Archbishop Léonard at 75, time to look back and ahead.

léonardToday Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard marks his 75th birthday, and his letter of resignation will be delivered to the desk of Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, who will forward it to Rome. All this is foreseen in canon law, but the immediate outcome has several options.

The resignation may be accepted immediately, after which a Diocesan Administrator will have to be appointed. The resignation may als be postponed for either a set or undefined period. In any case, the Holy See press office bulletins, which announce retirement and new appointments, will be enthusiastically scrutinised.

In any case, the relatively short period that Archbishop Léonard occupied the seat of Saint Rumbold is coming to an end. It is a time of looking back, as well as looking ahead. Back at the past five years and ahead to whomever the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels may be.

Archbishop Léonard was appointed at roughly the same time that I started this blog, and my translation of an earlier interview with him caused one of the first peaks in visitors here. Ever since his appointment, he was considered a likely candidate to be made a cardinal, which however never happened. But this never caused him grief.

One of the first major obstacles on his path was the revelation that the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had been guilty of sexual abuse. As president of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, all eyes were on Archbishop Léonard. Shortly afterwards, the archbishop went to Rome for the ad limina visit. In an interview he discussed the Vangheluwe case, as well as education and the shortage of priests. Shortly before his own retirement, the archbishop was judged guilty of negligence in a case of sexual abuse.

201104070920-1_andre-leonard-veegt-taart-weg-en-vervolgt-voordracht-About education, he later had to correct misunderstandings about his comments, something that would mark the following years as well. Notable were his comments about AIDS as a form of immanent justice. This seeming difficulty in understanding between archbishop and media even led to the archbishop’s spokesman resigning. Among many clergy and faithful, even politicians, Archbishop Léonard was not popular because of his clear voice and these misrepresentations, although in pastoral contexts he was widely loved, for example when 22 Belgian children died in a coach crash in Switzerland. Adversity, however, sometimes had the upper hand, as the archbishop was the recipient of pies (above right), pizza, slaps and water to his face. These attacks never aroused anger in him, however. On the contrary. Following that final assault, Archbishop Léonard wrote a very kind letter to all who had expressed support for him.

In Brussels, Archbishop Léonard was soon faced with the need for new bishops, as his auxiliaries left to Namur and Bruges. In 2011 he recieved three new auxiliary bishops.

In 2012, Archbishop Léonard led his diocese in a new evangelisation of cities, one of the first porjects of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

Archbishop Léonard took part on two Synod of Bishops assemblies, where he spoke on the reality of evil, as well as the role of women in the Church. In the 2012 Synod he was a member of the Commission for the Message.

Following the election of Pope Francis, Archbishop Léonard offered a Mass of thanksgiving in Brussels.

Last year, Archbishop Lëonard started looking ahead to the future, even clearing up some misconceptions about his upcoming retirement.

ordination léonard fraternity of the holy apostlesAfter his retirement, and contrary to his previously expressed wish to leave Brussels, Archbishop Léonard will live with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, a priestly fraternity which he founded in 2013 (at left, Archbishop Léonard is seen ordaining one of the fraternity’s priests in October of 2014). Priests from this fraternity, inspired by Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, are currently entrusted with the pastoral care of two parishes in Brussels. Whether this will be a temporary arrangement or otherwise, remains to be seen.

As for the future for Mechelen-Brussels, we can only guess. But there are some possibilities we may investigate. The metropolitan see of Mechelen has been held in turn by archbishops from the Flemish and Walloon parts of Belgium. While Pope Francis, who makes the final appointment, is probably not one to be bothered overly much by such considerations, preferring to choose the best man for the job, whether he be from Flanders of Wallonia, it is a sensitive issue in Belgium. I expect therefore that the new archbishop will come from one of the Flemish dioceses or that part of the archdiocese which lies in Flanders. Archbishop Léonard, after all, is a Walloon, and his predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, hails from Flanders.

