Editor’s Note: the following text is an interview with Cardinal Willem Eijk conducted by the Italian monthly magazine Il Timone and published in Italy. In this interview, Cardinal Eijk makes some courageous statements about important matters of our time. We present to our readers herewith a translation of the whole document, with the kind permission from Il Timone’s editor-in-chief, Riccardo Cascioli.
Crisi della fede, rapporto olandese – di Lorenzo Bertocchi
(Il Timone n. 171, marzo 2018)
“The crisis of faith in Christ has led to a crisis of faith in absolute norms, in the existence of intrinsically evil acts, and therefore in the fact that certain principles are not negotiable.”
Cardinal Willem Eijk spoke to Il Timone about his country of Holland, a nation which has undergone a very strong secularization, blazing the trail for all the so-called “new rights,” from contraception to euthanasia. A country where they are closing churches at an impressive pace, at times transforming them into restaurants or dance halls; today less than 20% of the population says it is Catholic, where as in 1970 it was 40% who said so.
Archbishop of Utrecht, 65 years old, Eijk was president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Netherlands until 2016, and created Cardinal by Benedict XVI in 2012.
A doctor, philosopher, and expert theologian on bioethics, he accepted the invitation to respond to questions embracing many important things in the present ecclesial and social debate.
“Beginning with the admission of euthanasia for certain well-defined cases,” he said, describing the dramatic situation in Holland, “we have gone steeply downhill, which in English is called ‘the slippery slope'” and which arrives at disturbing end points.
The “diverse interpretations” of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia which are being registered in the Catholic world “are causing confusion” in the Church, and he would be pleased if “the pope would bring clarity to this matter, preferably in the form of some kind of magisterial document.” Access to the Eucharist for divorced and remarried couples, he says, cannot happen without their commitment to live as brother and sister.
Your Eminence, in Italy after laws permitting divorce, abortion, in vitro fertilization, gay civil unions, there was a law passed which more or less directly opens the door to euthanasia. What do you think of this law?
Human laws ought to be based on the natural moral law, which finds its roots in the inalienable dignity of the human person, created by God in His image. As soon as a human law offers an opening, however minimal, to an act which violates the dignity of the human person, there will be a risk of undermining all respect for this dignity.
In Holland, this secularization has been happening for some time, how did it start?
After the introduction of hormonal contraception in 1964, the problem of unwanted pregnancies arose, for which procured abortion was prescribed as a remedy. In the mid-1960s, there was an idea that this would only be a few cases each year, but today and for some time the number of procured abortions is more than 30,000 per year. Even this number is relatively low, because the majority of young women use the pill starting at age 13-14 through the initiative of their parents, who are afraid that their daughters will get pregnant. Thus Holland remains very proud of having relatively few adolescent pregnancies. This situation also generates a problem with the formation of youth, because the widespread use of the pill at such a young age does not help with the formation of the virtue of chastity, that is, the integration of impulses and sexual feelings into a mutual total gift of self which is done in marriage, or in a celibate life.
Regarding euthanasia, your country is probably one of the most “advanced” in the world.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s in Holland, the application of euthanasia was discussed (defined as the suppression of life on the part of a doctor at the request of a patient) as well as assisted suicide, but only in the case of the terminal phase of an incurable physical malady. Afterwards, the suppression of life outside of terminal cases also came to be accepted. Thus, in the 1990s, they began to speak about euthanasia, or giving assistance in suicide, in cases of patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses or in the case of dementia. A new barrier fell with the so-callled “Groningen Protocol,” an agreement between neonatologists and the attorney for the city of Groningen, according to which a doctor, who ended the life of a handicapped newborn baby, would not be able to be prosecuted, provided that he had respected a series of cautionary requests. From this local protocol, a regulation was created at the national level for the suppression of life of handicapped newborn children. In October 2016, the preceding government to our present one announced that it wanted to develop a new law which would have made possible assisted suicide for persons who are not suffering from any kind of psychiatric or somatic illness, but who are of the opinion that, due to feelings of loneliness, old age, or a reduced mobility, their life is “accomplished,” that is, it no longer has any sense in being lived and thus may be ended. In our present government there are now two Christian parties which are against such a law. However, a member of Parliament from a left-leaning liberal party intends to present legislation which involves permitting assistance in suicide, not necessarily by a doctor, in the case of a life considered “fulfilled,” for persons at least 75 years old.
