Belgian Catholics Urge Greater Welcome for Gay Catholics / Divorcees.

Vatican Insider reports that the Religious Information Service (SIR) has analysed the results of the survey on the Pope’s pastoral care programme for the family, and published some extracts of these results for some European countries. Those for Germany and Switzerland have already been widely reported elsewhere, as well as that of Austria. It’s not too surprising that these three German – speaking countries came up with broadly similar findings, but there’s been no published results for any of the English – speaking countries, or (until now) for the rest of Europe.


The Vatican Insider report is thus particularly welcome for reporting on results from French – speaking Luxembourg, and French / Flemish Belgium. Once again, these results are broadly in line with those from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, noting the gulf between official teaching and actual practice by Catholics on the ground, and calling for the Church to take account of the complexities and realities of marriage, and for greater pastoral sensitivity in dealing with these issues.


The (Embryonic) Spreading Catholic Spring: Belgian Catholics issue reform manifesto

Already this year, we have had a statement signed by German speaking theologians calling for fundamental reform of the Catholic Church’s culture of clericalism, and a fundamental reform on many details in church rules and teaching. Austrian priests, backed by lay Catholics,  have made a well-publicized “Call to Disobedience”. The Irish clergy have formed a strong, reform-focussed association of priest. Now the Belgians have followed suit.

What strikes me about these countries in particular, is that they all figure among the European churches most affected by the stories of clerical sexual abuse. Catholics in the Netherlands have been relatively quiet this year – but Dutch Dominicans made a similar call, for lay Catholics to lead services in the absence of priests, back in 2007. (Expect a renewed call for reform, and even open rebellion, from them too, sometime soon).

St. Peter's Church in Leuven, Belgium

The Belgian reformers’ demands are similar to those from elsewhere:

  • Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;
  • Communion services be held even if no priest is available;
  • Laypeople be allowed to preach;
  • Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;
  • “As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.

Empirical research shows that these ideas are supported by a clear majority of Catholics in many parts of the world. How long can the oligarchs resist (especially as many of them in fact agree with the ideas, but dare not say so publicly?)

Belgian Catholics issue reform manifesto

The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.

By the week’s end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the “Believers Speak Out” manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.

Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.

“These are not ‘protest people.’ They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening,” said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.

“Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership,” said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. “Is this being a dissident? I don’t think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don’t do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. … I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers.”

full report at National Catholic Reporter.

Enhanced by Zemanta

DIY Catholicism, Europe: Breakaway Parishes in Belgium, Netherlands – Catholic, Not Roman

The Catholic Church in Belgium strikes me in some respects as a microcosm of the state of the Church in the rest of the developed world – Africa excepted.

In this nominally Catholic country, ordinary people have been turning away from formal religious observance in their droves; the clergy have been collectively tarnished by the clerical abuse problems, which culminated earlier this year in the resignation of a senior bishop; the public has been angered by the inaction and excuses of the bishops in response; churches are being closed for lack of clergy; and the main remedy of the Vatican has been to put in charge a grossly insensitive conservative, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels.   At a recent public meeting, one Belgian was so incensed by this man that he threw a pie in his face. More ominously for the Church as a whole, a small but growing band of Belgian Catholics, like their neighbours in the Netherlands, are simply going their own way. They are doing it themselves, practising their faith without depending on the benefits of ordained clergy – “benefits”, which in their eyes are distinctly dubious.


New twist in Belgian Catholic abuse legal row

After the Belgian police controversially raided the bishops’ offices and Cardinal Daneels’ home, confiscating truckloads of material relating to allegations of church sexual abuse, two lower courts ruled that the raid had been inaoppropriate, and ordered that the material would be inadmissable as evidence. However, this is not over yet.  ”Expatica” yesterday reported from Belgium that there has been a

New twist in Belgian Catholic abuse legal row

BRUSSELS: Belgium’s highest court ordered magistrates on Tuesday to re-examine evidence seized by police relating to decades of child abuse and alleged Roman Catholic Church cover-ups.

