulty in finding boys to train for the priesthood: his trouble was finding the buildings to put them in. The idea of pluriformity, of course, has to he harmonised with the principle of collegiality, and this is not always easy.
All in all, I'm not pessimistic about what happens in Holland. At least there's no indifferentism. Everyone wants to be engaged in diocesan and pastoral councils, and it is.quite untrue that the councils are extremist.
The ordinary layman
. Kevin Mayhew: We've talked about extremes. What about the ordinary layman in Holland; what is he like?
Bishop Zwartkruis: This is not easy to answer. There is a certain amount of bewilderment about what's happening in the Church. Old people often write to me about this, and I try to reply to every one. I must have had a thousand letters about Fr. Vrijburg. But the striking thing is that, in spite of it all, people go on believing in the Church.
Then. too, there arc extremistt on both sides: some people, for instance, thought the pastoral councils were schismatic. But the thing that really does worry people is the approach of some of the modern preachers.
My only worry in this respect is that some priests may he a little rash in putting before the ordinary faithful the views of one particular theologian, and they do not always present it properly.
This causes confusion and the people come away imagining that the preacher doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ, for example, whereas the truth is that he does: but he may be putting it in ways that give cause for wonder.
I want my priests to put the great doctrines of the Church before the people clearly: to make it plain that we believe in Christ's divinity. in His resurrection from the dead, and that He is alive in the hereafter we are all looking forward to.
That is not to say that we should not try to give new breadth and depth to traditional doctrines. They are. after all, mysteries and as such can be explained in various ways. The Church has always had its different schools of theology, and we have them now.
A drop in
Kevin Mayhew: Are confessions falling off?
Bishop Zwartkruis: Yes, they are. But this is because people are coming to see that sin is a condition, a state of life, rather than a list of little happenings. There is also a whole new approach to the concept of humanity. to the significance of the body as well as the soul.
So we are forming a new approach to sexuality and beginning to discover that not all the sins against the sixth commandment are as serious as we thought they were. Confession has centred far too much on the sixth commandment in the past.
That's why i attach great importance to these services of penance. and I must say that people flock to them. The advantage is that they teach the people what sin really is, and that there arc all sorts of sins over and beyond unchastity.
The faithful are made aware of serious sins against charity and justice which they may not have thought about before, and this comes out in the services of penance where everyone makes the examination of conscience together. No sacramental absolution is given, so the participants know they must still go to confession to be absolved from serious offences.
The hope is that the rule of giving general absolution, which the Church has always allowed for cases of emergency, may be extended in the future to the whole life of the Church. This matter is being studied by the Post-Conciliar Commission on the Liturgy.
Kevin Mayhew: How would you compare the Church in Holland today with what it was ten years ago? Is it stronger, holier, more alive, or not?
Bishop Zwartkruis: Thank God. Catholics are coming to see that religion must be allpervasive. But there is a danger of coming to think that God can only be encountered in .Man.
We could not, of course, have understood God unless He had become incarnate; and in doing this He gave an incarnation to the whole of our humanity. But. while this "horizontal" approach to God is right in itself, we must not forget the "vertical" approach: the personal contact with God.
'there is plenty of nicht in the process we call secularisation. But we mustn't create a secularist society, and thus lose the vertical line to God. The tragedy of the Reformation was to separate the vertical and the horizontal, when in truth they should interact. It is this separation which has led us to feel that the Church is becoming old. or living for a future irrelevant to the present. She is not, and must not.
Another problem of interaction arises in the ethical field. Micro-ethics and macro-ethics ought to complement each other. Instead the macro-ethics aspect tends to take over. So the current. very proper, concern for developing countries can lead, quite wrongly, to a total disregard of the needs of the man next door.
In the middle of it all
Kevin Mayhew: Bishop Harris of Liverpool has said that it would he a confidence trick to say that the present turmoil in the Church will settle down. because life in the Church is a constant upheaval, a constant work of renewal. As bishop of the diocese most famous in its tendency to turmoil, would you like it to settledown. or do you enjoy being in the middle of it?
Bishop Zwartkruis: Well, I could do with some peace of mind, of course, but I realise that Christ didn't come to bring peace and quiet. There will always be the struggle to get Christianity in its right focus, and the bishop must hear that burden. I knew what I was in for when I became a bishop.
I am very grateful for Douglas Brown's suggestion that all should pray for the Dutch bishops — provided it is not being suggested that we are a lot of heretics in need of salvation from ourselves. We need your prayers because of the extreme difficulty of the decisions we have to take.
Take the case of the Protestant Minister celebrating the Eucharist in the chaplaincy hall in Utrecht. We had a special meeting about that and we all came to the conclusion that this was not permissible, and we have said so clearly.
Although the Minister is totally sincere, and thinks he is doing the same thing that the Catholic Priest is doing, his act is lacking in collegiality with his own Church, the Dutch Reformed Church. If there is to be inier-communion. it can only be achieved by the two Churches acting together.
What 'Rome thinks
Kevin Mayhew: What does Rome really think about the Church in Holland?
Bishop Zwartkruis: I think Pope Paul trusts the Dutch bishops, and he has said so several times. His speeches on the development of doctrine do reveal a certain general fear about the life of the Church as a whole — though there again he's often misrepresented; press reports do not do justice to his insistence that we should go on thinking and trying to explain the faith in modern terminology.
He was once reported as having forbidden the joint use of churches by Catholics and Protestants in England. He had done nothing of the kind. He leaves that sort of thing to local hierarchies. which is what we are always asking for.
I think that he is, perhaps, a little too pessimistic about some things. After all, the Pope above all must have faith in the Holy Spirit's action within the Church, But it is quite unfair to subject everything he says and does to that interpretation, and we have a duty to take this tendency to misrepresent him fully into account before passing judgments.