Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (3160)

Dutch Catholics ‘much more progressive’ than church leaders

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Catholics in the Netherlands are much more progressive than their church leaders, but few see this as a reason to abandon the institution, a survey by I&O commissioned by Trouw has shown.

Of the 1,900 respondents 900 were active Catholics and 1,000 had lapsed or left the church. Some three quarters of the respondents said they are in favour of women priests and same sex church weddings.

Over half said they want to see the church accept abortion. Active Catholics are as progressive as those who have left the church, the survey shows. Some 65% are in favour of euthanasia for people who consider their life complete, for instance.

Only 14% of the respondents thought the church was moving with the times but a there is no sign of a broad movement for change, researcher Charlotte van Miltenburg told the paper.

‘Many people neither agree nor disagree with a number of statements and that is a sign of resignation,’ she said. The Catholic church in the Netherlands has been shrinking over the years but still has 3.8 million members, making it the biggest church by far.

However, only 153,000 attended Sunday mass with any regularity in 2018, before coronavirus depleted pews even further. Catholics under the age of 34 tend to be more conservative than their older brethren, the survey shows, and they also believe in hell more often.

Only 8% of active Catholics considered leaving the church. They are staying not for reasons of tradition, Miltenburg said, but to enjoy a sense of community. Among the motives to leave a quarter mentioned the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the church and a conservative attitude.

However, the main reason for leaving is a lack of faith.



Pension funds have good year, can consider increasing payouts

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch corporate pension funds had a good year in 2021, despite the economic uncertainties, and the big five funds are no longer threatened with having to make cuts, broadcaster NOS said on Thursday.

‘2021 may have been a difficult year for many, but it was good for ABP’s financial position,’ said Harmen van Wijnen, chairman of the giant civil service fund, which is one of the biggest in the world.

‘The coverage ratio rose in leaps and bounds and reached its highest level since 2011 by the end of the year,’ he said. ‘We can begin to think carefully about increasing pensions.’

ABP last increased its pensions in line with inflation in 2010, and the cumulative effect of consumer price rises since then is 20%. Under current rules, pension funds can only put-up pay-outs if their coverage ratio averages over 110% over the previous 12 months, but that is likely to be reduced to 105% in July.

The coverage ratio shows if the fund has enough assets to meet all its obligations, and funds are supposed to make cuts if the ratio drops below 100% for a time. Health service fund PZW is also looking at possibly index linking pensions again, NOS said.

The two big engineering sector funds are in a similar position. The standout fund is the construction industry fund Bpf Bouw which has a current coverage ratio of 125% and has index linked pay-outs every year apart from 2021. It will put up pay-outs 1.76% in 2022, NOS said.



Many coronavirus IC patients are still having problems a year later

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Three-quarters of coronavirus patients who spent time on an intensive care ward are still experiencing problems a year after being discharged, according to researchers at Radboud University teaching hospital.

The main complaints are physical, but some are also suffering from memory and concentration problems, and feelings of anxiety, the researchers said. Half of them is either not yet working or working fewer hours than they used to.

The university’s researchers looked at a representative sample of 246 IC patients who were cared for at 11 different hospitals nationwide between March and July 2020. ‘This research shows what an enormous impact being in an IC ward can have on the lives for former coronavirus patients,’ senior researcher Marieke Zegers told broadcaster NOS.

The research team plan to follow up on the progress the patients have made in further studies.



Every vote counts: Political parties in Amsterdam target the ‘expat’ voter

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Competition for the international vote at the local elections is heating up in Amsterdam, with three parties so far making a particular play for non-Dutch nationals.

Left-wing green party GroenLinks has set up a special tool so that foreigners living in the Dutch capital can find out quickly if they are eligible to vote on March 16. D66 has launched an international section for city residents and newcomer Volt is also targeting expat voters.

Everyone who has an EU passport or has lived in the Netherlands legally for five years can vote in the municipal elections and everyone who qualifies and is officially registered as a resident by January 31 will get a ballot paper in the post.

‘There is a lot to vote for,’ said GroenLinks leader Rutger Groot Wassink. ‘The future of our city starts in the voting booth. Four years ago, the people of Amsterdam chose a greener and more progressive course.

