The National Catholic Review

Glad to see Michael's post below about the laudable Cardinal O'Malley because it may provide some balance for the following. The National Catholic Reporter this week captures the awesome rhetorical flourishes of Belgium's Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard. In a nation still reeling after revelations in September of hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clerics and at least 13 suicides, the archbishop told a startled special parliamentary commission on sexual abuse of children that Belgium's victims should seek compensation from their offenders, which in his mind does not include the church as an institution, just the priests who abused them. He then led a parade of unpleasantries through his testimony, if it can be so described, that left commission members sputtering in astonishment and calling for the termination with extreme prejudice of the government's long-standing fiscal support of the church.

Just the day before Léonard's appearance, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels a year ago, had prepared the commission for a different kind of archiepiscopal response.

Danneels had told the same commission that the church must react with humility and make some profound gestures, including compensation to victims.

"For too long," Danneels said, "the church thought only about itself and about its priests and now it is time to think about the victims of sexual abuse." ... Most members of the parliamentary commission thought that Danneels' testimony was meant to open a door for Léonard, who has had stormy relations with government officials over the sex abuse crisis. The commission had expected Léonard to reveal a compensation package.

Instead, Léonard abruptly slammed the door shut.

During the parliamentary commission hearings, Léonard appeared defiant and at times took sarcastic swipes at the whole enquiry.

"Where will it all end up?" he asked. "Pretty soon authorities will ask for compensation for [unhappy] children resulting from [in vitro fertilization]. … And what about the studies showing the psychological impact on children who have two papas or two mamas [a reference to same-sex marriage]? Will we have to compensate them as well?"

Regarding the church's culpability/responsibility as an institution for the sex abuse crisis, the archbishop may want to consult with Pope Benedict, who appears to suffer a divergence of opinion on the matter. (Better yet, Pope Benedict may want to consult with the archbishop about a comfortable site for a retirement home.) In his Dec. 20 Christmas message to the Curia, the pope wrote:

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests.... We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance.

Archbishop Léonard appears perversely intent on driving an already deeply wounded church to ground in Belgium. One is tempted to suggest that he seek advice from a public relations expert who could help him better "present" to the public. Alas Archbishop Léonard's press officer quit in despair in November after the archbishop broke a vow of silence that was intended to get them both through Christmas without any more media brush fires to stamp out. In his critique of the archbishop's most recent performance, the former spokesperson said, "If you are invited to give testimony before a parliamentary commission on the sexual abuse of children, you have to choose your words carefully. … This is incomprehensible and very painful."

Yup.

Comments

Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 6:59pm
The first part still did not go through correctly.  Well, too bad.  Suffice it to say that the quotes are false indeed.  Check the parliamentary transcripts or the link. 

Fernand Keuleneer
Fernand Keuleneer | 12/29/2010 - 6:58am
I sent the following reaction to NCR regarding the report (authored by J. Dick) which you refer to:


“It is not the first time that I notice that Prof. Dick is entirely wrong on the facts and at best ignorant, at worst maliciously untrustworthy in his reporting on the Belgian abuse matter.  The above grossly misrepresents both what Mgr Léonard and Mgr Danneels actually said in the parliamentary commission.  (...) NCR, please check the quality of your reporting."

Mgr Léonard did not "slam the door" on compensation.  Before the parliamentary committee, he even mentioned the possibility of a "compensation fund".  He did, however, refer the victims in the first place to the civil (i.e. state) court system, which is the correct attitude that is rightfully expected from the church institutions by the state authorities.  Moreover, he discussed in depth some possible unintended consequences of the proliferation of rights and liabilities.  But that was clearly beyond the grasp of the NCR reporter.  And no, not everyone is convinced of the superiority of the US tort system.

Fernand Keuleneer
Attorney for the Archdiocese Mechelen-Brussel and for Cardinal Danneels 
ANN ODONOGHUE | 12/29/2010 - 1:38am
:) @ #3

I thought 'Belgian Waffles" as he has certainly done so after other comments.

Men like Leonard and Law know they are untouchable so they can be as arrogant as their narcissistic personalities allow.

That catholics put up with this behavior from someone they believe is a successor to an apostle, is just beyond me.
Marie Rehbein | 12/28/2010 - 10:26pm
This article makes me wonder whether it isn't time to update the statistics that say that pedophilia is no more common in the priesthood than it is in the general populace.  Maybe the archbishop has done or experienced something from which he is trying to divert attention. 
Bill Mazzella | 12/28/2010 - 9:47pm
We have to talk seriously about reforming the episcopate. How long will they get along with incomprehensible hubris? As long as the People of God let them.
Eric Stoltz | 12/28/2010 - 7:57pm
Oh, you came very close to the headline I wanted to see when I first heard this story: ''Brussels Pouts.''

