INTERVIEW: Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk answers questions on crisis in Church, loss of faith
May 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, is at present one of the most outspoken defenders of perennial Catholic teaching in the Church. He has repeatedly asked for “clarity” from Rome and especially from the Pope, be it regarding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia or other points such as intercommunion in the Catholic Mass for some Protestant faithful.
The Cardinal discusses in a wide-ranging interview with LifeSiteNews what he has done in his diocese to combat the German bishops' push for intercommunion, how the faith is being rediscovered and lived by a new generation in the Netherlands, how he is still seeking clarification from Pope Francis regarding confusion surrounding the Pope's Exhortation Amoris laetitia, how the rosary and Fatima plays an important role in his ministry, why he celebrates Mass ad orientem , and why shepherds have a duty to preach the faith in all its fullness and with clarity, including on topics such as the reality of hell for people who reject God.
His Eminence received this reporter at his episcopal palace in Utrecht, Netherlands, answering LifeSite’s questions freely and from the abundance of his heart. Below is the full text of the interview.
LifeSite: Your Eminence, I was very struck by the article you published in the National Catholic Register and La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana May 2018. You first mentioned the suggestion that communion could be given to Protestant spouses of Catholic faithful. You pointed out the confusion that this would cause. The situation has evolved since then: have you had any information, for example, about couples who have asked to benefit from this possibility, or whether the suggestion is being implemented in some places?
Cardinal Eijk: I reacted to this document from the German Bishops’ Conference for a very specific reason. It so happens that in our diocese during the larger ceremonies, we have been drawing attention to the fact that only persons living in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive communion. The others can come forward, arms crossed on their breast, to receive a blessing. We further specify: “You can also simply stay in your place and unite with the Lord through silent prayer.” We have also included this text in ceremony booklets, for example for priestly ordinations or confirmations... In many places, we see that people take it into account. Everywhere we see people coming forward with their hands crossed on their breast; they are often Protestants married to Catholics. These people are very happy with this blessing. They appreciate very much to be able to come forward with others, and to receive something, too.
When the concept document setting out the proposal of the German Bishops’ Conference was made public by the media, my auxiliary bishops and I thought that this idea might well end up reaching our country. That is why I once again made it very clear what the Church teaches about intercommunion. That article went around the world: it appeared in English but also in Italian in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana Christiana (1). It has allowed us to reach a large number of people.
In this article, I not only mentioned intercommunion but also the fact that two cardinals, whose names I did not give, had argued for the blessing of “so-called same-sex marriages”.
Following this German concept document on intercommunion, and because of this explicit plea by cardinals in favor of the blessing of homosexual relationships, I asked the Pope to create clarity, quite simply by recalling the documents of the Church’s magisterium.
Well, to date, the situation remains unchanged. There was no reaction, at least not in public. And that means that there is still a lot of confusion among Catholics about these issues. We can see this in many ways. And I deeply regret it, because I am in favor of clarity.
LifeSite: You used extraordinarily strong words. You spoke of “apostasy inside the Church”. Could you explain what you meant by that?
Eijk: I quoted number 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Because there are cardinals who plead for the blessing of homosexual relationships, I referred to this paragraph of the Catechism as a warning. It states that shortly before Apocalypse, voices will rise within the Church itself, and even among the highest authorities of the Church who will express divergent opinions in relation to Catholic doctrine. I did this as a warning: let us be careful not to find ourselves in this situation. I must say that, to my surprise, Cardinal Müller took up this idea: on February 9 of this year, he published a statement on the fundamental elements of the Catholic faith, in which he also referred to number 675 (2). It is also remarkable that my interview and the full quotation were also taken up by Bishop Gänswein during the presentation of a book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option.
All this has reached many people and many have also started to think about it. In this way, I hope to get more and more people in the Church to open their mouths and create clarity, because many Catholics – but you know this as well as I do – are really confused.
LifeSite: Isn’t the problem today that many people in positions of authority say nothing? Is this silence not the great trial of our time?
