Belgian Catholics issue reform manifesto
by John A. Dick
Dec. 2, 2011 – NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.
By the week’s end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the “Believers Speak Out” manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.
Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.
“These are not ‘protest people.’ They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening,” said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.
“Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership,” said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. “Is this being a dissident? I don’t think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don’t do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. … I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers.”
Among the manifesto’s demands, made “in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries,” are that:
• Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;
• Communion services be held even if no priest is available;
• Laypeople be allowed to preach;
• Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;
• “As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.
So far there has been no official reaction from Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the Catholic primate of Belgium, any of the other Belgium bishops, or the Vatican. Privately, and off the record, one Belgian bishop has applauded the manifesto.
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