This brief example demonstrates that the criteria for the suppression of life are growing ever broader, and that respect for human life and for the dignity of the person is growing ever less. The door, once it is left ajar, in the end is completely opened. Beginning to admit euthanasia for certain well-defined cases, puts us on a inclined plane, which in English is called “the slippery slope.” Once you put your feet on this slippery slope, you slip more rapidly than you thought you would.
Is there the same sort of slippery slope which has led to marriage between persons of the same sex?
Holland was the first country to legalize so-called homosexual marriage, in 2001. It is true, in a certain sense, that also here we are dealing with a slippery slope. The legalization of hormonal contraception in the early 1960s suggested that a sexual act can be morally separable from procreation. Once the culture grew accustomed to this idea, we arrived at the conclusion that also other sexual acts outside of those directly ordered towards procreation are morally acceptable, among which are homosexual acts. It is essential to be aware that these things are linked one to the other: if we change one element of sexual morality, in the end we risk changing all of it radically, perhaps without having realized this at first.
It seems that many Catholics involved in politics may have forgotten the so-called “non-negotiable principles” (the defense of life, the natural family, and liberty of education).
Paragraphs 73-74 of John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae permit that Catholic politicians under certain conditions – that is, respecting the conditions of general principles on cooperation with evil – may vote for a law, for example a more restrictive law on procured abortion [sic], even if they are dealing with an intrinsically unjust law, in an attempt to prevent the acceptance of a still more permissive law. Politicians who thus limit the number of procured abortions may see this action as a contribution to the common good. Many Catholic politicians have in this way defended their vote in favor of a law promoting abortion or euthanasia, although it may be asked whether they have truly followed all of the conditions as mentioned in Evangelium Vitae and if their vote may truly be interpreted as a contribution to the common good. Now, apart from the fact that many Catholic politicians today may be less effectively prepared to dialogue on non-negotiable principles in order to arrive at an ethically justifiable compromise, I fear that many of them no longer even see these things as non-negotiable.
In your opinion what is the cause of the situation?
The crisis of faith always strikes also at moral convictions, which are an intrinsic part of faith. The present crisis of faith in Christ has led to a crisis of faith in absolute norms, the existence of intrinsically evil acts, and thus in the fact that certain principles are non-negotiable. However, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Human laws must correspond to the natural moral law, which safeguards the dignity of the person and which derives from the order which God has given to His creation.
Your Eminence, you have said that it would be necessary to have a document in the Church on the theme of gender. What is the present situation in Holland? What will be the future consequences?
The United Nations, other international institutions, and individual nations, are stimulating the diffusion of gender theory in social life, and above all by means of the world of education. For this reason, there is an urgent need for a document of the magisterium which explains the doctrine of the Church on the essential links between gender, the social role of man and woman, and biological sex, based on a Christian anthropology for which the body, including sexuality, is an intrinsic dimension of the person. The biological distinction between man and woman is also a part of the plan of creation given by God: “and God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created him” (Genesis 1:27). This means that the sexual difference has something to do with being created in the image of God, therefore in itself it reflects something of God One and Three, Who is in Himself a community of Three Persons distinct from each other in their mutual relations.