kockerolsThe Holy Father may choose to elevate one of the suffragan bishops of Flanders. These are Bishop Jozef de Kesel of Bruges, Luc van Looy of Ghent, Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt. Bishop Léon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop for the Flemish part of Mechelen-Brussels, and Jean Kockerols, auxiliary for Brussels (pictured at right), may also be added to this group. At 73, Bishop van Looy is too close to his own retirement to be a likely choice. The others are between 56 and 67, so their age is no issue. Three bishops (De Kesel, Lemmens and Kockerols) know the archdiocese well, as they serve or have served as auxiliary bishops in it. There are also bishops who are no strangers to Rome or to the Pope personally. Bishop van Looy accompanied the young people of Verse Vis when they interviewed the Pope last year. Bishop Lemmens worked in Rome before being appointed as auxiliary bishop and Bishop Kockerols is internationally active as one of the vice-presidents of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). Bishop Bonny had made headlines for himself in relation to the Synod of Bishops, so he will also not be unknown in Rome. The only relatively unknown bishop is Patrick Hoogmartens, but he, at least, has a motto that should appeal to the current papacy: “Non ut iudicet, sed ut salvetur” (Not to judge, but to save, John 3:17).

Or the Pope may decide to do something that hasn’t happened since 1925: appoint a priest who has not yet been a bishop anywhere else to become the new archbishop. Whoever he may turn out to be, he will facing a stiff task as a shepherd in an increasingly secular environment. It may be hoped that he will be both pastorally sensitive and doctrinally clear.

léonard coat of armsArchbishop Léonard’s coat of arms

A month before retirement, Archbishop Léonard in court

léonardA court in Liège has convicted Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of negligence in the face of complaints against an abusive priest, made known to him when he was bishop of Namur in the 1990s. The victim intially kept quiet about the years of sexual abuse he suffered, wanting to be a priest himself, but eventually did inform the Catholic Church. He had a long conversation with then-Bishop André-Mutien Léonard, but saw little follow-up. The priest in question was merely transferred. Only in 2001 did the victim go to court over the abuse and was eventually awarded 37,000 euros in damages, to be paid by the abusive priest. Archbishop Léonard was also charged in 2013, but not convicted because he wasn’t a bishop yet when the abuse took place and the victim had already been awarded damages. A subsequent appeal was successful, and Archbishop Léonard has now been ordered to pay an additional 10,000 euros in damages for having underestimated the seriousness of the abuse. Five percent of the victim’s disability is due to the archbishop’s inaction, the court judged.

This is the first time that a bishop in Belgium has been convicted for failing to act against sexual abuse by clergy. This case is all the more noticeable in light of the recent removal of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, two years after he was convicted of similarly failing to act (Bishop Finn waited overly long before reporting a priest who possessed child porn to the authorities). Archbishop Léonard will most likely not be facing such a removal as he turns 75 next month and will send his letter of resignation to the Holy Father. Another important difference in the two cases is that Archbishop Léonard was dealing with crimes which took place when the period of limitation had already ended.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Pope Francis in March of 2014, has recently been emphasising the accountability of bishops, and it may be expected that they will want to take a close look at this case. Ever since the sexual abuse crisis broke, and especially in the last five years, the Church does not hold to periods of limitation when it comes to sexual abuse by clergy.

I have no doubt that the archbishop will accept the verdict, nor do I suspect any ill will in his transfer of the abusive priest, but it is clear that it was a wrong decision (although we don’t know if the priest went on abusing elsewhere, that is not a risk that should ever be taken). And wrong decisions also have their consequences.

Wit and wisdom – Archbishop Léonard explains the truth behind the headlines

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard wrote an article in this month’s edition of Pastoralia, the magazine published by the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, concerning his upcoming retirement. It is written with wit, but it is also a serious reminder about the nature of the mandate of a bishop, the priesthood and the hope of a Christian.

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“In December some media were moved to hear that I would be writing a letter to the Holy Father on 6 May, to make available my office as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. All those emotions were completely unnecessary, since some one hundred bishops will write a similar letter this year, on the occasion of their 75th birthday, as dictated by Canon Law (can. 401 § 1). It is up to the Pope to accept or deny this resignation.

