BRUSSELS (ChurchMilitant.com) - Belgium archbishop André-Joseph Léonard is revealing how his personal fidelity to the Church, in the face of contradiction, was blessed with many vocations.
In a recent interview, the former Primate of Belgium spoke candidly of the astounding rise in seminarians under his watch, the opposition he faced following a liberal predecessor, and his disappointment with the Synod on the Family.
In 2010, with the retirement of Léonard's liberal successor, Cdl. Godfried Danneels, there were just four seminarians in his diocese of Mechelen-Brussels. Under Léonard's leadership, in spite of liberal opposition, that number increased sharply to 55 vocations in 2015.
The French magazine Famille Chrétienne asked the recently retired archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels how he had accomplished this while being opposed by a liberal clergy put in place by Cdl. Danneels.
Archbishop Léonard recounted how as a seminary professor he'd "always been close to the seminarians" and "naturally continued to adopt this attitude" as archbishop.
Speaking of a potential vocation, he said, "I never told him to go first contact the vocation director" but always welcomed him myself. The archbishop emphatically stated, "When a man wants to give his life to Christ, a bishop must receive him!" He added that this personal contact by the bishop helps candidates make a positive decision towards the priesthood.
Asked about the opposition he faced as a faithful bishop in the wake of such a liberal cardinal as Danneels, Léonard recited St. Paul's admonition to "not be conformed to this world," adding that "Jesus did not promise us success, but rather contradiction."
His Excellency said that because the Gospel warns us disagreements will necessarily come, he'd therefore be worried if he weren't opposed by others.
Archbishop Léonard expressed concerns about the Synod on the Family that concluded last fall in Rome. "I was a bit disappointed by the fact that we cultivated ambiguity on the most delicate points. Bishops told me the words had been deliberately rewritten in an ambiguous manner so that they could be interpreted in different ways."
The archbishop warned that this ambiguity on such essential questions could lead to practices that, "once applied and developed, would be very difficult to rectify."
Léonard denounced the notion of decentralization with regard to Church discipline promoted by some prelates at the Synod. "It's not a good idea. I don't see how disciplines could change from one country to another or from one continent to another. I would find it extremely risky that the Western countries could have at their disposal a more flexible discipline. ... That would be a great scandal!
Léonard also condemned the false notions of mercy and conscience that some prelates promoted at the Synod. He declared that "mercy presupposes that one has a consciousness," adding, "Mercy only makes sense if one is aware that one needs it." He therefore proposed that a "catechetical effort" would be required to restore this often-lost sense of sin.
Before retiring last month, Abp. Léonard consecrated his diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on December 8, 2015. He explained that Belgium had "received two official visits of Mary at Beauraing and Banneux. If Mary took the trouble to bother twice to visit this country, it is probably because it has great need."
To learn more about the controversies surrounding the 2015 Synod on the Family, watch "Mic'd Up—Synod Aftermath, Part One."