Pope John Paul's visit to Holland next month looks likely to bring into the open the serious tension between the Vatican and Dutch Catholics. Fr John Wijngaards of Housetop continues his analysis of the situation
LAST WEEK we discussed the item Rome considers most upsetting in the Dutch Church: the prominent position given by it to the laity. This time we will focus on Holland's most serious misgiving, namely the inappropriate appointment of bishops.
Calling into question the Vatican's wisdom in its selection of episcopal candidates is not something I would easily contemplate. First of all, questioning the decision of the referee is not done. Secondly, from my own observations in many countries, I firmly believe there are distinct advantages in an outside, overall authority rounding off a process of consultation by making a definitive choice. Thirdly, Rome has a pretty good record, judging by the many excellent men who have been made bishops in the past.
But the Church in Holland contends — and rightly so, I believe — that it has reason to feel aggrieved and concerned. It all began in 1972 when John Gijsen was appointed as Bishop of Roermond. The appointment came as a shock and a surprise because the candidate was known to be a Roman informer and a sworn adversary of the conciliar reforms which the Church, under the guidance of its hierarchy, had been trying to implement.
Bishop Gijsen lived up to his reputation. He sacked all previous diocesan officials, pulled out of the national catechetical programme, out of the Dutch equivalent of the APF and Cafod, and other national planning' bodies. With him polarisation within the Dutch Church had become an incurable disease, sanctioned as it now was by the highest authority. As Cardinal Alfrink sadly but astutely observed at the time, bishops should be appointed as bridge makers, as people above parties, not as opponents.
However, Rome thought differently. As far as one can judge from the available data most of the bishops appointed since 1970 have been chosen "to stem the tide", "to reverse the trend", in other words: as opponents. The most blatant examples in recent years have been the appointment of Bishop Henry Bomers to Haarlem and Bishop Jan ter Schure to s' Hertogenbosch.
Bishop Bomers was working as a missionary in Ethiopia and people naturally asked: "Why fetch a man from Ethiopia to Holland? What about the 'candidates that emerged from the consultations held in the diocese? Was there not one competent and worthy priest in the whole diocese who could have been the bishop? Why bring in someone with no experience of the specific Dutch situation? Why appoint someone who opposes what we have been working for so far? If they treat us like this, how can we still believe it is our Church?"
The answer is obvious. Rome wants to be sure of the one main characteristic: the man's orthodoxy interpreted • in Vatican terms. This means orthodoxy in the sense of disagreement with the vision of the Church and the pastoral strategies followed so far. Bishop Jan ter Schure who is known to be a hardliner like Bishop Gijsen, whose auxiliary he was, is obviously expected to overthrow the policies so painstakingly worked out by Bishop Bluyssen, his more liberal predecessor. After hardly three months the diocese has already split, with all deans protesting to Rome, with many lay people publicly withdrawing from Catholic organisations and with the Abbot of Heeswijk announcing support and shelter to priests who clash with the new bishop!
All this is very sad, indeed, and it will explain the frustration and anger of many well-meaning Catholics. On the one side they are sick of polarisation and know that inner-Church conflict does spiritual damage to Christians on the periphery. On the other side they find spiritual leaders forced upon them who do not understand their ideals with whom they cannot work.
They realise that ultimately the Pope himself is responsible for the impasse they find themselves in. They will acknowledge his good intentions. For part of the breakdown of good relations they will blame the alarmists and informers who channel inaccurate assessments to Rome. But they cannot but realise that the Pope himself lays down the policy. It is he who gives them opponents as leaders. His visit to Holland may well be interpreted by many as a countersign, the patronising gesture of a dominant parent.
The Pope, to be sure, has a great vision of reaffirming traditional spiritual values in our present-day world. In his laudable determination to revitalise the Church of Europe he may have decided to enlist the support of traditionalist groups. Could it be that other vital new impulses escape his attention? That the advice he receives is biased, the information filtered?
Could he, unintentionally, be inflicting grave wounds on the Church of Europe by depriving it of the leaders it may need, most: courageous spiritual persons who are open to the signs of the times and who want to implement the vision of Vatican II? Are we witnessing Abraham sacrificing Isaac?