15 Jan 2011

Belgium's Catholic primate faces demands to step down after controversial remarks on pedophile priests and AIDS

The Vancouver Sun - November 2, 2010

Catholics rebel over primate's AIDS, paedophile remarks


BRUSSELS — Belgium's Catholic primate Tuesday faced a mounting church backlash, including demands he step down, after urging mercy for elderly child abusing priests and saying AIDS was justly deserved.

Controversial remarks over the last few days by Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, a conservative close to Pope Benedict XVI, have hit specially hard in a country reeling from a major church child abuse scandal.

The latest sign of growing unease within the church was a sudden announcement Tuesday by Leonard's spokesman Juergen Mettepenningen he was quitting the job only three months after joining the archbishop's office.

"An accumulation of different reasons and a lack of trust mean that I neither wish nor want to continue working as Monsignor Leonard's spokesman," he said in a statement, to be followed by a news conference later in the day.

And a petition circulating at the Catholic University of Louvain, one of the country's biggest, demanded Leonard resign from his post as chancellor there following the remarks "which bring shame on the university."

Meanwhile a lawyer acting on behalf of a gay rights group on Tuesday filed a complaint against Leonard for "homophobic statements" and "violating an anti-discrimination law."

Leonard, who was named to head the church in January, unleashed an uproar two weeks ago with allegations that AIDS is "a sort of intrinsic justice."

He later denied stigmatising HIV carriers.

In his original comments he said he had understood from numerous scientific papers that "AIDS at the beginning multiplied through sexual behaviour with all sorts of partners or else through anal rather than vaginal sexual rapports."

"All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions," the archbishop said. "I believe this is a totally decent, honourable and respectable stance."

He rejected the notion that AIDS was "a punishment from God," instead saying "this epidemic is a sort of intrinsic justice."

Then last week he went on public television to say retired priests suspected of paedophilia should be spared what would be tantamount to "a sort of vengeance."

Priests who abused children in their care, Leonard told RTBF television, 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."

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.

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