BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
CARDINAL ALFRINK, the Dutch Primate, has given a warning that the issue of priestly celibacy could lead to a rift or schism within the Church in Holland, though not between the Dutch Church as a whole and Rome.
The Cardinal was speaking on television in Utrecht on Saturday. The day before, the Dutch bishops had issued a statement that, in spite of the Cardinal's recent Vatican visit. Pope Paul still insisted that celibacy should in most cases be obligatory.
The purpose of Cardinal Alfrink's visit to Rome in July was to urge upon Pope Paul the Dutch bishops' position as outlined in their earlier statement in January of this year.
That statement had affirmed the value of celibacy, but had suggested (I) the ordination of married men, and (2) the restoration to the priestly ministry, in special cases and under special conditions, of priests who have married.
In last week's statement the bishops reaffirmed that they had never sought the abolition of priestly celibacy. "We have frequently expressed our appreciation of those priests who for the kingdom of God. with devotion and willingness to make sacrifices. keep their vow of celibacy. We have cornpassion for and care about both groups."
The statement added that the Pope had listened to Cardinal Alfrink "with great attention, benevolence and understanding", but that the Cardinal was once again confronted "with the delicate and extremely responsible position of the Pope, who is the pastor of the whole Church . . ."
The Pope understood the Cardinal's problems, said the bishops, including the acute and growing shortage of priests in Holland. But the Pope "believes that the reasons for maintaining the traditional ties between the priesthood and celibacy in the Latin Church are still valid today, and perhaps even more so now than in the past."
The statement continued: • "The Pope considers the preaching of this view as a heavy and imperative demand of his apostolic office. For him, this is a balanced conviction in which he feels himself to be sup ported by the bishops, though he knows there are bishops who have a different view.
"The Pope maintains what he wrote on February 2 to the Cardinal Secretary of State about the possibility of ordaining married men of more mature age in order to help in exceptional situations.
"This is a measure that could be considered in collective consultation. The 1971 Synod of Bishops, which has priestly ministry on its agenda, would be a proper occasion to discuss this issue."
'More talks' hope
The bishop's statement ended: "Both sides expressed the wish that the talks between the Dutch hierarchy and the Holy See will be continued."
In his TV interview. Cardinal Alfrink made an appeal to priests who intend to marry and still to go on saying Mass. to remember their responsibility to their own Church community and to the universal Church. Asked what he would do if the priests concerned defied the prohibition on their celebrating Mass, the Cardinal said: "This is the most difficult and perhaps the most painful question you have put to me. But if this happens, and I still con, tinue to hope it will not happen. then I must state that the bishops cannot approve of it. I think indeed that not only the bishops will refuse to assent to it. but also part (maybe even the greater part) of the Dutch Catholic community."
The Cardinal said he fully understood the needs of married priests. "We shall try to find a way of helping to relieve these needs as soon as possible. However, on the other hand, I hope that these priests themselves will be conscious of their own responsibility .
"We ask them again to have patience and to be prepared for a measure of sacrifice. I think that perhaps one may expect sacrifice above all from those who have bound themselves to the Church as her priests."
The number of priests leaving the ministry in Holland is increasing rapidly. In the first half of this year, 183 priests asked to be released from their vows (89 secular priests and 94 regulars). Last year the total over the whole 12 months was 205.