We are proud of our accomplishments but our work for the city is far from finished.’ Amsterdam’s current administration is a coalition between GroenLinks, D66, the Labour party (PvdA) and the Socialists (SP).

However, an opinion poll carried out on behalf of D66 by opinion pollster Maurice de Hond suggests that support for GroenLinks has plummeted, and the party could end up with 10% of the votes, compared with 20% four years ago.

D66 is on target to top the poll with 15%, while the right-wing VVD, the PvdA and newcomer Volt all tie on 11%. Both the VVD and PvdA won 11% support in the 2018 local polls.

Support for the Socialists, part of the current coalition but who campaigned on an ‘Amsterdam for the Amsterdammers’ ticket last time round, would almost half to 5%.

International wing

With everything to play for, D66 too is targeting the international vote. The party has set up a special international branch in the Dutch capital for expats who support the party’s policies and comedian Greg Shapiro has taken the symbolic last place on the party’s list of potential candidates.

The party has a Meetup group and Facebook page for international voters and is also planning a poster campaign to encourage more to actually use their ballot papers.

Newcomer and pan-European party Volt has also made a point of trying to attract international voters and is producing an English language version of its manifesto. ‘We talk about internationals because of the negative connotations often attached to ‘expats’, Itay Garmy, number two on the Volt list for Amsterdam, told local broadcaster AT5.

‘Internationals make the city for me,’ he said. ‘I grew up here, with all the languages I hear on the street, and that, to me, is Amsterdam, the diversity of the city.’ In March 2018, eight political parties in the city eventually produced information in English and there were also two political debates targeting international voters.


A spokeswoman for Amsterdam council, where 88,000 foreign residents were able to vote in the last local elections, said the city is not planning anything specific to encourage internationals to vote.

However, short films about the elections would be subtitled, the spokeswoman said. A poll of readers in October showed that 45% would definitely or probably vote in the local elections, but that 18% did not know if they could or not.

A further 8% said they were not interested in local politics. Top of readers’ concerns was the shortage of affordable housing. Improving recycling facilities and garbage collection and tackling discrimination were also mentioned by more than a third of respondents.



German police arrest Dutchman at head of gang of luxury car thieves

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A 66-year-old Dutch man who headed an international gang which smuggled stolen luxury cars mainly to Dubai has been arrested, German police have announced.

The arrest concluded a joint investigation with Dutch police and Europol into a spate of car thefts around Osnabrück and in North Rhine-Westphalia, which was started in 2018.

Part of the haul was stored in Groningen and shipped out to Dubai from the port of Rotterdam, complete with fake paperwork. Other cars were traded via car fairs and fences in Germany and sold on by a car rental company in France.

Although the network of people involved was a large, the Dutch man masterminded the whole operation, German police said. He was arrested in the Groningen village of Ter Apelkanaal on Saturday while the gang’s number two was apprehended in Lithuania.

He was found to have some €40,000 in cash and 60 forged car registration certificates in his possession. So far 13 members of the gang have been arrested and 11 cars impounded.

Police said that the gang can be linked to at least 32 thefts with a total worth of €2.5m. The gang targeted top price editions of such luxury makes as Mercedes, Porsche and BMW.

The arrests are a ‘significant blow which will resonate in the world of organised crime,’ Osnabrück police spokesman Marco Ellerman said.



Several human skulls found in river, police say not from a recent crime

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A number of human skulls and other bones have been found in the shallow waters of the Spui river near the village of Zuidland, south of Rotterdam.

The grim find was made on Friday by a local who was planning to go fishing in his canoe. Erik Sagan told the AD he decided to launch his boat from a different spot than usual and saw a skull in the shallow water.

‘I looked at my foot and … the back of the skull was on the bottom, with the eye sockets staring up at me,’ he said. Sagan alerted the police who came to collect the skulls, but on Sunday, Sagan found even more, some of which were in a plastic rubbish bag.

‘The skulls themselves look very old but the rubbish bag was new. There was no algae on it,’ he told the paper. Some of the skulls were complete, others did not have the lower jaw.

