André-Joseph Léonard

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His Excellency
André-Joseph Léonard
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
Primate of Belgium
André-Joseph Léonard 2012.JPG
Church Roman Catholic
Archdiocese Mechelen-Brussels
Installed 27 February 2010
Term ended pending
Predecessor Godfried Danneels
Other posts Bishop of Namur (1991-2010)
Ordination 19 July 1964
Consecration 14 April 1991
by André-Marie Charue
Personal details
Birth name André Léonard
Born (1940-05-06) 6 May 1940 (age 75)
Jambes, Namur, Belgium
Nationality Belgian
Occupation Philosopher, theologian
Alma mater Université catholique de Louvain
Motto Oh, oui, viens, Seigneur Jésus! Apocalypse 22:17–20[1]
Signature {{{signature_alt}}}
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}

André-Joseph Léonard ((1940-05-06)6 May 1940) is a Belgian prelate who has served as the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium since his installation on 27 February 2010. He had previously served as Bishop of Namur from 1991 until 2010 as André-Mutien Léonard. His resignation has been accepted by the Holy See on 1 June 2015, to be effective with the naming of his successor.

Early life[edit]

Léonard was born André Léonard on 6 May 1940 in Jambes, Namur. His father died shortly after his birth during the first days of the German invasion of Belgium. He is one of four brothers who all became diocesan priests. After his studies at the Collège Notre-Dame de la Paix in Namur, he was sent by André-Marie Charue, the Bishop of Namur, to Pope Leo XIII Seminary in Leuven, where he earned a master's degree in Philosophy.

Academic career[edit]

Léonard continued his studies in Rome at the Pontifical Belgian College, where he graduated with a degree in theology. He was ordained a priest on 19 July 1964 by Charue. He stayed in Rome, and earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In 1974 Léonard obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain, with a thesis entitled “A literal commentary on the logic of Hegel”. He taught in the philosophy department of Louvain until 1991. In the late 1980s he became a member of the International Theological Commission, the consultative organ of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Episcopal career[edit]

Léonard was appointed Bishop of Namur by Pope John Paul II on 7 February 1991, for which he was consecrated on 14 April of that year by Cardinal Godfried Danneels.[2] He has been described as a man whose theological vision is in line with Pope Benedict XVI's.

As Bishop of Namur, Léonard focused in particular upon youth ministry and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood. His seminary complex, which also includes Redemptoris Mater Seminary run by the Neocatechumenate movement, is said to have the largest enrollment in Belgium (where in 2010, 35 of the 71 Belgian seminarians study). Italian Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli reports that Léonard is considered “the most traditional of the Belgian bishops.[3][4]

When first named a bishop, Léonard added the name "Mutien" to his first name André in honor of Mutien-Marie Wiaux, a Belgian Brother of the Christian Schools who is honored as a saint.

Léonard preached the 1999 Lenten retreat for Pope John Paul II and the Roman Curia.[5][6]

Léonard is known to be friendly to the Traditional Latin/Tridentine Mass and frequently celebrates it.[3][7]

Primate of Belgium[edit]

André-Joseph Léonard visiting the parish of Terbank Heverlee in February 2012.

On 18 January 2010, Léonard was appointed Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels by Pope Benedict XVI,[8] replacing the retiring Cardinal Danneels, considered one of the most liberal bishops in Europe.[9] Léonard announced that he had three priorities for his term: vocations, liturgy and a genuine concern for social issues.[4]

Léonard took over from Cardinal Godfried Danneels who had opposed key Vatican edicts, such as a ban on condoms in AIDS prevention. During his tenure, Belgium legalized euthanasia and same-sex marriages — two red-flag issues in Rome — and Danneels didn't actively try to slow down the pace of change. Leonard's appointment was seen as a move by Pope Benedict to energize the country's Roman Catholic faithful and to reverse 30 years of liberalism. The appointment was in line with the pope's policy of putting tradition-minded and conservative bishops in important dioceses.[10]

When named Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Léonard choose to drop "Mutien" and instead appended "Joseph" to his name, in reference to Saint Joseph, patron saint of Belgium.[11]

On 5 January 2011 Léonard was appointed among the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.[12] The Council is tasked with renewing the evangelisation of those areas of the world, especially the West, which are hit hardest by secularisation. The nomination has been seen as an affirmation of his leadership by the Vatican.[13]

Initial reception[edit]

In response to Léonard's appointment, Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is also the country’s health minister, said, “Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion. Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.” She added: “Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia ... The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.”

