Priest attacked… for being Catholic

One of the consequences of the carnival Masses I wrote about earlier, has become clear in the small town of Reusel, in the diocese of Den Bosch. A carnival Mass of some sort was planned there, but the local priest, Father Luc Buyens evidently thought it prudent to make sure the Mass was Catholic. He therefore made a phone call to the town’s carnival prince, a 24-year-old man who leads an openly homosexual lifestyle. Since the Church requires all faithful who present themselves for Communion to be in a state of grace and lead a life in agreement with their faith, Father Buyens could do little else but tell the carnival prince that he would not be able to receive Communion.

This did not go down well. The prince did not understand why he couldn’t receive, stating he was a Catholic, baptised and confirmed and that his grandparents were in shock because of all this. A local member of the town council took it upon himself to defend the poor victim and rallied the national gay newspaper to organise a protest at Fr. Buyen’s church on Sunday.  The paper’s editor promised he’d be there ‘to enter into discussion with the faithful’.

Father Buyens had seemingly anticipated a response like this and said he would clarify his reasons to his parishioners on Sunday.

Now, a lot can be said about this. In the first place, a dressed-up carnival prince, homosexual or not, has no business being a lector during Mass. Maintain some level of dignity and decorum in the presence of the Lord. But that’s another discussion.

The priest could do nothing else but to deny this man Communion. In fact, he should have done so five years ago, when the man is said to have embarked on his openly homosexual way of life. And if the carnival prince was as Catholic as he said, he should have known this.

But I’m not surprised he didn’t. The vast majority of Catholics in this country knows next to nothing about their faith, let alone about such an important element as the Eucharist. Knowing what is required of the faithful before they can receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Surely that’s out of the question.

So here we have a priest who did his job, the only thing he could do. As documents, theologians and other experts emphasise time and again, the liturgy is not ours to do with as we wish, so changing the requirements for Communion is an impossibility, pure and simple.

The skewed perception of this affair will be in favour of the alleged victim. The modern consensus is that the boundless freedom for everyone to do whatever they wish is more important than the freedom of others to follow a set of morals, values and beliefs. Because these are ultimately not to be trusted, because they limit the freedom of others. And that is why they must be opposed, loudly, disproportionately, and they certainly must not be reasoned with.

I really wonder what any demonstration will achieve, apart from more anti-Catholic sentiments in the media. They surely can’t expect that the priest will change his mind?

It is quite maddening, to be honest.

Some thoughts on same-sex marriage

On Facebook I joined a little group with the catchy title I bet I can find 1,000,000 people AGAINST same sex marriage! The accuracy of that claim is doubtful of course (the group has some 1,600 members as of the time of writing), but it was created in response to a group with a similar title that was in favour of same-sex marriage. A classic case of sloganeering, I would say.

Anyway, the identity of the group being what it may, I nonetheless joined it and that caused two people to ask me why I am against same-sex marriage. A valid question about a very unpopular position to take, and reason to explain a bit more in this blog. I intend to put the question in a slightly larger framework. I want to take a look at what marriage is and if that idea is in agreement with the modern concept of marriage. To find an answer I want to use my own thoughts about it, obviously, and also some Catholic resources. Yes, I am a Catholic and I support the Catholic ideas about marriage. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

What is marriage?

The Code of Canon Law tells us this: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.” [Can. 1055 § 1]

There is a lot of information in these four lines. First of all, marriage is a covenant, a mutual agreement or contract, so to speak. It also involves a man and a woman who establish this agreement between themselves. Marriage is ordered to the good of the spouses, so they will benefit from it, and it will naturally include children and their education. Furthermore, although a human agreement, Christ has raised it to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. I’ll come back to marriage being a sacrament, but going over these requirement we get a pretty clear picture.

We need a man and a woman who want to be married. Marriage can not be forced. The spouses must not be opposed to having children, because that would take away one of the defining elements of marriage. The inability to conceive or carry a child to term is different, of course, but I won’t go into that here.

