Top Belgian Catholic vows silence after uproar

October 29, 2010

leonardBelgium’s Roman Catholic leader has sworn off public remarks until Christmas after outraging public opinion twice this month with jarring comments about AIDS and a call for mercy for retired paedophile priests.

Brussels Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, already under fire because of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, caused a storm two weeks ago when he said in a new book that AIDS was “a sort of inherent justice.” Politicians, abuse victims and some leading lay Catholics rounded on him again this week after he said that prosecuting retired priests for abuse they committed long ago was “a kind of vengeance” that they should be spared.

(Photo: Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, October 15, 2010/Thierry Roge)

“We’re in a very serious crisis and the last thing we need is more commotion,” Leonard’s spokesman, Jürgen Mettepenningen, told Belgium’s VTM television on Thursday evening. “I’ve agreed with Archbishop Léonard that there should now be as much radio silence as possible until Christmas” so that the Church can concentrate on overcoming the crisis and carrying out its main task of preaching the Gospel, he said.

Losing patience with the bishops, the lower house of parliament decided on Thursday to set up a special commission to investigate the abuse crisis. One deputy suggested changing tax laws to reduce a state subsidy the Church receives.

Senator Rik Torfs, a canon lawyer, suggested Catholics sign a petition for Pope Benedict to remove Leonard from his top job in Belgium by promoting him to Rome.” He said: “The archbishop doesn’t speak in our name and we didn’t want him.”

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