Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Catholic female 'pastor' Dorenda Gies in her garment designed to be worn during pastoral work in Catholic parishes in the Netherlands.

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Meet the female ‘pastors’ who dress and act like priests in Netherlands’ dying Catholic church

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
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Female 'pastor' Jeanine Heezemans, a pastoral worker in Catholic parishes in the Netherlands.
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Ria Mangnus and Alida van Veldhoven are presented as 'pastors' on a Catholic parish's website in the Netherlands.
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Female 'pastor' Jose Lange appears on the website of the Good Pastor Catholic parish in the Netherlands, speaking from the lectern, wearing a plain white alb with a triangular green scarf.
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Female 'pastor' Ria Mangnus in this 2010 photo taken in a Catholic parish in the Netherlands.
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Female 'pastor' Hilda van Schalkwijk-Trimp in a Catholic parish in the Netherlands.
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Female pastoral worker Carla Roetgering in a Catholic parish in the Netherlands. St. Paulusparochie / Facebook

November 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – While Synod Fathers in Rome recently called for “ministries” to be conferred on women in the Amazonian church, parishes in the Netherlands have already opened their doors to females addressed as “pastors” who perform many tasks traditionally carried out by priests. 

While these female pastoral workers dress and often act like priests in the running of Dutch parishes, they are really professional paid workers who have no ministerial functions and they are not ordained. However, in some places these women overstep their role, giving the impression that they are virtual priests, choosing to wear what looks like liturgical garments and being officially addressed as “Pastor.”

This is actually a play on words. In the Netherlands, this used to be the title used for Protestant preachers, with the accent on the first syllable, while Catholic priests were known as “Pastoor,” pronounced like “store” with the accent on the second syllable.

The confusion gets even worse because many ordained priests in Catholic parishes have chosen to be called “Pastor” rather than “Pastoor” since Vatican II in order to appear “closer” to the people.

Examples abound of female pastoral workers who are officially presented as “Pastor” and also called that way – such as Carla Roetgerink at St Paul's parish in Groenlo.

In one of the numerous villages that are linked to that parish, Rekken, another lady “pastor” wearing what looks like an alb and a triangular green stola blessed hunters’ dogs at the end of the St. Hubert celebration, as can be seen in this revealing video. It is true that the name of God and of his only Son are remarkable by their absence from the words of “benediction,” in which “Pastor” Mia Tankink wishes them happy hunting, a happy homecoming and above all the gift of “unity between man and beast.”

Whether the “celebration” was a Mass or not is not clear. Pastoral workers are not allowed to celebrate the sacraments but in the Netherlands, where religious practice on the part of a dwindling Catholic population is also on a downward slope, there are ever fewer priests and while many churches are being closed, others keep up a level of activity by organizing “celebrations” of the Word instead of the Eucharist. Such “celebrations” can be led by women in the more compliant parishes.

Wearing priest-like vestments is forbidden for women and unordained male pastoral workers – who also exist – under official church guidelines. Nor are they allowed to wear liturgical stoles. But the ample off-white robes sported by these female pastoral workers, who also wear variations on pseudo-diaconal triangular sashes in the traditional liturgical colors create an ambiguity that is omnipresent in the more progressive parishes.

One such near-priestly dress was designed by “Pastor” Dorenda Gies, who recently moved to St James the Greater in Dronrijp from another parish. After having studied theology, as pastoral workers are expected to, she married and started her career in a number of Dutch parishes – a job she shares with her husband who was also a pastoral worker.

Dorenda Gies recently told a local newspaper that she was free to create liturgical robes as she wished, provided that they were not priest’s garb. She designed a scarf or sash that looks like a cross between a priest’s stole and a deacon’s stole in Novus ordo vestments. She has a pseudo “stole” for each liturgical color, always embroidered with crosses in gold thread.

She explained that her design, visible here, was “somewhat monastic,” allowing for ample and “characterful” liturgical gestures. As a self-named “pastor” – it appears to be her official title in her new parish – Mrs. Gies, a paid worker, is present near the altar during Mass and she also accompanies funeral ceremonies in the absence of the actual priest.

You can get a glimpse of her speaking to the congregation in near-priestly robes in the video of her welcoming ceremony in Dronrijp at the 1hr 35 mn time mark.

Other examples of women dressing, acting and being presented almost on the same level as priests abound.

In a parish around Walcheren, Ria Mangnus, Alida van Veldhoven and Katrien van de Wiele second the local parish priest at the behest of Bishop Liesen of Breda. They are all presented as “Pastors” on the parish website.

Their male counterpart, Wiel Hacking, is remarkable in his own right. He runs a blog in which he presented the “pain” of a male homosexual pair who “married” civilly in 2014, months before one of the two men died of a grave illness. Their “pain” was the result of the fact that they could not be blessed in church, Hacking explained. Finally, a former chapel was chosen by the retired (Catholic) priest of the parish to offer Leo and Erik a blessing for their union.

