WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — When Catholics compare their cardinal’s actions to those of Islamic State militants, it is hard to dialogue with them, said a spokesman for a Dutch archdiocese.
Bezield Verband Utrecht (Animated Connection Utrecht), or BVU, collected 12,000 signatures on a petition to Pope Francis urging Cardinal Willem Eijk, president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, to prevent the mass closure of churches in the central province. They said he was “destroying church communities.”
Roland Enthoven, spokesman for the Utrecht Diocese, told Catholic News Service April 21: “They have their agenda and they’re clearly not on the same page when it comes to church teachings.
“They’ve accused the cardinal of doing to the same to church life as Islamic State is doing to Christians in the Middle East. This makes it hard to engage in dialogue.”
Enthoven said plummeting church attendance had made current churches and parishes unsustainable, but added that Cardinal Eijk had merely warned of the need for cutbacks, rather than making decisions himself.
“Although we still have 4 million Catholics in the Netherlands on paper, church attendance is now very low, and if trends continue, there’ll be only a few elderly people at Mass on Sundays,” Enthoven told CNS.
“This is why we’ve issued this wake-up call; and while we don’t think enough people will wake up to keep all our diocese’s present churches open, we hope they’ll at least realize there’s a cost to being a church community both in money and in voluntary work.”
In its petition to the pope, Bezield Verband Utrecht said “catastrophic consequences” would follow if Cardinal Eijk “forced the closure of churches while simultaneously prohibiting believers from maintaining regular celebrations in their towns and villages.”
“You have repeatedly warned of the dangers of denying parishes a life of their own and engulfing and destroying them with an overarching structure,” the group told Pope Francis.
“The salvation of large numbers is at stake, and we ask you to help us avert this calamity.”
Around 16 percent of the more than 16 million inhabitants of the Netherlands belong to the Catholic Church, according to 2010 National Statistics Office figures. Participation has declined sharply in the country, which was Europe’s first to legalize brothels, marijuana, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.
In a December 2013 Vatican Radio interview during the Dutch bishops’ “ad limina” visit to Rome, Cardinal Eijk said only 5 percent of Catholics attended Mass, compared to 90 percent in the 1950s.
He added that Islam was officially forecast to become the country’s second-largest religion by 2020 and said his church was forced to downsize to stave off “near-collapse.”
Last November, in a letter to parishes, the cardinal said the Utrecht Archdiocese’s 326 Catholic parishes would be “melted down” into 48 larger territorial units, each with a single church as “eucharistic center.” He warned that “old church structures” would not exist by the time he retired in 2028.
“In my ‘ad limina’ speech to the Holy Father, I voiced the expectation that by 2020 one-third, and by 2025 two-thirds, of our churches would be withdrawn from divine worship,” Cardinal Eijk told Dutch Catholics.
“The pope was shocked, but repeated that we should move forward and not surrender to nostalgia for a past which will never reappear.”