Saturday, January 12, 2013

Priest to display details of people leaving church over pope's message

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.

The 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.

Changing minds 

“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.”

Fr 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 country.

“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 community involved.

“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.

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