Eijk: Yes, but I would add that, if this is indeed the duty of cardinals and bishops, priests, deacons, the laity and volunteers who work in parishes are not exempt from it. As a general rule, Catholics are shy about displaying their own faith in Christ and in the principles of the Church’s doctrine. Among Dutch Catholics, this timidity is even very strong. This is certainly due to the fact that in the centuries following the Reformation we were forced to remain silent: it was difficult for us to express any point of view openly. While we could celebrate our liturgy in underground churches, which allowed us to continue to proclaim our faith, we were obliged to do so with great caution, and this attitude continues to manifest itself among Catholics today. But it is a trend that can also be seen in other parts of the world.
Even among parents... In their lives, children do not first meet a priest, but their parents. It is important that these parents should speak very explicitly to their children about Jesus, prayer, and the foundations of the faith.
We have here in Utrecht every Sunday at half-past twelve in the cathedral a mass in English, attended by a large number of foreigners. We see a whole swarm of young people who also bring their children – these young people often have families – so the mass is also very lively, because from time to time we see a child starting to run, scream, cry or whatever – all this really doesn’t matter. But these children, even if they do not understand what is being said, already see something of the respect shown by their parents, for example during the Eucharistic prayer during the consecration, when they remain in complete silence. Children see it, and what you see, what you learn from your parents as a child, you never forget. What we learn later, we sometimes forget… Hence the very great importance of this period for learning the faith. So I would like to call on all parents to truly transmit the faith to their children.
I must, of course, add that one of the causes of the problem is that parents themselves know little about their faith. I always say – and many priests strive to do so when offering preparation for baptism – that it is necessary to catechize the parents themselves when preparing their children for first communion and confirmation: it is necessary to involve the parents in some way. There must also be a catechesis program for parents.
I myself attended secondary school in Amsterdam in the second half of the 1960s; I started in 1965. The first two years, I received excellent catechesis. The problems started in 1967-68. Religious courses were still taught by priests, but everything was discussed except faith. These were debate sessions, we were allowed to smoke, we were discussing abortion and Che Guevara, and I don’t know what else – everything that was in the news at the time. Faith was no longer on the agenda. And that was fifty years ago. The generation of those who are now grandparents has already received relatively little faith-education. And then, what happened in the years that followed? So we are faced with a huge task.
LifeSite: You also asked the Pope in January 2018 to put an end to the confusion around Amoris laetitia and access to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Are you still asking for this clarification?
Eijk: Yes, most certainly. I wrote an article, shortly before the second Synod on the Family – I was present at both –, participating in a book written by eleven cardinals. I testified to the fact that the practice is extremely old in the Church, and that the doctrine itself has long been explicit, according to which a divorced person who remarries civilly cannot – because he or she is not in a proper disposition – receive communion, any more than he or she can receive absolution in that situation.
It so happens that Amoris laetitia does not literally say that divorced and civilly remarried persons whose first marriage has not been declared void can receive communion. It doesn’t go to that length. But on the basis of a few elements and a footnote, some people think they can deduce that it is possible, that it is allowed. And today we see some Bishops’ Conferences publishing documents to say that, if they have made a journey of accompaniment with a priest and have sought discernment with him, divorced and civilly remarried persons can receive communion at some point. Some Bishops’ Conferences have regulated things in this way, very many Bishops’ Conferences have not regulated anything at all, and other Bishops’ Conferences have said exactly the opposite. Well, what’s true in place A can’t be false in place B. This goes against one of the principles of philosophy, the principle of non-contradiction – what one learns as a seminarian at the very beginning of the philosophy course: it is one of the fundamental principles of logic, of thought. Yes, I think it is important that we make it clear, that people know where they stand.
LifeSite: But the Pope himself has supported the Bishops’ Conferences which chose the liberal interpretation.
