Homosexual rights organisations in the Netherlands are planning more protests during Roman Catholic church services this Sunday. This follows demonstrations last weekend when several hundred gay protesters and sympathisers disrupted Mass at the cathedral in the southern city of Den Bosch.
The protest was directed at Father Luc Buyens, who refused to allow an openly gay Carnival prince to receive Communion.
But not all Catholic churches in the country have the same attitude. The small Old Catholic Church has progressive ideas on gay issues and it says Roman Catholic bishops should be more 'pragmatic'.
The Bishop of Den Bosch, Antoon Hurkmans, argues that homosexual men and women should not receive the sacrament as their lifestyle does not fit in with the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith.
It is a sentiment not shared by the small Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands, which is in “full communion” with the Anglican Church in Great Britain, meaning they share the same doctrine. The Old Catholics have progressive views on celibacy and the roles of women and gays in church - women priests are allowed, as are gay marriages.
“We don’t treat homosexuals differently than heterosexuals”, says Dr Dick Schoon, bishop of the Haarlem and Amsterdam diocese of the Old Catholic Church. “Gays are accepted in our church as long as they’re good Christians. That’s our only condition”.
Bishop Schoon wouldn’t label his church as 'progressive', just because of its position on gays and women. In fact, in other aspects, the church can be quite orthodox in its views. “We don’t follow every modern trend”, Bishop Schoon says, “We try to be consistent with the old Catholic traditions. Those traditions do not change, they’re of all times and all ages. We can’t change our faith or add or subtract something from it”.
But the bishop acknowledges that practical changes do occur. “It is a way to deal with developments. Questions we have today are different from questions we had in the 19th century. Trying to answer today’s questions with a 19th-century vision wouldn’t be very useful”.
No big role
Marco Derks is a young theologian and a member of the Old Catholic Church in Utrecht. As a gay man, he feels more than welcome there: “My sexual orientation doesn’t really play such a big role for me in church. Maybe that’s one of the beautiful things about the Old Catholic Church, that I don’t feel the need to say: ‘I am gay, do you accept me?’. I feel I am accepted in this church, without having to stress that”.
Mr Derks feels there should be more room for dialogue in the Roman Catholic church when it comes to gay issues. “They’re very clear about sexuality. But there used to be room for people’s own conscience and the church is losing that. That worries me”.
He’s not the only one who feels this way, he says. “I know a couple of former members of the Roman Catholic church who are gay and who are now joining the Old Catholic Church. It’s because of the tension they felt – not only in theory, but also in confrontations with priests and bishops”.
However, the Old Catholic Church remains very small – with only 6,000 members, it is struggling to survive in an age of secularisation. Even its different views on gays, women and celibacy don’t attract many new parishioners, Bishop Schoon admits. “You have to fully engage yourself here and that proves to be difficult for some”.
He has some advice for his Roman Catholic colleague in Den Bosch: “Follow Jesus. Think of what He would have done in this situation. That’s the only comfort and the only example we have as Christians. And more pragmatically, I’d advise him to try and make his church a little bit more democratic”.