Pope's planned visit to Belgium provokes mixed reactions

Pope Francis's visit to Belgium and KU Leuven in 2024 will allow dialogue on various social issues, according to the university's rector, Luc Sels. Meanwhile, Justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt and Archbishop Luc Terlinden have urged the Vatican to respond to the request to strip former Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe of his episcopal title.

It was announced on Wednesday that Pope Francis planned to visit Belgium, Argentina and Polynesia next year. "It is promising and encouraging," said Sels in response to the news.

"We knew through the bishops that there was a strong interest in coming to Belgium. But the actual visit becoming a reality suddenly makes everything very concrete. This accelerates everything, although we are aware of the man's fluctuating state of health."

Social issues

Sels believes the Pope is open to discussion of various social issues inside and outside the church. "It is an opportunity to talk to him about refugees, sustainability, geopolitical conflicts," he said. "And also about problems within the church itself."

Both the Flemish and federal parliaments currently have committees dealing with sexual abuse within the church. These were set up after outrage caused by the VRT TV series Godvergeten, which featured the testimonies of victims and relatives.

Rik Devillé, a Flemish priest and activist, says the announcement of the papal visit comes at a painful time. He doesn't have high expectations, he told De Morgen. "Maybe the Pope has brought an answer to my letters," said Devillé, who has been fighting for years for more recognition of abuse victims in the church.

"Everyone has been calling for Mr Vangheluwe to be stripped of his episcopal title"

Van Tigchelt has urged the Vatican to finally act on demands to strip Vangheluwe of his episcopal title. Vangheluwe sexually abused his nephew when he was a minor and is currently living in a French abbey. "Everyone has been calling for Mr Vangheluwe to be stripped of his episcopal title," Van Tigchelt told VRT. "I understand that Rome is responsible for this."

He believes that more clarity is needed on the matter so that the papal visit can occur in a calm atmosphere.

"I understand how difficult it is to hear that Monseigneur Vangheluwe can still celebrate Mass after all that has happened"

The new archbishop, Luc Terlinden, also hopes the Vatican will strip Vangheluwe of his title. "I understand how difficult it is to hear that Monseigneur Vangheluwe can still celebrate Mass after all that has happened. It's difficult for me too. I hope Rome will take the initiative in the coming weeks and months," he told VRT.

Terlinden also believes the church should do more for victims of sexual abuse. He suggests that it should pay for psychological care and support for victims and their families, and perhaps introduce a day of remembrance. "We must do better," he said.


#FlandersNewsService | © PHOTO ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

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