The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, Cardinal Adrian Simonis, of Utrecht, has criticized the Dutch government, accusing it of regarding the church as a "non-entity."

Cardinal Simonis made his remarks in an interview published March 6 in a Dutch daily newspaper, the Volkskrant. Prime Minister Wim Kok has since rejected the criticism, saying that the cardinal had exaggerated his grievances.

"Originally the separation of church and state meant that the state should not concern itself with church matters," Cardinal Simonis, whose church is the biggest in the Netherlands, told the Volkskrant. "But now it has gone so far that [Christian] belief and the church no longer have any public meaning for the government. The government merely sees citizens as individuals, no matter whether they believe or not."

One consequence, the cardinal complained, was that the state was taking over the church's tasks. As a result the political establishment, rather than society at large, was now defining social values and norms. The cardinal referred specifically to marriage, a topical issue here because the Netherlands is soon to become one of the first countries in the world to allow civil marriage between people of the same sex. On April 1 the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, will officiate at the civil marriages of four same-sex couples in the town hall.

Cardinal Simonis also said that the secularization of Dutch society had led to widespread ignorance about the church. "I'm just happy when people don't say cannibal [instead of 'cardinal'] to me. That's happened before."

Cardinal Simonis complained that Prime Minister Kok had refused to meet him for the past three years. The cardinal contrasted the Dutch premier's apparent lack of ...

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