A recent opinion poll among priests in Belgium revealed some uncomfortable trends among that country’s clergy. The results paint a picture of how far many priests (and, consequently, many of their faithful too) have drifted away from the Catholic Church and her faith. The results, as published by daily De Standaard, are listed below.
Statement: it should be possible for women to become priests
- Agreed: 68.7%
- Not agreed: 14.0%
- No opinion: 17.3%
Statement: Mandatory celibacy should be abolished
- Agreed: 73.3%
- Not agreed: 15.6%
- No opinion: 11.1%
Are you nostalgic for the leadership of Cardinal Danneels?
- Yes: 31.3%
- No: 44.4%
- Don’t know: 24.3%
Statement: The Belgian Church is in crisis
- Agreed: 77.8%
- Not agreed: 13.2%
- No opinion: 9.0%
Are you on the same line as Archbishop Léonard?
- Yes: 15.6%
- No: 69.1%
- No opinion: 15.3%
Off course, opinion polls have, at the most, a questionable accuracy, but even if this one is only remotely correct, the picture it paints is a bleak one, especially when we consider the answers to the first two questions. Many of the priests of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, it seems, are willing to publicly oppose the teachings of the Church they are a part of, even if this poll does not identify any of the priests involved. If these men share the same views with their flock, they are committing scandal and may even be guilty of inciting their parishioners to commit sins (and, what is worse: without the latter knowing they are sinning). The concept of obedience and fraternity seems lost on too many priests, who’d rather go their own way, leaving the Church that they are part of and which they represent behind them.
The trends visible in the answers to the poll’s last three questions are not that surprising for those who have followed Archbishop Léonard’s first year at the helm of the Belgian Church. As he promised before his installation as archbishop, he has been visiting the deaneries, parishes and Catholic institutions of Brussels. In more than one, his visit was considered with trepidation; in others, he was plainly not welcome. When a bishop is told that he is not welcome in a parish in his own diocese, it is evidence that that parish has drifted far away from the universal Church, and considers itself to be its own little church.
But surprisingly enough, Archbishop Léonard takes the response to his visits generally lightly. In an interview in the same Standaard, he speaks of generally positive impressions and contacts. Read my translation here.