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.”