Archbishop Léonard reveals his thoughts at missing out on a red hat

In a book recently published, which, like a number of earlier publications, takes the form of a conversation with a (not necessarily) religious philosopher, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard comments on his thoughts at never being made a cardinal. In the past he has stated that it was no concern to him, not least as Pope Francis preferred to create cardinals from the peripheries of world and Church. Now that he has made Archbishop’s Léonard’s successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, a cardinal, the comments can be seen in a new light.

Titled Un évêque dans le siècle, the new book is a conversation with liberal philosopher Drieu Godefridi, and was written before the news that Archbishop De Kesel would be made a cardinal. On Mr. Godefridi’s question if not being made a cardinal ever hurt for Msgr. Léonard, the latter responds:

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“Hurt is too big a word. But it did surprise me since it is a tradition of two centuries. In the past there have been many archbishops of Mechelen who were never cardinals, but since two centuries it has become a sort of tradition. Should that remain so? When I thought about it, I told myself it didn’t. It is clear that the current Pope wants to appoint cardinals from countries which never had cardinals, to underline their importance, to not have a College of Cardinals which is too Euro- or Americanocentric. I think that is a good thing.”

Later in the conversation, he speaks some more about his personal feelings.

“It was clear, to return to my case, and despite everything a little surprising. It is a delicate thing to say about myself, but many have said so in my place: pastorally, intellectually, I have done work which few archbishops have managed. In the intellectual field that was Dechamps in Mechelen, who was a very good philosopher, an apologist too. As far as I am concerned, I have completed my task in a rather original way. One of my auxiliary bishops, by the way, has dared to write that I was the first archbishop of Mechelen to visit the entire archdiocese. He also lauds my work in the intellectual field. In short, [not receiving a cardinals’ hat] surprised me, disappointed me a little, but I got over it easily.”

Following the appointment of future Cardinal De Kesel, it is clear that Archbishop Léonard’s assumption that Pope Francis does not want to create cardinals simply because it goes with the see they’re in is not correct. That said, it is equally clear that Pope Francis chooses cardinals who fit a certain pastoral mold, and if these happen to be in traditionally cardinalatial sees, so be it. De Kesel in Mechelen-Brussels is one example, Osoro Sierra in Madrid and Cupich in Chicago are others.

While Archbishop Léonard would never express any doubts or questions he may have at the choice of Archbishop De Kesel for the red hat, others have. In more than a few places, it has been seen as a slighting of Archbishop Léonard, who is now the first archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels since 1832 to not be made a cardinal. While a cardinal’s hat should not be seen as a reward (except in those cases where it given to a retired priest or bishop well in his 80s or 90s), the question remains why Archbishop Léonard never received one. It is not because Mechelen-Brussels no longer has the status in the Church it has (although that status has obviously changed as the heartland of the Church shifts way from Europe). It is also not because, as some have said, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Léonard’s predecessor, had not yet reached the age of 80. Danneels turned 80 in 2013, more than two years before the retirement of Archbishop Léonard.

Is it then because Archbishop Léonard did not meet the criteria of Pope Francis for the red hat? In a recent piece on Cardinal-designate John Ribat of Port Moresby, John Allen Jr. outlines the three criteria that the Pope seems to follow for making cardinals: being from the periphery, supporting a cause near to the Pope’s  heart, and being his kind of guy. Archbishop Léonard does not tick the first box, but then again, neither does Archbishop De Kesel. If a cause can be attributed to Archbishop Léonard, it is evangelisation. Hard to go wrong there, although the ways of achieving it are varied, and Archbishop Léonard’s way of evangelisation through catechesis may not be that of Pope Francis, who has a more hands-on approach. And as for being the Pope’s kind of guy, that is hard to estimate. Archbishop Léonard was certainly not afraid to be among the people. From the very start of his time in Brussels, he went out to visit the deaneries of his archdioceses in cycles that he would simply repeat once completed. The smell of the sheep was not alien to him.

Still, discussing why one man is made a cardinal and the other is not is, to a large extent, a guessing game, and there will probably always be more suitable men than there are red hats to give out. That said, it is my opinion that Archbishop Léonard would have been a fine choice for cardinal. Whether Archbishop De Kesel will be, that remains to be seen. In his short time in Brussels he has said and done both positive and negative things (his defense of a hospital’s freedom to deny euthanasia comes to mind, but so does his strange decision to disband the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles).

