Mobs of punk and homosexual demonstrators shouting profanity and singing “Kill the Pope!” were driven back by Dutch riot police here Sunday, but not before a small group hurled rocks, bottles, cans and rotten eggs at the visiting pontiff’s white vehicle.
The Popemobile, as the vehicle is called, and Pope John Paul II were not hit.
Running battles between riot police and an estimated 1,000 youths, the most violent demonstrations during any of the Pope’s 26 trips abroad, included at least three shots fired by police who were attacked. Two were warning shots into the air; the third may have hit a knife-wielding man who escaped.
Confronted at Meeting
The street confrontations were for the most part not seen by the pontiff and did not alter his schedule on the second day of his visit to the Netherlands. However, he personally faced uncomfortable moments in televised meetings with Roman Catholics who confronted him on the questions of abortion, euthanasia, premarital sex, homosexuality, married priests, divorce and the ordination of women.
Challenging the Pope’s hard-line stand on the issues, respected churchwoman Helwig Wasser, a mother of three and chairwoman of the Diocesan Missionary Council of Groningen, asked him during a nationally televised discussion:
“Are we preaching the liberating Gospel in a credible way if we lay down the law, rather than extend a helping hand? If we exclude, rather than make room for, unmarried people living together, divorced people, homosexuals, married priests and women?”
‘The Right to Choose’
Dr. Henk ten Have, a noted Dutch physician and active Catholic layman, told the pontiff in another encounter that “the church should not take away the right to choose” abortion or euthanasia.
The pontiff appeared upset and avoided answering the challenges. Later, Wasser, whose remarks drew both cheers and boos from the audience, said the pontiff greeted her warmly nonetheless.
As Wasser and Ten Have confronted the Pope in central Utrecht’s convention center, police fought running battles with the punks and homosexuals who were attempting to break through police lines established several blocks away.
Utrecht Police Chief Jan Wiarda said five rioters and three policemen were injured, 14 people were arrested and “lots of buildings, windows and some cars were damaged.”
One policeman fired a pistol shot at a knife-wielding attacker during one of the clashes, Wiarda said, but the man disappeared into the mob, so it was not known if he was wounded. Another policeman fired two warning shots in the air when a pair of demonstrators tried to strangle him after trashing his police car, the chief said.
Wiarda said scattered clashes with smaller bands of rioters were continuing Sunday night, but that police had them under control. The pontiff, as planned, returned to The Hague for the night after completing a full day’s activities without serious delay.
“I don’t think the Pope has been chased out of Utrecht by the demonstrators,” said the police chief, who appeared to be somewhat embarrassed by the day’s events.
For two hours at the height of the rioting, punks disrupted police communications by broadcasting continuous music satirizing the Pope on police radio frequencies.
One of the songs that jammed the radios was “Popie Jopie,” a Dutch term for buffoon, that has hit best-seller charts throughout the Netherlands in the last month. One stanza goes: “My name is Popie Jopie/I happily travel ‘round/and always when I arrive/I spontaneously kiss the ground.”
Chief Wiarda said four men were arrested when his police stopped two cars bearing “obviously stolen” police radio transmitters.
At the outset, the demonstrators appeared to be in a happy mood. One, who identified himself as Franklin Van Zoest, 40, a homosexual high school teacher, said he was there only because he opposed the pontiff’s ideas. “I’m not against the Pope,” he said.
However, hundreds of others sang “We’ll kill, kill, kill the Pope tonight” to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock.” A number of protesters shouted profanities.
A group of young women, dressed in nun’s habits down to the waist and micro-miniskirts below, danced in a Rockette-style chorus line across the center of the battleground at one stage of the rioting.
Police remained patient with the rioters until a group that appeared to number about three dozen began hurtling paving stones, smoke bombs, paint bombs, bottles and firecrackers at the officers.
When the rock-throwers tried to break through the lines in order to move on the Convention Center where the Pope was appearing, police in full riot gear charged with clubs, and undercover policemen dressed as punks rushed what appeared to be some of the leaders into detention vans.
As the riots progressed, a light plane flew overhead trailing a banner that proclaimed, “Pope, Go to Heaven.”
Wiarda said police initially became concerned about the demonstrators when they showed up for the officially permitted gathering with at least two plastic bags filled with bottles of gasoline, presumably for use as Molotov cocktails.
Wiarda denied news agency reports that his officers used tear gas on the mobs, and most American reporters who witnessed the clashes said they detected none.
Although the street battles continued throughout the day, the Pope appeared to be unaware of it until late in the afternoon, when a group of perhaps a dozen punks who had managed somehow to slip by the police tried to pelt his Popemobile during a short drive from one building of the downtown Convention Center to another. A Vatican press aide declined to discuss the pontiff’s reaction.
Beleaguered more indoors by rebellious elements of his own Roman Catholic Church, the Pope would not accept the challenge to debate some of the issues that have made Holland’s 5.6 million Catholics the most divided in Europe.
He stuck to his prepared remarks throughout the day, delivering speeches written weeks ago in the Vatican. They included praise of the virginity of nuns, the celibacy of priests and the obedience of Catholics to the teachings of their priests and bishops.
The role of bishops, particularly the conservative churchmen John Paul has appointed to administer the church in the Netherlands, has been a subject of bitter controversy here.
In her remarks, Wasser boldly raised it by asking the Pope: “Are we credible in performing the pastoral work of Christ if bishops show themselves above us instead of among us and in our midst as we proceed? Developments in the church in recent times have forced many of us, because of our faith in and obedience to Christ, to be critical and disobedient towards the church.”
In The Hague today, the Pope is expected receive a more diplomatic reception when he meets with members of the Dutch government and royal family, and officials of the World Court. However, he may face further criticism when he returns to Utrecht in the evening for ecumenical meetings. Some non-Catholic religious leaders, including leaders of the Jewish community, are boycotting the meetings.