The natural order which is alluded to in the above quote from the Code of Canon Law can be described as an order or set of laws which are innate to nature or creation. They were not later enforced on nature, but are a part of it. Of course, like nature, natural law finds its source in God, but He did not create it separately. The natural order becomes visible in the daily tendencies of nature: animals behave in a certain way, plants develop along certain lines in certain circumstances. In humans, and when applied to marriage, we see the natural order in the sexes. Man and woman complement each other, physically but also spiritually: ” This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” [Gen. 2, 23] and “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh” [Gen. 2, 24] (emphasis mine).

Marriage as a sacrament

 Marriage is also a sacrament. What does that mean? Wikipedia tells us that a sacrament is an “outward sign that conveys spiritual grace through Christ.” I have personally heard it defined as “a sign that achieves what it symbolises.” For example, the sacrament of Baptism uses the symbol of flowing water to indicate that we are cleansed from our sins and therefore it achieves that cleansing. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread and wine are symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ and therefore they are the Body and Blood of Christ (but I won’t go into an analysis of the transubstantiation here).

The sacrament of marriage is executed by the spouses themselves (the priest serves as a witness to validate the covenant made). Through the symbols of the rings, for example, the contract is signed and that contract must then be consummated to make it binding. All very official, but that is a summary of this particular sacrament. It is clearly a true and binding contract if the requirements are all met. These requirements are indicated in Holy Scripture and communicated through Tradition. I have already some examples in the quotations above, but there are many more.

Although it is an act of free will from the spouses and they have full control over the closing of the covenant of marriage, it is a covenant made before God. He validates it through His witnesses (the priest and others). The concept of marriage is not human-made, although the execution, to a large extent, is.

Modern views of marriage

Modern society in the west obviously values marriage. Many people get married, and I read recently that an increasing number of people actually get married in churches again. So the idea of marriage as something more than a mere agreement is still present, but I am afraid it is present as a vague sense and not as a well-defined idea. In my opinion, a large number of people get married (if they get married at all) because it is expected of them, or they feel it would make for the most beautiful day of their life, or other reasons. But there is no clear sense of marriage as a covenant made before God, a concept created by Him and so outside of our decisive influence: we can’t change what marriage is, simply because we didn’t create it in the first place.

Marriage, for many people, is an agreement between two people who want to share their lives together. They love each other, they are compatible and they want to grow old together, and these are all very lofty sentiments. But the enormous increase in divorces over the past decades would seem to indicate that there is no longer a clear sense of ‘marriage is forever’. It is a covenant that can not be broken. Marriage is also no longer always by definition good for the spouses, or ordered towards having children. The idea of what marriage is has changed from the definition I outlined above.

Same-sex marriage, the sensible idea?

Taking modern society’s ideas of marriage, there is no problem for two men to get married, or two men. For them, too, it is an agreement between two people who love and each other and want to grow old together. But is that marriage? I would say no. Marriage is much more than that and, like I said, the sacrament has certain requirements that spouses need to fulfill in order for it to be a marriage.

You could argue that we then just need to change the definition of marriage, but, like I said, we can’t since we didn’t create it. It’s as impossible as changing the force of gravity or switching off the sun. Since same-sex marriage can never be marriage according to its basic definition, we shouldn’t call it such. In fact, a lot of marriages between men and women aren’t marriages anymore, for the same reasons.

I have heard people claim that the “homosexual lobby stole our sacrament!” An insensitive comment in these words, to be sure, but one with a core of truth. The old Christian concept of marriage has, over the years, been adopted and changed by an increasingly secular society. This has been a relatively gradual process and at its root lies a lack of knowledge and education for which the Church is just as much to blame as any ‘secular lobby’ you’d care to mention.

Conclusion

Why am I against same-sex marriage? Well, I think I’ve clarified it a bit: it is not marriage according to its original definition. The sacraments are means by which God communicates His grace to us. We don’t need all sacraments (some, such as marriage and Holy Orders, exclude each other), but we need the ones we do receive in their totality. We can’t choose the bits and pieces of the sacraments that we like. If two people wish to share a life together before God, they’ll get married in the fullness of that sacrament. If two people wish to share a life together just because they want and God is not included in the decision, they do not get married.

