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A report published today presents the numbers related to the sexual abuse crisis in Belgium in 2012. Last year, 307 reports of abuse “in a pastoral relationship” were received, of which 75% (230 cases) have been resolved, the vast majority through financial compensations. In about half of the cases, this compensation was between 2,500 and 5,000 euros.
80% of the reports are about abuse which took place 30 or more years ago. That is some 245 cases.
In January fo 2012, the Belgian bishops presented the 6 guidelines they will use in handling the abuse crisis:
Standing with the victim.
- Breaking the silence.
- Recognition and restoration of the damage done.
- The victims dictates the form of compensation.
- Perpetrators are dealt with justly’.
- Prevention is a must.
Each diocese, as well as the religious congregations in the Dutch- and French-speaking parts of Belgium, operates a contact point which is open to anyone – victim, witness, perpetrator or suspect – confronted with sexual abuse in the Church. Bishops Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Guy Harpigny of Tournai are specifically delegated to represent the Church in these matters. They are pictured above during today’s press conference, together with Ms. Tine Van Belle and Professor Manu Keirse, respectively the coordinator of the contact point in the Diocese of Bruges, and chairman of the Interdiocesan Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Youths in Pastoral Relations.
Reports like the one presented today will be released every year to make public the reports received and the way these have been dealt with in and outside the Church.
Dutch blogger and author Anton de Wit picks out the single most poignant moment during last night’s shameful attack on Archbishop Léonard. Not the half-naked women, not the slogans, not the rage, not even the silence and prayer.
“The water is healing and holy water. Like all Our Lord’s mercy, it springs in plenty from rich and patient sources. The good and wise Msgr. Léonard was not attacked, but blessed, and he generously thanks the Lady who is to be thanked for that, with a kiss. The small-minded protest loses effect. Mary, example of true femininity, is victorious over a group of angry feminists…”
De Wit concludes his article by thanking the archbishop for his ”good and playful example”. And he is right. What we should take away from this ugly episode is not the rage, not the bitterness, not even the concern for the wellbeing of an elderly archbishop. No, it is the example of love and gratefulness that is so central to our faith.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
I have written a short note thanking the archbishop for his example. You too may want to send your words of inspiration and gratefulness to the office of Archbishop Léonard: Secretariaat van de aartsbisschop, Wollemarkt 15, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium.
Photo credit: BELGA
While giving an address and participating in a debate about blasphemy at the ULB University in Elsene, Brussels, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard was assaulted by four women of the notorious action group ‘Femen’. Topless, they splashed him with water from bottles shaped like the Blessed Virgin. They had slogans written over their bodies that were intended to protest homophobia, but had the main effect of insulting people.
It is clear that notions like respect and freedom of speech, and even of civilised debate, are only applicable to people with the same opinions as these women. If you disagree with them, you are open to assault and insult, and to them that is fully justified.
In the meantime, a more civilised audience will recognise this as sheer lunacy and even a dangerous development. This women do not care about individual rights, they care about being right. It is very selfish behaviour. Perceived rights trump everything, from the rights of others to the integrity of and respect for their own bodies.
And Archbishop Léonard? He let the water fall, kissed one of the bottles as the women were removed and continued with what he came for. Exemplary.
Photo credit: BELGA/Benoit Doppagne
It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.
The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.
The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.
“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…
This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.
Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.
The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.
But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, ”why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child - wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”. But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.
Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.
Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.
Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”
Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet
A cardinal for only one year and five days, Julien Ries did not receive his red hat as the result of a succesful career in the hierarchy. The Belgian prelate rather received it for his work in the quiet of his study and the lecture hall. This morning he passed away at the age of 92.
Julien Ries was born near Arlon and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Namur in 1945. After a few years working as a parish priest and history teacher, Father Ries taught history of religion at the Catholic University of Louvain. After that university was split in a Flemish and a Walloon section in 1968, he remained at the latter. He remained there until his retirement in 1990.
A highly productive author, Fr. Ries was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 2012. Consecrated a bishop a week before the consistory, he held the titular see of Belcastro, and later became Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia.
With more than 600 publications to his name, Cardinal Ries was convinced that those were the reason for being made a cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI studied his work closely, and in 2012, Cardinal Ries said in an interview: “He phoned me more than once to congratulate me, when he had read a book of mine.”
Cardinal Ries’s work was best know for its focus on religious anthropology and humanities. In 2009, he donated his library and all his notes and correspondence to the Catholic University of Milan.
Cardinal Ries was never an elector. With his passing the total number of cardinals drops to 208.