After a new cardinal, now a new Nuncio for Belgium

After some uncertainty about the retirement of the previous one, Pope Francis today appointed a new Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium. The new ambassador of the Holy See to the Kingdom of Belgium, and representative of Rome to the Catholic Church in Belgium is an experienced diplomat who has served as a Nuncio since 1998.

augustine%20kasujja_0Archbishop Augustine Kasujja hails from Uganda, where he was born in 1946. In 1973 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kampala, and he entered the Holy See diplomatic service in 1979. He served in various countries, including Argentina, Haïti, Portugal, Peru and Algeria. In 1998 he was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Algeria and Tunisia, and with that he was consecrated as archbishop of the titular see of Cesarea in Numidia. In April of 2004 he was transferred to Madagascar and the Seychelles as Nuncio, combined with the office of Apostolic Delegate to the Comoros. In June of that same year he also became the Nuncio to Mauritius. In 2010 he was appointed to Nigeria, where he served until his appointment today. It is assumed that Archbishop Kasujja will arrive in Belgium in the course of November.

Now 70, it makes sense to assume that the archbishop will complete the five years until his retirement in Belgium. As Nuncios play an important role in the appointment of bishops (they provide detailed reports on the three candidates selected by the cathedral chapter of the diocese in question and pass that on, together with their own advice, to the Congregation for Bishops, which then passes it on the Pope. The Pope can then use the report and advice to make his choice), it is perhaps interesting to see for which bishops Archihsop Kasujja will help pick a successor.

  • His retirement already submitted, Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy will probably see it accepted within the coming year. Archbishop Kasujja will probably have inherited the file on Ghent from his predecessor, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco. [EDIT: On 13 October, it was revealed that Pope Francis asked Bishop Van Looy to remain in office for two more years, until the end of 2018].
  • In July of 2018, Bishop Remy Vancottem of Namur will reach the age of 75. The erstwhile auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels succeeded the now retired Archbishop Léonard in the latter’s home diocese in 2010.
  • Archbishop Kasujja will possibly also start the groundwork for the appointment of the successor of Archbishop Jozef De Kesel in Brussels. The cardinal-elect will reach the age of 75 in June of 2022, well over a year after the Nuncio, but considering the importance of the archbishop of Brussels, not least now that he is once again a cardinal, the process may well have begun at that time.
  • In that same year, but four months earlier, Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn, one of Mechelen-Brussels’ auxiliary bishops, will also submit his resignation. But as auxiliary bishops are not archbishops, the preparation for the selection of new one (of there is even going to be one) need not take as long.

Archbishop Kasujja’s appointments is noticeable in that he is not only the first non-European Nuncio to Belgium, but also the only African Nuncio in Europe at this time.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium has also been the Apostolic Nuncio to Luxembourg since 1916, when the first papal representative was sent to the grand duchy. Archbishop Kasujja will therefore soon also be appointed to that smallest of the Benelux countries.

The Apostolic Nunciature to Belgium in its current form dates back to 1843, although there have been interruptions in the presence of Nuncios (there were none from 1846 to 1866, 1868 to 1875, 1880 to 1896 and 1911 to 1916). Archbishop Kasujja is the 21st Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, and the most notable of his predecessor is the first in that list, who served from 1843 to 1846: at the time Archbishop Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, he became Pope Leo XIII in 1878. Fourteen of the previous Nuncios to Belgium later became cardinals.

Photo credit: NTV

A new bishop for Bruges

The new bishop of Bruges comes from the neighbouring Diocese of Ghent. He has been the dean of Ghent for only about a month. Bishop-elect Lodewijk, Lode for short, Aerts will succeed Jozef De Kesel, the bishop who was appointed to the Belgian capital last year.

aertsAt 57, the new bishop will be the youngest of the Belgian bishops. A priest since 1984, he is a doctor of theology, taught at the diocesan seminary and was responsible for the youth work, education and formation in Ghent. Earlier this year he was appointed as the dean of Ghent, one of the ten new deaneries created in that diocese.