The natural order, which I mentioned above, also plays a part in this, of course. I won’t go into too much detail (this post is long enough as it is), but there is serious problem with anything that is not in agreement with this natural order. Issues like abortion, euthanasia and, indeed, homosexuality are not in agreement with the natural order and should be handled with care, so to speak.

Does that mean that I, or the Church, hate homosexuals? Not in the least. It was Gandhi who told us to love the sinner, but hate the sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it better than I can, and I’ll close this post with this (emphases mine):

2357: Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359: Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

For continued reading: Persona Humana, declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics, published in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may be interesting.

I realise this is a sensitive and emotional topic and that is why I want to stress that everyone is welcome to reply as long as they do not descend into personal attacks or impolite shouting. Debate is a good thing, but requires more than just emotion.

Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard

Belgian Priest Fr. Pieter Delanoy shows why Bishop Léonard is the best choice for the archdiocese of Mechlin-Brussels, although he does not intend to do so.

In VRT News he explains why he started a Facebook group against the rumoured appointment and what he thinks the problem is. His comments are in Dutch, but here are some snippets translated into English.

Fr. Delanoy: “There were a lot of people, a lot of young people, who immediately reacted, “How can I now tell friends I believe, that I go to Church. How is it possible that when we know that things work in different ways, modern ways, that someone with such a profile apparently becomes archbishop.””

Presenter: “He really only says what the pope is saying, no more, no less.”

Fr. Delanoy: “Yes, but we think those should be implemented pastorally. That is totally different than saying, “These are the position of Rome, so we stop talking to a lot of people. So, people who are divorced, people who…”

Presenter: “Homosexuals.”

Fr. Delanoy:  “Homosexuals. Women. We stop talking to them, because they are shoved aside.”

I don’t know where Fr. Delanoy had his education, but it sounds like it was seriously lacking. Where does he get the idea that Catholics can’t talk to women, divorced people, homosexuals? Disapproving of a practice is not at all the same as disapproving of people. That’s basic knowledge.

It’s interesting to see that he does not disagree with what the pope says, but refuses to implement those statements. Equally interesting, in a sad way, is that Fr. Delanoy seems to think that dogmatic teachings are nothing more than opinions or standpoints. This is a priest of the Catholic Church who is ignorant of the position he has in the Church and even what that Church is.

And in all this, I haven’t even mentioned the blatant disrespect he shows to his superior and spiritual father. Or his lack of a Roman collar.

That is why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard: for well-educated priests who know the faith and are not afraid to defend it.

“The Belgian Church has been too passive”

The rumours of Bishop Léonard of Namur succeeding Cardinal Danneels have become more certain today. The VRT reports that the Belgian bishops were informed yesterday, but the Archdiocese immediately stated that no news would be forthcoming until Monday. The media however, speculate heartily about the pros and cons of an Archbishop Léonard, but it is perhaps much more interesting to see who this man is.

In 2006, news outlet Knack interviewed Bishop Léonard. It is pretty thorough and portrays Msgr. Léonard as an eloquent, educated and orthodox man.

“The Belgian Church has been too passive”

“We all live off the faith,” he says. “There are few things we can control ourselves. For example, I believe that my car works . I put my faith in the people who designed and built my car. And that faith is justified. Likewise I can have good reasons to believe in other people, in people who are believable.”

He smiles. “If I wanted to get to know you, I can collect all kinds of information about your person. I can talk with people who know you personally. But I’ll get the most reliable information when you sit across from me, when you reveal yourself to me. If you’re believable I will accept that revelation in faith. That is also how my faith in God works. I put my trust in the word of God who revealed himself to us.”

