Pope Francis has confirmed the abolition of the Priestly Society of the Holy Apostles by the Brussels Archbishop De Kesel. The reason: too many and too orthodox priestly vocations.
(Rome) Pope Francis signed a decree dissolving the fraternity of the Holy Apostles. Nothing is charged to the Brotherhood. It was guilty of nothing. Their only mistake seems to be orthodoxy in a liberal environ that seems to despise nothing more than faithful priestly vocations.
The Fraternité des Saints Apôtres
The Fraternity of the Saints Apôtres, Dutch Broederschap van de Holy Apostles, was canonically established in April 2013 by the then Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium, Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard. The brotherhood goes back to the French priest Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine.
Priestly Society of the Holy Apostles
Archbishop Léonard called the faithful community to Belgium to help with the spiritual renewal of his archdiocese. He allowed the fraternity and gave it the parishes of Sainte-Catherine / Sint-Katelijnekerk, in the center of Brussels, and Saint-Joseph in the formerly Flemish, now French-speaking Ucclé (Ukkel) in the south of Brussels.
Archbishop Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels since 2010, who was strongly opposed because of his faithfulness inside and outside the Church, built with the help of the Priestly Fraternity a parallel formation of priests outside the diocesan seminary. This is a path other bishops had already taken before him.
Archbishop Léonard’s initiative proved to be a complete success. The Society was able to achieve what the progressive diocesan institutions could no longer do: to lead young men to the "beauty of vocation and service as diocesan priests". The Brotherhood is a community of world priests, but with a strong community life. She sees in it the answer to the crisis of the world priesthood in Western Europe. The parishes entrusted to them flourished in contrast to the neighboring parishes and were visited by numerous young people.
Although the community was only three years old, in the spring of 2016 it included six priests, one deacon and 21 seminarians. An extraordinary success considering that last year there was not one new entry into the Archbishop seminary in the Archdiocese of Brussels.
Among the pope makers of the current pontificate, there is the progressive Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels before Msgr. Léonard. Pope Benedict XVI. made him an archenemy when he did not chose Danneels’ preferred candidate. Archbishop Léonard had therefore to face heavy resistance in the liberal archdiocese from the beginning. This massive resistance made the necessary reform of the seminary impossible for the time being, which is why he wanted to promote priestly vocations by establishing a second seminary and to build a new clergy.
Michel Marie Zanotti Sorkine
But his episcopate was too short. With the resignation of Benedict XVI. and the election of Francis the hour of the long-retired Danneels struck again. As a personal friend of the new pope, he was able to take revenge. Pope Francis refused Léonard the cardinalatial dignity and made instead the then apostolic nuncio in Belgium a cardinal, who had been Danneels’ preferred candidate and whom Léonard wanted to prevent. A double affront to Léonard.
Hardly had he completed his 75th birthday then he was retired by Francis, and Pope Bergoglio made Danneel's preferred candidate, albeit with a five-year "delay" yet, the new primate of Belgium. Not only that: he raised the new Danneels-compliant archbishop, Jozef De Kesel, immediately to cardinal.
There has seldom been more a demonstrative presentiment in this pontificate than in Brussels, of who is in papal favor and who is not, and what that means.
De Kesel's purge
The new Archbishop De Kesel, with whom Danneels also retired to the Archbishop's Palace, began to systematically eradicate what Archbishop Léonard had done to recover a local church lying on the liberal soil. It is not just about people, but about a far more involved conflict of direction.
Archbishop Leonard ordains SocietyMembers
One of the first victims of the purge was the Priestly Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. In June 2016, De Kesel threw the Brotherhood out of his diocese. And to make sure that it did not find acceptance in another Belgian diocese, he immediately made for an expulsion from all over Belgium. The reason? Hard to believe: too many and too orthodox priestly vocations.
The official reasoning was obviously just a pretext: The expulsion was "out of solidarity" with the French bishops - several members of the Society, especially their superior Zanotti-Sorkine, are French - because there is also a shortage of priests there. The seminarians were offered the opportunity to switch to the diocesan seminary or to leave Belgium, as if the training at the Brussels Priestly Seminary was the same as that of the Priestly Fraternity.
But that was exactly what it was about. A progressive episcopate obviously wants progressive priests or if not, the. no priests. In one of the first public statements as Primate of Belgium, De Kesel called for the abolition of celibacy with reference to the prevailing lack of priests.