Eijk: Yes, but he did so in a letter to the Bishops’ Conference in Buenos Aires. In fact, this Bishops’ Conference declared that following a journey of accompaniment and discernment with a priest, a possibility exists for a divorced and civilly remarried person to receive communion. In his letter, the Pope also says that this is the correct interpretation. However, a letter from a Pope to an episcopal conference is not part of the magisterium. This must be very clear. A distinction must therefore be made between, on the one hand, the opinion that the Pope may express at a given time and, on the other hand, his magisterium, namely the declarations that truly belong to his teaching authority, the magisterium as such. That statement is not one of them.
But all this does not create clarity. I think that the Pope must therefore create clarity, in terms of doctrine, by means of a declaration that can be said with certainty to belong to the Magisterium. I would say: to the ordinary or authentic magisterium. It goes without saying that these are not extraordinary dogmas or expressions, but simply expressions of the authentic Magisterium.
LifeSite: I hope it does not shock you when I should say this: as Catholics, we have a right to the truth from the Church. This is also what we ask of the Church at the time of our baptism. “What do you ask of God’s Church? - Faith.” As confused Catholics we often have the impression that many bishops and cardinals really act as if everything is fine and that there is no confusion. What is our role in this situation as lay people?
Eijk: First of all, I would like to point out that it is not only believers who are entitled to the truth, but all people. Jesus sent us to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety – including the passage where he affirms that marriage is one and indissoluble – to all of mankind. So everyone has a right to the proclamation of the Gospel. People have the right to at least have the opportunity to meet Christ and to get to know Him. So that means that we really need to have that concern.
What can you do as ordinary Catholics? Well, a lot, actually. First of all, there is prayer. Faith in the power of prayer is far too weak. Prayer is effective. Prayer has an extraordinary strength. It is above all Saint Alphonsus Liguori who has pointed this out very often in his spiritual writings, for example by saying that those who pray will never be lost.
There is also the reception of the sacraments. When celebrating the Eucharist – and even if I celebrate it in my private chapel – then I do so not only for myself or for the people who are present and who receive communion. I do this for the Church as a whole, for the dioceses, for the community of the faithful, and also for those who do not believe. And even for those who do not participate in the Eucharist and who would not even dream of doing so: we also pray for them. The sacrifice is offered for them too, and it has meaning for them. So I would really like to recommend daily mass to the laity. Also regular confession. And penance – in Advent and Lent, but also outside of these periods. There are many ways to do penance and it is really something you can do for others. You can also offer any sufferings that befall you, placing them, so to speak, on the paten, so that they may be assumed in the sacrifice of Christ. These sufferings can also be offered for the benefit of those who have landed in confusion, and a prayer can be added for these people to find faith.
Beyond that, it is extraordinarily important that we Catholics live our faith joyfully, with enthusiasm and courage. We must make it clear in public. It is also important that we should put our faith into practice: that we truly give our parish a diaconal face. People who know us as practicing Catholics must see from our behavior what Jesus asks of us, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, and we must put this into practice. That is what people expect from us.
Quite often, we hear people say: “I had this experience with Catholics, or that one, I saw a priest who crossed the line. Well, I don’t need that sort of faith any more.” That reaction may well be far-fetched, but sometimes people have been really shocked, and this has caused them to distance themselves from the faith and from the Church. In all this, we therefore bear an extraordinarily great responsibility. I cannot stress this enough.
It is also important for Catholics to be very well informed. When we are in confusion, there are ways: here, for example, we have many Internet sites, including foreign sites, diocesan publications, diocesan sites and their communiqués. We publish an electronic newsletter to which people can subscribe. All this makes it possible to be informed and there are many elements about the data of faith. And this is important: reading about faith, learning about faith helps to put an end to your own confusion and also allows you to help others to overcome their confusion.
LifeSite: You talked a lot about prayer. Do you have a particular connection with the Rosary and the requests of Our Lady of Fatima?
