1. Our network extensively covered the meetings held in Amsterdam and Lyon in 2010.
See our Website www.paves-reseau.be
2. A little over one year ago, the pedophilia scandal within the clergy also affected Belgium: the revelation of the sexual abuses by the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, prompted the arrival of almost 500 testimonies of victims to the Adriaenssens commission set up by the Catholic hierarchy. These testimonies were published, and although the media played an essential part in creating public awareness, they now seem to revert to their usual inclination towards sensationalism.
As a result, tough legal action was initiated, involving searches in the archbishop's residence and in the home of the former archbishop, Godfried Danneels; and the hierarchy making several attempts to minimize the facts. But up to now, the apologies presented by the ecclesiastical authorities are not considered sufficient in view of the seriousness of the facts, and still the archbishop has adopted an evasive attitude this Easter. In our network, the group Hors-les-Murs gave its opinion on several occasions in its bulletin: to demand that responsibility and repair should not be limited to the level of the individual (the authors of the acts), and to insist on the need for global institutional reforms (see our Website: art. 923).
But Belgian specificity is perhaps elsewhere. The Federal Parliament set up a “special commission relating to the treatment of sexual abuses and acts of pedophilia committed in a relation of authority, in particular within the Church”. The commission met 60 times and heard nearly 120 witnesses – among these all the bishops – between December 2010 and March 2011. This initiative can be considered as tantamount with an appraisal and control by the people’s representatives over the government of the Church! This remarkable work resulted in 70 recommendations, of which the most significant was undoubtedly the creation of a “court of arbitration” (i.e. non-judiciary, and established with the agreement of all parties - Churches, victims, associations - to analyze and to propose adequate compensation, even in cases when the acts are legally prescribed). The bishops seem divided, which explains in part why they still have not made a statement regarding their collective or institutional responsibility…
Meanwhile, around Christmas, we heard with emotion and amazement that our friend François Houtart admitted sexual abuse some 40 years earlier, just when his friends had started a campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. PAVES decided to make an official statement concerning this revelation – and this was not an easy task (read on our Website, art. 947).
3. In October 2010, another “commission of experts” submitted to the Federal Parliament a report on the changes deemed necessary with respect to the “public financing of religions and organized laity”. For the second time a commission tackled this difficult question, which in this instance was limited to salary payments by the State to the people concerned; it did not cover building maintenance nor administration costs (these aspects fall under other levels of authority). The proposals of this commission attempt to take account of the current demographic situation (especially the decline of Catholicism and rise of Islam as well as “organized laity”) and concerns for more justice. Several members of our network are taking part in the various work groups on this subject and are generally in agreement with the commission to refuse the system “of dedicated tax”, whether it be the German, Austrian or Scandinavian models, or that of Italy and Spain.
4. At about the same time, in November 2010, we concluded in Belgium a vast program organized by the Federal government entitled “Assises de l'Interculturalité”. Meetings and conferences on many subjects took place in several cities and provided for useful exchanges and enhanced awareness; several members of our network took part in it. The final report has been published by the Ministry.
5. The new archbishop André Léonard has been in place for just over one year, but he did not miss an occasion to make his very personal mark. He just recently called together his three auxiliary bishops (Brussels + Flemish Brabant + Walloon Brabant) and clearly pointed out to them that they did not have any territorial jurisdiction, thus clearly reinforcing centralization and his personal leadership. He has written his first articles in the official diocesan review to stress the importance of the liturgical rites and regulations. And he has supported two demonstrations, in which he personally participated: one s to militate against abortion rights, the other to support adoration of the Eucharist.
6. We grieve over the death of our friend Jean Kamp, about who you can read several articles on our Web site. His last book made quite a stir: Ce grand silence des prêtres. We are preparing a booklet as a tribute to him.
7. The « Conseil Interdiocésain des Laïcs » - of which PAVES is a member - published the result of an excellent survey on “10 proposals on Church practice”, which indicates that the desire for radical reform extends well beyond the confines of our somewhat marginal circles. (see our Website, art. 948). The reception by the bishops was rather cool…
Pierre Collet 26/04/2011