African, Belgian, and Dutch Bishops before the challenge of Fiducia Supplicans

Fernandez e papa Francesco
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By Roberto de Mattei

The Bishops’ Conference of the North African Region (Cerna) meeting in Rabat, Morocco, Jan. 11-15, approved the Declaration Fiducia supplicans (see here), stipulating, regarding the “pastoral practice of blessings,” that it is possible to give the blessing not only individually, but also to people “in an irregular situation” who present themselves together requesting it, provided this “does not create confusion for those concerned themselves or for others.” This stance cracked the unanimity that had been created around the communiqué of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, signed by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, in which the African bishops expressed clear opposition to Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández’s document (see here).

Cardinal Robert Sarah, in a Jan. 6 message, had encouraged the “national or regional bishops’ conferences and every bishop in the world to follow the example of the African bishops, “By doing so,” he explained, “we are not opposing Pope Francis, but we are firmly and radically opposing a heresy that gravely undermines the Church, the Body of Christ, because it is contrary to the Catholic faith and Tradition. Cardinal Ambongo, who in addition to being president of the Bishops’ Conference of Africa, is also a member of the group of cardinals (G9) that advises the Pontiff, in a Jan. 16 meeting with Pope Francis and Cardinal Fernández, reiterated the African bishops’ opposition to any form of blessing of sexual deviance (https://blog.messainlatino.it/2024/01/il-card-ambongo-non-possiamo-essere.html).

 The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar brings together 35 national or interregional bishops’ conferences, with a total of 669 bishops and 256 million faithful. It has been rightly noted that there are only ten North African bishops in four states and all are practically European. Their president is Spanish Cardinal Cristóbal López since December 29, 2017 Archbishop of Rabat.

Moreover, one cannot imagine that, when doctrinal issues are on the table, homogeneous continental blocs are formed: more logical to imagine the existence of fractures within these alignments. Much more significant than the African one is, in this regard, the fault that has been created, after Fiducia supplicans, within what in the years of the Second Vatican Council was called the “European Alliance,” consisting mainly of the bishops of Germany, Austria, France, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.  What provides the impetus for serious reflection is above all the gulf that has emerged between the Belgian and Dutch bishops, taking into account the historical, geographical, linguistic and cultural affinities between the two countries.

In fact, the Belgian bishops have taken a favorable position on the document of the Dicastery of the Faith, while the Dutch bishops have cautiously but clearly expressed their opposition, even in the title of their January 4 statement, “Response to Fiducia supplicans.” Notably, nowhere in the Dutch bishops’ statement is there any reference to “same-sex couples” or “blessings,” but only to prayers that should be offered to individuals, “so that they may understand God’s will for their lives and continue to grow.” 

 The Bishops’ Conference of the Netherlands carefully using the third person singular (“he/she” and “his/ her”) emphasizes that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman, that it is indissoluble, and that “irregular relationships, whatever they may be, find inherent moral objections.”

The Bishops’ Conference of Belgium, now presided over by Archbishop Luc Terlinden, was led for eighteen years from 1961 to 1979 by Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens and then for over thirty years from 1979 to 2010 by Cardinal Gofried Danneels (1933-2019). The Cardinal Primate of Belgium, Léon-Joseph Suenens (1904-1996), spearheaded the 1968 contestation of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.When Suenens retired in 1979, he designated as his successor the archbishop, whom he consecrated, Godfried Daneeels, who continued his ultra-progressive line. Cardinal Danneels Archbishop of Mechlen-Brussels was the main leader of that group, dubbed the “St. Gallen Mafia,” which supported in two conclaves the candidacy of Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. He failed in 2005; he succeeded, eight years later in 2013. In total, between Suenens and Danneels, the Belgian Church was led for fifty years by two cardinals who devastated it. 

 Today in the once very Catholic Kingdom of Belgium, churches are abandoned and Islam is the country’s first religion. On September 20, 2022, the Flemish bishops published a document entitled: Being Pastorally Close to Homosexual People. Their spokesman Geert De Kerpel told the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad on Dec. 19, 2022, “This is a very big breakthrough because it comes from the highest body of the Church and because it also explicitly says that same-sex couples can therefore have the blessing.”

A very different route has been followed by the Church in the Netherlands, where there are flourishing signs of revival amid the current decomposition of European Catholicism. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference, after having had at its head the progressive cardinals Bernard Jan Alfrink (1966-1975) and Johannes Willebrands (1976-1983), since 1983, at the behest of John Paul II, has been led by Cardinal Adrianus Johannes Simonis (1983-2008), Bishop Adrianus Herman van Luyn (2008-2011), Cardinal Willem Jacobus Ejick (2011-2016), and, since 2016, Bishop Johannes Harmannes Jozefus van den Hende.

Cardinal Simonis was chosen by John Paul II as archbishop of Utrecht precisely to curb the secularist drift of the Dutch church. Cardinal Ejik, consecrated bishop of Groningen by Cardinal Simonis in 1999 and elevated in 2007 by Benedict XVI to metropolitan archbishop of Utrecht, has been the dominant figure in the Dutch episcopate and one of the most prestigious churchmen in Europe for 20 years. In 2021 he participated in Rome in an international conference organized by Voice of the Family on the theme Health of the Sick and Salvation of Souls. Church and society in a dark period of our history with a speech of strong theological and scientific depth.  His program can be summarized in these words, delivered in Verona on October 6, 2022: “The new Evangelization cannot imply an adaptation of the Gospel to culture, not even to which post-modern culture, which certainly does not like many elements of the Christian faith. The opposite must happen: culture must be Christianized‘.”A program antithetical to that proposed by the Declaration Fiducia Supplicans, according to which the Church should bless the de-Christianization of contemporary society. The existence of a sharp contrast between bishops and cardinals within the Church is now a reality that cannot be denied. However, the polarization that is being created today is a good thing, if it will lead to doctrinal clarification, which could have its culminating point in the next conclave.

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