World News

The Netherlands: Apocalypse now?

Attacking the Pope? (CNS)

A cardinal invokes the End Times in a critique of the Vatican

In an article for the National Catholic Register last week, a cardinal offered a strikingly blunt assessment of the Vatican under Pope Francis. Rome’s refusal to rule on the German bishops’ new guidelines on Communion for Protestants was “completely incomprehensible”, he said. His conclusion had an apocalyptic tone. “Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture,” he wrote.

“I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” That article, which he quoted, describes “the Church’s ultimate trial”, in which false teachers offer “men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”

Who was the author of this breathtaking critique? Not one of the more famous critics of the current pontificate, such as Bishop Athanasius Schneider or Cardinal Raymond Burke, but Cardinal Willem Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht (pictured). This may surprise those who remember that the Dutch Church was in the vanguard of liberalism in the 1960s, but not those who have followed Cardinal Eijk’s ecclesiastical career.

The 64-year-old cardinal has long been hesitant about Pope Francis’s more spur-of-the-moment comments. But he has always tried to read and explain them in the context of Catholic teaching and tradition. In this, he takes a similar approach to the former prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller. He, too, has expressed disappointment at the result of the meeting with the German bishops in Rome. His comments predictably provoked a harsh reaction, particularly on social media.

There seems to be a consensus among his critics that the cardinal is cold and legalistic (this accusation dates back to his first episcopal appointment, as Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, in 1999). Many also accuse him of paying excessive attention to the Communion question when there are many other pressing issues.

There have been more substantial criticisms too. The Jesuit Fr Dries van den Akker described the cardinal’s article as “an open attack” on the Pope. He contrasted Eijk’s appeal for clarity with Pope Francis’s call for mercy and charity. The cardinal, he said, should have entered directly into dialogue with the Holy Father, rather than presenting his views in an American publication. (On the other hand, Fr van den Akker acknowledged that there was a place for clarity and regulations in faith).

Yet the cardinal has also received support. Members of the Dutch Latin Liturgy Society sang a song in his honour when he attended their annual plenary meeting. Henk Rijkers, former editor of the Katholiek Nieuwsblad, the sole Dutch Catholic weekly, has offered strong backing. In the Netherlands, Rijkers is something of an outlier. But he and Eijk clearly have a place in the debate. No one – not even the Pope – is automatically above criticism.