In an article for Belgian daily De Standaard, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard looks back on ten years of legalised euthanasia in Belgium. My translation is here.
The archbishop, who will undoubtedly receive some expected criticism for this text, asks if the fears that the episcopate expressed a decade ago were unfounded. They were not, he says. Emphasising that the current safeguards that would make euthanasia safe simply do not work, Archbishop Léonard uses the example of a door that, once opened just a crack, will unavoidably be opened further. To halt that process, we need a clear and resolute “yes” to competent and loving care for the sick and dying. While prohibiting euthanasia does limit personal freedom, the common good sometimes trumps that freedom if we want a future for our society.
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
Not agreed: 14.0%
No opinion: 17.3%
Statement: Mandatory celibacy should be abolished
Not agreed: 15.6%
No opinion: 11.1%
Are you nostalgic for the leadership of Cardinal Danneels?
Don’t know: 24.3%
Statement: The Belgian Church is in crisis
Not agreed: 13.2%
No opinion: 9.0%
Are you on the same line as Archbishop Léonard?
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.
Seriously, how did this man ever make it to official spokesman of the archbishop of Brussels? The two are polar opposites in intelligence, intention and willingness to go against the grain.
Yesterday, Archbishop Léonard offered a Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Brussels; the first time a Belgian archbishop has done so in over 40 years. Belgian daily De Standaard reports some 500 people attending the Mass, but plays the number down by saying that these were mostly just “curious”. Sure.
Disgraced spokesman Jürgen Mettepenningen also opened his mouth about it: “I have never known of Cardinal Danneels having done the same. This is not the signal that a Church that wants to be contemporary should send out. It fits within an attitude that falls back on the past, when the liturgy was still something between priest and God.”
Honestly, just about every sentence is rife with errors. Cardinal Danneels not having done anything like this fits within the general trend in the Low Countries, as well as with the cardinal’s own priorities. It says nothing about Archbishop Léonard. This is indeed the signal of a contemporary Church; a Church willing to embrace the complete package of Tradition, liturgy and doctrine, instead of the politically correct bits and pieces in an attempt to speak to the masses by not being too difficult. Acknowledging and making use of Tradition, the 2,000-year development of Church, faith and philosophy could be considered falling back on the past: the past being, in this case, the rich treasure chest from which we draw so much of our identity, knowledge, faith and, yes, knowledge of the Lord. And then, lastly, the liturgy being between priest and God? Ridiculous nonsense. The liturgy is always a matter of God and His people. In that order. God first, people second, in an eternal dialogue of love and teaching. The priest faces the Lord together with the people: all face the same direction, because before God all men and women are equal, be they priest or laity. The liturgy of the Mass is not about ‘having something to do’; it is about prayer, about getting to know God (something with which we are never finished), communicating with Him, and He with us, not according to our own standards, but to His, the standards which were part of His plan for us ever since the Fall.
Mettepenningen’s comments are characteristic of the shallow idea of ‘being Church’ that has spread so heavily in the west in the past decades. Church is not something we make together: it is something given to us by Christ as the prime means of our salvation. It is therefore not a social club, not a self-help centre, not an opportunity to be constructive by being the centre of attention. The liturgy of the Mass is the uniting of the people of God to the heart of Christ, in prayer, as part of the world Church, and thus as something much, much greater than we are.
There are rumours that Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges has offered his resignation in relation to a case of sexual abuse. There are as yet no details or official confirmation of the case and the resignation. A family member of the bishop is said to have related the news to a press agency.
At noon today Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Malines-Brussels, Bishop Guy Harpigny of Tournai and Professor Peter Adriaenssens, chair of the committee investigating abuse claims in the Belgian Church, will hold a press conference.
Bishop Vangheluwe has been the head of the Bruges diocese since 1985.
EDIT (10:47): Belgian daily De Standaard reports that the resignation of a bishop was announced yesterday by the Belgian bishops’ conference, after which aforementioned family member identified Msgr. Vangheluwe as the bishop in question. The newspaper also says that Pope Benedict XVI is said to have already accepted the resignation.
EDIT (11:46): The press conference, due to start in less than fifteen minutes, can be watched here.
EDIT (12:25): Press conference revealed that Bishop Vangheluwe was himself guilty of abuse of a boy, in the time before he was appointed bishop. Archbishop Léonard was visibly emotional during the press conference, and statements from the spokesman of the Diocese of Bruges reflected similar feelings among the staff of the bishop.
I’ll make the statements of former Bishop Vangheluwe, Archbishop Léonard, Bishop Harpigny and spokesman Peter Rossel available in English in the course of the afternoon. You may already read the Dutch texts here.
In the meantime, let us pray for the victim and his family, that they may be helped on their way to recovery; for the Diocese of Bruges and the entire Belgian Church, that they may weather this storm and emerge stronger; and for Fr. Roger Vangheluwe, that he may be truly repentent for what he has done, and so receive the mercy of God.