October 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Robert Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of ’s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) in the Netherlands, gave a lengthy interview to LifeSite by telephone on Tuesday about present developments in Rome in and around the Amazon synod.
Mutsaerts told LifeSite there seems to be a fully-fledged “paradigm shift” afoot, where conversion to Christ and the “salvation of souls” are taking second place behind human concerns such as “global warming” and “rising sea levels”
He also questioned the “double agenda” at work at the Amazon synod where discussions appear to have been “more or less pushed in a certain direction beforehand,” in particular regarding the married priesthood and female diaconate, while most locals in the Amazon region are not asking for them.
Mutsaerts had hard words for the suggestion that the indigenous populations should have easier access to the Eucharist thanks to local “married priests” and female deacons.
“We only hear about the Eucharist, but with always in the background the idea that we need to consecrate married men – not because of the value of the Eucharist itself,” he said. “Besides, we have had so many areas in Africa, in Asia, in the East, where countries had no priests for a long time and where the faith was been preserved. Is there a priest shortage? Nobody is entitled to the Eucharist. That is such a misconception. We have no claim on the Eucharist.
In the end, you have to ask yourself if the faith is firm. Think of Japan: after 250 years without priests, the faith of the Christians was still very strong. You have to ask if that is the case in the Amazon, because apparently they switch over very easily to the Pentecostals.”
Mutsaerts also offered insights on the presence of female fertility symbols in ceremonies surrounding the synod, saying they might not be idols but have no place there.
Bishop Mutsaerts recently opened a blog “Paarse pepers” (“Purple Peppers”) on the Catholic platform Vitamine XP, a Dutch-speaking site run by several priests. In two recent posts translated by LifeSite, he wrote that the Amazon synod was “the most politically correct meeting of all time.”
Below is the fill text of Bishop Robert Mutsaerts’ interview with LifeSite.
LifeSiteNews: In a few days, the final document of the Amazon synod will be published in Rome. What are your thoughts on the discussions that have been held at the synod and on the event itself?
Bishop Robert Mutsaerts: It’s difficult to know where to begin! There have been many developments, but one wonders whether everything was discussed there on the spot or whether it was more or less pushed in a certain direction beforehand. When I look at it all, it’s such a big change, it seems like a paradigm shift. For us, it’s about Christ and the revelation, but now suddenly it’s all about nature, the wisdom of the indigenous peoples, and life. We don’t find any of the ordinary vocabulary that we are used to there.
“If you look at the closing words of a press conference on Friday, October 18th, it was Bishop Mario Antonio Da Silva who said, according to the text broadcast by the Vatican itself, that he considers this synod as ‘an opportunity to get in touch with life, forests, water, animals, minerals, but especially communities that are filled with wisdom.’ And you think: how peculiar. These are not ecclesiastical items at all.
LSN: Would you say that the synod does not seem to be Catholic at all? Would you go that far?
BRM: Well, this is all very strange. We must take care of the earth that has been entrusted to us, but of course first of all we have respect for the Creator, and not for creation. Here it seems to be the other way around. Respect for the Creator, that’s what we call worship, and respect for creation, when you start worshipping it, is what we call idolatry. I don’t literally say that this is happening, but there are so many texts that go in the direction of ecology: they talk about mother earth, about climate, about the sea level. The strange thing is, by the way, that they then draw conclusions like this: maybe we should start working with viri probati, female deacons. What one has to do with the other is, of course, completely unclear.
LSN: Pope Francis is supposed to have made clear at the synod that female deacons are not possible. Does this come as a relief for you or do you think that it is just a halt to a discussion that might continue when the times are more ripe?
BRM: Pope Francis has already said that it is absolutely unacceptable, and that is a relief, because there is, of course, a thing that is called Tradition on which we must continue embroidering and that we cannot unravel. But what I’ve been experiencing lately is that on the formal plane, people color within the lines, but then they use the word “pastoral” to be able to go in all directions. We have experienced this before: there are texts that are so unclear that everyone can run away with them in their own direction. We greatly benefit from clarity, which is something that Rome, the Pope, in particular, must stand up for.