Why is this guy still there? Are they out of basilicas in Rome where he can be ensconced and spend his days being chaufeured to high tea with Bernie Law?
david power | 12/28/2010 - 6:18pm
This Archbishop usually acts in a creepy manner that I am convinced is pathological and touches a great deal of  the clergy.But this is much ado about nothing!He made a few comments and feels that their is a vendetta against him.Maybe he is right. He at least speaks his mind and shows he does not give a damn about the victims . Compared to most bishops he at least has honesty on his side.
Stephen Bauer | 12/28/2010 - 4:49pm
A general vent on the priest pedophilia crisis: Morally and psychologically sick priests who commit sexual crimes against minors are one thing.  Bishops who ignore, deny, cover-up, or resist cooperating with civil authorities are quite another matter. Judging by the media, many bishops and cardinals, both in America and internationally, have talked and acted as if they are above the law or exempt from the ethics of those involved in the helping professions.  What I find particularly upsetting is that I have heard priests and Bishops make one sided calls for mercy for priests who are guilty while saying absolutely nothing about justice for the victims. I have a great deal of sympathy for the opinion that nothing is going to change in the church with respect to priest pedophilia unless bishops get sent to jail.  We all know what Jesus said about those who harm children; yet, it appears that much of the hierarchy just doesn’t get it. 
 
Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 6:49pm
Allegedly, Mgr. Léonard stated (quotation marks appear in NCR's article) "Pretty soon authorities will ask for compensation for http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws/mediatheek/redactietips/MG_101221_CommissueMisbruik/1.929883.
As to indemnification and compensation, under the laws of this country, civil courts rule on the liability of all involved, including bishops and superiors, by applying Belgian civil liability laws.  Mgr Leonard was talking in the parliamentary commission about the possibility of a compensation fund in case a victim is barred from indemnification, e.g. because of the statute of limitations, or the insolvency of the perpetrator.  

This is what I have to say.  Back to the journalists.

Fernand Keuleneer
JIM MCCREA | 12/29/2010 - 6:31pm
Authority resides in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.  It rests neither on external legitimization nor on power but on trustworthiness, or in Augustine’s words, on truth.  Its purpose is to clarify and illuminate, i.e., to aid understanding, and its instrument is argument, not coercion.  The first question a Christian intellectual should ask is not "what should be believed" or "what should one think," but "whom should we trust?"  

Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, The Christian Intellectual Tradition (article), First Things, June/July 1991.


All those who trust Leonard, please raise your hands.

Marie Rehbein | 12/29/2010 - 5:41pm
Let's see.  A man says that compensating victims of a crime will lead to compensating people whose upbringings were less than ideal because of some aspect of their existences that doesn't square with Catholic teaching.  Since there is no logic in this, it is obvious that the individual making this comment chooses to do so to make the point that victims of the crime should not be compensated.  We don't just evaluate words, we evaluate context and logic when we perceive what a person's intends to communicate. 
Kang Dole | 12/29/2010 - 5:29pm
I ain't no big city lawy'r, but since when did attorneys go around posting about their clients on blogs?
david power | 12/29/2010 - 5:15pm
Dear Fernan,

You have a very insulting way of representing your client who it is said represents Jesus Christ who represents God. I remember reading that Archbishop Leonard had promised to keep his mouth shut until after Christmas but he seems to have fallen short.
http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/10/29/top-belgian-catholic-vows-silence-after-uproar/
 Soon we will be in the Lenten period and he can have another go.Show him how it is done. The tort system puts the sharks against the sharks. Some sharks fear other sharks.
Anonymous | 12/29/2010 - 4:40pm
Very sorry, Mr. Schewe, but facts are facts.

Mgr Léonard did not "slam the door" on compensation, let alone "abruptly".  Before the parliamentary committee (and not "the day after appearing before the commission" as wrongly and misleadingly stated in the NCR piece), he even mentioned the possibility of a "compensation fund".  He did, however, refer the victims in the first place to the civil (i.e. state) court system, which is the correct attitude that is rightfully expected from the church institutions by the state authorities.  Moreover, he discussed in depth some possible unintended consequences of the proliferation of rights and liabilities.  But that was clearly beyond the grasp of this NCR reporter. 
Of course, not everyone in Belgium is convinced of the superiority of the US tort system and/or necessarily wants to transplant or copy it, as unbelievable as that may sound to some. 
According to the NCR piece, Mgr. Léonard stated (quotation marks appear in NCR's article) "Pretty soon authorities will ask for compensation for Frankly, does anyone still care about accuracy ?  Certainly not this NCR reporter and the numerous parrots, it seems.

Fernand Keuleneer
Stephen SCHEWE | 12/29/2010 - 12:30pm
Mr. Keuleneer gives the impression of a man trying desperately to put out the rhetorical fires set by his client.  While I appreciate David Smith's comments about the limitations of foreign correspondents, there's still plenty of evidence (e.g., the former PR guy, the history of Bishop Leonard's previous comments, the comments of other bishops in Belgium) that suggest the NCR piece is more accurate than Mr. Keuleneer says. Here's another piece from Robert Wielaard, the chief of AP's Brussels bureau. It ran November 28th in the Boston Globe:

http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2010/11/28/belgian_archbishop_andre_leonard_draws_ire_for_conservative_views/

Based on his last name, I bet Mr. Wielaard can report accurately on testimony given in Dutch (or Flemish, as they call it in Belgium.)