Eijk: In fact, I originally had a connection mainly with Our Lady of Lourdes. This has to do with the parish where I grew up, in Duivendrecht – a small village on the edge of Amsterdam. There was a priest who would spend about thirty years there and who arrived at the worst time of polarization within the Church in the Netherlands. He came to us in August 1969. I participated in his installation mass, and I built a very strong bond with him. For example, when I was a seminarian, I used to spend my holidays in the deacons’ rooms at his presbytery house, and I have fond memories of them. I also celebrated his funeral in 2012. He lived long enough to learn that I was going to be created cardinal, even if he did not join the creation ceremony because he died in the meantime. This priest took me to Lourdes - he was a real Lourdes-goer.
Later, as Bishop of Groningen, I joined several pilgrimages of that diocese, offering spiritual accompaniment. But it is above all the archdiocese where I am now that is marked by a very strong Marian spirituality: it is quite remarkable. Once every three years, we go on a great pilgrimage to Lourdes. Between 1,300 and 1,500 people participated: for our archdiocese, it is a significant group. Many seminarians have told me that they discovered their vocation in Lourdes. So you can see how much we owe to the Virgin Mary! Her intercession is incredibly fruitful...
I knew the Virgin Mary of Fatima, of course, thanks to my readings, especially regarding the application of the third secret of Fatima to the attack on Pope John Paul II in 1981. But my relationship with her became more intense in 2017: it was the hundredth anniversary of her apparition to the little shepherds in the vicinity of Fatima.
Also, on May 13, 2017, as bishops of the Netherlands, we consecrated our dioceses to the Most Holy Heart of Mary: we did so at the Basilica of Mary Star of the Sea in Maastricht. I was the one who gave the homily. And it was because of this homily that I had to immerse myself in the secrets of Fatima. And the first secret, about hell, well, I think it’s really a secret that remains highly relevant for our time. That’s our duty: to make sure, because we are in charge of announcing the Catholic faith, that people don’t end up in hell, and to warn them about it. In this regard, we can sincerely ask ourselves if we do this often enough. Because when we talk about hell, that often arouses many emotions. Yet I think we really have a duty to do so.
The second secret referred to the political situation and concerned above all the 20th century: the end of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and also the announcement, already, of the Second World War. Mary calls us to pray for peace. This prayer is just as relevant today, because we live in an extraordinarily insecure world. The arms race, the nuclear arms race, is threatening to resume. Of course, we have not known war in Europe since 1945, and we pray and hope that this will continue to be so, but we must always pray for it, because men are very unpredictable beings – including ourselves. I must say that during this homily I elaborated on the history of Our Lady of Fatima, that I also highlighted.
At the time, as Dutch bishops, we wondered if people would show up. But an hour before the ceremony began, the church was already packed to capacity. In fact, the reaction to this initiative was extremely positive.
As bishops, last year we took the initiative – now completed – to set up a Year of the Rosary. During this year all the bishops of the Netherlands, including my two auxiliary bishops, took part: we went to pray the Rosary with the faithful in various places in our dioceses, before or after Mass, as part of adoration or in other ways. I did it, for example, in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Raalte: a huge, fantastically beautiful church, it looks like a cathedral. We were to say the Rosary at 6:30 p.m., followed by Mass at 7 p.m., on the occasion of All Saints’ Day. I thought to myself: such a solemn weekday mass in the Netherlands – it is a solemnity that we have long celebrated on the nearest Sunday and not on weekdays, and which has now been rescheduled to its exact date – how many faithful will it attract? Well, it really wasn’t bad at all. And what really surprised me, and even made me feel good, is that at 6:30 p.m., most of the faithful were already present, and that they actively said the Rosary. And I thought to myself: “So you too are used to saying the rosary!” And it was quite a big group. Therefore, the Rosary prayer is still alive in the Netherlands.
