The pope issues a warning to the Belgian bishops

Source: FSSPX News


At the close of the ad limina visit of the Belgian bishops, at the end of September, the pope shared his worries: “The news which has come to me concerning the situation of your church has me particularly concerned. One cannot hide a real and serious distress when faced with the constant and significant drop in religious practice in your country, which affects Sunday celebrations but also several sacraments, in particular baptism, reconciliation and above all marriage”.

The pope said he was equally distressed by “the significant decline in the number of priests and the persistent crisis in vocations”. If he considers the “ever more active participation of the lay faithful in the mission of the Church a reason for satisfaction”, he nevertheless recalled “the essential difference between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, and the irreplaceable character of the ordained ministry. For this reason it is necessary to clearly express the doctrinal principles involved in this matter so as to avoid confusion in the future.”

Bringing up the “great degree of secularization” which characterizes Belgian society, John-Paul II regretted “troubling” recent legislative decisions “in areas which touch fundamental dimensions of social and human life, like birth, marriage and the family, disease and death”. “It is important that pastors constantly make their voices heard in order to reaffirm the Christian vision of existence and, in this case, to show their disapproval”.

For the Holy Father, “these changes on the legal plane are not only the sign of adaptations or evolutions resulting from new ways of thinking or acting, but they profoundly affect the ethical dimension of human life and they call into question the link to natural law, the conception of human rights and, more profoundly still, the conception of man and his nature”. In a society which is losing its traditional points of reference and which voluntarily favors a generalized relativism in the name of pluralism, “our first duty is to make known Christ, His Gospel of peace and the new light he sheds on the destiny of man”.

The pope finally encouraged Belgian Catholics “to actively pursue dialog with civil society while being careful to explicitly demonstrate the values of the Christian faith and its rich experience of man throughout history and cultures, not so much in order to impose its own model, but out of respect for the truth”.

John-Paul II also advocated a better theological, spiritual and moral formation of the lay faithful and of future priests as well. “A particular effort is necessary”, he noted, regarding the “objective demands of the call to the priestly ministry, notably concerning celibacy for the sacred orders reserved to men”.

In his report, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Malines-Brussels, President of the Belgian Bishops Conference, painted a portrait of a Belgian church “with its shadows and light”: “There is hardly an area in the Church’s life in our country where the positive and the negative are not mixed, almost inextricably, marking the path of our pastoral obligations”.