In Bruges, Bishop-elect Aerts will be the 27th bishop since the diocese was created in 1559 (although in Napoleonic times it was part of Ghent for a while). He succeeds Jozef De Kesel, who was bishop of Bruges for five years. Before that, Bruges was headed by Roger Vangheluwe for 26 years. He was forced to step down after he admitted to sexually abusing a family member.

This appointment may be considered one of the list files worked on by retired Nuncio to Belgium, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco.

The official announcement of the new appointment was made in Brussels, as Belgian bishop appointments usually are, by Archbishop De Kesel, and the new bishop later travelled to Bruges to meet the staff of the diocesan offices. The consecration of Bishop Aerts is scheduled for 4 December in Bruges’ Cathedral of St. Saviour. The names of the three consecrating bishops have not been announced, but it is a safe bet that Archbishop De Kesel and Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy, who may be retired by that time, will be among them.


At the press conference in Brussels, Archbishop De Kesel listed some of Bishop-elect Aerts’ talents:

“He is theologically well-educated. But he also understands the art of communicating this in an understandable way. He is an enthusiastic speaker and possesses an excellent pen.”

He added that, while this is not sufficient to be a bishop, “it is very valuable.” Archbishop De Kesel also spoke about the new bishop’s approach to the relation between Church and society:

“He knows very well that the past lies behind us and that we, including the Church, live in a secular pluralistic society. But exacty then it is so important to know what matters. To make a distinction between what is really important for the future and what are ultimately always rearguard battles.”

The archbishop typified Bishop-elect Aerts as “a good man, not too conceited, with a big heart and very approachable.”


The new bishop himself, then, spoke about his vision of the Church: “The Church is no one-man business, but a people: people who feel adressed by God and through their unity bear witness that God is love.”

“I also see this in myself. In order to speak credibly about God, I could do nothing by myself. My words needed the support of fellow faithful who, together with me, put the trust in God into practice. Without their friendship, their humanity, their efforts and their confidence it was not possible.”

Some more quotes to get an idea of what the new bishop of Bruges considers important in his life and work as a Catholic, a priest and a bishop:

“It is not good that Christians impose themselves. But they also should not be ashamed. As far as I am concerned, the faith is the best that ever happened to me. It is the experience of God accepting me for who I am, that I need not pretend to be better than I am before Him, that He accompanies me though life and that His hand will never let me go.”

“It is my greatest joy to notice that this trust lets other people bloom and makes them free and independent. To share this faith, I want to take on the duties of a bishop.”

Photo credit: [2] IPID, [3] Kur Desplenter

Bishop van Looy’s 75th, and the question of a retired Nuncio

van looyIn Belgium a second diocese is expected to soon fall vacant, as Bishop Luc van Looy celebrates his 75th birthday today. The bishop of Ghent has been in office since 2003, and was a personal choice of Pope Francis to attend the second assembly of the Synod of Bishops last year. The other vacant diocese in Flanders is neighbouring Bruges, which saw its bishop, Jozef De Kesel, leave last year to become archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

The Diocese of Ghent is largely coextensive with the Belgian province of East Flanders (it also includes one municipality of the Province of Antwerp) and has recently been reorganised into ten deaneries. Bishop van Looy is its 30th bishop since the diocese was established in 1559, during the great reorganisation of dioceses in what was then the Spanish Netherlands.

Although Bishop van Looy offers his resignation to the Pope upon reaching the age of 75, the Holy Father has no obligation to immediately accept it. In fact, unless there is a likely candidate waiting in the wings, Bruges may be first in line for a new bishop. And then there is the question of the Apostolic Nuncio, who plays an important part in the appointment of new bishops.

220px-sanguis_brvgensis_2013-17aArchbishop Giacinto Berloco has been the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg since 2009, and turned 75 himself on 31 August of this year. Belgian media have been treating recent appearances of the nuncio as something like farewells, and a resource like Catholic Hierarchy already lists him as retired. No announcement of a retirement has been released through either the Belgian bishops or the Holy See, however.

Whatever the current status of the official representative of the Holy See to Belgium may be, for now we may assume that Archbishop Berloco remains in office. But we may equally assume that that situation will change soon.