I also devoted an editorial to the Rosary in our diocesan magazine. I wrote: don’t you know how to pray? Well, just pick up your rosary. It is a very simple prayer. Everyone can learn it (because, let us be honest, it cannot even be said that every Dutch Catholic knows the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, even if many do still know them). But it is also a profound and meditative prayer. When we pray the whole Rosary, all the mysteries, we contemplate the whole life of Jesus Christ and end with the Assumption of Mary in heaven, body and soul, and her Crowning. In truth, we look at the life of Jesus, we contemplate it, we consider it with the eyes of Mary, which gives great added value to this meditation on the life of Jesus – with her own eyes, with her own help, with her intercession.
No one other than Mary can take us by the hand in prayer. She is the figure of the Church, says the Second Vatican Council. In fact, we should all be like her: her “Fiat” – “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word” – is a “Fiat” that none of us can say simply because we are not free from original sin as she was. Once again, she is our most beautiful example, including in prayer, and that is why it is so good to pray in union with her.
Pope John Paul II said that for him it was the most beautiful prayer there is. He had many difficult moments in his life: the loss of his brother and father when he was still young; there was his captivity during the war; he was a forced laborer in the salt mines. Later, when he was a bishop in Poland, the KGB, the communists bugged his confessional. He was Pope – head of the Church for 27 years – during an extremely difficult period. And he said that throughout this time he prayed to Mary through the Rosary, and that he received extraordinary help from her. I also mentioned this in my editorial. I think we have a lot to learn from this Polish Pope on this subject.
LifeSite: How did the idea of the consecration of the Netherlands to the Most Holy Heart of Mary come about?
Eijk: It was discussed at the Bishops’ Conference. A number of bishops were very much in favor. Finally, all the bishops adopted it and also took part. So, it came about quite simply during the discussions of the Bishops’ Conference. When I travel to Rome as a bishop, people often think when they see me: “There goes a progressive!” Because we have... we had a reputation in the 1960s and 1970s for being an exceptionally progressive Bishops’ Conference. But we are no longer that at all. The proposal was made at the Bishops’ Conference, incidentally by one of my auxiliary bishops, and it was taken up by the other bishops.
LifeSite: What is the state of religious practice in the Netherlands, and of faith itself? This is basically the same question as the one relating to the Catechism: you said that many people who are now 50 or 60 years old do not know much about their faith. Has the way Catechism is taught to children been changed?
Eijk: Yes, there has been a turning point. As I said, the crisis broke out during the period when I was a student at a high school in Amsterdam, between 1965 and 1971. In 1965, all students at my Catholic high school still went to mass on Sundays with their parents. Moreover, it was something you didn’t argue about. In 1971, in the final year of high school, there were only two of us. So you see how quickly all this happened. A whole generation of young people was then willing to wage war on Sunday mornings to refuse to go to church. They decided en masse: “We will no longer go, we will walk out of the Church.” Don’t forget that these are today’s grandparents. They have not passed on the faith to their children, let alone their grandchildren. That is the situation we are facing. This situation is also revealed by the number of Catholics. In the year 2000, there were still more than 5 million Catholics in the Netherlands. By 2015, there were only 3.8 million of us left: you can see the rate at which the figure is falling. Older Catholics are dying; and now, more than 50 percent of the time, Catholic parents no longer have their children baptized. It is impossible that the number of faithful will not decrease. According to statistics, some 17 percent of Catholics attend church from time to time. It can be, for example, at a funeral, because you know the person, and of course you go. But if we look at the real participation in Sunday Mass, it has collapsed: it is currently between 4 and 5 percent.
When I became Bishop of Groningen, I received a visit from the Director of KASKI – a research institute of the University of Nijmegen which studies the statistics of Catholic practice: how often do people go to Mass, the number of baptisms and confirmations, etc... He has also been doing research for other Christian Churches for several decades. Well, this director came to meet me – it was at the end of 1999 or the beginning of 2000 – and he said to me: “I have to draw your attention to one thing, and it is an iron law: every 10 years, religious practice falls by 40 percent.” And it’s true. If I look, for example, at the number of candidates for confirmation in my diocese – I arrived here in 2008 and I have been Archbishop of Utrecht for 11 years – I can assure you that this number has been halved. And the same is true for first communicants, etc. It is a trend that can be followed without error.