Sagan told Media-TV they had found 10 to 15 skulls in total. Police say the bones do not appear to have come from a recent crime but as yet have no idea as to their origin or how old they are.

The bones have been taken to the Dutch forensic institute to be researched.



The church of reason opens its doors: debating centre registers as a faith

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The heart of Amsterdam’s nightlife district was dead, but inside the doors of De Balie on Friday night, a new kind of faith-based service was going strong.

Fifty brave souls signed up to the first communion of The Philosophical Society; the Community of Reason, a new denomination registered at the Chamber of Commerce this week.

Its purpose, apparently, is to celebrate life, real-life debate and performance…on this occasion, with the help of three comics and a compere (sorry, ‘pastor’). Although the audience signed a large visitor book in order to join the community, they were asked not to take photographs and to show proceedings all due respect.

‘The Philosophical Society; the Community of Reason is about democracy and the rule of law, the solace and consolation of culture, experiencing something together that culture can give and seeing a bit of light after two years of darkness,’ said Yoeri Albrecht, director of De Balie.

‘You are witness to the first meeting. Since the society believes in experiencing culture, laughing, and enjoying each other, the first meeting is a comedy night.’ Free tickets to the event, complete with social distancing, QR code checks and face masks, were available on Thursday and sold out within an hour, according to a press spokesman.

He said that Amsterdam city council had told them it would not enforce a shutdown but was expected to monitor the evening.

The faith-based community was set up by Albrecht and his colleagues earlier this week, after he said on a television show that he did not understand ‘why you can come together in the Veluwe to talk about a 2000-year-old book, but you can’t come together in Amsterdam to talk about a book from last month.’


De Balie, in a former 19th century court building, normally functions as a space for political events, debates, talks and entertainment. In its new faith-based role, it is to be a space for open, social debate that is ‘better not on the internet’ or controlled by algorithms, according to its online manifesto.

Audience member Lena Liachenko, who spent 27 years as a tour guide in Amsterdam, pointed out that previously refugees have been able to find sanctuary in Dutch churches and said the idea was ingenious.

‘People are finding it isn’t possible to live like this,’ she said. ‘There is complete depression in the country, and we don’t understand why everything is closed. It’s a medieval idea that when you got into a church, you were safe.

This is typically Dutch, and I want to support it.’ Some of the content of the first night revolved around lockdown experiences – the idea, for example, that Netflix show seasons might be less interesting than the world outside with its four seasons, even though they are on constant repeat.

And although the first joke was about Dutch ‘boa’ wardens busting the joint, the only explosions in this first ‘service’ were of cathartic laughter.



Police to text message 3,500 drug users after seizing dealers’ phones

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police in Nijmegen will send a text message on Monday to 3,500 drug users, whose phone numbers they found on dealers’ telephones, pointing out where they can get help.

The numbers were found on phones from a dozen or so dealers who were picked up following a major investigation into a local drugs gang. Ten people will appear in court later this year.

Nijmegen police chief Lonneke Hordijk said they had been shocked by the messages found on the phones, in which users begged for credit because they had run out of money.

In one message, a woman urged the gang not to give her husband any more drugs. In another a couple urged the gang to make a delivery before their children got home.

The text message which police will send out on Monday directs people to a website where they can get help with breaking their habits. The message, said Hordijk, is to show people that they are not alone and that there is help.

In addition, the police hope that people who are only incidental users will be shocked by the message, and persuaded not to get in deeper. It is not the first time the police have targeted drug users whose numbers they found during an investigation.

A similar campaign in Zwolle last year, involved 750 users and led to the website being viewed 3,000 times.



Questions over state-funded sex care for people with a disability in Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Questions have been raised in Amsterdam city council after a man with a form of muscular dystrophy has apparently been refused state-funded ‘sex care’ recommended by his doctors.

Yassmine el Ksaihi, D66 councillor and spokeswoman on poverty and participation, said that she had been forwarded a letter from an Amsterdammer told that ‘sex care’ would no longer be refunded by the council, through the GGD public health institute.

‘We received a letter saying that the man had been refunded through the special welfare fund [in the past],’ she told ‘My view is that sex is a basic necessity of life, also for people with a disability, and if they cannot pay for it, it should be refunded.