Since 1985 in Holland, you can request from a tribunal to have your sex and name changed on your birth certificate. Since 2014, a person who is at least 16 years old, presenting a declaration from an expert at a center for gender dysphoria, may request to have his sex changed on his birth certificate by a civil agent and then on his passport, without the consent of a judge, or any medical declaration, and also without the consent of his parents. Already in the 1970s, the first center for gender dysphoria was opened in the University Hospital at the Free University of Amsterdam, whose chief doctor in 1988 became the first professor of “trans-sexology” in the world. The medical-hormonal treatment for a sex change, as well as the surgical procedures necessary, were for the most part covered by basic health insurance, which is obligatory for everyone. In the not so far off future, it will be young people above all, influenced by educational projects which promote gender theory, who will no longer understand the intrinsic value of biological sex and who will see gender as an object of free choice on the part of the individual, independently of biological sex. This has already had, and will continue to have even more, profound repercussions on the way of seeing the family, marriage, and sexuality, which is the biggest area of difficulty for the Catholic Church in proclaiming her doctrine. And this is true not only in the field of marital and sexual morality, but also in the field of the sacramental theology of Holy Orders: without a recognition or comprehension of the essential significance of the biological distinction between man and woman, one cannot understand the analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Church to that between a man and his wife (Ephesians 5:21-33), and thus one cannot understand why only a man may be ordained as a priest.
In January you gave an interview to the Dutch daily Trouw, in which you addressed the controversial question of access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried couples, a theme which is the fruit of the synodal process. Can you repeat your thoughts on this proposal?
The question of whether it is possible to consent to the so-called divorced and civilly remarried receiving sacramental absolution and thus the Eucharist is fracturing the Church. We are encountering a debate, at times very vehement, at every level, between cardinals, bishops, priests, and laypeople.
The source of the confusion is the Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, written by Pope Francis at the conclusion of the Synods on the Family of 2014 and 2015. This confusion concerns above all paragraph 305 of the exhortation. We see that some bishops’ conferences have introduced pastoral regulations which imply that the divorced and remarried may be admitted to Holy Communion with a series of conditions and after a period of pastoral discernment on the part of the priest who accompanies them. In contrast, other bishops’ conferences exclude this possibility. That which is true in place A cannot be false in place B. These differing interpretations of the exhortation, which regard doctrinal questions, are causing confusion among the faithful. Therefore, I would be happy if the Pope would create clarity on this matter, preferably in the form of some sort of a magisterial document. I myself participated in both Synods on the Family and I argued that we cannot consent to the divorced and civilly remarried receiving Holy Communion; I made this argument also in an article published in a book which contained interventions of eleven cardinals (Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family, Ignatius Press, 2015).
Can you briefly explain your position?
Jesus Himself said that marriage is indissoluble (Mt 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18). Jesus, in the Gospel of St. Matthew (19:9, cfr. 5:32), seems to admit an exception, that is, that one can repudiate his wife “in a case of an illegitimate union.” However, the exact meaning of the Greek word, porneia, translated here as “illegitimate union,” is uncertain: most probably it means an incestuous union caused by a marriage entered into within degrees of forbidden kinship (cf. Leviticus 18:6-18 and Acts 15:18-28). The deepest argument is that one cannot consent to the divorced and remarried receiving Holy Communion on the basis of the analogy of the relationship between husband and wife being like that of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:23-32). The relationship between Christ and the Church is a total mutual gift. The total gift of Christ to the Church is realized in gift of His life on the Cross. This total gift is made present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Whoever participates in the Eucharist ought to be ready to make a total gift of himself, which shares in the total gift of Christ to the Church. Whoever divorces and remarries in a civil ceremony, while the first marriage has not been declared null, violates the total mutual gift which the first marriage implies. The second marriage in a civil ceremony is not a true and proper marriage. The violation of the total gift of the first marriage which is still considered valid, and the absence of the will to comply with this total gift, renders the person involved in the second marriage unworthy of participating in the Eucharist, which makes present the total gift of Christ to the Church. However, this does not take away from the fact that the divorced and remarried may still participate in the liturgical celebration, including the celebration of the Eucharist, without receiving Holy Communion, and that the priest may pastorally accompany them.
In the case in which the divorced and civilly remarried are not able to separate, for example because of their obligations to their mutual children, they may be admitted to Holy Communion or to the Sacrament of Penance, only if they correspond to the conditions mentioned in paragraph 84 of Familiaris Consortio and in paragraph 29 of Sacramentum Caritatis. One of these conditions is that they must commit themselves to living as brother and sister, that is, to stop having sexual relations.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino
The post has been updated.