The bishops of the Netherlands, ending a special synod held under the supervision of Pope John Paul II, agreed today to return to traditional Catholic doctrine and drop innovative practices that had made the Dutch church the most progressive in the Catholic world.
The outcome of the unusual two-week synod was seen by many observers here as another clear indication of the doctrinal rigidity that has been imposed on the Roman Catholic Church during the papacy of John Paul.
In recent weeks, the Vatican has moved against several innovative theologians, including the Rev. Hans Kung, a popular Swiss who has been declared guilty of heresy and barred from teaching Catholic theology.
It has forbidden the Rev. Jacques Pohier, a French theologian, from functioning as priest; called in a prominent Dutch theologian, the Rev. Edward Schillebeeckx, for questioning, and censured the five American authors of a book on sexuality and Catholic morals that had been published during the papacy of Paul VI.
Cardinal Jan Willebrands, one of the seven Dutch bishops who took part in the synod, said at a news conference today that the new rulings, which are to be lead to Dutch Catholics in a pastoral letter Sunday, might encounter opposition.
"There will surely be apprehension," said Willebrands, "but we hope to overcome it through understanding." The Dutch primate, a well-known ecumenist who is considered a moderate, said he hoped the unifying spirit of the synod "would be contagious."
Pope John Paul told the bishops at a closing mass in the Sistine Chapel, "i am profoundly convinced that our work has also served the church of Christ in all of its universality."
Nevertheless, the outcome of the synod, amounting to repudiation of a series of progressive experiments, could widen rather than narrow the gap that exists between the majority of Dutch Catholics and Rome.
Above all, it is expected to confirm the suspicion of many liberal Catholics that during Pope John Paul's reign there are likely to be few new departures in Roman Catholic practice or doctrine.
A recent phone survey done by the Dutch national Public Opinion Institute indicated that 48 percent of Dutch Catholics were pessimistic about the synod's outcome and that another 47 percent expected only a partial solution of the liberal-conservative disagreements that have divided the Dutch church.
To ensure that the conclusions of the synod are carried out, today's announcement said, cardinals from the Vatican will make frequent visits to the Netherlands.
It was also decided to increase the number of dioceses in the country, a move that some observers said was intended to reduce the influence of the four decidedly liberal Dutch bishops.
The synod's major decisions were to:
Reinstitute traditional seminaries for training of priests instead of educating them at universities.
Make a clear distinction between the role of priests and that of lay workers, especially former priests who remain in the church. Many of these had continued to perform priestly functions.
Ban intercommunion with other faiths, while working toward ecumenism in other areas.
A return to the Roman missal and liturgy, which had been replaced in many areas by local liturgies, and a return to the practice of confessing sins individually to a priest, which had been abandoned in favor of less arduous group absolution.
In the 20 years since the Second Vatican Council, the Dutch church has become one of the most progressive. It quickly incorporated many of the practices and ideas that grew out of Vatican II, leaving more conservative churches such as that in the United States far behind in meeting what Dutch bishops saw as the objectives of that tradition-breaking council.
Dutch Catholics, who number about 5.5 million and make up 40 percent of the country's population, divided along liberal and conservative lines as the dominant liberals moved toward unorthodox positions on controversial issues such as priestly celibacy and marriage, homosexuality, birth control, abortion and divorce.
The conuntry's two conservative biships, Matthis Gijsen and Adrianus Simonis, reportedly expressed the view that the growing premissiveness of the Dutch church in recent years was responsible for a decline in church attendance and a sharp drop in the number of ordinations of priests.
From 1975 to 1978, 28 priests were ordained, compared to 104 in 1960 alone.
Gijsen, one of the most conservative bishops in Europe, had virtually broken relations with the four liberal Dutch bishops but, in today's statement, declared his willingness to cooperate in the future.
The drop in ordinations in many Western countries is thought to be a particular concern of Pope John Paul, whose life was spent largely in the conservative Polish church, one of the few national churches in Europe today where both ordinations and church attendance are flourishing.
Since he was elected to the papacy in October 1978, John Paul has repeatedly spoken out in favor of the trational priesthood: male, celibate, wearing clerical garb and permanent. He reportedly has approved no requests for dispensation from priests who wish to return to lay status.
Under his papacy, the church hierarchy and especially the Vatican Curia has taken on a stronger role, largely at the expense of church theologians who, in the past, played a major part in guiding the church.