The Socialist Party said it “insists that Archbishop Léonard respects democratic decisions taken by the institutions of our country. For the Socialist Party, the rights and duties that people take on democratically take precedence over religious traditions and commandments, without any exception.”.[14]

A 2010 opinion poll among priests in Belgium revealed some unorthodox trends among that country’s clergy and little support for Archbishop Leonard.[15]

Sex abuse crisis[edit]

In April 2010, the then-Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, retired and admitted that for years he had abused a nephew. In June 2010, police raided both the palace of the archbishop and the home of retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels. The offices of an independent commission set up by the newly-installed Leonard in early 2010 to look into cases of sexual abuse were also raided. At the time, Leonard said the move showed that the Church wanted to "resolutely turn a page on a very painful" topic.[16] There was no suggestion Leonard was involved in a coverup (having been in the office for half a year), but he was criticized for saying that full prosecution of elderly abusive priests was unnecessary given their age and the effect public prosecutions would have on victims.[10]

The raids were not well received by the Catholic Church even raising the ire of the Pope.[17] Pope Benedict XVI in a letter addressed to Archbishop Leonard said that: "At this sad moment, I express my special closeness and solidarity to you, dear Brother Bishops, and all the bishops of the Church in Belgium, the surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were conducted in the Cathedral of Malines and See where he met the Belgian episcopate in a plenary session that, among other things, would treat issues relating to abuse of minors by clergy members. I myself have repeatedly stressed that this Ordinance be treated without serious civil and canon law, while respecting mutual specificity and autonomy. Thus I hope that justice take its course, to guarantee fundamental rights of individuals and institutions, while respecting the victims, without preconditions, in recognition of those committed to work with it and rejection of everything that obscures the noble tasks assigned to it."[18]


Léonard is seen as principled although also outspoken, confrontational, and, at times, rash, requiring that he later re-explain or retract earlier statements. Leonard's views and the way he delivers them so stridently — although mirroring Catholic doctrine – have riled the Catholic base. Two of Belgium's ten bishops have publicly challenged him and Belgian Premier Yves Leterme, a Catholic, also condemned him. In late 2010, a man ran up to the archbishop during a service at Brussels' main cathedral and shoved a cherry pie in his face.[10]

  • In November 2010 it was announced that Léonard's spokesman, Juergen Mettepenningen, was quitting the job only three months after joining the archbishop's office. Mettepenningen said that "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.[19][20]
  • In December 2010, speaking at a parliamentary commission on child abuse in Belgium, Leonard's predecessor, Danneels (who had been archbishop from 1979 until 2010 during which revelations about the sexual abuse crisis first became public) admitting his mistakes, stated "for too long the church thought only about itself and about its priests and now it is time to think about the victims of sexual abuse". When Léonard was asked about whether the Catholic Church would contribute to a general compensation fund set up for victims of sexual abuse (including those not abused by Catholic priests), he refused stating that "The civil court must determine the compensation and the offender must pay." The Commission was surprised as they thought that Leonard would build on Danneels' testimony and use the opportunity to try to heal the poor relations between the government and the Catholic Church over the sex abuse crisis. Leonard added that he expected representatives of other "respectable professions," like medicine and sports, to contribute as well "because abuse is not a monopoly of the church."[21] The day after appearing before the commission, tempering his position, Leonard announced that he would voluntarily donate to a "solidarity fund" to compensate victims of sexual abuse "not because we are obliged to do that, but because we want to show solidarity, as we also regularly do for victims of floods or epidemics."[22]
  • In October 2010, Léonard was criticised by HIV activists, gay advocates, and political party operatives for stating that he rejects the notion that AIDS is "a punishment from God," instead "this epidemic is sort of intrinsic justice, not at all a punishment." He continued saying that "All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions" and that "HIV carriers merit respect" and "must not suffer discrimination." "I believe this is a totally decent, honourable and respectable stance."[23]
  • Léonard said that retired priests suspected of paedophilia should be spared canonical action (removal from the priesthood or defrocking), 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." On 31 September 2010, 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.[19] Leonard's position is in agreement with current Vatican practice. The Vatican admits it has no tolerance for pedophiles, but rarely subjects elderly pedophile priests to full canonical trials, instead telling them to live out their years in prayer and penance.[10]

Positions on moral and political issues[edit]

Belgian political crisis of 2007–08[edit]

In 2007, Belgium was facing one of the longest and most intense political crises in its 178 years of existence. After the Belgian general election of 2007, Belgium entered a period of communitarian tensions and political instability, mostly caused by the different opinions about the need and the extent of a state reform.

In 9 July 2008, Bishop Léonard published an open letter on the website of the Diocese of Namur entitled The end of Belgium? (French: La fin de la Belgique?).[24] He wrote that Belgium will not fall apart:

Léonard asked Walloons and French-speaking inhabitants of Brussels to renounce their superiority complex of the French language against Dutch-speaking Belgians. Bishop Léonard himself is a proficient speaker of Dutch.

The letter was published the same month in the Dutch Catholic magazine Katholiek Nieuwsblad.[25]



In an April 2007 interview for the weekly Télé Moustique (fr), Léonard was asked about his position on homosexuality and described homosexual behaviour as “abnormal”.[26][27][28]

As a consequence, Léonard was charged with homophobia under Belgium's 2003 Anti-Discrimination Act, after gay activists have said he sought to “stigmatizehomosexuals. Due to the criticisms that followed his interview, Bishop Léonard quickly clarified that it is their behaviour that is abnormal, not their very person.

