Letter 16 published 20 May 2011


1966: The Second Vatican Council had just closed its doors. The Conference of Dutch Bishops produced a Nieuwe Katechismus, a "New Catechism," that elicited strong reactions in Rome. Indeed, the bishops of the Netherlands, under the inspiration of the most progressive theologians including the Flemish Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx, had not pulled any punches. No mention of the Virgin's Virginity or of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist; doubts about original sin and the existence of angels: these were some of the novelties this book contained. They would soon rub off on all the new catechisms of Europe.

Forty-five years after this exploit, the Church of Holland seems to have reached the end of its long modernist crisis. It has to be said that the situation is catastrophic. In December of 2009, Avvenire, the Italian Conference of Bishops' publication, published an article entitled "What Is Left of Christmas in Amsterdam?" Its author disclosed that "only 7% of Catholics attend Sunday Mass" and that, by the ends of the 1960s, the number of ordained priests was already plummeting. The diocese of Breda, for instance, celebrated only three ordinations during the 1970s as dozens of priests were leaving the priesthood. Yet up until the mid-twentieth century Holland was a fertile ground for Catholicism. It provided hundreds of missionaries, specifically many disciples of Saint Damian of Molokai such as Blessed Eustáquio Van Lieshout, whom Benedict XVI beatified in June 2006.

By taking on the role of "leader of an adventurous progressivism"*, the Dutch episcopate has brought the local Church to the brink of the abyss. Still, some few hesitant signs of renewal are beginning to crop up, particularly in liturgical matters. This is the subject of this letter.


As far as the ordinary liturgy is concerned, Holland presents an uneven situation. On the one hand abuses and scandals have not disappeared--think only of the orange "Mass" proposed by priest, a fan of the national soccer team during the most recent World Cup (see the video). On the other hand, the average quality of celebrations is "within the norm"; there even is a strong current in favor of celebrating the Paul VI Mass in Latin.

The traditional liturgy, for its part, is unfortunately at a standstill--from a statistical point of view, at any rate. Indeed the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum has not brought about a single new weekly Sunday celebration in the whole country. Just as in 2007,the Dutch only have two diocesan Sunday Masses: one in Amsterdam at Saint Agnes' Parish, which has been entrusted to the Fraternity of Saint Peter since 2006, and the other in Utrecht, in Saint Willibrord's church, but at an inconvenient time: 5:30pm.

Of the nineteen "extraordinary" Mass venues recorded in the kingdom, only ten offer a regular celebration in full accord with Rome. Two are weekly on Sundays, four are monthly on Sunday, and four are weekly on a weekday. Of the remaining nine Mass venues, one hosts only occasional celebrations, two are FSSPX apostolates, and the other six are home to a sedevacantist group whose abiding presence proves the suffering that Dutch Catholics have had to endure during the 1965-1975 decade.

Actually a gleam of hope and rebirth comes from the seminaries. Besides the Tiltenberg seminary of the Haarlem-Amsterdam diocese, the s'Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) seminary also proposes an initiation to the practice of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. At Sint Janscentrum (the s'Hertogenbosch seminary), whose rector seems favorably disposed towards the Motu proprio, German canonist Gero Weishaupt has been authorized to celebrate the extraordinary form thrice weekly and the seminarians are free to join him. Note, however, that according to the 2010 report of the Ecclesia Dei Delft association for the International Federation Una Voce, this rector's fidelity to the Holy Father's teachings have garnered him a lot of pressure aiming at preventing the contagion of the extraordinary form among the seminarians of the country's other dioceses.

Although one would still be hard pressed to speak of a Dutch renewal, Jack Oostveen, president of Ecclesia Dei Delft, makes an observation that is full of promise: since 2007, over thirty Dutch diocesan priests have learned to celebrate the extraordinary form. That's thirty out of 800 active diocesan priests, compared to only two parishes out of 1400 offering the extraordinary form every Sunday: a healthy margin for progress. This margin is all the stronger that, as in France, in Italy, or in the USA, more and more diocesan seminarians are contemplating living out their priestly life "in utroque usu."

