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Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Brussels
Jan Bentz Jan Bentz Follow Jan

Opinion

Brussels archbishop deals potentially fatal blow to rising vocation numbers

Jan Bentz Jan Bentz Follow Jan

BRUSSELS, June 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The Primate of Belgium, who has been in office less than a year, has closed down, for dubious reasons, a priestly fraternity that had been blessed with many vocations.

At the end of last year, Jozef De Kesel was named the archbishop of Belgium's main See, Mechelen-Brussels, the successor of the traditionally-minded Archbishop André Léonard. While his predecessor was outspoken concerning pro-life issues and attacks on human sexuality, De Kesel promotes a church "not closed within herself" and that gives "reverence to homosexual people."

Now De Kesel has taken yet another step towards the "liberalization" of his diocese, by closing down a priestly fraternity established by his predecessor. Archbishop Léonard founded the so-called "Fraternité des Saints Apôtres/Broederschap van de Heilige Apostelen", or "Fraternity of the Holy Apostles", which was a public association of the clerical faithful, of diocesan right. Léonard entrusted the education of priests to the Fraternity and gave them two parishes in Brussels.

The founding of a fraternity seems strange for a bishop - being the highest in command in his own diocese, with all its resources - but it shows one more time just how many obstacles a conservative bishop must overcome. As in many dioceses in German-speaking countries, the alleged absence of priests due to plummeting vocations is often used as a justification for establishing or strengthening "lay-structures," including "liturgies of the word" with the distribution of communion, or the implementation of all kinds of extraordinary offices, replacing priests and in effect making them superfluous. In many parishes in the north of Germany or in the countryside, no Masses are accessible to those without a car, or who are too old to travel; they are bound to participate in a pseudo-liturgy, led by laity.

Instead of fighting the recurring external and internal criticism, Archbishop Léonard decided to take another way: opening a fraternity to communicate the beauty of the priesthood and to attract vocations. The fraternity was only 3 years old, but already numbered 6 priests and 21 seminarians - flourishing, by Northern European standards.

Despite its rapid growth and fruitful work in parishes, in which attendance rose, the fraternity was closed down by the newly instituted bishop, De Kesel. The reason given in a statement was that the majority of the seminarians were French. Since many regions of France have no priests, De Kesel alluded to a move of solidarity with his French brother bishops in not taking away their vocations. With the Fraternity now closed, the priests were given the possibility to remain in their parishes; the choice was offered to the seminarians either to enter the diocesan seminary, or to leave.

This decision goes hand in hand with an emblematic strategy of De Kesel to re-organize the diocese, as was intended by Card. Danneels in the past; part of the plan is to close one third of the churches, as the German news site katholisches.info reports. Closing down parishes through a violent action and closing a flourishing fraternity seemed more appealing to De Kesel than following Léonard's idea to revive Catholic life from within. One should keep in mind that it may often be decisions like this which are responsible for the lack of priests, while the same parties promoting them argue for the ordination of women or the abolishing of clerical celibacy as alleged possibilities to counteract the lack of vocations. De Kesel, in the past, said that he dreamed of a Church "that accepts that she is getting smaller"; he himself seems to contribute his part.

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