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Me for First Things: Cardinal Danneels’s Belgian waffle

April 5, 2019
Image result for eglise de sacre-coeur liege
Photo: Topos

…Danneels’s thirty-one-year watch witnessed the catastrophic—and ongoing—decline of Catholicism in Belgium. Belgium had been a staunchly Catholic redoubt that, nearly alone in Northern Europe, resisted the Reformation. Although up to three-quarters of the eleven million Belgians are still nominally Catholic, by 2018 Sunday Mass attendance had dropped to less than 10 percent, and fewer than half of Belgium’s Catholic parents bothered to have their babies baptized. Many of the country’s gorgeous Gothic and Baroque churches stand empty. The shortage of Catholic priests is so severe, owing to a cratering of religious vocations, that in 2011 thousands of lay Belgians signed a petition begging that they be allowed to lead church services rather than have their parishes closed down or merged. In 2007, for example, there were only two priestly ordinations in the entire country.

That situation improved a bit in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed André-Joseph Léonard, Belgium’s only conservative bishop (of Namur), to succeed Danneels as Belgian primate. Besides reviving Catholic devotional practices such as Corpus Christi processions, Léonard opened a tradition-minded seminary that quickly grew to twenty-one seminarians and generated six priests. But when Léonard tendered his resignation in 2015, Pope Francis replaced him with a Danneels protégé, Jozef de Kesel, who promptly shut down the seminary. Belgium is now better known for its relaxed abortion restrictions, its pioneering legalization of same-sex marriage, and the most expansive euthanasia laws in the world. A potent symbol of the state of Catholicism in contemporary Belgium is the Église du Sacré-Coeur et Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes in Liège—now deserted, crumbling, and defaced by street art. The most vibrant religions in Belgium today are evangelical Christianity and Islam.

Read the whole thing here.
Posted by Charlotte Allen
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