The court overturned two previous decisions by lower courts that rendered inadmissible evidence taken from church headquarters, the home of a former archbishop and a church-backed commission investigating sex crimes perpetrated by priests.

Responding to lawyers acting for alleged victims who lodged appeals, the judges said the lower courts were wrong not to hear civil parties and therefore magistrates should look again at the evidence in a new light.

It means that truckloads of material gathered by police in spectacular raids in June that drew the ire of Pope Benedict XVI himself could potentially be used to relaunch state prosecutions for abuse.

However, it does not automatically mean a prosecution case will be launched, because the lower judges could reach the same decisions as before, saying they have done so this time while considering aggrieved parties’ accusations.

The raids on June 24, conducted as a Vatican ambassador was meeting with church leaders, opened the eyes of the world to the scale of the scandal within the Belgian Catholic Church, but the church and retired archbishop, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, asked that the material seized be declared out of bounds.

Read more:

Child psychologist Peter Adriaenssens then unleashed nationwide controversy with the release on September 10 of a report by a commission he led which revealed nearly 500 people reported abuses by priests since the 1950s and 13 victims committed suicide.

Adriaenssens subsequently called on the pope to resign.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Mandatory Celibacy: More Bishops Dissent.

Before Viennese Cardinal Christoph Shonborn made his notable observations on the need to reform the Church’s teaching on homosexual relationships, he was in the news for a suggestion that the rule on compulsory celibacy should be reviewed.

The remarks on homosexual relationships (and a more compassionate approach to divorce) have still not been repudiated, but those on the question of celibacy were very sharply rejected at the time. Both observations have since been supported by other bishops. What I find most fascinating in this is not merely that proposals for reform are being aired, but that these proposals, apparently so directly against official teaching, are coming from bishops. Not so long ago, any suggestions by bishops contrary to the party line would have been slapped down so sharply they would not have made the same mistake again. Now, we have too possibilities: either these proposals for reform have some implicit backing at the top, and the public utterances are just testing the water in preparation for formal review; OR official thinking has not changed (yet), but there is a new tolerance for fresh ideas and more open discussion. Either of these represents an important improvement. I wait with fascination to see how things develop.

In the meantime, two Belgian bishops have become the latest to openly question the need for mandatory celibacy for all priests.


Belgian Bishops Put Money Before Victims

The Belgian bishop of Tournai, Guy Harpigny, has admitted what was probably a factor in the episcopal cover-up of sexual abuse in the church not only in Belgium, but everywhere else as well. They were concerned that breaking their silence would have exposed them to claims for financial compensation. They put financial considerations ahead of concern for the victims.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Belgian Catholic Church sex abuse: we feared compensation claims

Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church did not apologise for decades of endemic child sexual abuse by its clerics because an official apology would triggered a flood of expensive compensation claims, a senior bishop has admitted.

Guy Harpigny, the bishop of Tournai and the senior cleric responsible for rooting out sex abusers within the Belgian church’s ranks, has further inflamed outrage by confessing that financial concerns over litigation stopped an official apology.

“We did not dare. If you officially apologise, then you are acknowledging moral and legal responsibility. Then there are people who ask for money and we don’t know what lawyers and the courts will do about that,” he said.

San Deurinck, 65, a Catholic activist who tried to commit suicide after he was abused by two priests as a teenage boy, has called on the Church to “respect victims” and to ensure justice by handing paedophile priests over to the police.

“I always had hope, but then I lost it,” he said. “Let the Church understand that justice must do her work. The Church must comply to respect of victims.

Read the full report.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Belgian Abuse Report: “Almost Every Diocese”

In the extraordinary saga of the police / state tussle investigation into the Belgian Church history of child abuse, the church’s own investigator has found that abuse was widespread, occurring in “almost every” diocese, and in “virtually every school” run by the Church. Yet as recently as March of this year, the Belgian bishops believed that abuse was a problem affecting only the USA and Ireland, and was of only minor extent in their own country.

