Archbishop: Belgium Has Painful Issues to Address

Calls for «Two-Speed» Pastoral Program

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2010 ( The president of the Belgian bishops’ conference is affirming that the Church in his country has «painful questions» to address.

Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of the Mechelen-Brussels Archdiocese, who is currently in Rome with other Belgian prelates for their five-yearly visit, affirmed this on Vatican Radio.

Less than two weeks ago, Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges resigned after admitting to sexually abusing a minor over a period of time during his priesthood and at the beginning of his episcopate.
Referring to the matter, Archbishop Léonard said, «We will certainly touch upon the painful questions that have arisen in our country.»
«Speaking about this subject and the measures we must take to address this situation is inevitable,» he acknowledged.
Regardless of the problems, the prelate affirmed that among the bishops of his country, «there is great solidarity.»

He acknowledged that the episcopal conference is small, representing one archdiocese, seven dioceses and a military ordinary.
The archbishop said that «in these days I have been very moved by how we have been in contact among ourselves.»

Unity and division

He described their visit to the tomb of Peter during this trip to the Eternal City as «a privileged moment to reflect further on the bonds of communion and friendship that already unite us.»
Despite this unity, Archbishop Léonard acknowledged that Belgium is experiencing social and political conflict, especially due to the divisions between the French and Flemish speaking peoples.

The prelate acknowledged that Church leaders have to be «very cautious» when referring to these topics, but added that it is necessary «to have our voice heard along with others of Belgian society.»
«It can be done as it is done by lay movements, other Churches and religions and thus contribute to a dialogue between communities,» he explained.
The archbishop said he was convinced that his country would surmount the present crisis. He expressed the belief that to divide the country would not be a very «realistic» solution, «because Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but the capital of Europe.»

«Hence,» he said, «it is unthinkable that a separatist venture can be promoted.»
Archbishop Léonard said that the crisis might lead the country to a more federal system, but that «it will keep its unity because realism imposes it.»
He rejected the speculation that the present ethnic and linguistic conflict will end in a civil war, stating, «We are a realistic, peaceful people, in agreement with other linguistic communities.»
The prelate asserted that the fact that Belgium has three official languages: French, Flemish and German, does not divide but rather unites the faith of Belgians and is «an opportunity for the country and for the Church, because there are complementary sensitivities, a diversity that in itself is a richness.»

He said that there are many challenges in his country to proclaim the Gospel in an ever more secularized society, especially in regard to issues of bioethics and interreligious dialogue due to immigration from Muslim countries.
The archbishop described the crisis of vocations as «particularly grave,» and expressed the hope to deepen in the reflection on this matter during this Rome visit, which lasts through Saturday.
Archbishop Léonard told Vatican Radio that there is «a kind of mistrust» or suspiciousness of Belgian society toward Catholicism.
However, he added, when the Church’s message is explained well, it is «assimilated very well,» especially when «consistency and sensitivity» are demonstrated for what «the people are experiencing.»
The prelate noted that there are very few practicing Catholics in Belgium, though the numbers are higher in Flanders. At present, he said, the voice of the Church in that country is considered «a voice among others, an important voice, but one among others.»
The archbishop explained that because of this, evangelization cannot be as it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Instead, he noted, there is a need to develop «a two-speed pastoral» program: continuing with catechesis and preparation for the sacraments while taking advantage of these opportunities to «support persons or help them deepen their needs;» and, at the same time, «encouraging the vital forces of parishes, movements and communities that wish to evangelize, to go further and deeper.»

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