André-Mutien Léonard is not only tipped as successor to Cardinal Danneels, but also portrayed as his complete opposite. The conservative bishop of Namur caused a stir recently because he questioned scientific research into embryonic stem cells. In his position on euthanasia or homosexuality he point-blank follows the strict teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

But let’s start at the beginning. At the foundation of his concept of man. “You must excuse me if I sometimes formulate things a bit philosophically,” he begins. “I have taught philosophy for more than 20 years, first in Louvain, later in Louvain-la-Neuve. I prefer to answer thoroughly. What is your first question?”

Is man a superior species of animal or a pretentious ape?

ANDRÉ-MUTIEN LÉONARD: The great Greek philosopher Aristotle already said that man is an animal in possession of logos, reason. Of course, as humans, we are also conditioned by our bodies, by our connection to physical nature. But yet we are also capable of distancing ourselves from that nature, from that environment. That is characteristic of man. He is, to use the famous words of Blaise Pascal, a thinking reed. In a way man is insignificant compared to the immensity of the universe. But if the universe would squash man tomorrow, it would not be aware of that, but man will.

Other animals also have a form of consciousness.

LÉONARD: Of course. Animals also respond in an adapted manner to their surrounding, but they are not aware of the deeper meaning of those responses. They also do not develop strategies to fundamentally change their environment. That is why animals have no history, no culture. A modern cat leads roughly the same life as a cat in ancient Egypt. Only man has the capacity to change his environment. Animals respond to what is, man can also consider that which is not. And so he has the pretense to say: things are not as they should be. And so man is an animal that creates values and norms. Animals do not do that.

It didn’t make us really happy, did it?

LÉONARD: (laughs) Exactly, that is precisely it. I used to give this example to my students: give a cat a tomcat, some kittens, a ball of wool, some milk and a basket to sleep in. I don’t think that a cat in those circumstances would long for a different world. That is totally different for humans. Give someone as much money and fun as he can handle and he still won’t be happy. That is because man is not just attuned to those who are, to paraphrase Heidegger, but also on Being itself. Man transcends this world.

What do you mean with ‘transcend’?

LÉONARD: Let me give you an example. When I ask a student to prove that the sum of the three angles of an euclidean triangle is 180 degrees, he will make a few diagrams. Everything that happens there, happens in accordance with the laws of nature. Neurological reactions in the student’s brain, chemical reaction, and so on. But at the same time something more happens. Namely the thoughts, the reflection of that student. We can’t reduce that to exclusively chemical, biological and physical reactions.

Not reduce, but explain by.

LÉONARD: Partially, but not completely. The operation of my brain cells is not enough to explain why I can think, desire and love… There is something else at work in the development of our human capacities.

You mean God?

LÉONARD: (laughs) It is interesting that you now suddenly mention God, and not I. I don’t like it when people want to introduce God prematurely into science of philosophy. Everything in its place. The question of God comes later. I just want to emphasise the fact that our thinking can not be reduced to the infrastructure of thought. By the way, there is something else which should be mentioned in this context. Why is the sum of the three angles of an euclidean triangle 180 degrees? Not because of the chemical reactions on the student’s brain, is it? Not because he has proven it is so? No, it is true because it is an eternal truth. Mathematical truths can also not be reduced to the structure of our thoughts.

Then who or what is God for you?

LÉONARD: (bracing himself) The first important question is: where does the information come from that precedes us and that works in the world? We know by now that matter is able to organise itself. But some information must be available before that. Elemental particles already contain some information. Where does that come from?

Nobody knows.

LÉONARD: But everyone wonders. There are two possible answers. Either matter has no beginning and is therefore eternal. But there is a problem with that. In our experience information is always preceded by thought. Information can never exist by itself. But it is clear that humans are not at the source of information. That is why there is a second possibility: at the origin of matter is a thought, a desire. Not ours, but a different thought, a different desire. Namely, Gods.

How do you picture that God?

LÉONARD: It is a personal God. If I were to believe in an impersonal God, God would be a sort of anonymous energy without consciousness. While I do have that. But I can certainly not be greater than God. So I picture God als someone who is also able to think and want. Another way to consider God is through Liebniz’s question: why is there something and not nothing? Why does something exist? That is also a way to God. Not just to God as the architect of those who are, but as creater of Being.

