Saturday, November 06, 2010

In Belgium, a Sign of Hope

Just about every archdiocese has a paid spokesperson (often a lay person) whose job it is to put the best possible spin on church happenings, particularly those that directly involve the local archbishop.  Sometimes, these folks have a good deal of prior experience as a public relations professional or a newspaper or television reporter (as was the case in St. Louis for a time, when former KMOV reporter Jamie Allman became the spokesperson for then-Archbishop Raymond Burke).  

On occasion, however, the spokesperson has a good deal of training in theology and church history.  Such was the case in the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, where Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard has recently gone on the attack (rhetorically speaking) against gays and lesbians, and in support of pedophile priests not being prosecuted.  Leonard's paid spokesperson was a layman named Jürgen Mettepenningen; he came to his job with a degree in theology and with publications in that field.  A few days ago, according to the National Catholic Reporter, Mettepenniningen quit his job and openly criticized the way Leonard has approached his own job.  The former spokesperson now says this of his former boss:
Archbishop Léonard is no leader. He behaves like a reckless driver headed down the highway in the wrong direction -- thinking everyone else is at fault.
Remember that this is not simply sour grapes.  Mettepenniningen was not fired; he quit, after having a heart-to-heart talk with his wife about the moral conflicts he faced while serving as Leonard's representative.  That's the kind of courage we need to celebrate in the church.  

Think about how much better off the church would be today if all sorts of folks in support roles had spoken out when they saw bishops covering up sexual abuse in the United States, in Ireland, in Belgium and in Germany.  Think how many destructive practices could have been short-circuited if good people had found the courage to speak out.  Good for Mr. Mettepenniningen.  May he find a new role in which his integrity and frankness are put to good use.

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