Belgian archbishop says media twisted his public statements
04 November 2010
Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels has charged a firestorm of criticism has been provoked by distorted reporting on his public statements.
Two days after his public spokesman resigned, describing Archbishop Leonard as a “loose cannon,” the embattled prelate said that he had been “misrepresented by the press.”
In a 5-page letter to the people of his archdiocese, Archbishop Leonard acknowledged that his recent public remarks—as they had been relayed through the media—had given rise to controversy. But he insisted that the reports were inaccurate, adding that he too would have been dismayed if he heard the statements “as they have been presented to you.”
The archbishop told his people that he felt he owed them an explanation, since the statements that have been attributed to him have caused “so much criticism, misunderstanding, and incomprehension.”
He explained that in one instance, a reporter asked him repeatedly whether AIDS should be seen as God’s vengeance. The archbishop said that he twice dismissed that idea, but finally remarked that just as pollution harms the environment and excessive alcohol use damages the brain and liver, so too dangerous sexual activities can lead to diseases like AIDS.
In another case, Archbishop Leonard wrote, he had never intended to suggest that elderly priests who have been accused of abuse should escape punishment. All abuse cases should be reported to prosecutors, he said. In some cases, he continued, when the accused priest is already retired and prosecution is impractical, the best solution might be for the priest to “confess his crime” in the presence of the victim. Such a priest should no longer be allowed to administer the sacraments, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Leonard did not respond directly to the harsh criticism that his departed spokesman, Juergen Mettepenningen, had made in a press conference earlier this week. But the complaint of misrepresentation implied that the press spokesman had not done an adequate job of explaining the archbishop’s statements to reporters.
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Belgium’s Catholic primate faces homophobia charge
03 November 2010
By Claire Rosemberg (AFP) – 2 days ago
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s Catholic primate Tuesday faced accusations of homophobia and calls to resign for saying AIDS was justly deserved and elderly child-abusing priests should be spared.
Amid mounting uproar, a lawyer for a gay rights group filed a complaint against Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard in the northern city of Bruges after the church leader described gay love as a travesty of nature and AIDS as “a sort of intrinsic justice.”
“I believe the archbishop is violating anti-discrimination law and committing slander,” lawyer Jean-Marie De Meester said.
A string of controversial statements in the last few days by the outspoken archbishop, a conservative close to Pope Benedict XVI, has raised a storm in a country already reeling from a major church child abuse scandal.
In a book released last month, Leonard said of HIV carriers: “When you mistreat the environment it ends up mistreating us in turn. And when you mistreat human love, perhaps it winds up taking vengeance.
“All I’m saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions,” the archbishop said, saying of AIDS, “this epidemic is a sort of intrinsic justice.”
Fellow church-leaders have publicly distanced themselves and a petition circulated this weekend at the Catholic University of Louvain, one of the country’s biggest, demands Leonard resign from a post as chancellor there for remarks “which bring shame on the university.”
The latest sign of growing unease within the church was the announcement Tuesday by his spokesman Juergen Mettepenningen that he was quitting the job only three months after joining the archbishop’s office.
“Monsignor Leonard at times acts like a motorist driving on the wrong side of a freeway who thinks all the other motorists are wrong,” Mettepenningen said at a press conference.
He said the archbishop had promised him he would avoid statements to the media but had failed to keep the pledge. “A lack of trust means that I neither wish nor want to continue working as Monsignor Leonard’s spokesman,” he said.
Leonard, who was named to head the church in January, denied he was stigmatising HIV carriers after his AIDS statements but last week unleashed a new uproar by saying retired priests suspected of paedophilia should be spared judicial action, which he termed “a sort of vengeance.”
Priests who abused children in their care, Leonard went on television to say, must be made aware of what they did, “but if they’re no longer working, if they have no responsibilities, I’m not sure that exercising a sort of vengeance that will have no concrete result is humane.”
Last Sunday, the bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, said this was “a personal point of view” and not that of the church.
Leonard then went public after All Saints Day mass to say he had been misunderstood and that he believed paedophile priests should be sent before justice.
The comments come on the heels of revelations in September by a church commission that revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.
Belgium Church spokesman quits, rips archbishop
02 November 2010
A spokesman for Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels has resigned, describing the prelate as a “loose cannon.”
Archbishop Leonard had come under heavy fire for suggesting that AIDS could be regarded as a sort of “immanent justice” for active homosexuals who engaged in unhealthy acts. The public uproar against that statement increased last week when the archbishop said that it would serve no purpose to take disciplinary action against elderly retired priests who have been accused of abuse.
Juergen Mettepenningen held a news conference to announce his exit, issuing a scathing critique of the archbishop and blaming him for recent public-relations debacles. “I was his GPS for three months,” the outgoing spokesman said. “But it is the driver who has his hands on the wheel and sets the course.”
The AP coverage of Mettepenningen’s resignation is a masterpiece of slanted journalism, referring to Archbishop Leonard as “ultraconservative,” claiming that he sympathizes with abusive priests, and reporting that “mainstream Catholic organizations” disagree with the prelate.