[EDIT: Charles Bransom, who maintains a weblog devoted to the Apostolic Succession of the world’s bishops, notes that Archbishop Berloco is indeed retired. He writes: “In  the list of audiences published in the Holy See’s daily bulletin on 23 September 2016 is that of Archbishop Berloco. He is identified as Titular Archbishop of Fidene and Apostolic Nuncio: “S.E. Mons. Giacinto Berloco, Arcivescovo tit. di Fidene, Nunzio Apostolico;”. There is no mention of him being nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg. […] If he were still nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, that would have been added after “Nunzio Apostolico.”  Upon retirement, many nuncios are received in audience by the Pope and the above is always the way they are mentioned in such audiences.” Why the Holy See does not report the retirement of Nuncios, as opposed to those of all other bishops, remains anyone’s guess.]

In the meantime, Bishop van Looy celebrated his birthday with his closest coworkers in the bishop’s house. To the reporters present he said he was not concerned with when his resignation would be accepted: “Come what may!”.

In De Kesel vs the Fraternity, a few small specks of light

de keselIn the two weeks since the blunt announcement that the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels would be discontinuing all its relations with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostle, there has been much silence from said archdiocese. This despite the debate that erupted about the topic, in which commenters were almost unanimously opposed to the decision.

But despite a lack of official and public comments, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel has met with a delegation of laity, and from this some developments have emerged, Katholiek Nieuwsblad and La Libre Belgique report. Sadly, the decision of cutting all ties with the Fraternity remains, but the archbishop has had to accept a setback: dozens of people have appealed the decision, forcing at least a month’s respite. Originally, the archdiocese had announced to sever all ties by the end of June, in other words: today.

There was more positive news in the meeting: the priests attached to the church of St. Catherine can remain there while Archbishop De Kesel is in office (and, one would hope, after that). On the other hand, the archbishop is also open to another diocese, in Belgium or abroad, taking on canonical responsibility for the Fraternity. How likely that is, considering that his decision was apparently made in full agreement with the other Belgian bishops and Rome, remains anyone’s guess.

The 200-strong parish of Saint Catherine’s has extended an invitation to Archbishop De Kesel to come and visit, an invitation he has promised to accept once the storm has died down.

For Hasselt and the Blessed Virgin, a papal blessing

Pope Francis has sent a letter and apostolic blessing to Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt on the occasion of the 18th Coronation Feasts in Tongres, which are to be held from 3 to 10 July. The feasts include  Belgium’s largest processions and has been recognised as an immaterial world heritage.


Bishop Hoogmartens personally asked the Holy Father for his blessing:

“Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy, is after all the patron saint of the Diocese of Hasselt, which celebrated its 50th anniversary next year. The runup to this anniversary starts with the Coronation Feasts and ends in the summer of 2017, after the Virga Jesse feasts in Hasselt. In my meeting with the Pope I told him this and asked for his blessing. I then repeated my request in writing to the nunciature. I am very happy that, through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, he has granted his papal blessing to all of the 3,000 participants, the parishes of Tongres and, in extension, the faithful of the Diocese of Hasselt. But also to the people who will come to watch the Coronation Feasts, and who will participate in the celebrations surrounding Mary, Cause of Our Joy.”

The tradition of the Coronation Feasts goes back to 1890 when the statue of the Blessed Virgin in Tongres was crowned. Georges Willemaers, chairman of the organising committee, explains, “The entire Gospel is made manifest through the life of Mary. This takes place in four processions through the centre of the city, and a similar number of evening plays before the tower of the basilica.”

In his letter, Pope Francis asks the Blessed Virgin “to guide all towards the mildness of her face, so that everyone may redisover the joy of God’s tenderness.” The letter will be read out in all parishes of the diocese in this weekend.


^A Passion play depicting the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi, during an earlier edition of the Coronation Feasts. More photos may be viewed here.

Tongres, located roughly halfway between Liège and Hasselt, is one of western Europe’s oldest Catholic centres. It became the seat of a bishop in 344, although it soon had to share this honour with Maastricht, which then became the sole residence of the bishop in the 6th century. Today, Tongres’ history is reflected in it being a titular diocese, which has been held by Bishop Pierre Warin, auxiliary bishop of Namur, since 2004. The Diocese of Hasselt, of which Tongres is a part, was established in 1967 out of the Dutch-speaking part of the Diocese of Líège. It corresponds with the Belgian province of Limburg. Bishop Hoogmartens, in office since 2004, is its third bishop.

