Via Integra

Fr Mark's progressive Anglo-Catholic take on European Christianity

  • This is my collection of material about the current state of the churches in Europe. I am interested in looking at how they are dealing with the pressing issues of our time: the issues of gay people and women in ministry/ leadership are particularly pressing at the moment, as is the area of declining church attendance.

    I would like to see how Europe's traditional religious institutions are coping with the new Europe currently being forged, in which public opinion and ethical attitudes are becoming inceasingly pan-European, and are evidently presenting a series of strong challenges for the churches.

Belgium – the gay issue

Posted by Fr Mark on September 25, 2009

460px-Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government_svgIn 2001, The Guardian reported that a Flemish Roman Catholic priest had come out as gay and living with his partner in Leuven. De Standaard reports, 8 years later, that he is still a Roman Catholic priest, and is now a hospital chaplain in Diest and Lubbeek. One would like to know whether Cardinal Danneels’ evident pastoral solicitude for his priest was also extended to his partner…



Turbulent priest rocks Belgian church

From The Guardian,  04.05.01:

A gay priest has stretched Belgium’s ultra-conservative Catholic church to breaking point and enraged senior clerics by setting up a ‘rent-a-priest’ service, reports Andrew Osborn from Brussels.

Meddlesome priests have come a long way since the twelfth century, when Thomas à Becket, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, pushed King Henry II too far and paid for his impertinence with his life – but they can still be a divisive force.In Belgium, where the Catholic church is struggling to modernise itself, a young rebel priest is in open conflict with the primate of all Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, and the dispute is threatening to drag the church into chaos.

borremansRudy Borremans, 32, a spiky-haired, bespectacled Flemish priest – more Gary Rhodes than Thomas Becket – has enraged senior clerics by openly living with his gay lover and setting up an unorthodox “rent-a-priest” business.

The Dutch-speaking renegade is also challenging the church to lighten up and come to terms with what have traditionally been taboo issues; sex, euthanasia and abortion.

In an unprecedented move he will be forced to face down his accusers in an ecclesiastical court later this year.

If Borremans is found guilty of violating church laws, he could be ex-communicated and cast into a secular wilderness forever.

Needless to say he is not popular with the establishment. But it is not his homosexuality that the church reproaches him for, but rather his breaking of the vow of celibacy he took when he joined the priesthood.

Heterosexual priests are also forbidden from taking a sexual partner or a wife.

Observers estimate, however, that at least 50% of the country’s priests have illicit sexual relations with men or women but are simply far more successful than Borremans at keeping it a secret.

But, to cap it all, Borremans is outspoken, and his rent-a-priest service, which hires out disgraced former clerics to administer at weddings, baptisms and funerals at rates which undercut the official Catholic church, has turned him into a bête noire.

He only asks that people pay “what they can afford” for such services, and is happy to cater for punters who are normally turned away by the established church; namely single mothers, divorcees and homosexuals.

“The problem is that the priests wear two hats at the same time,” Danneels has complained. “One day, they officiate according to Catholic practice and the next day they administer at secular ceremonies.”

The dispute has been bitter and now it shows every sign of escalating. Despite the fact that he was suspended from his duties as a cleric two years ago, Borremans has carried out at least 90 unofficial baptisms since then.

Nine face-to-face meetings with the Cardinal, aimed at settling the dispute, have failed and, incredibly, both sides claim to have received threatening phone calls and been intimidated by unidentified thugs.

Borremans has even threatened to take Danneels to court for defamation of character and, over Easter, he deliberately defied the increasingly tetchy Cardinal.

Banned from attending a special mass at Mechelen cathedral, near Brussels, at which priests repledge their allegiance to Danneels, the rebel cleric turned up with a small band of supporters. Church sources called the stunt ‘the ultimate provocation’.

Last year, Borremans went on hunger strike to draw attention to what he called ‘the church’s abuses’.

He now lives, quite openly, with his gay lover Guy Vermeylen in an unremarkable apartment block in Leuven, the town famous for Stella Artois lager.

He remains convinced, however, that the church must reform if it is to survive.

“I still feel like a Catholic priest despite being suspended,” he explains. “But I feel that there are certain issues which the church must take on board, such as the role of women, sexuality, euthanasia and abortion… but they don’t even allow debate!

“Anything which is illegal causes wounds which fill with puss which nobody heals. Not even the church.”

Borremans claims to receive hundreds of letters from supporters who feel marginalised by the church, and feels that he has a mission to carry on his priestly duties because of his background.

“People have a huge need for rituals where symbols really mean something, be it from a text or from somebody who embodies religion.”

Convinced of the justness of his cause, Borremans’s self-confidence means he is unlikely to throw in the towel any time soon.

“In some ways I feel like an oracle. Someone a little prophetic,” he muses.


From De Standaard, 28.04.09:

Rudy Borremans wordt aalmoezenier

DIEST/LUBBEEK – Rudy Borremans gaat opnieuw als priester aan de slag. Hij wordt aalmoezenier in Diest en Lubbeek.

Meer dan een jaar nadat hij het voor bekeken hield als pastoor van de parochies Everberg en Meerbeek in Kortenberg, wordt Rudy Borremans aalmoezenier van het psychiatrisch ziekenhuis Sint-Annendael in Diest en van het geriatrisch centrum in Lubbeek.

De populaire pastoor is geen onbesproken figuur. Een tiental jaar geleden had hij een zware aanvaring met de katholieke kerk omdat hij als onderpastoor in Tienen samenwoonde met zijn vriend. Hij werd later door kardinaal Danneels gerehabiliteerd. Begin vorig jaar kwam hij opnieuw in opspraak toen hij het in Everberg en Meerbeek aan de stok kreeg met de federatiepastoor over de pastorale werking en kerkopbouw. Borremans nam daarop ontslag. Meer dan duizend parochianen trokken toen de straat op om te eisen dat Borremans zou aanblijven. Borremans hield echter voet bij stuk en trok even later zelfs zijn roeping als priester in twijfel.

In september vorig jaar gaf hij aan zich zes maanden te willen bezinnen en zegde hij zijn taak als aalmoezenier in het rusthuis van Bertem op. Tijdens die bezinning werd blijkbaar duidelijk dat hij nog niet klaar is om de kerk achter zich te laten. Hij wordt nu aalmoezenier in Diest en Lubbeek. Borremans was gisteren niet bereikbaar voor commentaar. (ibo, bcz)


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