Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers called on Pope John Paul II today to take steps to try to alleviate the ferment that has accompanied his visit to the Netherlands and said it is necessary for the Vatican and Dutch Catholics to "build bridges and to restore confidence."
In a speech welcoming John Paul to the capital, Lubbers alluded to the unrest within the Dutch Roman Catholic Church over Vatican policies, telling the pope, "I particularly wish you wisdom in the care you devote to the Catholic community in this country and thereby the Dutch people as a whole."
"To be quite frank," Lubbers said, "simply the word Rome makes some people in the Netherlands uneasy if not downright suspicious." The Netherlands, he said, "provokes an equal amount of concern" in the Vatican.
Extra police were called to duty in The Hague during the papal visit today to prevent a repetition of the violent clashes yesterday, during which young protesters hurled objects at the pope's car and battled with riot police in Utrecht.
No incidents were reported today, although several demonstrations, some of which supported the pope, were held outside the World Court while the pope spoke inside.
Lubbers, who is Catholic, made no specific references to the blunt criticisms of Vatican policies that the pontiff heard yesterday during his meetings with leaders of Dutch civic and religious groups.
But in stressing the attachment of Dutch Catholics to what he called the country's "heritage" of democracy and tolerance, Lubbers was clearly trying to explain why the Dutch church has been so bitterly divided in recent years over papal authority, the organizational structure of the church and what are viewed here as the Vatican's conservative social stances.
The divisions in the church over moral questions have parallels in Dutch society as a whole, where concern has grown about the popular association of Amsterdam and other cities with drugs, pornography and prostitution. Many Dutch citizens feel their tradition of tolerance has been abused.
Dutch Catholics, once considered staunchly loyal to Rome, began to break away in the early 1960s at the time of the Second Vatican Council, which led to a wide range of reforms in church liturgy, structure and doctrine. Liberal Dutch Catholics argued for more changes, including the right of priests to marry, approval of premarital sex and the involvement of lay pastoral workers in the administration of sacraments.
Some structural changes endorsed by liberal Dutch bishops were put into practice, angering the Vatican and traditional Dutch Catholics.
In 1970, the Vatican began to replace retiring liberal bishops with loyal conservatives. In 1980, the pope called an unprecedented synod to reconcile the differences in the Dutch church. At the special meeting, Dutch bishops reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine.
The reassertion of the Vatican's authority ended the period of reform in the Dutch church but did not heal the divisions, according to liberal church members. Polls have shown that a majority of Dutch Catholics disagree with the pope's strict views on morality, and a subtantial minority endorses such structural reforms as the ordination of women as priests.
During his speech, Lubbers did not refer directly to the violence yesterday, involving disaffected youths. But he said that "different groups find it difficult to cope with the rapid changes of present-day living."