Thursday, October 15, 2015


We know very well from statistics that those progressive Catholic communities, i.e. dioceses, religious orders and parishes, have seen themselves wither on the vine and now on life support but not for long. Why these aging communities still think that their way of renewal is apropos for the 2010's is beyond me. Maybe they are in denial or delusional?  To give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they think the seeds they have planted will sprout once they are gone? The Holy Spirit has been known to do these sorts of things.

The article below from the Catholic Herald sounds the alarm about the Belgium Complex being taken worldwide by the papal magisterium. It is hard to fathom that this could happen. And yes we will have a smaller Church, but not the purer one Pope Benedict envisioned.

Belgium’s crisis of faith (Catholic Herald UK)

Its Church is dogged by empty pews, scandals and a hierarchy beguiled by the latest social trends. Soon it could become little more than a heritage agency for ancient churches Belgium is one of those countries that show in stark detail the problems facing the Catholic Church in the developed world. 

Like Ireland or Quebec, it is an example of a once intensely Catholic society where the faith has very rapidly collapsed. The same symptoms as elsewhere – empty churches, scandals, infighting, a hierarchy that passively goes along with current social trends – are as obvious in Belgium as anywhere else in Europe.

Yet the Belgian Church is still influential internationally. Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the retired primate of Belgium, is among the senior clerics appointed personally by Pope Francis to participate in the ongoing family synod. That is an interesting move, as Cardinal Danneels is much more radical on sexual issues than even the German bishops.

The 83-year-old is one of the Church’s great survivors, having been appointed an archbishop in 1979 and a cardinal in 1983. An ebullient character and formidable networker, his position on the Church’s extreme liberal fringe has not prevented him being a pillar of the College of Cardinals, to the point where commentators were naming him as a possible papal candidate in 2005. He has also been enjoying a very active retirement, so it would have been a surprise if he hadn’t been at the synod.

A lot of the Belgian Church’s influence can be attributed to Cardinal Danneels’s personal dynamism. He is also a highly controversial figure, and not just for his ideological stances. He continues to be dogged by the mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against the former Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe. Since Belgian society was convulsed for years by the Marc Dutroux paedophile scandal, the primate should have been keenly aware of just how toxic that issue is.

More recently, a biography depicted the cardinal as being involved in lobbying before the last papal conclave. Cardinal Danneels has denied this, but it does show that he retains his ability to grab headlines.

Curiously, the current Primate of Belgium, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, has been almost invisible recently, for reasons to do with internal Church politics. It came as a surprise when Pope Benedict XVI appointed Léonard, the only conservative bishop in the country, to the see of Mechelen-Brussels, and the appointment did not prove popular.

Even allowing that Léonard’s sometimes confrontational style and discomfort with the media did not do him any favours, his lack of support from within the Church was painfully obvious, even when he was physically attacked by protesters. It is no secret that Léonard felt he had been undermined from the outset, and his resignation when he reached 75 was quickly accepted by the Holy See. He remains in office only until Pope Francis appoints a successor. The hotly tipped candidate is Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, an outspoken liberal in the Danneels mould.

Although a large majority of Belgians – around three quarters of the population – are nominally Catholic, and a majority (though declining) of children are baptised Catholic every year, observance is extremely low even by Western European standards. The last official statistics showed weekly Mass attendance at a mere 11 per cent, but those figures were published as long ago as 1998. The very fact that the Belgian hierarchy no longer publishes estimates lends support to anecdotal accounts suggesting that observance has fallen markedly since then, even in traditionally devout Flanders. In today’s Belgium, religious observance is mainly the preserve of the elderly, or of the Muslim minority.

This is striking, because Belgium is a nation that was largely founded on its Catholic identity. The country was originally carved out of the southern provinces which, during the Dutch War of Independence, had resisted the Protestant Reformation and remained loyal to Spain. The University of Louvain was for centuries a major centre of Catholic thought, and Belgian Catholic art was recognised across Europe. And, while the country has become ever more polarised between its Flemish and French-speaking halves – with decentralised governments, separate media, political parties, educational systems – the Catholic Church, along with the monarchy and the national football team, is one of the very few all-Belgian institutions left standing.

Little of this culture remains, though. Even considering the linguistic divide, Flanders was traditionally very strongly Catholic, while French-speaking Wallonia was more influenced by the secular regime in neighbouring France. But today, while Belgium threatens to split in two, that religious divide has mostly disappeared. Bart de Wever, the pro-independence Flemish prime minister, couches his arguments in economic terms, contrasting a prosperous, free-market Flanders with a poorer, socialist-leaning Wallonia. The religious cornerstone of traditional Flemish identity is no longer relevant.

Belgium also faces the familiar European scenario of a rapidly ageing priesthood, while priestly vocations have declined to a trickle. This was the background for a liberal initiative in 2011 calling for lay people to be allowed to celebrate Mass, which quickly gained thousands of signatures (including around 200 priests) across Flanders. Rome showed no more sympathy than it had previously given to similar petitions from the Netherlands and Austria, but the move was given a practical impetus by the simple fact that so many parishes are unstaffed.

