A Dutch priest is to put on public display the names and photographs of people who’ve decided to abandon Catholicism following a backlash in the Netherlands over Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas message denouncing gay marriage.
Fr Harm Schilder says the pictures will be displayed
in the porch of Saint Margaret Mary parish church in Tilburg, in the
predominantly Catholic south of the country, not, he insists, to name
and shame those leaving but in an attempt to convince them to stay.
Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage
in 2001. Even in conservative Tilburg, many liberal-minded Catholics
were shocked at the pontiff’s denouncement of same-sex unions – which
was condemned by the government.
But in typically bureaucratic
Dutch style, anyone wishing to be acknowledged as having left the church
must send a formal written request to their local priest, accompanied
by photocopies of their identity documents – which include photographs.
“This is a large parish and I don’t know everyone,” Fr Schilder said. “The
idea of putting the photographs on display is that members of the
congregation may recognise someone they know and pray for them – or even
manage to convince them to change their minds and stay.”
Schilder said he was approached at Christmas, immediately after the
pope’s message, by four angry parishioners who had decided to leave, and
he knew there were many similarly inclined in Tilburg and around the
“This isn’t about naming and shaming or finger-pointing,”
said the priest, known locally as the PVV pastor because of his support
for Geert Wilders’s right-wing Freedom Party. “It’s about getting the
“Of course I try to speak to everyone who
wishes to leave but in many cases the decision seems final. Only people
who know them may be able to change their minds.”
Fr Schilder made
national headlines in 2010 when the courts backed a decision by his
local council to stop him ringing the church bells at 7.15am.