If something has changed [in the policy], then we have an opinion about it.’ Sex care, or sekszorg in Dutch, refers to sexual services provided to people with severe physical or mental disabilities, and can be provided by professionals with a health care background.

According to a Nieuwsuur investigation in 2013, different local councils have different policies on whether it is covered by the state. In Amsterdam, said El Ksaihi, it has previously been possible to request money from a ‘special welfare’ fund known as bijzondere bijstand.

She has asked the mayor and deputy mayors a series of formal questions about whether sex care is no longer being funded by Amsterdam, how many people have been using the benefit and how many have accessed it through the special welfare fund.

‘D66 has heard from a person with a severe muscular disease (LGMD), who, despite recommendations from his GP and rehabilitation doctor, has been told by the public health institute that sex care will no longer be reimbursed, while this person would benefit enormously according to the doctors,’ the official questions begin, pointing out that the man’s health means he cannot work.

El Ksaihi told that any policy changes should have been discussed with councillors. ‘We didn’t know anything about this, so we have asked whether something has changed,’ she said.

‘As far as I know, if you are on benefits, it can be refunded once your income has been taken into account – but we have been informed that someone who used to have [sex care] funded has been told it will not be covered by the special welfare fund and must pay for it himself.

‘This is very specific care, and expensive care, and someone on benefits can’t pay for it on a minimum income. I’m curious about whether something has gone wrong or if the policy has changed.’ has asked the Amsterdam city council press office for a comment on this case and the current policy.



‘lt’s not the women’, say female staff as The Voice scandal spreads

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Media mogul John de Mol has been widely criticised for appearing to lay part of the blame for the continued sexual harassment of female contestants on talent show The Voice of Holland at the feet of the women themselves.

De Mol told the documentary makers in an interview that ‘the broader problem is that women do not tend to report this sort of thing immediately.’ ‘They seem to feel some sort of shame.

I don’t know what that is. I would like to explore that,’ De Mol said. That comment led to a full-page advert in the AD from the female staff at Talpa, De Mol’s production company, saying ‘Dear John, It’s not the women who are the problem.’

Elsewhere, De Mol’s comments were slammed for being insensitive and for blaming the victims. In Trouw, expert in gender related violence Renée Romkes called the comment ‘a classic example of reframing, a rhethorical trick’.

De Mol appears to have sympathy for the shame of the women, Romkes said ‘but what he is really saying is: it is their problem, not mine.’ Former coaches and presenters of the show joined in the criticism on social media, with Chantal Janzen saying the revelations ‘made her puke’ while Wendy van Dijk, another former presenter declared herself ‘speechless’.

Singer Ilse de Lange, a former coach on the programme, said ‘it is horrible to see people who want to make the dream to make it as an artist come true end up in such a nightmare.

It is a good thing this will now be thoroughly investigated.’ So far 19 women have identified musician and partner of De Mol’s sister Linda Jeroen Rietbergen as a sexual predator, while one of the show’s directors was mentioned by 15 women.

Singer Marco Borsato allegedly touched six contestants, including three under-age girls inappropriately. One former contestant has filed a report with the police accusing rapper and coach Ali B of raping her eight years ago, when she appeared on the show as an 18-year-old.

The woman told her story on Boos in a disguised voice, saying she ‘froze’ during the attack and that it had taken her years to realise she was not to blame.


Lawyer Ruth Jager said it is common for women to remain silent after being abused. ‘It’s totally unjustified but they feel partly responsible. (…) What de Mol should have said is: keep your dirty paws to yourself,’ she told the Volkskrant.

It is not yet clear if De Mol can be held liable for what has happened. ‘There will be a discussion about whether or not there there is a case to be made for rape in the case of Ali B.

Those are valid questions,’ lawyer Richard Korver said, adding he hoped the discussion would also focus on ‘how we as a society handle this’. The public prosecution office has called on women who have experienced sexual harassment while appearing on The Voice to report to the police, not to the lawyers of current owners of the format ITV.

‘Investigations will be carried out by a specialised team. Proof may be difficult to produce but it is certainly not impossible,’ the department said.


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