Active Participation … for WHOM?

On the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, I read this:

Dutch bishops give Pope Francis a bleak picture of Catholic Church in decline

Dutch bishops visiting Rome this week have given Pope Francis a dramatic snapshot of the steep decline of Roman Catholicism in its European heartland.

Both Catholic and Protestant Christian ranks have shrunk dramatically across Europe in recent decades, and hundreds of churches have been sold off to be turned into apartments, shops, bars or warehouses.

In the Netherlands, churches have been closing at a rate of one or two a week. The bishops told the pope in Rome on Monday that about two-thirds of all Roman Catholic churches in the Netherlands would have to be shut or sold by 2025, and many parishes merged, because congregations and finances were “in a long-term shrinking process”.

Their five-yearly report blamed a “drastic secularization” of society, although a critical group of Dutch lay Catholics said the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, which has afflicted many Catholic dioceses around the world, had also driven many people away, as had the closures themselves.  [Could there be other reasons?]

The only bright spot for the Dutch church was the finding that the election of the popular Pope Francis in March appeared to have slowed the exodus this year.


Uh huh.  That’ll make a difference.

Here is a question.

Has anyone considered “active participation” in light of the fact that only about 5% of French or Belgian Catholics go to Mass?

Is that “active participation”?

A health centre unit is built inside a former Catholic church in Eindhoven that has been sold because of dramatic falls in levels of churchgoing in the Netherlands. Photo taken 20 March 2012/Tom Heneghan

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. sw85 says:

    B-b-but Father! Before Vatican II people just prayed the rosary at Mass cause they didn’t even know what was going on!!!

  2. O. Possum says:

    That picture at the end makes me feel physically ill. The words “abomination of desolation” come to mind. :(

  3. TimG says:

    I’ll second your feelings possum, I also feel physically ill over that pic. “Health centre” brings many images to mind, including abortions and euthanasia. In a Catholic Church! Jesus Wept.

  4. PA mom says:

    When things are this bad, there can be no excuses for not trying something new.
    Whether that something new is old (EF), or something really new (new ethnic parishes for current immigrants, new religious orders) it cannot be acceptable to keep doing the same thing.
    What are they doing about it?

  5. kpoterack says:

    “Their five-yearly report blamed a “drastic secularization” of society . . . ”

    Fair enough, but what is the best way to combat secularization? I hope that, if not these bishops, some bishops will make bold to tell Pope Francis what actually works in combatting secularism – liturgical tradition, the fullness of doctrine, strong Catholic identity, and a love of the Church which extends through time (and not just space.)

    When the Church sounds an uncertain trumpet, when Catholics are taught that they should be just like everyone else, when they are even taught to hate the Church’s past – this is poison.

    It doesn’t “work.” (Certainly not against secularism.)

    The culture war is real, whether churchmen want to fight it or not. But if they actually don their armor and mount their steeds, they might be surprised. Quite a few Catholics will follow them.

  6. Priam1184 says:

    Well then Dutch bishops: how many Christians did St. Peter start out with in Rome? Not many, probably could have counted them on one hand. And how did Rome become the center of the Christian world? Conversions. And how did the Church do that? I will let them read and find out for themselves, if they even care…

  7. anilwang says:

    Their five-yearly report blamed a “drastic secularization” of society, although a critical group of Dutch lay Catholics said the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests…. [Could there be other reasons?]

    I actually thinks this captures it quite nicely. The only thing that needs to be added is that that secularization included the Dutch Church in everything from it’s infamous “catechism”, approach to sexuality (which includes the Dutch priest culture), lay culture, and liturgy. If the Church is just a social club, then why bother? There are plenty of more entertaining clubs out there with far fewer requirements (you don’t have to go there every Sunday), and more possibility of advancement. Of course, the Dutch and Austrian bishops realize this, which is why they want to become even more secular and let the laity do everything a priest can do and make the mass more “relevant” and entertaining.

    That scheme simply doesn’t work, and makes the Church constantly try to keep up with culture rather than do what it has always done successfully…stay put and get people to come to it after they’re tired of the threadmill.

  8. AvantiBev says:

    The Dutch with their euthanasia, store front sex shops, corner drug cafes ala Starbucks on crack, and age of consent at 12 years old are SCANDALIZED by the homosexual ephebophile behavior of priests?! Really?

  9. Incaelo says:

    The current generation of Dutch bishops is slowly but surely learning to repair the damage done in decades past (and suffering for it in opinion polls, I might add). They are good man, but they need the time to learn. Following the ad limina visit (still ongoing this week), I can say that the signs are encouraging. Not only are the bishops at their most joyful and even relaxed that I’ve seen them in a long time, their awareness of the situation is very realistic, as Cardinal Eijk showed in the address to Pope Francis on Monday (, and they are certainly aware of the importance of evangelisation. But now it must be put into practice, not just by the bishops, but certainly also by the faithful.

