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As the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.
Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:
1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
- 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
- 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
- 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
- 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s College, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.
The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.
Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.
Photo credit: Belga.
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.
It’s been some two years since the Vangheluwe case broke, but recent research by the Catholic University of Louvain indicates that it has done no permanent damage to the Church in Belgium. Although there were some initial reactions – people leaving the Church, opting for fake de-baptisms, and a whole bunch of newspaper articles and other media comments – these have essentially all dried up.
Professor Didier Pollefeyt, professor of religious sciences, explains:
“When we will look back on this period later, there will be an undeniable impact visible in the first months. Compare it to a stock market crash: there will be a dip in the chart, but a collapse won’t materialise. The pedophilia scandal has done no lasting damage to the Church. People apparently disconnect the persons from the institute they are part of.”
Sociologist Jack Billiet agrees with this assessment:
“I indeed assume that faithful have left in that first period. These will in any case have been people who were already on the edge and in doubt. The truly faithful Catholics will immediately have made the distinction between the actions of Vangheluwe and the Church.”
Bert Claerhout, editor of Kerk & Leven, is a bit more careful:
“People no longer refer to it in letter and emails, at least. But I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Church has come out of this undamaged. I think that two years is still too early to turn the page. The engagement of many faithful has changed anyway.”
I find myself essentially agreeing with Mr. Claerhout, in that the abuse crisis, and specific cases like Vangheluwe, have changed people’s engagement with the Church. But that need not be a negative change. I think it has made people, laity and clergy alike, more aware, more informed, more critical perhaps. And that can be a good thing.
It is encouraging to find that cases as the one of Vangheluwe, serious and painful as they are, do not spell a mass exodus from the Church. People are able to distinguish the acts of one man from those of the Church as a whole. But what we should be aware of is that those same people can, and should, judge the Church on her response. Because that is not the singular action of an individual, but the reaction of the institution that the abuser remains a part of.It is that reaction that will determine how we will handle the fallout and future occurences of abuse. And that matters.