Marking the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, which becomes effective in the evening of 28 February, all Dutch and Flemish dioceses will be offering a thanksgiving Mass for his pontificate. With the exception of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Antwerp, all will do so on the day of abdication itself.
The two metropolitan archdioceses, Utrecht and Mechelen-Brussels, will feature the most extensive celebrations. In Utrecht, a Mass will be offered at 12:30 at St. Catherine’s cathedral, which will be followed by Holy Hour, a sung Rosary, Vespers and Benediction at 6. Whether Cardinal Eijk will attend this day is unclear. Mechelen-Brussels will offer no less than three Masses, all at 8pm: In Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, in Louvain (St. Peter’s) by auxiliary Bishop Leon Lemmens, and in Waver (St. John the Baptist) by auxiliary Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn.
The other thanksgiving Masses will take place at 6pm in Bruges (by Bishop Jozef De Kesel), at 7pm in Groningen (Bishop Gerard de Korte), Breda (Bishop Jan Liesen) and Roermond (Bishop Frans Wiertz), and at 8pm in Ghent (Bishop Luc Van Looy) and Hasselt (Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens). All Masses will be at the respective cathedrals of the dioceses, except in Breda, where the Mass will be offered at the chapel of the Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven, and Hasselt, where the Basilica of Our Lady will host the Mass
The next day, 1 March, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will offer a Mass at 7:30pm, and on 3 March, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny will offer one at 5pm.
In addition to these Masses, parishes, communities and other societies may of course also mark the abdication with Masses or prayer services.
“The power church in 2013 remains legalistic, massive and obsessively occupied with trivialities such as the denial of women priests and the defense of celibacy.”
So speaks Fr. Jan Wuyts, retired dean of Louvain in Belgium, in an interview for Christian magazine Tertio. And how heartily I disagree with him. The topics he mentions – women priests and the abolishment of celibacy for priests – are the hobby horses of the modernist movements that he seems to represent. The Church as a whole, while admittedly massive and often slow to react, has long since spoken authoritatively on these matters. There is no obsessive occupation, except in the minds of the likes of Fr. Wuyts and for those in the Church who are tasked with explaining, time and again, what the Church has always taught about matters.
Blessed John Paul II has stated several times that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination”. Likewise, the Church has consistently handled the topic of celibacy as a factual and beneficial element of the priesthood. There is obsession in neither issue, except on the part of those who want the Church to change what either can’t be changed, or where there is no good reason to change it at this time.
Fr. Wuyts’ words are a reflection on his own words and actions, and not on those of the Church.
Following a flurry of interesting appointments (among them the appointment of a coadjutor archbishop for Ireland’s premier see and the confirmation of a new patriarch for Egypt’s Catholic Copts), there was also a creation that affects the Ukrainian Catholics in our part of the world.
The Apostolic Exarchate of France, which also covered Switzerland and the Benelux was elevated as the Eparchy, or Diocese, of St. Vladimir the Great of Paris. Bishop Borys Gudziak (pictured), appointed as apostolic exarch only six months ago, becomes the first bishop of this new diocese. He is now a full ordinary and therefore no longer the titular diocese of Carcabia. Many responsibilities that previously were held by the Holy See, now fall under the bishop, and the new diocese falls directly under the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
The diocese is home to some 20,000 Ukrainian Catholics spread over five countries. It’s home base is the Cathedral of St. Vladimir the Great in Paris. The vast majority of faithful reside in France and Belgium. There seems to be little to no organisation in the Netherlands, although the territory does belong to the new diocese.
A day before, the Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain become the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, leaving only the Apostolic Exarchate of Germany and Scandinavia as the only Ukrainian jurisdiction in Europe that is not (yet) a diocese.
Photo credit: Yaryna Brylynska
Four months after the appointment of his successor, Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn passed away at the age of 83 last Monday. As Apostolic Exarch of France he was the shepherd for Catholics belonging to the Ukrainian rite in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands for almost 30 years, until his retirement in July of this year.
Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1929, Hrynchyshyn joined the Redemptorists in 1945. In Canada, he worked for the order as seminary rector, professor and church administrator. In the 1960s he was the rector of the church of St. John the Baptist in Newark, New Jersey. After 1972 he was the provincial superior for the Ukrainian Redemptorists in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. In 1982, he was sent to France to be come the second Apostolic Exarch of the aforementioned countries. From 1987 to 1989, Bishop Hrynchyshyn was also Apostolic Administrator for the Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain. He held the titular diocese of Zygris, located in modern Egypt.
Bishop Hrynchyshyn served as an advisor to the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
The Transalpine Redemptorists also mark his passing.