We are becoming a small Church, but there are also signs of hope. And an important sign of this hope is this: when we see young Catholics going to church, they often commit themselves for the full 100 percent. They lead a life of personal prayer, they have a personal relationship with Christ, and often accept the totality of the Church’s teaching. Their number is not large, but perhaps they are the leaven of the future. That’s what I hope. And I also think it is important that we first restore the situation in the Church – that is, that the faithful know their faith again. We must ensure the proper formation of the small minority, the flock that remains: it must be imbued with faith and really have a personal relationship with Christ, for it is only when this has become a reality that we can truly devote ourselves once again to re-evangelization, which is our great mission. The Gospel, I think, is for everyone – but right now it is about putting our own house in order first.
LifeSite: Is there a good catechism method for young people in the Netherlands?
We use Youcat. I am aware of the criticisms surrounding it, particularly because at one point there was a mistake in translating it into a certain language – perhaps it was even a deliberate mistake, who knows? Thus, one of the translations stated that the Church authorized contraception in certain cases. It also states that all men are saved by Christ: this is the doctrine of universal salvation. Yes, it is true that Christ wants to save all men, but you have to open yourself up to it. So there is a condition attached to it, and salvation is therefore not automatic. You really have to choose Christ.
As bishops of the Netherlands – it was mostly the diocese of Roermond but people from our archdiocese also cooperated – we developed a formation course, Licht op je pad (“Light on your way”): it is a catechetical formation course that goes from 4 to 18 years old and can be used both in the parish and in school. Those who complete the whole journey are fully formed in the Catholic faith, I assure you. However, that is not so easy because you need to gather the young people.
Most parishes today prefer to provide for preparation for first communion and confirmation themselves, no longer entrusting this to the schools. To my great joy I can see, after some twenty years as a bishop, that during these twenty years the knowledge of the candidates for confirmation regarding this sacrament and what the Holy Spirit produces in them has grown deeper. I always meet the candidates, either here at the bishopric where I show them various elements of episcopal life, or at least before the celebration in the parish, and I speak with them. These discussions are always shorter in the parish – most of the time they have to come and tap me on the shoulder to remind me that I have to put on the vestments for the ceremony, because when a discussion is engaged we get more and more enthusiastic, and the children ask questions. These are often very good meetings. I notice that among the candidates who remain, the knowledge of faith has increased. We must not resign ourselves, we must simply hold on.
The priest who helped me on the path of my vocation – and to whom I therefore owe eternal gratitude – told me: “Wim, you have the duty to hold on: it is the virtue of perseverance.” He told me that most people can’t do it: “If you hold on, you’ll see that you’ll win.” He himself had to overcome, I don’t know how many, obstacles. He refused to take a salary, he lived in great poverty, together with his housekeeper, and that is how he was able to restore his church. He is the one who has kept it standing, and it is still there. It still prides itself in having many churchgoers and it is surrounded by a vivid community of faith. That is also thanks to the many immigrants who are much better believers than we Dutch people are.
I will never forget that. Keep going. Continue. Continue to proclaim the faith.
And you can see that there is not only decline in the Church in the Netherlands. It is true that the numbers are decreasing, but I sometimes say: the quantity is constantly decreasing, but the quality is increasing. When I started as a priest myself in 1985, I was chaplain in Venlo Blerick: there were still busy churches, especially on Saturday nights at 7pm and Sunday mornings at 11am, but there were many people in attendance who did not agree with my sermons. This is no longer the case today. When I celebrate a parish mass on Sunday morning, the ceremony is often followed by coffee to meet the parishioners. It has become very rare for someone to tell me that they do not agree with what I have said. In fact, we see that there is much more unity. Thus, the community has become small, but it is also a stronger community. The person facing you is not someone who has resigned him — or herself — to doing nothing or who thinks, “What’s the point?” I am still in good spirits, I have an ardent faith, and I also always believe in the power of the Lord: He triumphs. Christus vincit. Not we, but He in us.