A court had ruled this week that the evidence seized by police in a church raid would not be admissible in court, as the raid had been “disproportionate”. Almost immediately, the church’s investigator, Peter Adriaenssens, released his report.


Background to the “War on the Church” in Belgium.

Monseigneur Rauber, Cardinal Danneels, Monseig...


The Vatican, and many Catholic apologists around the world, have reacted with shock and anger to the Belgian police raids on the bishops’ headquarters and the residences of leading churchmen. Two useful background pieces at NCR offer some  perspective on why, in a supposedly strongly Catholic country, the authorities should have acted so forcefully against the Church.


Belgium: Does Abuse Cover-Up Continue?

One of the repeated claims made by Church authorities to counter the outcry over abuse, is that while they acknowledge past mistakes, these are indeed all in the past, that procedures have been mended, and that in the church as it is now, all is well. Belgian police are not convinced, and have raided the offices of the Bishops’ headquarters, the Archbishop’s palace, and the home of the Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, confiscating computer files and documents relating to ongoing investigations of abuse.

Monsignor Giacinto Berloco, papal nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, speaks to police during a raid on the offices of the country’s most senior Catholic prelate. Photograph: Matthew Busch/AP


Gay PM for Belgium?

Politics makes strange bedfellow. In the aftermath of the Belgian elections last week, one conceivable outcome in the never-ending tussle between Flemish and Walloon (French-speaking) interests could be an unlikely seeming coalition of opposites. If that should happen (and more than one commentary has suggested that is the most likely outcome), a further development could well be the emergence of the Walloon socialist Elio di Rupo as the world’s first openly gay (male) prime minister.

Elio Di Rupo
Image via Wikipedia

I have absolutely no interest in attempting to assess or comment on Belgium’s complicated internal politics. However, in the realm of purely sexual politics, I found the commentary of Khaled Diab at Guardian “Comment is Free” worth reading:

And in a twist of the plot, it would also make him, as far as I’m aware, the world’s first openly gay man (Iceland has a lesbian prime minister) to become head of government.

And the great thing is, his sexuality is largely a non-issue in the mainstream, and few Belgians appear fussed by the notion that a gay man is the most likely contender to become the leader of their country. Despite the country’s rather staid and conservative image abroad, Belgium is sexually more tolerant than most of the rest of the world and became the second country to legalise gay marriages.

Sadly, there are disgruntled mumblings in far-right circles. After all, Di Rupo embodies everything they despise: not only is he gay, he is also Francophone and, to top it all off, from immigrant stock.

The Vlaams Belang party, whose core supporters are often homophobic, has not openly criticised his sexuality, despite its clearly stated belief that homosexuality has no place in the public sphere – perhaps out of fear of a public backlash or falling foul of discrimination laws.

“A non-issue”. So it was in Iceland when they elected the first lesbian PM, and when they legislated for marriage equality in a unanimous vote.  It would be exaggerating to say that Mary Glasspool‘s election as the first lesbian bishop in the US was a non-issue, but it was certainly less of an issue than it was for the election of Gene Robinson in 2004. In Massachusetts,  gay marriage really has become a non-issue, and in the UK, the only “issue” around civil partnerships now is the growing calls to upgrade to full marriage equality.

Full inclusion for sexual minorities is becoming routine in many areas, and many spheres of life. The time is approaching where the “non-issue” of lesbian gay or trans people in politics will become the norm across the Western world, and also in much of the rest, just as the full participation of ethnic minorities has become accepted and expected. Many leading religious denominations will follow: those that do not, will find they have an increasingly difficult time justifying their prejudice, which has no more substance than their earlier long-standing support for slavery in the nineteenth century, or (for some South African churches) for white privilege in the twentieth.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Switch to our desktop site

%d bloggers like this: