De Kesel's decision not only ensures a scandal among the faithful, but "opens a new problematic chapter in the governance of the diocese," says the weekly magazine Tempi.
Society refuted vocation crisis
De Kesel's predecessor was Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard, who, upon his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI was Archbishop from 2010-2015 of Mechelen-Brussels. The Fraternité des Saints Apôtres / Broederschap van de Saint Apostelen was established by him on 7 April 2013 and canonically erected. The idea came from Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, a popular charismatic priest of the Archdiocese of Marseille.
Archbishop Léonard allowed the Society to run priestly formation and gave them the two parishes of Sainte-Catherine / Sint-Katelijnekerk in Brussels and Saint-Joseph in the earlier Flemish, today almost entirely French-speaking community of Uccle (Ukkel) south of Brussels.
Archbishop Léonard ordained in 2015 last members of the Society
Actually Léonard established it, not only because of the secular forces in Belgium, but those powerful hostile internal forces in the church, which necessitated a parallel priestly formation from outside the diocesan seminary. Similar routes have already gone well in the past for other bishops. In the German-speaking countries the Regensburg Bishop, Rudolf Graber (1962-1981) founded a second seminary, Heiligenkreuz in Vienna.
The intuition of Archbishop Léonard was a success. The Brotherhood was able to achieve what the progressive diocesan institutions were no longer able, leading young men "to the beauty of that call and the service as diocesan priests." The Society is a community of secular priests, but lead a strong community life. It therefore offers the answer to the crisis of world priesthood in Western Europe. The entrusted parishes are alive, unlike neighboring parishes and are visited by many young people.
Although the Community is only three years old, it already nbers six priests and 21 seminarians.
"In solidarity with France's bishops" the Society must leave Belgium
This should have for the best. But this is not so, since Pope Francis made Archbishop Léonard emeritus and made the new Primate of Belgium to be De Kesel, the preferred candidate of the progressive pre-predecessor. Danneels belongs to Team Bergoglio and the progressive clandestine circle of Sankt Gallen, who tried to prevent the 2005 election of Benedict XVI and were elemental in the 2013 election of Francis.
Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine, founder of the Society
The new archbishop decided that since the Society was so remarkably successful in the archdiocese, they may form no more priests for the Archdiocese, and thus have to leave Belgium. The reasoning? Because the majority of seminarians come from France. "In many regions of France, there are no priests [...], we do not want to be lacking in solidarity with our neighboring French bishops," De Kesel said in an official statement.
The members of the Society who were already ordained priests, are to be incardinated into the diocesan clergy and retain charge of their parishes. The seminarians have the opportunity to enter into the diocesan seminary. But the Society has to pack their bags, and those who want to stay in the Society as well.
The decision disappointed many faithful, who are worried anyway about De Kessels' plans for the "reorganization" of the diocese. His plan provides for the closure of a third of all churches. It was already prepared for at the time under Danneels (to 2010), but was postponed by Archbishop Léonard, who tried to revive the parishes instead. By appointing De Kesels, Danneels' Plan is back into effect.
A group of faithful of the parish of St. Catherine, led by Bernard de la Croix, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels wrote a letter: "We are amazed that the Society is a victim of its success. The seminarians who come to Belgium, are close to a determined charism, and it is thus not true that thereby the dioceses of France are emptied. The opposite is true: Some would perhaps never have entered a Seminary without a communal life like that of the Society of the Holy Apostles."
The neo-Gothic St. Catherine's Church in Brussels: one of the two parishes of the Society
The faithful then go in depth: "The principle of solidarity, of which one appeals, sounds rather strange. Of the 80 seminarians who are trained for example, in the diocesan seminary of Namur, only 25 are Belgians. Are all the others sent back to their countries of origin? Do all African and Polish priests who help us to proclaim the Word of God in Belgium, have to be sent back home? Is the Catholic Church no longer universal? This argument does not stand examination, and we hope that there aren't in reality, hiding purely ideological reasons."
The allusion is not outrageous for those who are familiar with Brussels' background. Archbishop De Kesel spoke recently for the abolition of priestly celibacy, which should no longer be a prerequisite for admission to the priesthood according to his lights. This must, says the Archbishop, be the necessary response to the "lack of priests". At the same time he throws out that community which brings most of the priestly vocations to the archdiocese. Vocations, who do not represent the progressive agenda and demand no abolition of celibacy.
The letter also points out that the deaconal ordinations planned for June of some members of the Society, have been postponed by Archbishop De Kesel, without giving a reason. It would have been the first ordination of a Society member by De Kesel. It's a fact that the new chief shepherd of Mechlen-Brussels obviously wants to avoid.
Make a Tabula Rasa
The faithful of St. Catherine requested a debate with De Kesel. So far, they have received neither a response to their letter nor a date for a debate.
Others speak out clearly. Archbishop De Kesel wants to "make a clean sweep and wipe out the beneficial work of Archbishop Léonard." In the diocese Cardinal Danneels and parts of the progressive clergy had an aversion "from the beginning" to the so successful priestly vocations awakened by the Society that represent a faithful line that is "miles" removed from Daneels' attitude.
Those parts of the Catholic Church, calling for intervention in the sacrament of marriage and refer to the shortage of priests for their solutions (abolition of celibacy, women's deaconate, women priests) find it hard to accept the suggestion that the vocation crisis can not least be traced back to homemade causes that can be overcome. Priestly vocations are a gift of God. It is thus also a signal, where and to whom they are given.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: fraternitedessaintsapotres.com/broederschapvandeheiligeapostelen.com (Screenhots)
Trans: Tancred email@example.com