A Catholic priest in the south of the Netherlands has stirred up controversy by refusing to allow the local Prince Carnival to receive Communion because he is openly gay. Father Luc Buyens of the small town of Reusel took his stand at last Saturday’s Carnival Mass.
Carnival is a major public holiday in the southern Netherlands: shops and schools close and normal life grinds to a halt for three days of fun and festivities. An important part of the tradition is the election of a Prince Carnival, often a prominent member of the local community, to lead the Carnival celebrations. This year in Reusel, the honour fell to openly gay resident Gijs Vermeulen, who made no secret of his five-year relationship with his partner Michael in the weeks leading up to the celebrations.
Both the Catholic church and Carnival are very much part of the social fabric in the Netherlands’ southern provinces. The two are closely linked, since the Carnival festivities mark the start of Lent, a Christian period of fasting and renunciation leading up to Easter.
In his capacity as Prince Carnival, Gijs Vermeulen was due to address the congregation at the Carnival Mass and then lead them to receive Communion. But one week before the festivities were due to start, Father Buyens called Gijs to tell him that he would not allow him to take the sacrament. The Catholic Church officially condemns homosexuality and priests can refuse to administer the sacraments to practising homosexuals, though the Dutch clergy rarely do so.
"I was on the phone with him for almost half an hour," Gijs Vermeulen explained to Dutch gay magazine Gaykrant. "I told him we’re not living in the 14th century anymore but he wasn’t prepared to change his position."
In the end, Mr Vermeulen attended the mass because he did not want to spoil the celebrations, but he continued his discussion with the church on Thursday. "I want to be treated the same as everyone else,” he insists. “I'm a Catholic. I made my first Communion and took Confirmation."
The renewed discussion has not brought the two sides any closer together. After his conversation with Father Buyens, Mr Vermeulen told the press that he accepts that the church is entitled to exercise its rules, but he is saddened by the nature of those rules.
This may not be the final word on the controversy. Today’s AD newspaper reports that a Labour councillor from a nearby town has called on the gay community to protest at the church in Reusel until the priest admits the error of his ways. Both Father Buyens and Gijs Vermeulen have declined to comment on the initiative.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide