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Cardinal Eijk: The Church must investigate Viganò testimonies to regain credibility

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

ROME, December 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) —  A prominent cardinal is joining a chorus of bishops in calling for a full investigation into the Archbishop Viganò testimonies, which implicated several senior prelates and Pope Francis in the cover-up of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of priests and seminarians.

In a Dec. 13 interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale, Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, says “it is clear” that the allegations contained in the Viganò testimonies “should be thoroughly examined,” adding that “many bishops” have asked for such an investigation.

“It has to be fully clarified if the Church wants her credibility back,” he said.

In the wide-ranging interview (see full text below), the Dutch Cardinal also discusses the importance of persevering in Catholic doctrine amid pressures to adopt a more Protestant-Anglican model. “The strength of the Catholic Church,” Eijk says, “is that her doctrine is valid for the whole world. Dialogue with the Protestants must not lead the Catholic Church herself to become Protestant.”

Eijk, 65, also offers his view on the inclusion of the “LGBT” acronym in the recent Youth Synod’s working document, and his thoughts on the expected move to ordain married men in the Latin Church with next year’s Amazonian Synod.

“To allow [married priests] temporarily is not a solution,” he insists. “Once it is decided, it becomes irrevocable,” and “with this, priestly celibacy, a splendid and fruitful centuries-old tradition of the Latin Church, would be lost.”

Cardinal Eijk, who issued a forceful commentary after Pope Francis failed to reject a draft proposal by the German Bishops’ Conference allowing Protestants in certain cases access to Holy Communion, also says in the interview that he “would like the bearer of the Petrine ministry, who is the principle of the unity of the Christian faith, to provide clarity” on the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics being granted access to the Blessed Sacrament.

Created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, Eijk is also a medical doctor and expert in medical ethics. He wrote one of his doctoral dissertations on euthanasia, and another on the ethical problems of genetic engineering of human beings. In 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and a member of its governing council in 2005. Under Pope Benedict, Eijk also served on the Vatican’s Congregations for Clergy and Catholic Education.

In the Dec. 13 interview Eijk also turns to politics, discussing the influx of migrants into Europe, and the rise of “nationalism” and “populism.”  

The cardinal argues that while nationalism must never be used as a “shield to keep others out,” governments are “not obliged” to grant residence “to economic migrants.” He also notes that migrants, for their part, “have obligations towards the common good of the country where they are seeking refuge,” and must especially respect “the inviolability of the human person.”

Here below is a LifeSite translation of the full interview with Cardinal Eijk.

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Cardinal Eijk, what is the state of health of Catholicism in northern Europe? We know that the Church is experiencing a difficult situation...

The Catholic Church is shrinking throughout northern Europe. The Netherlands has the questionable honor of being the leader in this phenomenon: we were the first country where the shrinkage began. In the meantime, there is a decrease in the number of faithful throughout northern Europe. Especially in Germany where decline is rapid … but I know that even in countries like Spain and Italy the shrinkage is a phenomenon that’s being felt.

What is the reason for this?

The main cause is the individualism that characterizes modern Western society. Because of the increase in prosperity, people have become independent. One can still see the difficulty families have in passing on the faith, in a context where it’s increasingly pushed out the door. In social life, the Christian religion is no longer present and is viewed with scarcely hidden or even manifest hostility. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, we are in a phase in which parishes are merging and many churches are no longer being used for worship.

Cardinal, you have spoken about “individualism” but are there also other causes?

The cause is the lack of active faithful who participate in Church celebrations and support the church as volunteers and/or with their financial contributions. In Holland there are no church taxes. The Church in Holland survives on the basis of voluntary contributions from the faithful. This makes the Church poor, but also free from the State, which I consider a great advantage, one that surpasses the disadvantage of poverty.

There are, however, also clear places of hope, where strength is gathered and faith is lived in an authentic way through good liturgy, catechesis and activities for the various groups. The archdiocese also forms volunteers with this objective in mind. It has given rise to formation for future permanent deacons, catechists and deacons’ assistants. Currently there are lay pastoral workers, who had university-level theological training and earned an academic salary, but their number has been reduced by more than half in the eleven years since I became archbishop of Utrecht, and the number will become very low in the years that still remain to me as archbishop of Utrecht.

Cardinal Eijk, how do you think the picture will evolve?

The future collaborators of the priests in parishes will mainly be permanent deacons, catechists and volunteer deacons’ assistants. The churches that remain will be centers for large regional parishes. However, although the quantity [of parishes] is decreasing, their quality is increasing. This is the other aspect of the situation: we are becoming more and more a Church of choice, where people truly want to achieve something from the faith. And we mustn’t forget that the Church historically has known other ups and downs, and that ultimately we are in the hands of God.

Intercommunion, the blessing of homosexual couples, so-called (but only presumed) “ecumenical celebrations.” Cardinal, is the dialogue with Protestants making the Catholic Church increasingly similar to the Protestant church?

It is important that we persevere in the doctrine of the Church, which has been transmitted to us. It would be wrong if we chose a more Protestant-Anglican model. The strength of the Catholic Church is, in fact, that her doctrine is valid for the whole world. Dialogue with the Protestants must not lead the Catholic Church herself to become Protestant.

Have you read the Viganò dossier? What do you think about it?

I cannot judge well the content of his letters, but it is clear that this matter should be thoroughly examined. In the meantime, many bishops have also asked for [a thorough investigation]. The Holy See has announced that it will examine more thoroughly the case of Theodore McCarrick, and I am of the opinion that this is very welcome. It has to be fully clarified if the Church wants her credibility back.