A proof of this interest in the extraordinary form among future priests has just been given last Sunday April 10 with the first Summorum Pontificum Mass in Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Groning. It was offered by Father Weishaupt. In response to the request of a group of lay faithful, Bishop de Korte of Groning-Leeuwarden has just authorized the monthly celebration of the traditional liturgy there. The success of this first Mass--eighty faithful whereas the organizers expected only about thirty--was especially due, according to internet testimonies, to the involvement of many Tiltenberg and Sint Janscentrum students.

Another occasion is going to present itself to measure the new Dutch clergy's adhesion to the dispositions of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, during a liturgical seminar organized in the diocese of s'Hertogenbosch. Mr. Bunschoten, a seminarian and dynamic extraordinary form promoter at the Tiltenberg seminary, will receive help for this occasion from a priest of the Utrecht archdiocese and another of the s'Hertogenbosch archdiocese. He hopes that this event will allow for laying down the foundation of a lasting priestly friendship among priests and future priests who are attached to the extraordinary liturgy.


1) The Netherlands are the poster-boy for the ravages of modernism. They have yet to emerge from the spiritual desert in which they have become mired. Their bishops are powerless to straighten the course, confronted as they are with hierarchies--be they diocesan or parochial, ecclesiastical or lay--that are still drunk on ideology and secularism. Yet, in their words and even in their actions--for instance the National Liturgy Council's publication of the 1962 Missal already in October of 2007 (a still unthinkable initiative in a country such as France)--the Dutch prelates often make a show of great closeness to Benedict XVI's enterprise of reconciliation. Alas, no Dutch bishop, not even an auxiliary bishop, has yet celebrated or even publicly attended the extraordinary form since the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.
Jack Ostveen explains it by the prelates' fear of their modernist wing's reactions. This modernist wing, at one time represented by the "May 8th movement" born of a protest against John Paul II's visit in 1985, still has no trouble browbeating the bishops into doing its will. This was demonstrated during the "Orange" Mass, since the priest at fault, after having been removed by his bishop for a while, ended up being reinstated thanks to pressure on the part of the faithful--all of which the press obligingly reported. Note that the parishes finance the dioceses, and when a priest or parish council is unhappy, the first thing they do is to halt their payments to the diocese. . . .

2) The Dutch episcopate, which as Jack Ostveen puts it has been "taken hostage" by its progressive wing, refuses for the time being to consider that the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum may present an issue to this situation. Yet the dynamic Ecclesia Dei institutes could help to face the priest shortage (900 available for 1400 parishes), and the rediscovery of the traditional "lex orandi" would certainly encourage the renewal of the "lex credendi."
In this respect, the work accomplished by the two Fraternity of Saint Peter priests in Amsterdam, Fathers Knudsen and Komorowski, is exemplary. Within four years they filled their mission at Saint Agnes, the territorial parish where they gather 120 faithful on Sundays and twenty for daily Mass. Furthermore they also fill the secondary Mass locations they serve by turns. Above all, they also make themselves available to fulfill the requests of priests who wish to discover the 1962 Missal and its rubrics.
For the time being, of course, they have not yet had the joy of welcoming Bishop Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam, or any of his confreres, to Saint Agnes' church. And so for the confirmations on April 10 this year the celebrant was Bishop Kozon of Copenhagen. But the odds are good that the situation may change in the next few months. On September 17 of this year, for the fifth anniversary of the traditional liturgy's return to Saint Agnes, Fr. Knudsen invited Cardinal Burke, who will celebrate the Pontifical Mass. One may legitimately think that the arrival of Someone From Rome will incite some Dutch prelates finally to free themselves from the pressures that have paralyzed them thus far. Not to mention that on the same day Cardinal Burke will deliver a lecture titled "Summorum Pontificum and the Church According to Vatican II," at the request of the Dutch journal Catholica .
Let's hope that this visit will embolden Catholics and clergy in the Netherlands to live their faith in the rediscovery of the traditional liturgy's treasures.

(*) Expression used in L'Osservatore Romano, 28 Decembre 2009.