LifeSite: On the liturgical level, I have read that you have recently chosen to say Mass ad orientem in the chapel of the archbishop’s palace. Why?
Eijk: A journalist who often speaks critically about me has written derisively that it is not even ad orientem because in this chapel, the altar faces the northwest. Why were churches built ad orientem in the past? We turned to pray towards the east, where the Sun of Justice, Christ, arose. But in the end it doesn’t really make any difference: the church can also have a different direction. By the words ad orientem, we mean that we are celebrating Mass turned towards Christ. Someone else wrote critically that now I celebrate Mass by turning my back on the people. No, I do not celebrate Mass with my back to the people, I say it by turning my face towards Christ, towards the tabernacle, so that everyone in the church or chapel is turned towards Christ.
What triggered it all was actually a very practical reason. The chapel is neo-Gothic, but the auxiliary altar that was installed in the 1960s was a Renaissance table – for the art connoisseur, it was obvious that it was not in its place. I must also say that this altar was quite low, which is not practical for the celebrant, especially as we get older. I now have bifocal glasses, and reading has become complicated. It’s awkward.
So there was a reason related to art history, an artistic reason to say that the auxiliary altar didn’t “fit”; a practical reason: it was too low; and there was also a third reason. The high altar of the chapel is decorated with a very beautiful engraved wooden panel representing the holy bishops of Utrecht: Willibrord and others. It is an altar that existed before this building became the archbishop’s palace – the chapel was built on that occasion. You know that in the Netherlands since 1853 it was possible to have an episcopal hierarchy again, but the Archbishop of Utrecht still had to keep a low profile, stay a little under the radar because it was a fairly orthodox Protestant city. He did not have an archbishop’s palace but lived in the residence of the priest of the cathedral. These days we still find the room where he lived, including his box bed. There he had a private chapel where this high altar was located. The auxiliary altar, which does not correspond to it at all, blocked the view of this high altar, with its beautiful panels, for the faithful. So these were a series of practical reasons why we would prefer to celebrate at the main altar.
I must say that I did it several months before the chapel was put into work for its restoration, and that it really suited me very well. Together with the people, we are truly turned towards Christ. I no longer celebrate with my back turned to Christ but looking at Christ, who is present under the sacrament of the Eucharist in the tabernacle. For me, this could be done everywhere, but this is obviously something that cannot be imposed because the Second Vatican Council authorized the presence of an auxiliary altar, and there are also practical reasons: in some churches it would be impossible. But I find it very beautiful to celebrate in this way. I find it enriching.
LifeSite: Do you think there is a link between the culture of death and the death of the cultus?
Eijk: Yes, this link certainly exists. Why did the Netherlands secularize so quickly, to the point of being at the forefront of European countries in this respect? This is the result of the growth of prosperity – a real comet trajectory during the 1960s. And what was the result? Successful people have come to be able to live without depending on others, they can become individualistic, and that’s what happened. We live in a hyper-individualistic culture. People do little together, unless it is necessary, for example in a sports association or when it takes several people to defend a collective interest. But for the rest, we rely heavily on ourselves; that’s a very strong trend in our country.
So what happens to the young individualist? He puts himself on a pedestal and sees others as people around him, nothing more; he must distinguish himself from others – he not only has the right to do so, but in fact the duty. And he also does this by choosing his religious convictions, his life vision, his set of ethical values. In practice, the truth is that most people simply let themselves be led by public opinion, by what they see in the media or on social networks or in advertising. But the idea is to feel autonomous.
Such an autonomous individualist has no need for someone who transcends him.
He does not need it in society – the State – and that is how some forgo civil marriage and just live together, justifying it by saying: “It is our relationship, why would anyone else have anything to do with it?” This is a consequence of individualism.