How do you see man? Optimistic or pessimistic?

LÉONARD: Both. It is typically Catholic to have a rather optimistic concept of humanity. As opposed to Luther, for example. He was convinced that human nature is thoroughly rotten. The Catholic Church has a more humanist vision. We’ll never say that man is totally rotten, but we will claim that human nature is damaged. That is what we mean by original sin. We have a deep desire for good, but also have the urge to act selfishly.

Did God want that?

LÉONARD: No, this world is not necessarily in accordance with the wishes of the creator. In the Christian faith we have an historical approach to reality. There is an original situation before man, so before sin. There is the current situation. And there are the new heaven and the new earth, which have already been announced by the resurrection of Christ.

Is it our duty to fulfill this world? Or will God do that?

LÉONARD: It is our responsibility to improve the current state of the world, knowing that we will never make it into a paradise. We can improve a lot, but we can also destroy much – but the final change will come from above. Everything we do to improve the world is like a foretaste of what is to come. Just like the miracles of Jesus in the gospel: those were also not definitive solutions. All the people that Jesus healed, fell ill again later. And the people he brought back to life, did not stay alive forever.

So Lazarus died twice.

LÉONARD: And they had to pay for his funeral twice. (laughs) Those miracles of Jesus were no definitive solutions. But they were signs, a promise, a prophecy. The message is that humanity is not created to suffer and to die.

What do you say then to people who suffer and lose their faith because of that?

LÉONARD: That I understand them. I detest it when I hear that people in the Church tone down the unacceptable character of evil. We can never say that evil is not so bad, as certain theologians do. That God created the world out of a certain didactic concern, to teach us how to fulfill this world. I don’t believe that. But a God who reasons like that would be a sadistic God. Of course fighting the troubles of life is a way to grow. But suffering can never be explained by that. I’d rather become an atheist myself.

What is your explanation of evil then? That God wanted it?

LÉONARD: No, certainly not! If I may use a philosphical term, I’d call evil contingent – something that exists, but does not necessarily have to exist. It exists, but could just as easily not have existed at all. That is why I think it is so important that we keep interpreting the original sin as a spoiling of the world, not as a required element of it.

Where does that spoiling come from?

LÉONARD: It is made possible because of the freedom of creatures. I find it normal that we were not created as creatures who perceive God’s majesty from the very start. There would not have been any room for free choice. And it is part of the dignity of man that he can choose his first steps of his existence himself. With all their conseuqences, because it also means that man can place himself above his creator. The origin of evil lies in the freedom of man.

Good comes from God, evil from what we do ourselves?

LÉONARD: Yes, that is our reasoning. The modern world, in which evil is so prominently present, is not part of the original intention of the creator. God is not content with the current situation. God has no sympathy for evil.

Why doesn’t he intervene?

LÉONARD: (sighs) That is the hardest question there is. And it is difficult to answer in words. Someone suffering does not want to hear an intellectual explanation. You could say that their decline and death are in accordance to the laws of nature. And that’s good, because life would be horrible if we lived eternally, biologically speaking. Imagine if we lived forever, who would want to be in charge of pensions? (laughs) Who would dare to promise to be faithful to his partner? A hundred years? Five hundred years? A thousand years? Admit it, it would be unbearable.

Death makes life bearable?

LÉONARD: It does. (Suddenly serious) But that message will not comfort a mother who has lost her child. That is impossible. A possible answer can be found in the death of Christ on the cross and his exclamation of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (silent) I find that extraordinary. It is more than an answer. Right now, as we are talking here, there are people who ask: where is God? Well, Jesus died with that question on his lips.

Is there an answer yet?

LÉONARD: There is no immediate answer, no. But the fact that Jesus asked that question means that God is solidary with what we go through and experience here on earth. Therefore we are not alone in our misery. That is still not a satisfactory explanation, but it is something. God does not agree with evil. And it will end. The current world is not the pinnacle of God’s creation.

Don’t you ever doubt your faith?

