Church in Netherlands Is Edging Back
Interview With Ed Arons, Catholic Editor
HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands, DEC. 5, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Church in the Netherlands is rediscovering the faith, not with great numbers but with great commitment, contends a Catholic editor.
Ed Arons, 58, editor in chief of the weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad, shared his views on the state of Dutch Catholics in this interview.
Q: The Netherlands has been an impressive Church in terms of missionaries, religious orders and vivacity of the Church. What is the position of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands today?
Arons: Since that very positive period, the Church in the Netherlands has gone through a very sad period of time. The cause? In the days of our missionary endeavors, being a Catholic was so easy that, as a matter of fact, we failed to pass on the faith in a personal and committed way.
When Karol Wojtyla, later John Paul II, visited the Netherlands in 1948, he already saw the shallowness of the faith and prophetically foresaw a decline.
In the years during and after the Second Vatican Council, based on a false understanding, many theologians and priests opted for a secular religion, for a social gospel -- it's the only thing left once a personal faith in a personal God no longer exists, I think.
Many lay people followed their leaders, lacking the means to discern what was going on. The majority of that generation is still lost for the Church and has influenced their children in a negative way, keeping them away from God's riches in the Church.
Only recently a new generation, no longer governed by prejudice, is discovering the faith, for example, during the World Youth Days. Not in great numbers, but they are committed. Positive, too, is that after a period of wavering bishops, most dioceses again dare to follow a direction that is wholeheartedly in line with the Church of Rome.
A growing number of Catholic families, often with the support of new ecclesial movements like the Focolarini and Charismatic Renewal, offer an environment of faith to their children. While numbers of Church participation are still dwindling, a new core of Church-life emerges that has a future.
Q: Is Dutch society nonbelieving?
Arons: Dutch society has for many years been very critical of the Catholic Church. Many of its values have been actively attacked and changed, even to the level of very liberal laws. But here, too, there is a change within the generation that has no knowledge of the Church.
There is a growing unprejudiced interest in authentic spiritual life, as many realize the emptiness of a purely materialistic life. Even within the media this change is noticeable, for example, at the death of our late great Pope John Paul II. It is a pity that our Church still lacks the people and the means to really meet this challenge.
Q: Is it possible for the Catholic Church to raise its voice in the political discussion, for instance, on themes of bioethics or immigration?
Arons: Apart from a few positive exceptions, the voice of the Church on important moral issues is hardly heard, as it is usually limited to a press statement or a pastoral letter.
Our prime minister is an active Protestant Christian and the Dutch Christian Democratic Party is, again, the largest party in Parliament. Sad to say, the coalitions it is forced to join in order to come to a majority, do not allow for major changes.
Q: You are the editor of a Catholic newspaper. Does your paper reach non-Catholics as well?
Arons: We cater to Catholics, but also aim to be a Catholic voice within the media. Other journalists know where to find us, mainly through our Web site, www.katholieknieuwsblad.nl.
Q: How is the ecumenical and interfaith dialogue encouraged by the Pope?
Arons: Only recently there have been encounters and efforts to collaborate between orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants, who see each other as allies in a secular society.
Interreligious dialogue is marginal, both on a formal level and on a personal one, for example, in the Focolare Movement. It has little effect in a climate of growing hostility toward Muslims.
Conclusion: the Dutch Church is on its way back from a tragic detour. It takes time to get ready again to fulfill its role that is greatly needed in our society. But God is moving, and we have come a long way already.