New Catholic archbishop of Brussels raises hackles in Belgium

January 18, 2010
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Archbishop Léonard and Cardinal Danneels at news conference in Brussels 18 Jan 2010/Thierry Roge

The long-awaited announcement of the successor to the retiring Catholic archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has sparked an unusual outcry in Belgium. The new archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, is sometimes called  “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. Danneels ranks as one of the last liberal prelates in a Church hierarchy that has turned increasingly traditional under Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.

Léonard has been a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.

The most outspoken comment came from Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is the country’s health minister. “Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion,” she told RTL radio. “Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Archbishop Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.”

Onkelinx said Léonard’s appointment could upset the balance between secular and religious that Belgium has found. “Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia … The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.”

The Socialist Party said it “insists that Archbishop Léonard respects democratic decisions taken by the institutions of our country. For the Socialist Party, the rights and duties that people take on democratically take precedence over religious traditions and commandments, without any exception.”

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Mechelen cathedral, 8 Dec 2006/Donar Reiskoffer

Bert Claerhout, editor in chief of the Catholic weekly KERK&leven (Church and Life), said the choice of Léonard “is clearly a conscious choice for a totally different style and approach: for more radical decisiveness rather than quiet diplomacy, for more confrontation with the secular society instead of dialogue, reconciliation and the quiet confidence that the tide will ever turn.”

Philippe Van der Sande, president of the Christian Solidarity Movement (BCS), welcomed the appointment. “The Church in our country is led by Monsignor Leonard certainly a church where Jesus is central again in the Sunday liturgy. Many people have never had the chance to experience Catholic liturgy, the Catholic prayer and spirituality or with the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic world church. We hope we can now definitively close the era of the experiments in the wake of May 1968 in favor of an open and proud Catholic Church that is faithful to the Catholic faith and the Gospel of Our Lord.”

At a joint news conference in Brussels on Monday, Danneels and Léonard played down the change.There is a difference in temperament between myself and Archbishop Léonard. We have a different DNA, but we are both connected to the Roman-Catholic Church,” Danneels said, adding:  “The menu doesn’t change because it is served by a different waiter.”

Léonard brushed off  Onkelinckx’s comments:  “A simple archbishop is not a serious threat to the stability of the country …  I am not in favour of abortion but neither was my predecessor Cardinal Danneels, so really that is nothing new … I have heard people say that I am very strict and extremely conservative. Let us take the time to get to know each other. I am convinced that many of those cliches will then disappear.”

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1) The state has no rioght commenting or interfering in church matters in precisely the same way the state so often and so wrongly claims that the church has no right to comment or interfere in state matters.

The socialist party, in typical of totalitarian socialist fashion, has it 100% backwards.

For God’s elect, religious traditions and commandments take precedence over any and all of those intentionally misnamed, fabricated, “rights and duties” that the state’s ruling class imposes on it’s populace, without any exception.”

Posted by proverbs2722 | Report as abusive

The Church has not only a right, but a responsibility, to apeak out and counsel, on social and political matters which it perceives as been destructive to humanity. It is quite clear that Western society has deviated from a majority consensus that recognised a set of basic moral norms that protected and respected the principles that encompassed ‘family’, ‘right to life’, personal responsibility, honesty and individual integrity, and respect for others based on man’s relationship with God. The social consequences and costs, are there for all, who have the intellectual honesty, to witness. I might add not for the first time in human history. Regrettably a small element within the Church by their scandalous and criminal behaviour, have in recent decades undermined the moral authority of the Church. It is time to pick up the pieces and start to reform all of society.

Posted by JLOZ41 | Report as abusive

Robert Wielaard of the AP has written a stirring piece on Archbishop Leonard of Brussels and his allegedly inflammatory comments regarding homosexuals, pedophile priests, and HIV-AIDS. Reading it, I felt the anger rise against Leonard and his reductive vision. But then, unlike Wielaard, I dug a bit deeper and allowed the good Archbishop to speak for himself. Not surprisingly, given the spin that journalists covering the Catholic Church seek in terms of scandal and outrage, the Archbishop’s letter to his diocese expresses a profound sensibility, deep wisdom, mercy and a theologically coherent position. His letter can be read in French at   What is particularly striking is Leonard’s encounter with victims of a pedophile priest and how their feelings and desires towards their abuser shaped his view – they wanted an acknowledgment from the old priest of his wrongs and not his public punishment. Following his meeting with Leonard, the priest in question expressed his desire to meet and apologize to his victim before he dies. Nothing in Wielaard’s article gives voice to the one the journalist is pillorying and reducing to a caricature. How disappointing!

Posted by DanMarker | Report as abusive

Is an opposite view undemocratic? Different polictical parties express conflicting views.It is called a free society. A democracy! What is wrong with Archbishop Leonard expressing his views.Germany had a democratic vote that brought into power Adolf Hitler.Democracy got it wrong. It is not infallible.It can be influenced by vested interests with power of press and propaganda.It does not guarantee truth, or if you like, the common good.There is strong evidence that abortion is harmful for the individual and society as a whole.But fear of having a good examination of that scientific data illicits head in the sand attitudes. It has become politically correct to oppose an alternative view to the right to abortion. A lot of us may not be in existence had we been a foetus in this present era.Its a gamble nowadays whether one gets through that stage.I would challenge this so called liberalism as being more right wing selfish pragmatism, assisted by egotistical ideology or more approprietly codology.It has also developed into an industry with huge monetary gain.How like sheep to the slaughter society has succumbed to.We have seduced words to incite emotional response against any person or utterence that questions the philosophy of abortion.What is abortion? Getting rid of an inconveniance. Science states that this inconveniece has the whole human properties of a person,just needing time and nourishment to grow into itself. By jeepers We might have lost many a genius who may have stopped this economic scandal that is upon us. Bring back the forum for fair debate.

Posted by macker2 | Report as abusive