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

Stats for January 2013

With one-twelfth of the new year already behind is – where does the time go? – we can look back on a fairly average month with 7,308 visits to the blog. As the top 10 below will show, there were a few popular post which rapidly raked up the numbers, although others are more like slow burners, collecting a steady stream of visits per day or week.

And so, pleased with the knowledge that my blog provides some service to readers, on to the top 10 of January:

1: A first fruit – Dutch bishop to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form 222
2: A Catholic queen for the Netherlands? 121
3: Behind the Gänswein consecration 80
4: Catholic pretense? Protestant leader takes what is not his 76
5: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 64
6: Kerstgroet aan de Curie 63
7: ‘Bel Giorgio’ takes over the household & .catholic – a coup by the Church? 61
8: Het probleem Medjugorje 51
9: Full agenda – no ad limina for the Dutch bishops in 2013? 37
10: The radicality of Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine 31

The radicality of Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine

He’s shown up on my computer screen more than once in recent weeks: a young French priest from Marseille who has gotten attention for dressing like a priest wherever he goes. In this video (in French with Dutch subtitles) he explains why.

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But I also think, you see, that the priesthood must be visible!”

Interviewer: “That is why, if I may, you wear the cassock?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “Yes, the cassock, I truly wear it for the 96% who do not come to Church. Because, these throngs who stay outside, who do not go to the churches, how do you want them to have the chance to encounter a priest? It is necessary that, in the bars I visit, on this great boulevard I walk every day, that there is the possibility for everyone to come to me, to speak to me, to entrust me with something in their lives. This cassock, it is essential!”

Interviewer: “That is how that happens?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “That is indeed how that happens! I think we should really have a major examination of conscience here, because at this time we are about 15,000 priests in France, do you realise that? 9,000 are active, I think. There are also 4,000 religious! I am certain that when everyone, by a decree from heaven, would again wear the cassock, put on the hood, well, what would happen: every day many people would meet servants of God, and the Church would once again take her place in social events.”

Interviewer: “You are not making friends by saying this.”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But that does not matter, I am saying it for the Lord, and I am saying it for the future of Christianity!

The visibility of the priest through outward appearances has nothing to do with vanity or a sense of importance. Rather, the cassock and, more frequently, the Roman collar, serve two purposes: wearing it, the priest is continuously reminded of his very nature as one ordained to serve God in a very particular way. And his visibility as such makes him available for the people he is tasked to serve. If they don’t recognise him for what he is, they do not know to come to him with their needs.

Father Michel-Marie’s enthusiasm is a reflection of the importance of priestly attire. No vanity, but availability and service.

HT to Fr. Andy Penne.