It is easy to see a direct connection between the expulsion of the fraternity and his plea for married priests.
The thing is not surprising. In 2017, De Kesel "totally" applauded the proposal to set up an Islamic prayer room at every Catholic school.
Brussels: dechristianized and islamicized
The fact that two Brussels parishes would remain without a priest as a result of the expulsion did not seem to burden Archbishop De Kesel. Neither is the fact that the parishes experienced a veritable renaissance after being transferred to the Society. After the expulsion of the Society, De Kesel ordered the demolition of the St. Catherine's Church, as it is no longer needed because of massive parish mergers. One third of the churches have already closed or are due to close.
Ordination by Archbishop Léonard 2015
Since the Society was established according to diocesan law, the new Archbishop De Kesel could also dissolve them again. He did just that for the Saints Peter and Paul Day in 2016, the day on which the new priests are traditionally consecrated in the dioceses. The main task of the Society is the promotion of vocations and the formation of priests. However, the consecrations of the Society had been suspended by De Kesel.
Brussels today is the heavily de-Christianized and massively Islamized capital of the European Union (EU). Nevertheless, the incumbent archbishop has the luxury of removing from his archdiocese those forces that promise renewal. The Priestly Society of the Holy Apostles was only one stage of his purge against orthodox groups. Others were to follow.
Believers are taking legal action
The members of the two parishes of Brussels, under the auspices of the Society, did not for a moment believe that their Archbishop, out of sheer "solidarity" with the French bishops, showed the Society to the door. At the same time 80 seminarians were studying in the diocese of Namur, of which only 25 were Belgians. So far, however, the other 55 seminarians have not been sent home out of "solidarity". Not even the numerous African or Polish priests who work in Belgium. Therefore, the parishioners asked De Kesel for a discussion. Without a result.
Several laymen then took legal action and turned to Rome. They appealed to the Congregation of Clergy objecting to De Kesel’s decree of dissolution. However, the prefect of the Congregation of Clergy was the first dicastery leader, which Pope Francis changed after his election. Cardinal Beniamino Stella, previously Vatican diplomat, has been sitting there ever since.
In November 2016, the Congregation of Clergy rejected the cases filed by the faithful "without any justification".
Sainte-Catherine church of Brussels
This left only the path to the Apostolic Signatura, to which anyone, layman or cleric, can turn if he sees his rights violated. Prefect of the Signatura was the brilliant canonist, Cardinal Raymond Burke. But Pope Francis had also exchanged him. To be precise, he had been similarly rudely thrown him out of the Vatican, as De Kesel had thrown the Priestly Society out of Belgium. Since the end of 2014, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Vatican, Msgr. Domenico Mamberti, is Prefect to the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura. Formerly a Vatican diplomat like Stella.
In December 2016, the Brussels faithful brought their case before the Signatura. The promoter Justitiae gave a positive opinion. According to the notification to the consignors, the cause should be submitted to a judge's collegium in autumn 2017 for treatment. "We were in good spirits, the right is and remains right."
But then things happened differently.
“A bad story "
On 25 November 2017, the consignors received a succinct statement that the case had been closed. Even before the ordinary legal process was completed - or perhaps for that very reason - Cardinal Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, had visited Pope Francis and submitted to him a decree for the definitive dissolution of the Priestly Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. Pope Francis signed the decree, challenging the case. The objection to the resolution decree by Cardinal De Kesel had become obsolete with the dissolution decree of Pope Francis.
Taking advantage of the papal powers, the ordinary legal process was reduced to absurdity without any apparent necessity. The procedure is understood by those affected as arbitrary. It recalls the approach of Pope Francis against the Franciscans of the Immaculata. With the decree of the Congregation of Religious, the disempowerment of the Order, the appointment of a commissioner and the ban to celebrate without special permission the Holy Mass in the traditional form, the affected religious, including the Superior General and founder of the Order, P. Stefano M. Manelli appealed to the Apostolic Signatura. Pope Francis, however, highhandedly rejected any recourse. The persons concerned have since arbitrarily delivered the decision.
The Catholic Internet newspaper Nuova Bussola Quotidiana commented on the papal decision against the priestly brotherhood of the Holy Apostles by saying:
"The decree signed by Pope Francis seems to violate the right of the weakest in the Church. It’s a story that does not throw a good light on the way business is done by the head of the Reformed Roman Curia and the Pope. A bad story. "
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
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