Individualism has also led us to push God to the margins, if we have not become total atheists already. Most Dutch people today no longer believe in a personal God. And if you do not believe in a personal God who is a creator, and who is, in fact, Father to us all, neither do you believe that man was created in the image and likeness of God. Autonomous individualists believe that they themselves have the right to control their own lives and deaths – through euthanasia, assisted suicide – because they no longer need all that, not to mention a God. The rise of individualism, the disappearance of the Christian faith or at least its weakening, in the very large numbers of people, are certainly linked to the appearance of the culture of death. That’s an absolute certainty, there is a direct link.
LifeSite: Some Catholics are tempted to turn to other Christian churches – the Orthodox Church for example – because of the situation of confusion in the Catholic Church. This is the case, for example, with Rod Dreher. How can we fight against this, for ourselves and for others?
Eijk: This also happened among Dutch Catholics, not in a massive way, but it happened. In the Netherlands, the Pentecostal movement grew strongly until about 1995. Many Catholics joined. I once had a visit from a man who explained to me that he was once a Catholic, before joining the Liberated Reformed Church. 3 “I’ll also tell you why. In my parish, they had never talked about Jesus or the meaning of faith for 15 years, and at one point I realized that they were talking about it in the Liberated Reformed Church, and that is why I went there,” he told me. It is a Church that has been in serious crisis for about fifteen years and in my opinion, this man will certainly have been encountering new difficulties.
The Catholic parish he used to attend was very progressive. In my opinion, there was talk of doing good to others, the emphasis was on “diaconal action,” but practically nothing was being said about Jesus. Nor was there any discussion of the essence of the Catholic faith: it was ignored. This man was deprived of his faith. It is obviously very sad that a person has given up his Catholic faith to join an Orthodox Protestant group, because it speaks of Christ. But to be honest, I understand it to some extent. Obviously, what he did is forbidden, it’s something that’s not done, and objectively, leaving the Catholic Church is a sin. But once again, I believe that the Lord considers this with great mercy because He knows well that we who must proclaim the faith in Jesus Christ are often not up to the task.
Fortunately, things are better now thanks to the new generation of priests. But the thought remains very present in our minds: shouldn’t I be even more explicit? Even clearer? This seems to me to be of singular importance.
There are also Catholics, often more common people, who have received visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses. These take the Bible literally: they are people who go door-to-door and therefore also end up with Catholics who are in a state of confusion. These Catholics can come to think: “Hey, that’s the true faith! At last we are hearing again what we were taught at home in the past!” That there are also differences, either they don’t realize it or they think: “Well, all this may well be true because it corresponds more to our faith than what we hear in church.” Yes, there have been cases. I think that this trend is no longer very strong today, but it was true not so long ago, from the 1960s to the 1990s.
LifeSite: In response to the current situation of confusion, how do you think the Church could be reformed today? How can the authority remedy this?
Eijk: The Pope is the principle of the unity of the whole Church; the Bishop is the principle of the unity of faith and the way the faith is lived out in his own diocese. This is where clarity must first be made: through the Pope and bishops. We bishops lead our priests, we appoint them, we are responsible for their formation. These are very great responsibilities, but we must assume them. We must take care of the good formation of new priests. And even of priests who are already in place! We give them priestly formation courses. These are all opportunities that we as bishops must seize to ensure that there are good priests, clear priests, who proclaim the Gospel in a solid and reliable way.
I must say that the current generation of priests is already doing a lot to explain faith – as I said, this is something I have seen in current candidates for confirmation, who are much more aware of what this sacrament means than twenty years ago. And that is already a very big step forward.
The liturgy is more and more often celebrated according to the altar missal, even though the Netherlands used to be the epicenter of experimental liturgy. During the second half of the 1960s, the ultimate goal was to improvise the whole Mass, and we had even begun to make changes to the liturgy before the Second Vatican Council started.
It all started with us. Let us hope that the Netherlands can also be a bit of a starting point for recovery. I think we are on the right path, but we could do a lot more!
(1): and in French on the site reinformation.tv: https://reinformation.tv/intercommunion-cardinal-eijk-denonce-pape-francois-grande-apostasie-smits-84097-2/