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Pope urges Belgian bishops to fight loss of faith

Catholic World News - May 10, 2010

"The fall in the number of priests must not be considered as an inevitable process," Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Belgian bishops during a meeting on May 8. The Pope urged the bishops, who were making their ad limina visits, to work for a revival of Catholic faith and thought in their country.

In recounting the results of his meeting with the individual Belgian bishops, Pope Benedict listed a series of grave problems facing the Church there: "the diminution in the number of baptized people who openly bear witness to their faith and their membership of the Church, the gradual increase in the average age of priests and religious, the lack of ordained and consecrated people who work in the fields of pastoral, educational and social care, and the scant numbers of candidates to the priesthood and consecrated life." He added that the Church must be concerned about the decline of marriage, the economic crisis, immigration, and the delicate balance of Belgium's linguistic and ethnic groups.

In his talk to the Belgian bishops, as reported by the Vatican, the Pope did not directly address the issue that had reportedly dominated their private talks: the sex-abuse crisis and the fallout from the resignation of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Brugges, who had confessed to sexual abuse.

But the Belgian Catholic primate, Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Brussels, did discuss that problem in remarks to reporters. Archbishop Leonard said that Belgian Church leaders would respond energetically to the scandal, but he said that they would not duplicate the policies set down by the American bishops in 2002. "In Belgium we are truly determined to be firm, transparent and rigorous on this question," he said-- "but perhaps the European context, the Belgian context, is not the same as the American context."

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