Fr. Paul Vlaar, a priest in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherlands, was suspended last week following a World Cup-themed Mass he presided over which was seen by his bishop as disrespectful to the Eucharist. Diocesan spokesman Wim Peeters explained that the priest had been warned by the bishop against frivolousness previously.
Bishop Joseph Punt of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam suspended Fr. Vlaar for "failure to respect the sanctity of the Eucharist" after he celebrated the Mass on the morning of the July 11 World Cup final, dressed in an orange chasuble.
Beginning Mass with a referee's whistle, he consecrated the bread and wine at an altar adorned with flowers and candles in the team colors. He was also flanked by a child-sized soccer goal and banners and flags supporting the Dutch national team. The music chosen for the liturgy had nothing to do with the Eucharistic celebration at all.
International media picked up the story, highlighting the "silliness" of the decision to suspend him, quoting parishioners who had enjoyed the celebration and were bewildered at the priest's temporary dismissal. However, the Dutch bishops' news service RKK reported that there was "indignation" at the celebration within the Haarlem-Amsterdam Diocese for the profanation of the Mass.
"In the past there were some occasions when Fr. Vlaar used things from outside of the liturgy to get the attention of the faithful," the diocesan spokesman told CNA, conceding that he has always been "very creative in this."
However, he explained, "Our bishop has told him on a number of occasions that you cannot mix Holy Mass with things that are not proper to it. You can use things from the news and ways that attract attention, but there are things that are done outside of church."
Mr. Peeters gave the example of a common occurrence in northern Europe of blessing animals for the yearly hunt. Priests often have ceremonies to do so outside of the church building, whereas Fr. Vlaar allowed falcons in the Church for a blessing.
Describing the scene before the World Cup game, which he noted the AP uploaded in video form to YouTube, he said, "it's this type of attention ... that is not proper in church because its a profanation of the Mass."
And "that's the reason the bishop told him to take a leave for a few months for time for reflection," Peeters explained. "In these months, he is suspended, so he's not allowed to administer one of the sacraments. He'll go to a monastery or an abbey and will have time for refection, and then bishop will see what he will do.
As for Fr. Vlaar's future assignment, the spokesman said, "He could possibly go back to the same parish, but he could also go to a new parish."