Speaking about the current climate within the Catholic Church of Belgium to the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper, Archbishop Andre-Mutien Joseph Leonard highlighted the importance of formation for the priesthood. Celibacy, he underlined, is not the cause of sexual abuses and greater focus needs to be put on priestly formation to avoid future tragedy.
The primate of the Belgian Church spoke to the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper while in Rome for the Belgian bishops’ “ad Limina” visit to the Holy See.
In response to a question about whether the cases of sexual abuse that have come to light in the Church are due to faults in the process of forming priests, the archbishop said “investigating the causes is always difficult.” “However,” he added, “I’m convinced that it is not correct to trace certain deviant attitudes back to the celibacy of priests.”
Archbishop Leonard pointed out that no one calls marriage a “source of mental imbalance” although the majority of cases of sexual abuse of minors take place in the home.
The personal development of the individual is the problem, he said, and it’s an additional reason to put more focus on the formation of priests, placing importance on the “affective equilibrium” of candidates.
Proposing specific actions to be taken to avoid such tragedies in the future, Archbishop Leonard said more attention must be given to potential priests during their time of discernment and in the first few years of formation. The Belgian Church intends “to reinforce” the personnel that accompany seminarians “to understand their nature, personality and balance more deeply,” he added.
“But, I repeat, celibacy is not a source of imbalance for the priest; rather it’s a source of grace.”
The Bishops of Belgium will all meet in audience with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday to conclude their “ad Limina” visit to the Holy See.