A peculiarity of modern Belgium is that, although the state is constitutionally secular, religion is still nationalised. Under Article 181 of the Constitution, the government pays for the upkeep of religious buildings belonging to recognised denominations, and also pays a stipend to clergy, so priests and bishops are effectively civil servants. Belgian secularist groups frequently complain about this arrangement, which they estimate costs the federal government more than

€100 million per year; but it could also be argued that, like the church tax system in Germany, the official featherbedding of the Church is not healthy for the Church itself, making the hierarchy more remote, less responsive and more dependent on government patronage.

Another illustration of church-state relations is the Flemish government’s imposition of elected councils to administer religious denominations. The Flemish government argued that this would improve governance and especially financial transparency. The Catholic bishops resisted for several years, arguing that there was a danger of the councils being dominated by non-practising Catholics, before eventually giving in. They might have been able to make a more credible stand if they had an established track record of good governance, or of not being subservient to the state.

Meanwhile, Belgium is now known less for its rich religious heritage than for having the most expansive euthanasia law in the world, more liberal even than that of the Netherlands. As of last year, age limits for access to assisted suicide have been abolished. And applicants do not have to be terminally ill; psychological illnesses such as depression can now be grounds for assisted suicide. The retiring Archbishop Léonard spoke out strongly against the new law, but it still passed parliament with ease.

More so even than most European countries, it looks as if Belgian Catholicism has been living off the glories of previous centuries rather than having much to say to modern society. Certainly, most of the country’s nominal Catholics seem to have little interest in it. Unless it rediscovers a sense of purpose, there is a serious risk of the Church becoming little more than a government-funded heritage agency for the preservation of ancient churches.

Jon Anderson is a freelance writer
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (16/10/15)


Anonymous said...

I fully expect Catholicism to be dead in Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria, Quebec and Switzerland in my lifetime (I'm only 27), much like the liberal religious orders it will probably be dead within the next 10-15 years.

What I predict is that missionary priests from Africa, Asia, India will be sent to these countries to re-evangelize, I just have a hard time believing that God is finished with Europe. I have much more hope in Eastern European countries (Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Belarus) when it comes to Catholicism staying alive, also lets not forget the rapid growth of Catholicism in the Nordic countries, if even mostly through immigration to those areas.

South America is also in desperate need for a re-evangelization.

Much work to be done is needed in the Church and I truly think Africa will be playing a big role in this. By mid century or before there will be upwards of 300-400 million Catholics just in Africa alone.

Fr., what are your clairvoyant thoughts on this?


Clyde Catholic said...

Progressives in the Church have an unbelief complex. It is really that simple.

TJM said...

Just the "Glories of Vatican II" at work! No surprise.

Charles G said...

The treatment of Archbishop Leonard from Church authorities is atrocious, when for Christ's sake he has suffered more than most from the diabolical assaults of the Femen gals. He should have been given a Cardinal's hat, not tossed out into the street. If the open advocacy of heterodoxy, Bonny, is chosen to replace him, I think one can say good bye to the Belgian church.

Anonymous said...

My dear friends Roman Catholicism is DEAD in Belgium it has been for some time now, this should come as no surprise, the capital,Brussels is saturated with MUSLIMS as is Belgium itself. Statistics indicate within the year 2050 Belgium, France, Holland, England, Sweden, Denmark, and of course Germany which just opened its doors to over 1,000,000 Muslims from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Turkey, will be Muslim majority countries. The birthrate for ethnic Europeans is 1.1 child per-household compared to Muslims in Europe with a birthrate of 8.3 children per-household. There is no way the Europeans can replenish themselves against the Islamic invasion it is mathematically impossible my friends. Farewell Europe and thank you Vatican II.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is much of a Christian future for western Europe, whether Anglican, Catholic or Lutheran. Moral decay has been going on for decades now---first abortion, now same-sex marriage. Africa on the other hand looks promising for growth. As for the United States, the battle is between a largely secular North/Pacific Coast States and the more religiously oriented South---and unfortunately from a political standpoint, the North and far West are winning (given who we have in the White House today).

John Nolan said...

Belgium, especially Flanders (Mass attendance in the 1950s 98%, now 5%) is an object lesson in how it takes only two generations to destroy Catholicism. 16th century England achieved the same, although people were still compelled by law to attend the new-fangled Protestant services.

The collapse of Catholic education is a factor. The influence of Suenens and Danneels in promoting a liberal Vatican II-influenced agenda which, among other things, wrecked the liturgy is another. Practising Catholics are a rump of liberal-minded clergy and laity (most of those who share their opinions have long since left the Church) who were quick to voice their displeasure at the appointment of Archbishop Léonard to succeed Danneels at Mechlin-Brussels in 2010. Bishop of Namur since 1991, Léonard was known for his orthodoxy and his diocese had a disproportionately large number of vocations. His resignation earlier this year on reaching retirement age was quickly accepted and his successor has yet to be announced.

There are some positive signs. A number of monastic foundations survive. The SSPX has a strong presence in Antwerp and Brussels, where they serve the Belgian National Shrine church (re-opened this year after an extensive refurbishment) and Léonard has given another fine city church to the FSSP. The ICRSS are establishing themselves in the country. The Kasper-Danneels-Bergoglio axis and its mediocre hangers-on won't last forever.

Anonymous said...

Bergoglio will only be a blip in history, but he helped destroy Holy Mother Church.