The installation ceremony of pastoral worker Ria Mangnus in nearby Vlissingen in 2010 also deserves a mention. Four parishioners handed her ecclesial symbols: a candle, a paten, a “palm”-leaf and a bible. She was given an official mission by her local bishop, Mgr Van den Hende. While she was not ordained and received no ministry as is the rule for pastoral workers, the confusion in the faithful’s minds can easily be imagined when seeing someone who looks and acts like a priest being entrusted with a public pastoral role.

It is the more confusing that the Catholic church has always had consecrated virgins and that their religious habit sets them apart, be they cloistered contemplatives or members of charitable congregations who help, teach, nurse and heal their contemporaries. Pastoral workers, female or male, are clearly not religious. They certainly give the impression of being auxiliary priests who do everything but celebrate the sacraments.

Pastoral workers in the Netherlands are named by the Bishop and given a mission by him but they are linked to their parish by a work contract and appear in some measure as Church functionaries. They can give their notice and step down: this happened with Jeanine Heezemans at St. Peter Damian’s in Goes, who decided to leave on September 1, 2017 although Mrs Mangnus had been on sick leave and a place for a further “pastor” was vacant since the beginning of the year.

Another “pastor” is Myriam Oosting. Her garb is more discreet but she is still honored with the title “pastor” as can be seen here. The faithful of the Saint-Hildegard parish near Groningen who need to talk or organize a funeral are invited to contact one of the local “pastors,” and only to call the parish priest if they need to organize a christening.

Mrs. José Lange, who works in Emmen, in the North-East of the Netherlands, also has a degree in theology and appears on the website of the Good Pastor parish speaking from the lectern visibly within the church, wearing a plain white alb but also a triangular red scarf. As a local Catholic religious commented for LifeSite, “she also is spoken of as ‘pastor’, which is, in fact, an ideological term meant to resemble and then replace the term ‘pastoor’, title of the parish priest.”

Mrs. Hilda van Schalkwijk-Trimp is in a category of her own. She took leave of the Hildegard parish in Zuidhorn at the beginning of 2019. Together with female colleagues, this “pastor” made a public speech during her “good-bye” ceremony in which she underscored that her bishop, Mgr De Korte – even though he is known as a discreet progressive – did not “understand” why she had “problems with the teachings of the Church.”

She also complained about the evolution of her situation. Schalwijk-Trimp explained that when one of the first female pastoral workers was appointed in the diocese, 26 years ago the then bishop, Mgr Möller, wrote that the faithful would do better to go to their own parish on Sundays even if a female pastoral worker was leading the “ceremony of the word and communion” there rather than drive to a nearby village where they could have Mass. “How differently did that go under the bishops who came after him. They kept insisting that ‘the Eucharist is the source and summit of church life’.” She openly deplored that in later times, the priest would take care of catechesis for first Communion and confirmation.

During that same occasion, another pastoral worker, Corina, recalled how one of the first parish priests she had known as a child dreamed with her that one day they would stand at the altar together. “When you are big, Corina, it will be the most normal thing in the world, even in our Catholic Church,” he told her. “Unfortunately that was not to be and I don't think he will witness that during his lifetime,” she added. He was a member of the notorious Dutch “8-May movement” that organized a public protest of Catholic priests and lay people in 1985 against John-Paul II when he visited the Netherlands.

Schalwijk-Trimp was knighted in 2016 by the civil authorities in the Saint-Joseph church of Zuidhom for her work with asylum-seekers in the Netherlands. As a sign of the lack of public interest in a church with female pastoral workers attracts, the celebration was one of the last to take place in that church; the parish, due to a dearth of parishioners, merged with Hildegarde parish nearby.

On a personal note, I remember the funeral of an aunt in the Netherlands where a Mass was said by a priest who had a woman wearing an alb and is stole-like ornament standing next to him at the altar, even during the consecration. It is when she started saying the words of the consecration with him that I stepped outside, hoping to find a more Catholic atmosphere in the fresh spring air.

Is this what the future of the Church looks like? Some of the worst liturgical abuses in the world have taken place in the Netherlands since the modernization of the liturgy after Vatican II, but it is also in this country – which formerly was one onto the biggest purveyors of missionaries in the whole world – that a renewed episcopate appears to be opting for more traditional practice.

Bishop Mustaerts, auxiliary bishop of Den Bosch, recently told LifeSite, in substance, that the number of female pastoral workers is actually dwindling in the Netherlands because the finances of the Church are in a bad state and hiring them is expensive.

But clearly, some dioceses are continuing and even expanding this relatively recent innovation, refusing to make clear as to the precise role and status within the Church. The older variety of priests are still of the generation that can remember the “Pastoral council of the Dutch Church province” charged with implementing Vatican II through four-year long reunions in the former church center of Noordwijkerhout between 1966 and 1970.

Its intent was to use the “signs of the times” as a third source of revelation alongside holy Scripture and Tradition; it was in open revolt against the Pope, created agitation in favor of the abolition of priestly celibacy and against the prohibition of contraception in Humanae vitae.

It is that part of the clergy and faithful that is in practice dying out in the Netherlands, clinging to straws by paying workers, men and women alike, to look after the spiritual needs of the people. This is no success story.

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