Two Belgian Bishops Sentenced for Refusing to Train a Woman for the Diaconate

Source: FSSPX News

Archbishop Luc Terlinden

The civil court of Mechelen has fined the former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, and his successor, Archbishop Luc Terlinden, for discrimination. The two bishops had refused, a few months apart, the enrollment of a woman in training for the diaconate, for the reason that she cannot receive holy orders, by the will of Christ, Founder of the Church.

It’s important to remember, once again, that the sacrament of orders was reserved for the male sex by Jesus Christ Himself. This has been the constant tradition of the Church. And it must be added that orders is composed of at least three degrees, according to the Council of Trent: episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate. The Church therefore does not have the power to confer this order on a woman.

The woman who was refused this training brought her case before the civil court, on the grounds of discrimination “contrary to the Belgian Constitution,” La Croix specifies. And the court ruled in her favor on Tuesday, June 25, 2024. But it must be admitted that the decision is both ludicrous—it is a clear interference in the law of the Church—and contradictory.

Thus, La Croix notes, “While declaring itself incompetent to judge church matters, ‘the court considers that the archbishops made an error in assessing the application,’ explained Luc De Cleir, press officer for the Mechelen court, as reported by La Libre Belgique.” La Croix also quotes Fr. Tommy Scholtes, spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference of Belgium.

The latter notices “a certain paradox in the court's decision, which condemns while declaring itself incompetent to define who can be admitted to diaconal training.” He astutely notes: “We could just as well have been criticized for admitting someone to the training while knowing she could not complete it.”

Le Figaro asks itself the question: “could this decision set a precedent?” Louis-Léon Christians, current Chair of Law and Religions at the Catholic University of Louvain, firmly answers “No,” La Croix quotes.

And Le Figaro explains that “the court specified that it did not have ‘any jurisdiction’ to overturn the refusals of the Archbishop and his predecessor, nor to define the people who can or cannot be admitted to deacon training because that would be ‘contrary to religious freedom.’”

This explanation leaves one to wonder: on what, therefore, is the court’s decision based? And what could prevent this complaint from being repeated tomorrow and the day after with new plaintiffs?

An Unsurprising Complaint

Unfortunately, it was not too difficult to predict that this situation would present itself, because of the confusing messaging—calculated?—of the hierarchy, around the question of the female diaconate, while things are of a solar clarity from the point of view of Church doctrine. The openness to opinions and proposals on this point allows people to think that this question is discussed in the Church.

Pope Francis is not innocent in this matter: by creating a commission on the subject, then a second, he is allowing doubt to linger.  The Pope more or less lets the discussion continue. This allows, for example, the training of women to the diaconate in Germany, or this request in Belgium. If things were clearly and distinctly taught, these two bishops would not have been found guilty.