Pope Francis accused by cardinal of ‘endangering unity’ of church

Head of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands sends scathing open letter to pontiff

The head of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, Cardinal Wim Eijk (centre) photographed in 2011. He has criticised Pope Francis for failing to give clear guidance to German cardinals on whether the non-Catholic partners of Catholics should be allowed to share in the Eucharist. Photograph: Bas Czerwinski/AP

The head of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, Cardinal Wim Eijk (centre) photographed in 2011. He has criticised Pope Francis for failing to give clear guidance to German cardinals on whether the non-Catholic partners of Catholics should be allowed to share in the Eucharist. Photograph: Bas Czerwinski/AP

 

The head of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands has challenged the authority of Pope Francis, accusing him of “creating confusion” among the faithful, “endangering the unity of the Church” – and of allowing “a drift towards apostasy from the truth”.

In an extraordinary open letter to the pontiff, Cardinal Wim Eijk (64), archbishop of Utrecht, took issue with the pope’s failure to give clear guidance to German cardinals on whether the non-Catholic partners of Catholics should be allowed to share in the Eucharist.

Divided among themselves, members of the German bishops’ conference travelled to Rome recently to seek clarification from the Curia – only to be told the pope’s view was that they should discuss the matter again and try to come to a “unanimous” view.

This failure to give clarification in line with the doctrine and practice of the church was described by Cardinal Eijk as “completely incomprehensible”.

He said that because of differences between the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation and the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, “communion should not be administered to a Protestant, even if married to a Catholic, because the Protestant does not live in full communion with the Catholic Church and, therefore, does not explicitly share faith in her Eucharist”.

Conservative views

As regards the pope’s advice to the German cardinals to seek unanimity on such complex issues, Cardinal Eijk was even more scathing: “Unanimity about what?”, he asked.

“Assuming that all members of the German bishops’ conference, after having discussed them again, unanimously decide that communion can be administered to Protestants married to a Catholic (something that will not happen), will this – while being contrary to what the Code of Canon Law and the cathechism of the Catholic Church say in this regard – become the new practice in the Catholic Church in Germany?

“The practice of the Catholic Church, based on her faith, is not determined, and does not change statistically, when a majority of an episcopal conference votes in favour of it, even unanimously.”

The cardinal’s letter was clearly aimed at achieving the widest possible readership, published first, in full and in English, online in the National Catholic Register, the oldest nationwide Catholic newspaper in America – as well as online in German, Italian and Dutch.

In the same piece, he also criticised proposals by some cardinals to bless homosexual relationships as “diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Church … that marriage, according to the order of creation, exists only between a man and a woman.”

This is not the first clash between Cardinal Eijk, known for his conservative views, and various church authorities.

In 2015, he ordered the removal of the transgender treasurer of a parish in the centre of the Netherlands, against the wishes of the parish board.

In the same year, he criticised Pope Francis for the first time, arguing that the pope’s paper on pastoral care of families, entitled Amoris Laetitia, should have stated more unequivocally that marriage is “one and unbreakable”.