The longstanding feud between the radical and conservative wings of the Roman Catholic Church in Holland has erupted again with such force and recrimination that both sides feel only Pope John Paul II's personal intervention can prevent a permanent schism.
The issue chiefly responsible for the latest upset here is abortion and government's intention to liberalize the law during the current parliamentary session
The passage of this legislation has always promised difficulty for the coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals. But now the church in the person of the ultra-conservative Bishop Jan Gijsen of Boermond has intervened directly.
He has threatened to refuse the sacraments to any Catholic legislators who support the abortion law propos als. In an interview he said, "I believe that this issue is not only worth a government crisis, but in this instance a government crisis is necessary"
Gijsen was strongly rebuked for the sentiments, whose expression is seen by many as interfering in political af fairs. However, if it was the bishop's intention to polarize debate not only on the abortion issue but also other ethical questions, there is no doubt he has succeeded.
He has twice visited Rome in the last few months and says: "We must not be surprised if the pope decides to act in the near future. I believe that the Holy See will soon call on Holland to make real choices. I know the pope is taking the situation here very seriously. He must intervene."
So far the pope has made no comment on the deteriorating relations between Gijsen and his fellow bishops. But he has received a report on the dispute from Cardinal Jan Wille brands, the Dutch primate, who is also head of the Vatican's Secretariat for Christian Unity.
Whatever the political effects of the bishop's criticisms of abortion law reform, the reverberations within the Dutch church have been considerable Willebrands has described the current dissension as "tragic," saying: "The church is a sign of unity but threatens to become a demonstration of division."
Comments by Gijsen, he went on, were undesirable because they "might well detract from the dignity and credibility of the Dutch episcopal college."
A recent private meeting between the seven Dutch bishops has done nothing to bring the two sides closer. Gijsen is supported in his conservative opinions by Rotterdam's Bishop Arie Simonis; their five colleagues are variously described as "liberals" or "progressives." Their discussions were inconclusive.