Pope tells Dutch bishops to speak out on sensitive matters

Pope Francis told Dutch bishops to speak out on marriage, euthanasia and the family during their visit to the Vatican at the weekend.

The pope said they should not be afraid to tackle these sensitive matters, news agency AFP reports on Tuesday.

He also offered his sympathy to the victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

During the ad limina visit, which takes place every five years, the bishops told the pope about the health of the Catholic church in the Netherlands and gave an account of the policy they are following.

In the past 25 years, the Dutch Catholic church has lost one million members, taking the total to four million, according to the NRC. Just 350,000 of these attend church regularly.

The number of priests has fallen from 999 in 2004 to 559 in 2012.

This trend is set to continue, says the NRC. In 2012, church attendance fell 9% in one year.

The solution, according to the church, is to merge parishes, with the aim of creating at least one well-attended parish in every region.

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