Cardinal, what do you think about the management of the migratory phenomena? Is European identity being threatened by the arrival of too many migrants?

The flow of migrants, of course, is divided in an unbalanced way: especially in countries like Italy which, because of their position, have to deal with the influx of migrants. This causes a great burden on society. And the European Union is not showing solidarity with Italy, as we should expect. Yet the government is not obliged to grant a residence permit to all migrants, especially to economic migrants. These are necessary for the common good in the country of origin.

But migration has many facets: in the city of Almere, there are plans to build a Catholic Church. Many Catholics from other countries who want to participate in [liturgical] celebrations have settled there. And in the western part of the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague, several parishes would have been suppressed had the migrants not arrived. It is important that we, as Europe, are welcoming, but we also have to keep in mind how much a society can do.

Many cardinals have now taken a position “against” the return of nationalism. What is your opinion on the matter, Cardinal Eijk?

The effect of “nationalism” differs from one country to another. Sometimes people return to the “Christian roots of their culture,” but there is little in their language that is Christian. In such cases, “Christian” is used only as a shield to keep others out. This sort of nationalism is not a good thing. But the form of nationalism that leads one to be proud of one’s country and one’s history can help [a nation] to rediscover its Christian roots, including a respect for the universal value of human life, marriage, the family and the interest of others — one thinks of the works of mercy. Nationalism can never serve only as armor.

The Synod on Youth was held recently. There seems to be some controversy over the use of the “LGBT” acronym in the Instrumentum laboris. What is your thought on this?

Certainly everyone must be treated with respect, also people with an objectively wrong sexual orientation, but one can give the wrong impression by using this [LGBT] wording. It does not seem right to me to use this wording in Church documents. The fact that, during a synod, using “objectively disordered” (the wording in the Catechism) may suggest something very abstract to young people, is the consequence of the fact that, in the Church — certainly in the Netherlands — catechesis has been very incomplete, and often even completely absent, while children and young people are bombarded in the schools with ideas that come from gender theory, and are vigorously advocated in large areas by national and international organizations.

You have taken a position on Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Eijk, are you a supporter of the “dubia”?

During the Synod, I took a clear stand on the matter. I also contributed to the book of the eleven cardinals (Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family), where I made it clear that, in my opinion, n. 84 of the Familiaris Consortiois is valid in its entirety. This means that if a person is divorced and civilly remarried, he cannot receive Communion (unless the two live as brother and sister).There has been no denial of this anywhere, not even by this Pope, not even in Amoris laetitia. Reference is often made to the footnotes of this document, but a long-time doctrine and practice of the Church cannot be changed by footnotes, or by an occasional statement during an inflight interview. I would like that, above all, the bearer of the Petrine ministry, who is the principle of unity for the Christian faith, to provide clarity on this. We now have a situation where, in one ecclesiastical province one thing is proposed and practiced, and in another something else is promulgated. This creates confusion in people. A prolonged lack of clarity can lead to undesirable practices. In the Church the truth always comes to light, but in this case it cannot come too soon. Precisely to avoid deluding people.

There is a lot of talk in Europe about “populism.” What is your opinion of this political style? Is it in conflict with Catholicism or can it help it to be revived?

Populism is not, by definition, in conflict with Catholicism, but I do not yet know of any examples in which populism has caused a revival of faith, although it must be noted that, in Italy, the Lega Party clearly defends a certain number of values and norms on the family, as proposed by the Church. The Catholic faith, of course, is always attentive to vulnerable people, to the marginalized, to people who have no voice. This is not always the group of people that a populist looks at. The situation in the Netherlands, as far as migrants are concerned, is clearly different from the one in Italy. In Italy it has become an acute problem because of the huge wave of migrants from Libya, the long Italian coastline which can hardly be monitored, and the high unemployment, especially among young people. I can well imagine the concerns of the Italian people. Moreover, it must be said that migrants also have their obligations towards the common good of the country where they are seeking refuge, and they must respect universal values, such as the inviolability of the human person.

Is it true that you are being forced to close many local churches? If so, why?

Yes, many churches have already been closed, and in the next ten years most of the churches will have to be closed. In the past, there were more than 350 [churches]. Now there are about 200 left. I predict that in 2028, the year when I turn 75 and will have to ask the Holy Father to resign, the Archdiocese of Utrecht will number about 20 parishes, with one or two churches in each.

What are the reasons for this?

The small number of faithful who still go to church and, consequently, the small number of volunteers, and the very low income to keep the churches open. There are churches with a capacity of 400-500 people and often even more, where only a few dozen faithful go on Sundays. Many parishes are also drawing on their financial reserves. Ultimately, people abandoning the cause leads to the church closing its doors. We are currently experiencing this decline, but we hope to reappear smaller yet more alive.

The Synod on the Amazon [will be held next year]. It’s said “viri probati” will be discussed. Are we moving towards a concession for married priests?

I understand that priests are needed and that, in certain places in the world, the need is more pressing than in northern Europe. But married priests are not, in my opinion, the solution. If it were allowed only for certain territories, inequality would arise within the Catholic Church across the world, on a very important point. To allow such a thing temporarily is not a solution — once it is decided in this way, it becomes irrevocable. With this, priestly celibacy, a splendid and fruitful centuries-old tradition of the Latin Church, would be lost. Moreover, in the case of the ordination of “viri probati,” they would lack priestly formation in a seminary.

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