( May 24, 1985) To evaluate whether Pope John Paul's visit to the Netherlands was a success, we need to know why he went there. The four-day visit was the climax of a long process of regaining control of a church believed to be slipping into error.
First came the special synod held in Rome in January 1980, which set the ground rules for the future development of the Dutch church. Then, conservative bishops were appointed to carry out these new policies. Finally, the pope came in person to invest them with his authority. This was, so to speak, the last card in the Vatican pack.
Moreover, the pope thought he would succeed. He made this clear on arrival when he thanked Cardinal-designate Adriaan Simonis for emphasizing "the close attachment of Dutch Catholics to Rome." The pope said, "This attachment is deeper than might appear from any account of the contemporary history of the Dutch church."
In other words, the pope was going to bring all his charm, authority and charism to bear on Holland, and thus he would reach out to the "silent majority" of Dutch Catholics who have suffered in silence for so long. Then the "dissidents" in command of the media would be isolated, good sense and normality would be restored and the new era could begin.
The actual visit proved that this plan was based on a faulty analysis of the current state of Dutch Catholicism. There was no evidence that the hungry masses were eagerly waiting to hear the pope's message on crispness and authority.
Even in the southern province of Limburg, Bishop Joannes Gijses' territory, the crowd was estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 -- a mere one-third of the prediction. This was despite the fact that Limburg is close to Belgium and West Germany, from where 1,000 more might have been expected.
Gijses himself admitted that Limburg is practically another country and was no guide to Holland, generally. It was the only place at which a mass meeting was attempted.
In fairness, it should be said that the pope had bad luck with the weather -- May is normally tulip time in Holland. But on the