Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter XII

The Dutch Synod


The Remnant - 15 February 1980

Especially convened by the Pope because of the crisis of authority reached by the Church in Holland, the Synod of Dutch Bishops ended in Rome on January 31st, with a 22-page document definitely ruling out certain innovations in the Catholic Church in Holland, and leaving some of the more hotly contested issues to "further study."

Commissions were set up to probe conditions at Holland’s theological seminary education, and to examine the activities of "pastoral workers" - the unordained men and women who have taken over much of the work of priests in the Netherlands in recent years.

Pope John Paul II attended all the sessions and, in a major address emphasizing doctrinal positions, urged the bishops in effect to "lead, not follow, their people."

According to Religious News Service, some observers summed up the conference as " a blow to liberal movements in the 5.6 million-member Church in Holland, looked to by progressives around the world as a leader of post-conciliar reform." But whether the Synod outcome can be looked upon as a victory for conservatives depends in large measure upon whether rank-and-file Catholics in Holland will respond to these initial steps, all of which are merely committed to paper at this time, and whether the bishops will make good their pledge to cooperate with the Vatican.

Meanwhile and whatever the outcome will be, Synod document ruled out definitively any alternative to a celibate, all-male clergy. Though "pastoral workers" could continue their jobs, they cannot be considered a "parallel clergy," the document said. It outlawed what it termed a "third path" between priestly celibacy and marriage, referring to this as an "ambiguous state" which is not acceptable in any circumstances.

The 17-day special Synod was called by Pope John Paul II to bring order to the Church in Holland, wracked by internal conflict between various factions. In recent years, Holland’s bishops - two of whom are labelled conservative, four liberal, and one moderate - were often at loggerheads over issues ranging from ecumenism to birth control to priestly education.

The Dutch Church’s 276 lay "pastoral workers" were told in the document that they cannot replace priests or perform priestly functions. The conclusion reaffirmed Pope John Paul’s previous emphasis on the need for a clear distinction between the priesthood and the laity. "The building up of the Church community and the exercise of its mission are entrusted to the whole community," the Pope said on 31 January during a homily at the Synod’s closing Mass. "But...this responsibility is exercised according to the charism and the place of each person in the Body of Christ."

The 46-point Synod resolution condemned several commonplace, but unauthorized, practices of the Church in Holland. It specifically vetoed inter-communion between Catholics and Protestants, thus setting a precedent also for other countries to follow. The document stated: "Inter-communion with separated brothers is not the response to the appeal of Christ for perfect unity."

Individual private Confession, a Sacrament which has virtually disappeared in Holland to be replaced by group penitential services, was reaffirmed. Collective confession "is an extraordinary method," the document said, calling on the bishops "to restore in the faithful esteem for the [traditional] sacrament...especially in its form of personal colloquium."

The Synod, which included six top Vatican officials and other religious experts in addition to the Pope and the seven Dutch bishops, reaffirmed the obligation incumbent upon the faithful to attend Mass at least every Sunday and every holy day of obligation.

It also criticized both liberal and conservative Church critics, especially those groups which bring "too great a pressure in the Church."

The Synod reaffirmed the bishops' authority to appoint and dismiss professors in Catholic institutions in Holland, an important issue in light of the Vatican's recent decision to strip Fr. Hans Küng of his teaching post at Tübingen University. The bishops must exercise their duties "in matter of the nomination or dismissal of professors," the document said. It also said that the bishops should be careful to "safeguard the ecclesial atmosphere, notably on the point of celibacy."

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"Time alone will determine the outcome," are the concluding words of The Remnant report. While there can be no doubt that John Paul II convened the Dutch Synod with the very best of intentions, time has made it clear that the Liberal bishops returned to Holland and totally ignored the decisions of the Synod. Everything continued exactly as before along the path to doctrinal, liturgical and moral anarchy. It is no longer accurate to speak of the Catholic Church in Holland. Catholicism has virtually vanished from that unhappy country, with the exception of a few isolated priests and laymen who have remained orthodox, and the seminary of Rolduc opened by two conservative bishops, Gijsen and Simonis. In the years following the Synod the Pope has appointed other conservative bishops, but the Church in Holland has degenerated to such an extent that there is little that they can do to remedy the situation. This was made clear by the widespread hostility which marred the Pope's visit to Holland in 1986, hostility which erupted into violent demonstrations.


Chapter 11

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