Since normal news reports are not interesting to the media, some have wanted to interpret that future letter as a clear sign of discouragement or disappointment, or even as an expression of disagreement with Pope Francis! Such imagination…

Some reporters asked me if a hoped that my mandate would be extended for a few years, as was often the case for archbishops during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I replied that I did not hope for that. A Christian’s hope, and that of a priest, is rather directed at something much more important than the extension of his mandate. From that they concluded that I did not hope for an extension and wanted to retire immediately. As if “I do not hope that…” and “I do not hope for..” are synonymous. Well, the hope of a Christian and a priest is not so much to retire quickly, but to remain active in his mission for a long while. But from the media I draw the conclusion that people do not excel in logic, even when they have made words and language their profession…

In short: I ask my brothers in the priesthood and the faithful of the diocese not to be carried away by unfounded assumptions. What I hope for especially – in this and many other situations – is that the will of God will manifest itself in my life and that I will be sufficiently free to accept the Holy Father’s  decision, whatever it may be, with an equanimous heart.

In that respect I appreciate greatly the words of Pope Francis, who reminds his brother, cardinals, bishops and priests, that they are neither eternal nor irreplaceable, and in which he discourages every spirit of careerism and human ambition in servants of the Holy Church. Let he who has ears, listen!

Finally, until the time that my duty in Mechelen-Brussels ends, I would use all my strength for my task, with the same enthusiasm and the same gratitude as today. And when the time comes to bid each other farewell, I will live my priesthood – for the time that remains for me on this earth – with the same attitude and the same hope.

 + André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels”

For Family Synod 2, Cardinal Eijk returns to Rome

synod of bishopsThe first group of participants in coming autumn’s Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been ratified by Pope Francis. Unlike for last year’s assembly, which was an Extraordinary one, the majority of members for this edition are elected by the bishops’ conferences of the world. The presidents of the conferences do not automatically attend, unless, as in the case of the Dutch bishops, he is elected to do so.

liesenCardinal Wim Eijk, who today coincidentally had a private audience with Pope Francis, will once again participate like he did last year, but should he not be able to do so, the bishops have chosen Bishop Jan Liesen (at right) to be his replacement. Bishop Liesen is no stranger in Rome, as he was a member of the International Theological Commission for a number of years.

The list of participants published today is far from complete. Many bishops’ conferences, such as the German, have yet to elect one of their own to go to Rome in October. The Belgian bishops likewise haven’t chosen , but they will wait for the appointment of a new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and President of the bishops’ conference, sometime in or after May.

After Verviers, some thoughts about our relations with Muslims

L_ordinazione_episcopale_di_Jean_Pierre_Delville_vescovo_di_Liegi_11The fear of terrorism and the danger of returning Jihadists from Syria and Iraq seems to be slowly creeping northward, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Yesterday, Belgian police prevented a terrorist attack on police officers and installation in the town of Verviers, southwest of Liège, which saw several arrests made and two suspected terrorists killed. As chance would have it, the Bishop of Liège, Jean-Pierre Delville, was in Verviers as the police operation took place. Yesterday, he gave the following statement.

“The incident took place when I was visiting the mosque on the Rue de Hodimont in Verviers. The friendship shown by the Muslim community of Hodimont sharply contrasts with the aggression of those who betray Islam with their blind violence. War only leads to war. Only dialogue and encounter can lead to peace.”

It almost seems more than coincidental that Msgr. Delville was visiting a mosque, of all places, at that time. But it does put him in the perfect place to comment on how this terrorism also affects Muslim communities.

The reactions in Catholic circles on the increased fear of terrorism and the recent attacks, as far as I have seen in social media, is varied. Most reactions make a distinction between terror and Islam, but there are also those who link the two, considering violence an inherent element of Islam. I wouldn’t know that,as I am not overly familiar with that religion, but I can understand these sentiments as the violence and terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam is very visible these days. But that does not mean that those sentiments are correct. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, I was struck by how quick many Muslims, including religious leaders, were to condemn it. We are on the same side against the evil that causes people to kill and destroy.

