Showing again that he is as conservative as he seems when not calming the waters after a controversial action, Pope Benedict has appointed André-Mutien Léonard archbishop of Brussels.
Léonard is sometimes called “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. According to Reuters:
Léonard has beene a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.
CNA reports that in July, his statements in an interview that homosexuals were “abnormal” led Belgian homosexual activists to pursue (unsuccessfully) charges against him for homophobia -- "a criminal offense in Belgium since the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2003."
Public officials protested the appointment as disruptive. According to Reuters, most outspoken was Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is the country’s health minister. In a radio interview, Onkelinx said:
Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion. Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Archbishop Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.
. . .
Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia [legal in Belgium] … The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.
Although the controversy is not as intense as over the eventually withdrawn appointment of pastor Gerhard Maria Wagner in Austria last year, Pope Benedict used the same selection process. He ignored the local Catholic hierarchy and chose someone he was confident would be loyal to him.
The editor of the Belgian Catholic weekly KERK&leven (Church and Life), said the choice of Léonard “is clearly a conscious choice for a totally different style and approach: for more radical decisiveness rather than quiet diplomacy, for more confrontation with the secular society instead of dialogue ... .”
Disruptive, pushing toward the political right, as Beligian public officials suggested. And look for more of that.