LSN: What about female pastoral workers in the church in the Netherlands? Are there many of them and how does that manifest itself?
BRM: There used to be quite a few of them. This has become less in recent years, but it has to do with the fact that this is a burden in financial terms, and of course we are in a bad position financially. The strange thing is also (that) people talk about the important role played by women among the indigenous peoples, especially in the villages, in community life, and also in ecclesiastical life. For example, they provide catechesis and service of the Word. They already do that, and in my opinion, you don’t need diaconal ordination at all to be able to go on doing that. What I also note when it comes to viri probati and women’s ordinations, the only person from the region itself to express positive feelings about them to journalists, is actually Erwin Kraütler from Brazil, and it is also actually a proposal from the Italians. Also for the “Amazon rite,” this is not at all proposed by the people on the spot but by the Italians.
Take Cardinal Sarah – he is, of course, from a different area, but he understands where the biggest shortages are. He is not in favor of viri probati, married priests, at all. Nor is Cardinal Turkson. Nor is Lopez Brea from Peru. He very emphatically defends celibacy. Because, he also says, you would get two kinds of priests. Once they are ordained, they have the three munus: sanctificandi, regendi and docendi (to sanctify, to rule and to teach). But those require the full training, and viri probati would almost be permanent deacons in terms of training. That in itself is going to cause problems that did not exist until now, and whether or not you can solve anything with this, I wonder.
LSN: It is important in Indian theology that women should also participate in the liturgy as they do in the indigenous rituals. Do you have thoughts about the various ceremonies that have taken place in the gardens of the Vatican and in the church of Santa Maria in Traspostina, with those statues of naked pregnant women?
BRM: Yes, I have seen some of them, the background seems to be some mythological story of a woman on the river, how she comes to a village and is seduced by men, and so it goes on. There are different backgrounds for these kinds of stories, but I have no idea what they have to do with our faith. Myths are beautiful, they can even be very beautiful. But to include something like that in Catholic liturgy… In our churches we place statues of Mary, of Joseph, of the saints, in honor of Christ, but not … well, perhaps they are not idols, but they just don’t belong in a church. And certainly not in the liturgy. You can show something of the local population, how they live, what their culture is, and you can show respect for that, but you shouldn’t involve it in the Stations of the Cross or in any liturgy or devotion whatsoever. It just doesn’t belong there. It also makes a strange impression.
LSN: What kind of impression?
BRM: We must evangelize, we must Christianize the culture, but we must not leave the culture to itself and leave it at that. It really seems as if the revelation of Christ, that is truly the foundation, will be replaced by ecology. It really is a paradigm: how they live with nature and how they understand themselves. It is true that we have to go out and find people where they are, but then, of course, we have to put them on the way of Christ. It is like the story of the pilgrims of Emmaüs. Christ walked with them, He listened to them – and this is what we also should do – and He followed them, He let them say everything they had to say, but at a certain point the turnaround came: “You do not understand.” Then He explained the Scriptures and everything that had happened. If we go with people and listen to them, and that’s it, we’re not going to get anywhere.
LSN: What do you think of the young people who threw statues in the Tiber?
BRM: To take something away is not a good idea in itself, but I do understand that they did not belong there. If you’re asking me whether I mind that those things have been taken away from that church, well no, I don’t mind that at all.
What do we Catholics need most today: a synod about Amazonia or maybe something else?
About the Amazon Synod, what bothers me most is the double agenda. They appear to be talking about the Amazon, but they are actually talking about something else. These people are actually more in favor of women’s ministry, more of married priests and all sorts of things. Let them be open about that. When it comes to the real problems in that area, a very big one is the drugs problem, and I don’t think people there are all that worried about global warming. They are more likely to look at the big cities, with their gangs and drug wars, and the victims. It’s terrible, actually.