    There is a strange dichotomy among Dutch faithful: on the one hand the idea of active participation amounts to “everyone has to do something”, but on the other hand many are content to wait for the bishops to act. Activity and passivity in one handy package…

    Yes, the bishops must lead by example, and we will have to wait and see if they’ll succeed after their return home. But the faithful must also learn and be open to being taught…

    The comparison with St. Peter and the early Church that Priam1184 made above is actually quite apt. Yesterday, Bishop Frans Wiertz of the Diocese of Roermond compared the situation in the Netherlands to that faced by St. Francis Xavier in the Asian mission territories:

    Essentialy, we, bishops and faithful alike, must go out and do what the faith asks of us.

  10. kpoterack says:


    May God be with you and all other good Dutch Catholics – laity and clergy!

  11. “The Church is not falling to pieces. It has never been better. This is a wonderful moment for the Church, you just need to look at its history. There are Saints that are recognised by non-Catholics as well as Catholics – I’m thinking of Mother Theresa – but many men and women perform acts of holiness every day and this gives us hope.”- Pope Francis, sourced from:

    What would really give me hope is if the Holy See woke up one day and decided that recognition of the disasters that have befallen the Latin Church in the last five decades is *the* foundational step to reversing them. That is the corner stone. You can’t solve a problem until you unhesitatingly admit of its existence, attempt to pinpoint the root causes, and then unapologetically renounce those root causes, no matter how sacrosanct they have become over the last fifty years. The longer Rome waits to follow that blueprint, the more danger there is of a future schism the likes of which has not been seen since the Protestant revolt, when the Magisterium definitively excludes most of the faux-Catholicisms that are floating about presently.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There’s no question that the Church is having serious troubles in Europe and the US. OTOH, the Church is growing dramatically in some areas that have historically been closed doors to us, like Africa and China. (And yeah, there’s a lot more souls in China than in Europe, so it’s a big deal.)
    So Pope Francis isn’t crazy.

    Of course, it’s pretty clear that priests from Africa and in China are often very holy folks who have a lot more understanding and love of God than a lot of priests elsewhere in the developed world, and they seem to have a clearer picture of things like martyrdom. (Which isn’t something they have for fun reasons, of course.)

    At this point, frankly, we have no idea whether Pope Francis has said anything like you’re wanting to hear; the translations are just that bad and we don’t get full text of fervorinos. At one point, the Spanish text of Evangelii Gaudium says something is more urgent than ever before, and the English text says it’s just as urgent as ever. Wha?

  13. Tamquam says:

    Their five-yearly report blamed a “drastic secularization” of society… Brilliant! Who would have guessed it?

    No connection, of course, to the drastic desacralization of the Church, her rites, her magisterium, her clergy, her religious and her sacraments. Of course not! I must be some kind of racist for even thinking that. Mea culpa. [/sarc]

    There is this bit of good news: strength is perfected in weakness, and we’ve got weakness.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Starting to read the comments, I paused to check Incaelo’s blog (which I did not yet catch up on!) and was about to commend it to any and every reader’s attention as having lots of detail in English translation – when I met Incaelo’s own comment.

    Incaelo, I wonder if you could say anything in this context about St. Willibrord’s in Utrecht, which is very close to being an all-Latin Church, with both EF and Latin OF ad orientem almost every Sunday, for example?

    How does it fit into the general picture? And are there other comparable Churches elsewhere in the Netherlands?

  15. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Having spent the last 12 months part of the time in London, part of the time in Belgium, London parishes look like an oasis of orthodoxy and vibrant, respectful liturgy compared to the absolute mess in Belgium…I don’t see any awareness of the source of the problems among most Belgian priests…

    Many young Belgian priests who have had the misfortune of being educated in Belgian seminaries, just parrot all the Spirit of VII waffle…only among the young Belgian monks and army chaplains have I seen some signs of hope…the others are so badly educated in the faith, that it’s better to have all Belgian seminaries closed and rebuild it all by missionary priests from Poland, Africa etc.

    I’ve met Belgian catholic priests who don’t believe in the consecration of the Holy Host, who only believe in a merciful God who is not almighty, so they tweak the words of Mass, who visit England and profess their love for Marx and anglicans, forgetting about the English catholics, who invite women to say part of the eucharistic prayers behind the altar, and its televised Mass was focussed on elaborate graceful gymnastics during Mass, more appropriate in a theatre play etc.

    I’m looking forward to the missionary priests from Poland, Africa etc. and orthodoxy among Belgian monks to rebuild it all from scratch, with God’s help…I really hope the Netherlands is one step ahead in that it all has been destroyed, and the re-building has started.

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Ambrose Jnr,

    Whew! I was trying to think how to ask if anyone could make an informative comparison with that other part of the historical ‘Low Countries’…

    Is your experience equally with Flemings (native Southern-Dutch speakers) and Walloons (native French speakers)?

  17. Ambrose Jnr says:

    This is a pertinent question, Venerator Sti Lot. My experience is more with Flemings than Walloons, however, some of the whackiest stuff came from Walloon clergy above a certain age…

    I must admit that I am having hope for the Walloon clergy trained at the seminary in Namur, when Msgr. Leonard was in charge over there…haven’t met them so far, so I can’t form an opinion about them…

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