LÉONARD: Not doubt, no. I do ask myself questions, yes. That’s very normal. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t base my entire life on an illusion. (silence) But a few seconds later I have both feet on the ground again: the figure of Christ in the gospel is so convincing that I give him back my faith immediately.

You have three brothers, who all became priests as well. What did your parents add to the food, if I may be so bold?

LÉONARD: (amused) That is rather unusual, I know. And that’s good, or our birth rate would never rise again. You know, I never knew my father. I was born on 6 May 1940 and baptised on 10 May, the day the war started. My father died on 16 May. He was mobilised to work on telephone connections and was killed during one of the first bombings. In his diary I later read that he used to dream of becoming a priest as a boy. But he couldn’t because he didn’t take humanities in school. My mother was a simple and devout woman, like most women in those days. We prayed at home, but not excessively much or anything. But when I was five I already knew for certain that I wanted to be a priest.

Why such a young vocation?

LÉONARD: I don’t know. I felt it. I thought the liturgy was beautiful, even though I didn’t understand it. I liked the prayer. Of course I didn’t know what it meant to be a priest, but I wanted to be with the Lord. At my first Communion, in 1946, I told Jesus: I want to be a priest. But my mother was unaware. When I was seven my first brother left for seminary. Two or three years later my second brother followed, and later my third brother did. And when I was eighteen, I told my mother I would also go to seminary.

Didn’t your mother tell you to choose a different profession?

LÉONARD: (laughs) No. She didn’t encourage us, but wasn’t opposed to it either. When I told her she only said that she already know I would become a priest as well.

How do you think the Church should get more vocations?

LÉONARD: When the Church no longer believes in it herself, when she given the impression that priest are no longer really necessary… well, no one is going to want to be a priest anymore. That is why it’s so interesting to be a little conservative. By that I mean: wanting to keep the things that are truly of great value.

What is your first question to a candidate priest?

LÉONARD: I must verify if that person wants to be a priest to serve the Lord and the Church and the people. Not because he has nowhere else to go. I must also verify if he is balanced, if his vocation is not a dream or an illusion.

Must you also ask if he is homosexual?

LÉONARD: That is indeed an important point. It is very meaningful for a priest that he is a man. Why don’t we ordain women? Not because they’re not capable. On the contrary. But a priest is someone who acts in the person of Christ. And theologically speaking, Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. Who does the Church symbolise? A woman: Mary. And who represent Christ as the bridegroom of the Church? Men. (shows his ring) That is why the bishop is a man and wears a ring. The ring symbolises that I must love my diocese and my people as a man loves his wife.

Why not like a man loves his husband?

LÉONARD: Since a priest must be a man, he must also be at peace with his manhood.

Homosexuals are, aren’t they?

LÉONARD: The fact that we are men and women is very meaningful. Sexuality comes from Latin: secare, to cut. Sexuality has to do with the difference between man and woman. If someone has evolved that he feels no normal attraction to the other sex, than something is wrong.

There isn’t. Homosexuality is perfectly natural.

LÉONARD: But the difference between man and woman is part of our essence. Not just our biological essence, but also our philosophical essence. Living according to our man- or womanhood is to me different than living according to only our biological nature.

Do you understand that a lot of people think the Catholic position on homosexuality is unacceptable?

LÉONARD: If you think that my position is connected to the Catholic faith, you should read Freud on homosexuality.

Freud was scientifically inconsequential.

LÉONARD: (sighs) It is an interesting problem, but I don’t think we can resolve it in a few minutes. You know my answer. By the way, my position on homosexuality is connected to a great respect for homosexuals. We may never confuse a judegment of homosexuality with a judgement of the homosexuals.

Another controversial topic is the research into embryonic stem cells. Aren’t you a member of the board of the Université Catholique de Louvain and yet you had requested a report on scientific research at that university.

LÉONARD: People want to turn that into a sort of Watergate now. But what is really going on? A friend proposed to make an inventory of the research involving embryos at the UCL. Based on public data. It has nothing to do with espionage and secrecy. And it was certainly not my intention to send everything on to Rome. They are very well aware of what happens here, by the way.