What also plays a role there is the issue of abortion. I think that also deserves more attention. What I find most bizarre is this: In America, there are two or three states where when a child is aborted and it “fails,” that is to say, the child is born alive, that it is then permitted by law to leave the child lying there until it dies. And since a lot of people apparently think it’s normal, a synod about that might be in order. If you did that with a dog, then I think you’d get into big trouble. It is too bizarre for words.
LSN: Is the care for souls still present in these kinds of discussions? Are there still people who care?
BRM: That is our core business. Saving souls, that’s all it’s about, and that’s where everything should lead. If you want to summarize the Bible briefly – it’s difficult to do, because you could fill whole libraries with books about the Bible – you could say it is a call to conversion and an announcement of forgiveness. That’s what everything is aimed at, and I don’t hear anything about it. We are all expected to have respect for everyone’s culture, and we have it too, but we still have to proclaim the truth, as we think it is. If you love people and let them walk in the direction of the quagmire, that’s unloving. The truth can be found in Christ. And it is this truth that will set you free, and no other. I can taste subjectivism and relativism through everything. These have been pitfalls for the last 50 years anyway.
As to giving the Amazon a rite of its own, would that really help? I can’t imagine.
LSN: There have been many Dutch missionaries, also in Amazonia, and they brought the old rite there, and they converted a lot of Indians.
BRM: Yes, of course. That, of course, has always been our task: to go out to all peoples. The first thing the missionaries did, and it was of course very sensible, was to help people with their physical needs. If you look at the Acts of the Apostles, it was no different. They tell about the healing of the sick. This is the care for physical needs, such as hunger or health. Precisely because people saw that these missionaries and also the Apostles were concerned about these things, they were receptive to listen to their words. And that’s what the Apostles and the missionaries did: they proclaimed Christ and provided the sacraments. Christianity has always spread and developed for no other purpose than to bring people to Christ, than the salvation of soul. And now they are being dismissed as imperialists who impose our norms and values … well, well!
All you hear now is that we must look at their culture and their wisdom. Why not? But that’s where it always stops. Do we hear anything about proclaiming Christ? We only hear about the Eucharist, but with always in the background the idea that we need to consecrate married men – not because of the value of the Eucharist itself. Besides, we have had so many areas in Africa, in Asia, in the East, where countries had no priests for a long time and where the faith has been preserved. Is there a priest shortage? Nobody is entitled to the Eucharist, that is such a misconception. We have no claim on the Eucharist.
In the end, you have to ask yourself if the faith is firm. Think of Japan: After 250 years without priests, the faith of the Christians was still very strong. You have to ask if that is the case in the Amazon, because apparently they switch over very easily to the Pentecostals.
In the Netherlands, we still have a very small percentage of practicing Catholics. And among those Catholics, just about everyone goes to communion while the practice of confession has almost completely disappeared. What is the value of that communion if you have no sense of sin or anything at all? In fact, here it also happens that if people’s own church closes, they don’t go any more, even if there is another church very close by.
LSN: So that is perhaps a much bigger problem for the Catholic Church than what is happening to the indigenous people of the Amazon?
BRM: When the focus is no longer on the soul’s salvation, only on the diaconal … the soul’s salvation of course comes first, and not care for the environment. Leave that to the political parties or to NGOs. There are people aplenty who are involved in this. Our contribution doesn’t mean all that much anyway. Certainly we have to take care of the creation, but of course we also have respect for the Creator. When that disappears …
LSN: There are many Catholics today who are confused. They look at Rome and they see that there is little talk of sin, salvation. … What would you say to all these confused Catholics?
BRM: I can understand that people are confused, because the signals are really flying in all directions. I must also say that the Netherlands is now one of the most secularized countries in the world. Whatever they say in Rome, there is little interest for it, and it is more the politically correct items that can still count on interest, or statements such as “Who am I to judge?”
But of course there are still other kinds of movements … I was in Helvoirt this week, at an “Emmanuel” family weekend with 400 people, all of them young families. There was Mass, catechesis, confessions – the young people confessed massively. Luckily, there are also luminous points. I think we need the help of lay people today if the future is to flourish again.