(LifeSiteNews) –– The former primate of Belgium, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, has warned that fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith are under “threat” due to misguided “pastoral care” and the Synod on Synodality.
Léonard made his comments in an interview with the National Catholic Register, in which he reflected on the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI as well as wider issues surrounding the Catholic Church.
Léonard – appointed bishop of Namur in 1991 aged 51 and then as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in 2010 – is known for his defense of Catholic teaching.
Asked about Catholic teaching on issues such as “female priesthood, marriage of priests and the blessing of homosexual couples,” the former primate of Belgium stated that they were under attack.
“Do you think that the teachings of the Church about these topics are really threatened at the present time?” asked the Register’s Solène Tadié.
“Yes, this threat exists,” replied Léonard. He noted that such a “threat” is already present in a version of “pastoral care” which is a deviation of a truly Catholic form of teaching.
It is already present in a pastoral care that deviates from essential points of the Catholic faith, such as male priesthood, representing the Spouse of the Church, Christ, the high value of priestly celibacy in the West, and the complementarity of man and woman in marriage.
The 82-year-old Léonard also took aim at the Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in 2021 and set to last until 2024. “Alas, I fear that many of the requests expressed in the ‘Synod on Synodality’ — what an abstruse wording! — will seek to undermine or relativize these vital realities,” warned Léonard.
He further warned that this crisis of relativization was a spill-over effect from wider society, noting that with the “whole of contemporary culture — or lack of it — being impregnated with this relativism, rightly denounced by Benedict XVI, it is inevitable that the lively flame of Christian life should lose its vigor.”
Highlighting the manner in which the principal Christian feasts of Christmas and Easter have been turned into secular scenes of “snowy landscapes” and “chocolate eggs,” Léonard slated this practice.
The archbishop also took aim at the manner in which COVID-19 measures were used to suppress the public practice of religion, saying that it was “used as a pretext to reduce the Holy Mass to a TV show, requiring no travel and making communion with the body of Christ incidental.”
Almost all Catholic institutions define themselves by so-called “Christian or evangelical values,” but without ever mentioning the name of Christ. All our societies need to be evangelized again.
He also appeared to make a veiled criticism of Pope Francis’s oft-repeated criticisms of Catholics who attempt to convert others. The archbishop praised “movements filled with an evangelical ardor, ready to announce the beauty of Christ in good times and bad, without letting themselves be discouraged by those (including bishops) who tirelessly sermonize: ‘Above all, do not proselytize!’”
Léonard stated that those who oppose conversion efforts actually “discredit St. Paul, he who was the greatest proselyte in the history of the Church, he who spoke and acted in order to allow the greatest number of people to ‘come closer’ to Christ.”
This defense of active promotion of the faith is a topic on which Léonard has spoken consistently. In 2010 he told Inside The Vatican that the “greatest challenge for the Universal Church is its present inability to return to the heart of Christian faith.”
He warned of a “danger of substituting Christ with Christianity, with abstract values.”
In order to promote the Catholic faith, Léonard stated that “we have to return to the first announcement of Christianity as reported in the Book of Acts, the proclamation of Christ, true man, true God, crucifixion, Resurrection” – which is the “nucleus of the Christian faith.”
What gave the early Church the audacity to proclaim Christ was faith in a Resurrected Christ. We have as our patron a man who passed through death. No one else can claim such a patron. What we need most today is that faith in Christ Resurrected and in the Holy Spirit to confront the challenges of our times. The older I get the more I love a Universal Church, one for all.
The archbishop had his resignation accepted by Francis in less than four weeks after he reached the mandatory resignation age of 75 in 2015. He was succeeded in the see by his auxiliary, Bishop Jozef De Kesel, who was raised to the cardinalate by Francis in 2016.
De Kesel went on to sign and approve the notorious document by his fellow Belgium bishops promulgating blessings for same-sex couples. At their subsequent ad limina visit with Francis some months later, De Kesel spoke of how the meeting was “invariably warm” and how they had not been admonished for the document.