by Vincent Leb

 

Catholic priest Wim Veth debates why the influence of the church has diminished. The conversation soon involves priests on Twitter, modern-day sins and what Veth himself would have to admit in the confessional.

 

Wim Veth (54) serves as a priest at Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk on Keizersgracht and is also occupied as a student chaplain for the roman-catholic student pastoral care in the city.

 

According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), the majority of the Dutch population aged 15 and older stated that they did not belong to any religious group in 2017 – for the first time in history. Why have people lost faith? Veth: It’s not only the church struggling with less followers, but all kinds of voluntary associations. Nowadays, people find it difficult to commit to things although they might still worship them. It often comes down to the question: When will I have time?

The roman-catholic church especially is often criticized for seemingly being outdated, bigoted, controlling or judgmental. Can you relate to that criticism? No… No, I can’t. Who is saying that? (awkward silence) When I talk to people, I hear different things. Most probably, because I belong to a different part of society. I don’t share that criticism.

In general, my topic is not so much that people should convert to Catholicism. It’s more important that they try to discover who is God rather than us just filling up church with people saying ‘Amen’.

How could the church connect to more people again? Having a Twitter or Facebook account can help reach out but the goal is for people to realise who God is. It’s about making them think, inspiring them. When I talk about loyalty, it’s a term most find difficult to understand. What is loyalty or faithfulness? I have to make sure that people grasp what that means. That’s a continuous task.

What would you consider a sin? Sin means enjoying that bad things happen to other people or being reluctant, passive.

There are no ‘societal sins’. They are always personal. Society can have structures that are sinful, but it’s always people committing immoral acts. If I recognised societal sins, I could say: I’m not responsible that people starve to death in Africa. But we are.

Which sins do you commonly need to forgive? I usually don’t get murderers in the confessional. (laughs) That would put me in a difficult situation. Even murderers can be forgiven in the name of God – if they are repenting. I’d  would try helping them to feel enough repentant to announce themselves in front of the police.

Preserving marriages is a big issue for many; marriage is demanding. There will always be nice guys around, that’s a fact.

There’s a great temptation of money obviously, like grabbing a couple of thousand euros at the expense of someone else. People get worried: Imagine you’ve worked for 50 years and still don’t own an expensive car. When’s it finally going to be yours?

Which sins have you committed so far? (laughs) Good question… I am very boring, I pay my taxes – but whenever I find tax exemption I use it. (laughs) I mean, is there a sin I could publicly confess? Tell your readers that they can call me if I have said something that insulted them. I will apologize.  

 

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