Good work, but not in Belgium – Mechelen-Brussels sends the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles packing

The Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels came with a rather puzzling press statement today, announcing an end to the diocese’s cooperation with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. This fraternity of priests was invited to Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, but apparently his successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, wastes no time in shutting them down. Even as the news broke, the priests of the fraternity were still meeting with the staff of the archdiocese.

There are rumours that there is more to the decision than the press release states, but as that is the official position of the archdiocese, it must be taken seriously, strange as it is.

This is the full text of the statement, translated by me:

Wapen-bisdom%20kleur100%25“The Fraternity of the Holy Apostles was established in 2013 as a “public clerical society of faithul” of diocesan right. It falls under the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels.

The Fraternity has 27 members, 6 priests and 21 seminarians of whom one is a deacon. Of the 27 members, 21 reside in Belgium and 6 in France, especially in the Diocese of Bayonne. The majority of the current members comes from France.

It is the Fraternity’s main purpose to make young people sensitive to the beauty of the vocation to the diocesan priesthood. Answering that vocation does not necessarily mean that one stands alone: the priest can rely on the support and solidarity of the brothers with whom he forms a fraternity. This option is indeed very valuable in the life of the priest today.

This initiative, however, presents a problem when one realises that at the moment the majority of the Fraternity’s seminarians comes from France, where so many areas suffer from a distressing shortage of priests. Of course, it is possible that the number of Belgian seminarians, both French- and Dutch-speaking, can increase over the years. But then, too, they will come from other Belgian dioceses to become priests for the archdiocese.

In the current situation it is better not to encourage such a process. It would indicate a great lack of solidarity among the bishops, both with the bishops in our country as with the French bishops. That is why the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels decided to no longer work with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles in his diocese from the end of June 2016 onwards.

Those members of the Fraternity who have already been ordained as priests or deacons serving the archdiocese remain priests or deacons of the archdiocese, as prescribed by canon law. Regarding their appointment the arcbishop will take into account what was dear to them when they entered the Fraternity. In this context, and contrary to what some rumours would have us believe, it is the arcbishop’s wish that the experiences of the church of St. Kathelijne [the Brussels church entrusted to the pastoral care of the Fraternity – MV] may by further developed.

The seminarians can, if they so wish and if they meet the demands for the formation of priests of the archdiocese, continue their education at the diocesan seminary.

This decision of the archbishop is the result of long deliberations with his auxiliary bishops and the diocesan council. A special commission has met with all the member of the Fraternity residing in Belgium. The Belgian bishops were also consulted and support the decision, as do the responsible departments of the Holy See.”

So, in short, the Fraternity has too many priests from abroad, and while the archdiocese continues to make use of the priests already ordained (if only because canon law demands it), the other members can basically do whatever they please. Sure, the seminarians are welcome at the diocesan seminary, if they are good enough and if they really must, but there’s no pressure.

I can accept that there are parts of France where priests are few, but the Belgian bishops are fooling themselves if they think the same is not true, or will be in the foreseeable future, for their own dioceses. The Fraternity is drawing young men who want to work as priests in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. The archbishop should be overjoyed by this. Instead, there is misplaced talk of solidarity with the other bishops. Instead of closing a successful institution because it might draw future priests away from other dioceses in Belgium or France, the bishops would do better by looking at what it is that makes the Fraternity work and adopt that in their own seminaries. There is a good chance that it is this what caused the Fraternity’s seminarians to choose the Fraternity over a diocesan seminary.

By this decision’s logic, I might add, the seminaries of the Neocatechumenal Way should also be closed. These also train seminarians from other countries to work in Belgium or whatever country they are sent to. They, too, should return to the seminaries of their home dioceses, out of solidarity with the bishops there…

Like I said, this is a puzzling decision. It could well be that the true reasons remain secret, and that there is much more going on. The Fraternity has in the past struggled with accepting and submitting themselves to episcopal authority, and that is indeed problematic. But if such problems lie at the root of this decision, let it then be said. If today’s press statement is true, it is evidence of serious short-sightedness on the part of the archbishop and the other bishops; if there is instead more going on, the statement is deceitful.

Lastly, it is hard not to see this as a slap in the face of the archbishop emeritus, André-Joseph Léonard, who lived with the Fraternity for a short while between his retirement and his departure for France. He brought them to Brussels, seeing them as an asset in the new evangelisation of the Belgian capital.