It is said you wanted to make a good impression in Rome, because you want to succeed Cardinal Danneels in 2008.

LÉONARD: (laughs) I can’t forbid anyone from thinking or writing that. But is not correct. I am not concerned with the succession of Cardinal Danneels. I don’t control it, so it’s not my problem.

What is the problem of embryonic research?

LÉONARD: Us having the pleasure of talking with each other here, is due to the fact that were respected in the past, as embryos. Across the world, there are milions of embryos confined to an absurd fate, being stuck in freezers. They remain frozen, or are destroyed, or are used for scientific research. That is all unacceptable.

Do you consider embryos full-fledged human life?

LÉONARD: Of course. There is no discontinuity bertween the embryo and the person who is born. And the embryo is the most vulnerable creature on earth. We’ve all been embryos, in our mother’s womb. No, such research is not acceptable to me. And there are scientific alternatives, such as adult stem cells.

Do you think that the Belgian Church has been too quiet in the last years on important ethical topics?

LÉONARD: I think it is painful that there hasn’t been a bigger reaction to the euthanasia laws in Belgium, for example. We are too passive. The reactions from the Church and the people is much more intense in France, Italy, Spain and even Germany. (silence) In our society we do so much to make death possible, that we eventually don’t put any effort into life.

If I ask for euthanasia, am I doing something wrong?

LÉONARD: Yes, you are doing something wrong. In the first place because it is not necessary. These days, palliative care is very effective in 98 percent of cases, allowing us to die in human dignity, without unbearable suffering.

And if I am among those two percent?

LÉONARD: Then there is still the option of sedation, eliminating consciousness. But the second and much more important reason that you are doing something wrong, is that death is never a totally private affair, but also affects the general wellbeing. I may have the idea that euthanasia is the ideal solution for you in your specific situation. But that assumes the presence of doctors and nurses and chemists who are going to help with that. In favour of your personal solution you have to demand a change in the profession of the doctor. He no longer exists to heal people, but also to let people die.

And if we define a doctor as someone who relieves suffering by healing are by letting people die with dignity?

LÉONARD: Helping to die can have a positive meaning. But our society knows a fundamental prohibition: Thou shalt not kill. When we do that anyway, it is a significant danger. And there is something else. If you use euthanasia like this, you may spread this attitude to other people who lose faith. It can lead to a certain dejection in society. I consider the problem of euthanasia to be very characteristic of our society, where individualism is always given priority. Everyone does things their way and we lose sight of the general wellbeing.

In the action for people without papers you have been getting a lot of respect from progressive circles. You have even housed people in your episcopal palace.

LÉONARD: Yes, ten people have stayed here, in a very pleasant atmosphere. These are people who speak our language, who are perfectly integrated, whose children have been going to school here for years. I think it is unacceptable that they live in uncertainty for so long. I know we can’t take care of all asylum seeker, but we need clear rules. It is my duty to help people. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus says: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

In closing: what is the purpose of life, monsignor?

LÉONARD: The purpose of life is to prepare for a life that never perishes. We are on a launch platform, so to speak. We can use the years we spend here on earth to get to know God, so that we are not homeless when we come to Him later. The purpose of life, in other words, is to know the deeper meaning of our existence as well as possible. Why do I exist? What am I doing here? What is the ultimate goal of this existence? And I find all those answers thanks to my faith.

How can someone who lost it, rediscover his faith?

LÉONARD: By being open to the figure of Christ in the gospel. Or by getting in touch with people who witness of a deep faith. Or by doing what Charles de Foucauld did. He was a French soldier in the late nineteenth century who had lost his faith and led a very frivolous life. Looking for peace, he walked into a church and there he uttered a spontaneous and honest prayer. I have often recommended this prayer to my students in Louvain. Seigneur, mon Dieu, si vous existez, manifestez-vous à moi. God, if you really exist, reveal yourself to me. That is the only thing you can do, being willing to open your heart to God.

Joël De Ceulaer