For Belgian Church rocked by scandal, three new auxiliary bishops

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard and his three new auxiliary bishops / Photo Credit Hans Medart
Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard and his three new auxiliary bishops / Photo Credit Hans Medart

.- Pope Benedict XVI has appointed three new auxiliary bishops to assist Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels.

Msgrs. Jean-Luc Hudsyn, Jean Kockerols and Leon Lemmens were appointed Feb. 22.

The Belgian Church has been rocked by clerical abuse scandals in recent years.

Archbishop Leonard was appointed in Jan. 2010 in part in response to the scandals, which occurred under Cardinal Godfried Danneels, now retired. Archbishop Leonard was called by some the "Belgian Ratzinger" for his no-tolerance policy on sexual abuse.

Just months after Archbishop Leonard's appointment, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium resigned following revelations of charges of  past abuse. Within weeks, more than 400 abuse allegations against priests were made public and in June, authorities stormed diocesan offices in Brussels and confiscated the files and computers of the diocesan commission investigating abuse claims. No charges against the Church were filed.

More controversy came in October with the release of a book of interviews with Archbishop Leonard.
In it, the archbishop was quoted as suggesting that AIDS was a “a kind of immanent justice,” for homosexual activity.

“If we act inappropriately with physical nature, nature in turn will mistreat us,” the archbishop is quoted as saying. “And when people deal inappropriately with the deeper meaning of human love, that brings catastrophes at all levels.”

The statements caused a riot in international media and led to the resignation of the archbishop's spokesperson. Since then, however, the archbishop  has kept well under the radar.

The Pope's appointment of the three auxiliaries comes after a winter season of relative peace and quiet for the Belgian Church.

Father Tommy Scholtes, S.J., spokesman for the country’s bishops, told CNA that having a number of auxiliary bishops has been a "normal" thing in the archdiocese in recent years. He did not see any special significance to appointing all three at the same time.

"I think this is good news for everybody," he said of the appointments, adding that he didn't anticipate any problems. “I haven't heard anything, either yesterday or today."

After Archbishop Leonard's appointment last January, there were rather public complaints that he was "too conservative" for the nation.

After a rocky 2010, the archbishop is “going in a good direction," Fr. Scholtes said.

With the appointments of the auxiliaries, he added, "I think it will be better now."

Msgr. Hudsyn, 63, will now be in charge of the French-speaking region south of Brussels called the Vicariate of Walloon Brabant. He was groomed into the position through 22 years of service to the former auxiliary bishop in charge of the same region.

Msgr. Hudsyn already serves in a number of administrative and pastoral capacities in the area. According to a press release from the archdiocese, Msgr. Hudsyn pays particular attention to the theological and pastoral formation of the laity. He also prepares and accompanies permanent deacons in their service and has also been very involved in media relations.

The 52-year old Msgr. Jean Kockerols has a broad formation in law, philosophy, theology and cooperation and development. He has worked largely in parishes and founded a pastoral studies center in Brussels in 2001.

He has been dean of the Church's Brussels-South region in recent years and works as director of the department of faith, formator at the diocesan seminary and course leader at the Institute of Theological Studies.

As auxiliary, Msgr. Kockerols will head the Vicariate of Brussels.

Msgr. Leon Lemmens, 56, is being called back to Belgium from his current position as official of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in charge of Formation and Study. He is specialized in collaboration with the Eastern Orthodox churches and is a member of the Sant'Egidio community.

Msgr. Lemmens has served as president of the Major Seminary of Hasselt, Belgium and rector of the College Romain in Rome. He has worked in vocations, permanent formation and on the inter-diocesan commission for media and culture.

He will oversee the Flemish Brabant region, the Dutch-speaking area that surrounds Brussels.

The three will be ordained on Sunday, April 3 in the Basilica of Koekelberg.

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