Msgr. Léonard’s small mistake?

Despite the ever-present risk of one’s words being taken out of context in today’s media, Arcbishop Léonard of Brussels consciously decided to not change some of the words in a new book of interviews with him. The book in question is titled ‘Mgr. Léonard – gesprekken’ (Msgr. Léonard – conversations), and was written and compiled by two Belgian journalists.

In one of the conversation, Msgr. Léonard speaks about the AIDS epidemic. He says, “So I do not see this epidemic as a punishment, but at the most as a sort of immanent justice, sort of like how, in ecology, we are faced with the consequences of what we are doing to the environment.”

The conclusion made here and there is, predictably, that Msgr. Léonard sees AIDS as a form of justice. But that’s too simple a conclusion. I think, upon reading these words, that the archbishop most of all wanted to say that the epidemic is (at least partly) a result of our own actions. And in that way it can be seen as justified. We made it possible, after all.

Léonard’s spokesman, Jürgen Mettepenningen, was hesitant about these words, as he explained on radio today. “I wouldn’t have said it like this. [The archbishop] left the sentence unchanged because he says that he can’t write anything but what he thinks. […] I shouldn’t be saying what he should think. I am the spokesman, not a decider of words.”

Maybe the exact wording was not wise to use, but they do deserve to be read for what they are: an acknowledgement of our responsibility when it comes to the spread of AIDS and not some divine punishment.


7 thoughts on “Msgr. Léonard’s small mistake?”

  1. I wonder if his words would cause such a stir if he would say that AIDS was part of Evolution. He would mean the same, but people would understand it better?

    1. I’m not sure if people would understand it better, but I do think that the use of the term ‘immanent justice’ is problematic. Most people simply won’t know what that means, even though it is a fairly well-developed concept which has little to do with casting blame or saying that a disease is deserved.

  2. I would say that nature fights back against that horrible animal that destroys everything, and calls itself ‘human being’. But that they would not like either, I presume. The fact is these people are egocentric and become angry when their irresponsibility is questioned.

  3. I can imagine the headlines…

    The use of the word ‘justice’ even though it is qualified with immanent has the unfortunate connotation of deservedness.

    Had he replaced the words ‘immanent justice’ with ‘unavoidable consequence’ I think we would be nearer to his true sentiments.

    Hopefully the original Flemish will be more nuanced.

    p.s. I enjoy reading your blog!

    1. I think my translation of the arcbishop’s words is objectively accurate, but it’s still my translation and so nothing official. Msgr. Léonard apparently chose to use a moral theological concept which is not that well known among your average reader, and that can be problematic. Then again, he does explain his thoughts on this matter well enough. People simply refuse to read and aknowledge that.

      PS: I’m happy you enjoy the blog.

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