- Battle lines drawn
This week produced the clearest evidence yet that the Synod Fathers are sharply divided between those who are supporting Pope Francis in his efforts to present a more pastoral vision of the Church and those determined first and foremost to emphasise its moral teaching
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About 1,000 Dutch Catholic churches – around two-thirds of the total in the country –will be shut by 2025, Cardinal Willem Eijk warned Pope Francis at an ad limina visit on Monday. The decline will occur as the Church reorganises its parishes under the pressure of “drastic secularisation” and dwindling congregations and collections.
A sober report by the Netherlands bishops’ conference said the Dutch Church was a shrinking “Church in reorganisation” that had to close many lesser-used buildings and merge parishes into larger units to deal with its diminishing resources. Last year, there were 1,593 Catholic churches in Holland, a 10 per cent decline from 2004. This trend is set to accelerate.
“We predict that a third of these Catholic churches in our country will be closed by 2020 and two-thirds by 2025,” said Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht and head of the bishops’ conference. “We hope to be able to maintain a number of churches that will be centres for communities of Christians with a living faith.”
The bishops delivered a report to the Vatican saying the percentage of Catholics in the Dutch population had dropped from 28.4 per cent to 24.1 per cent since 2004, the date of the last ad limina visit. Eijk told Vatican Radio that government estimates put the total at only 16 per cent, dropping to 10 per cent by 2020.
Regular Mass attendance has fallen from 7.8 per cent of all Catholics in 2004 to 5.6 per cent last year; baptisms are down from 17.8 per cent to 11 per cent of all births and church weddings have fallen from 9.1 per cent to 4 per cent of all weddings in the Netherlands. The number of working priests has dropped by a quarter in eight years – from 999 in 2004 to 743 last year.
The only bright spot in the Church statistics was a drop this year in the rate of people leaving the Church, probably because of the “Francis effect”. About 7,500 had left by late October, compared to 15,766 for all of 2012.