Islam is still something many in the west look upon warily. It is not something that is native to western Europe, and we don’t know a lot about it, in general. But what we do think to know and see, frightens us. Understandable as this is, it is not what we are asked to do as Christians. We are asked to follow the example of Jesus, who went to meet the people who did not share His teaching (or at least not yet).

There are those who do not like it when bishops visit mosques, as Msgr. Delville did, and to me it often seems as if they are afraid that he will come out “contaminated”, or that it is construed as an approval of Islam.

As Christians we do not share the faith of Muslims. Jesus did not share the thoughts and practices of the Pharisees, scribes and tax collectors, even condemned them, but he sat down and debated with them all the same. We must do the same: share what we have in common (and we do have things in common with Muslims) and meet the people and so allow them to meet Jesus through us.

“Sincere, modest and humble” – Cardinal Lehmann congratulates Cardinal-designate Rauber

One of the new cardinals is Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, who comes from Germany and has been closely involved with the Church in Belgium and Luxembourg. Reason enough to share the congratulatory message from Karl Cardinal Lehmann on the website of the Diocese of Mainz.

Archbishop Rauber was a priest of the Diocese of Mainz from 1959 to 1982 and will be the eleventh German cardinal (five of whom, including Rauber, will be non-electors). He was the previous Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, succeeded in 2009 by Archbishop Giacinto Berloco. In some circles Archbishop Rauber is seen is somewhat of a liberal, but in difficult situations, such as the commotion that followed comments by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms are not the resolution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa (which Rauber experienced firsthand as Nuncio in Uganda), he was able to explain the meaning of what happened correctly and underlined the importance of quotations in context and understanding the subject matter. But Archbishop Rauber has not always been careful: he spoke about the preparatory work he did for the appointment of the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in 2010, and revealed that the general consensus was that Bishop Jozef de Kesel was to be appointed. Pope Benedict XVI instead chose André-Joseph Léonard. Some saw this openness as a sign of Archbishop Rauber’s frustration that his work was for naught. Likewise, his transfer from Switzerland to Hungary in 1997 was seen as a result of his role in the conflict surrounding then-Bishop Wolfgang Haas of the Diocese of Chur.

In Belgium and Luxembourg, Archbishop Rauber also oversaw the appointment of Bishops Guy Harpigny of Tournai, Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt and Johan Bonny of Antwerp.

lehmann rauber“Congratulations to the Apostolic Nuncio Karl-Josef Rauber
on the occasion of his elevation to cardinal by Pope Francis

Among the (arch)bishops that Pope Francis has appointed as cardinals is – as one of the five gentlemen over the age of 80 – the German-born former Apostolic Nuncio Dr. Karl-Josef Rauber. He is a priest of the Diocese of Mainz.

Archbishop Rauber was born on 11 April 1934 in Nuremberg, went to school at the Benedictine gymnasium in Metten in Bavaria and studied Catholic theology at the then new University of Mainz. On 28 February 1959 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Albert Stohr in Mainz cathedral. He worked for three years in Nidda, where he got to know well the diaspora situation in Oberhessen.

In 1962, the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, he started his PhD studies in canon law in Rome and attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. From 1966 to 1977 he worked as one of the four secretaries of Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, the later cardinal from Florence, who was very influential in the Secretariat of State and the Curia. He and especially Pope Paul VI had a lasting impact on Rauber. In those eleven years in the Curia, and in close proximity to the Pope, he received a comprehensive experience of the Church.

In 1977 Rauber began his extensive diplomatic work at the Nunciatures in Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece, and later as Nuncio in Uganda. In 1983, on 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany, he was consecrated as a bishop by Pope John Paul II.

In 1990 Nuncio Rauber was tasked with the governance of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome. In 1993 he once again returned to diplomatic service as Apostolic Nuncio in Switzerland and Liechtenstein (1993-1997), in Hungary and Moldova (1997-2003) and in Belgium and Luxembourg (2003-2009), where he had begun his foreign diplomatic career in 1977. Aged 75, Rauber retired in 2009 and has served the Schönstatt sisters in Ergenzingen in the Diocese of Rotternburg-Stuttgart both pastorally and spiritually.

As Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Rauber was faced in some situations with difficult challenges for the Church: in Uganda he encountered the beginning of the AIDS epidemic among the population; in Switzerland he had to help resolve the conflicts in the Diocese of Chur; in Hungary it was the long-term consequences of the relations between Church and state in the Communist era; in the political landscape of Belgium the Church did not have an easy time; in Brussels the Holy See also established its diplomatic mission to the EU: Rauber was the right man for a sensible coordination and division of work for both missions in one place.

So we may be glad that Pope Francis chose to include, from the ranks of former papal diplomats, Karl-Josef Rauber among the especially honoured emeriti in this creation of cardinals. He has especially excelled in service to the world Church and the Pope in the second half of the twentieth century: by incorruptibility and independent judgement, candor and sincerity in dealing with others and modesty and humility in his actions. Through more than a few conversations over the past decade in Rome I know that many of his colleagues think highly of him and are happy to see him in Rome and elsewhere. True to his overall program Pope Francis has highly honoured a selfless diplomat in service to the Church. One may certainly see this is a somewhat belated recognition.

In the years of his high-level work in Rome and for the world Church, Nuncio Rauber has always maintained an active relationship with his native Diocese of Mainz, and the diocese has always accompanied him on his way. That was especially visible in his participation in many happy but also painful events in the diocese. On 13 April 2014 we celebrated his 80th birthday in Mainz.

On Sunday 4 January I congratulated him with his appointment: we are happy with and for him. We thank him for his great service and pray for him for God’s blessing for body and soul.”

Photo credit: Bistum Mainz/Blum

Looking ahead to some future appointments

With the start of the new year, we can look ahead to some changes that may come up over the course of it. There will undoubtedly be plenty of surprises, but when it comes to bishops’ appointments, we can expect a few, and again most of them in Germany, although an important one will take place in Belgium.

lehmannThere are two active prelates in Germany who are over the age of 75. One of them is Cardinal Karl Lehmann (pictured), the bishop of Mainz, who will turn 79 on 16 May. He may retire this year, but it is also entirely possible that he will stay on until his 80th birthday, much like Cardinal Meisner in Cologne. We can’t judge if there is any recent tradition of late retirements in Mainz, as five of Cardinal Lehmann’s six immediate predecessors died in office, well before retirement age. The only exception is Cardinal Hermann Volk, who retired on his 79th birthday in 1982.

The other active prelate is Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of Paderborn and Apostolic Administrator of Limburg. He will be 76 on 4 April. As a new bishop for Limburg is expected sometime this year, it is very likely that Bishop Grothe will retire from both his offices.

werbsTwo other German bishops will reach the age of 75 this year, and thus tender their resignation. Bishop Norbert Werbs (at right), auxiliary bishop of Hamburg, will reach the retirement age on 20 May, and Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen will do so on 29 October. For Hamburg, the retirement of Bishop Werbs will be the second step in the full changeover of the archdiocese’s bishops. Archbishop Thissen already retired last year, and the last auxiliary bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke, will follow late next year. A new archbishop and one or more new auxiliaries appear to be on the books this year.

The final, and perhaps biggest change this year, will be retirement of Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels (pictured below). Even for this blog this will be a landmark, as his appointment back in 2010 marked one of the first major blog posts here, one that was copied and read by thousands of people.

léonardWho will succeed Archbishop Léonard is anyone’s guess, but if the tradition in Belgium is an indication, he will be from Flanders. Since 1832, the office of archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels has been alternately held by a Flemish and a Walloon prelate, and Archbishop Léonard hails from Namur. The bishops of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Hasselt are possibilities, as are one of the three auxiliaries bishops of Mechelen-Brussels. If the successor already is a bishop, that is, and the whole idea of tradition may be ignored and another Walloon priest of bishop may be appointed. Whoever it will be, it will certainly be interesting.

And then, lastly, there will be new appointments. Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg are extremely likely, but we have seen that sometimes the waiting period is long. Still, Berlin and Hamburg are important and large sees, and for Limburg a new bishop will be a good step forwards towards permanency and a new beginning.