FaithWorld

Spokesman for embattled Belgian archbishop quits, cites loss of trust

mettepenningen2The spokesman for Belgium’s Roman Catholic leader quit on Tuesday, citing a loss of trust in the archbishop who has caused a storm with harsh comments on AIDS and caring words for some paedophile priests.

Jürgen Mettepenningen, a theologian who became Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard’s spokesman in August, announced his decision only days after the prelate agreed to stop speaking in public until Christmas to calm the storm engulfing the Church. (Image: Jürgen Mettepenningen, 2 Nov 2010/screengrab RTL video)

His resignation reflected growing criticism of Léonard within his own church, where bishops have cautiously spoken out against their leader and lay Catholics are turning increasingly caustic. Politicians have also stepped up criticism of him. It also highlighted the damage that scandals of clerical sex abuse of minors have done to the Church in Europe, especially in Belgium and Ireland where bishops reacted in defensive ways that further angered Catholics and public officials.

“I no longer want, can and will act as spokesman for Archbishop Leonard,” said Mettepenningen, 35,  in a statement announcing his immediate resignation.

“Archbishop Léonard has sometimes acted like someone who’s driving against the traffic and thinks everyone else is wrong,” he later told journalists (see full statement in French here). “For three months, I was his GPS but the driver holds the steering wheel and decides which way to go. All too often, I had to indicte that the route should be recalculated. But if the driver continues on his way, if he is blind to the accidents caused, then the GPS doesn’t have to wait to be dismissed. It should withdraw by itself because its function has become superfluous.”

Top Belgian Catholic vows silence after uproar

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.

Belgium’s Catholic sex abuse scandal prompts questions on mandatory celibacy

mechelen 1Three Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium, reacting to damaging sexual abuse scandals in their ranks, have taken the rare step of urging their Church to consider easing its ban on married men in the priesthood.

The three are all from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region shocked by the resignation of a prominent local bishop who had sexually abused his nephew. About 85 percent of cases in a recent report on abuse in the Church were also from Flanders. (Photo: St. Rombouts Cathedral, seat of the primate of Belgium, and main marketplace in Mechelen,  23 July 2010/Ad Meskens)

The head of the Belgian Church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels, has put out the message that the priority for the embattled Belgian Church is to help its victims.

Confusion reigns as Belgium struggles with Catholic sex abuse scandal

shipFollowing the crisis of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Belgium is like watching a rudderless ship in a storm. The Church hierarchy seems overwhelmed by the scandal that has engulfed it. The state seems unable to intervene after its spectacular raid on Church offices last June backfired on it. Left hanging are at least 475 victims who have no idea what to expect next. (Image: A Dutch Ship in a Storm by Flemish artist Matthieu van Plattenberg, National Maritime Museum, London)

The latest installment in this confusing drama came on Tuesday when Bishop Guy Harpigny, the bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues, confessed in two morning radio interviews that the Church botched a news conference on Monday by not issuing a full apology to victims. But — as my colleague Phil Blenkinsop reported in our story today — he admitted it was afraid to do so because that could bring on a wave of compensation demands.

“If we say ‘mea culpa,’ then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money. We don’t know what the lawyers and the courts will do with that,” he told the Flemish-language Radio 1. “We are afraid. Who will ask — the victims, the courts or someone else? That’s why we are so careful.” A bit later in the interview, he admitted: “The news conference yesterday was a missed chance for a ‘mea culpa’. Maybe the church was too concerned with itself.”

Belgian Church moves on abuse but victims still unhappy

leonardBelgium’s Catholic Church responded to an abuse scandal with plans to create a reconciliation centre and set new rules for priests, but victim groups called the moves insufficient. “The past months have been very difficult for the Church and for us. We are fully committed to tackling this problem in a new way,” Archbishop André-Joseph Leonard told a news conference. “It causes us pain. Coming out of such a crisis is not easy.” (Photo: Archbishop Leonard at news conference, 13 Sept 2010/Yves Herman)

The scandal erupted in April when the Bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew. A commission monitoring abuse last week released a report saying clerical abuse was widespread in Belgium. Critics accuse the Church of not acting against errant priests and turning a blind eye to abuse. The commission said it found no evidence that the Church had systematically covered up crimes, although had found instances where nothing was done.

The centre for recognition, healing and reconciliation for victims will possibly be set up by the end of the year.

Child abuse was widespread in Belgian Catholic Church – Church report

AdriaenssensChild sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Friday.  “Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, told a news conference. (Photo: Peter Adriaenssens, July 6, 2010/Yves Herman)

More than half of its 200-page report, based on cases recorded up till then, consists of excerpts of testimony from victims. The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.

Adriaenssens said: “With these testimonies, it was not about superficial handling. It was about oral and anal abuse, forced and mutual masturbation. In other words, it was about people who had experienced serious acts.”

Leaked Danneels tapes with Catholic sex abuse victim make for sad reading

danneels (Photo: Cardinal Danneels arrives at federal police headquarters in Brussels July 6, 2010 for questions about  allegations of sexual abuse by priests/Stringer)

“Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?” — Victim of sexual abuse by a Belgian bishop to Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

The transcripts of two meetings between Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a man sexually abused by the disgraced former bishop of Bruges make for sad reading indeed. Two Flemish-language newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, published the texts on Saturday after the victim provided them with his secret recordings of the sessions.  My analysis of the case is here.

Gunning for Godfried? Belgian abuse probe asks what Danneels knew

standaardAre the Belgian judicial authorities gunning for Godfried? It looks like Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the popular grandfatherly Catholic prelate who stepped down in January as archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen after three decades, is the main target of the incredible “tomb raider” sweeps that shocked the Church last Thursday. The police who swooped down on the diocesan headquarters in Mechelen, Danneels’s own apartment nearby and the offices of the Church commission on abuse in Leuven did not suspect the cardinal of abuse himself. But it seems the investigating magistrate behind the raid is convinced that Danneels hushed up cases during his long reign.

The media seem to be too — just take a look at last Saturday’s front page of the Brussels daily De Standaard at the right.

There may be something there. Let’s see what the investigators come up with.

Belgian vote on Muslim veils could echo in Europe

belgium niqab

Salma, a 22-year-old French woman living in Belgium who chose to wear the niqab after converting to Islam, speaks to Reuters television outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels April 26, 2010/Yves Herman

Belgium’s vote to ban full face veils in public is the furthest any European country has gone to confront a tiny minority whose choice in clothing has come to symbolise the issue of integrating some Muslim minorities.

The issue is being debated elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, and the example of two countries moving towards a ban has raised the stakes in a dispute pitting politicians and public opinion against Muslim leaders and human rights groups.

Belgian government collapse delays burqa ban vote

A woman wearing a niqab walks on a street in Saint-Denis, near Paris, April 2, 2010/Regis Duvignau

The collapse of Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s five-month-old government coalition on Thursday meant that a ban on full Muslim facial veils expected to be passed in the afternoon has been put off for some time. Just how long is unknown right now — it could come back up for consideration again as early as next week if parliament is not dissolved and new elections called.

The bill due for a vote today received unanimous backing in parliament’s home affairs committee on March 31. The draft law proposed to criminalize wearing clothing that covers all or part of the face, including the facial veil known as the niqab and the full outer garment, or burqa, widely worn in Afghanistan.