Belgium's Catholic primate faces homophobia charge

2nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

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.

© 2010 AFP

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