It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If so, the picture of skateboarders in the former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands is worth ten thousand words about the state of the Church in the Netherlands and too much of the rest of Europe. I hope you can gain access at http://www.wsj.com/articles/europes-empty-churches-go-on-sale-1420245359?KEYWORDS=* . The story appears on page 1 of the first section of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Jan 3-4 2015. The caption under the photo reads “The former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, one of hundreds of decommissioned churches, was turned into a skate park.” You might be able to get a leftover copy at places such as drug stores and pharmacies that sell newspapers.
What is particularly timely about this article is that it illustrates the fate of the local Catholic Church when it fails to be fully Catholic in its teaching. The bishops of the Netherlands issued The Dutch Catechism in 1966. Its unorthodox approach immediately caught the attention of the Catholic world, and the Imprimatur was promptly withdrawn by the American bishop in charge of such things in the USA.
In 1968, the Dutch and German bishops took the lead in withholding their affirmation of Humanae Vitae. Apparently they thought that they would lose much of their flock if they proclaimed its teaching against marital contraception as true and binding. I am sure they were well intentioned, but another old saying is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The result is not just a few empty pews but empty churches—hundreds of them. Churches turned into skateboard parks, a high-ceiling practice area for trapeze artists, and shopping malls are a visible fruit of the local church going along with the contraceptive sexual revolution.
There is a certainly horrible irony in this. Two Dutch doctors and a German Catholic priest played a big part in the development of natural family planning in the 1930s, a system that was proven to be highly effective in the years before Humanae Vitae. Here are a few sentences from a short history of natural family planning we are developing for our teacher training curriculum:
“The Calendar-Temperature system. In 1926, Dutch gynecologist Theodore Hendrik van de Velde recognized that the rise in temperature was caused by ovulation and the corpus luteum. Based on his own research he asserted, with some reservations, that the rupture of the follicle (ovulation) occurred on the 11th, 12th, or 13th day of the cycle, always with the possibility of an earlier or later ovulation… Dr. Jan Nicholas Joseph Smulders, a Dutch neurologist, did so much work with the Ogino theory of periodic abstinence that Fr. Jan Mucharski says that the system should have been called the Ogino-Smulders system instead of the Ogino-Knaus system. (In 1965 our landlords told us of their 100% experience in the 1930s with the O-K system as they called it.). . . In 1935, Father Wilhelm Hillebrand, a German Catholic priest who simply wanted to help couples who had real needs to avoid pregnancy, used the temperature sign to crosscheck the calendar calculations for the start of Phase 3. He had first advised women about the Ogino and Knaus systems, but three unplanned pregnancies led him to look for something better. Recalling the van de Velde material of 1926, he collected temperature graphs from 21 women in 1935 and compared them with the calendar calculations. “A clear-cut, new combined calculo-thermal approach of controlling human fertility had been born” (Mucharski ,75). He devoted the next 24 years of his life to promoting this system. Eleven days before he died in 1959, the Albertus Magnus University in Cologne awarded him an honorary doctorate in medicine.”
When the local Catholic Church fails to stay fully Catholic in its teaching and instead sides with secular, anti-biblical morality, the result is captured in the WSJ page 1 photo. Every bishop should have it framed for his daily desktop viewing.
The third old saying that I will quote is something I learned from the late St. Paul Seminary choirmaster, Fr. Francis Missia. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. Today’s war is primarily spiritual. So for peace, we need to pray daily for the reconversion of Europe and Latin America as well as for the conversion of North America and Islam and the Jews.
John F. Kippley, January 5, 2015