In April 2009, the Belgian courts ruled that Léonard's comments were not severe enough to be considered slander or discrimination.[29]

"Homosexuality is not the same as normal sex in the same way that anorexia is not a normal appetite," Léonard said in an interview for a Belgian television station. He added that he would "never call anorexia patients abnormal."[30]

In April 2013, Léonard was doused with water from bottles shaped like the Virgin Mary by four topless FEMEN activists while participating in a debate with philosophy professor Guy Haarscher on the subject of blasphemy and freedom of speech at the Université libre de Bruxelles.[31][32] The archbishop remained in silent prayer during the incident.[33]


Upon reaching the age of 75 on 6 May 2015, Léonard submitted his resignation as archbishop to the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to Belgium, as required by Church law.[34] On the following 1 June, the archdiocese announced that Pope Francis had accepted it, to be effective with the naming of his successor. While the archdiocese described it as a routine response,[35] some media speculated that this was an exceptionally quick action.[36]



  1. ^ Léonard, André-Mutien (21 October 2009). "Oh oui, viens, Seigneur Jésus !" (in French). RFC Namur. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  2. ^ David M. Cheney. "Archbishop André-Joseph (Mutien) Léonard". 
  3. ^ a b National Catholic Reporter: "End of Danneels era in Belgium completes European facelift" 15 January 2010
  4. ^ a b Vocations-Promoting Bishop Made Primate of Belgium by Jesús Colina 22 January 2010
  5. ^ "Address at the end of the Lenten spiritual exercises". 
  6. ^ "Whispers in the Loggia". 
  7. ^ "New Liturgical Movement: EF at the Eucharistic Congress [Update]". 
  8. ^ Press Office of the Holy See
  9. ^ Liberal Belgian Archbishop Likely to be Replaced by Orthodox "Conservative"
  10. ^ a b c d USA Today: "Conservative Belgian archbishop in eye of storm" 11 November 2010
  11. ^ "Monseigneur Léonard, le nouvel archévêque de Malines-Bruxelles". 
  13. ^ In Caelo et en Terra: "Unpopular archbishop still firmly backed by Rome" 5 January 2011
  14. ^ Reuters: "New Catholic archbishop of Brussels raises hackles in Belgium" 18 January 2010
  15. ^ In Caelo et in Terra: "Facing a difficult situation with “good humour” – Belgium versus the archbishop" 19 February 2011
  16. ^ "Belgian Catholic offices raided in sex abuse probe". BBC News. 
  17. ^ BBC News: "Belgian Catholic bishops angered by police raids" 25 June 2010
  19. ^ a b Belgium's Catholic primate faces homophobia charge
  20. ^ Spokesman for Belgium's Catholic archbishop quits
  21. ^ "Brussels Spouts". America Magazine. 
  22. ^ National Catholic Reporter: "Archbishop: church not obligated to compensate abuse victims" 10 December 2010
  23. ^ "Belgian Archbishop's AIDS Comments Spark National Fury". 
  24. ^ Léonard, André-Mutien (2008), La fin de la Belgique? (in French), Namur 
  25. ^ Einde België?, Katholiek Nieuwsblad, 18 July 2008
  26. ^ a b Léonard, André-Mutien, L'Eglise et les Belges (in French), Télé Moustique, archived from the original (PDF) on 16 January 2010 
  27. ^ Catholic Online. "News". 
  28. ^ Télé Moustique (2007), Le débat continue: voici les extraits audios de l'interview de Monseigneur Léonard 
  29. ^ Murphy, Jenny (6 June 2008). "Belgian Bishop Cleared of Anti-Homosexual 'crime'". Retrieved 16 January 2010. 
  30. ^ "Archbishop: homosexuality same as anorexia". RNW. 
  31. ^ Entretien: Dorian de Meeûs. "Haarscher : "Mgr Léonard s’est mis l’auditoire de l'ULB en poche"". 
  32. ^ Bishop Drenched With Water By Protestors
  33. ^ "Radio Vatican". 
  34. ^ "Mgr Léonard remet sa démission au Pape". Eglise catholique de Belgique (in French). 18 May 2015. 
  35. ^ "Succession de Mgr Léonard". Eglise catholique de Belgique (in French). 1 June 2015. 
  36. ^ Barrett, David V. (3 June 2015). "Pope Francis swift to accept resignation of the Primate of Belgium". Catholic Herald. 


External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Robert-Joseph Mathen
Bishop of Namur
7 February 1991 – 18 January 2010
Succeeded by
Rémy Victor Vancottem
Preceded by
Godfried Danneels
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
18 January 2010 – present
Primate of Belgium
18 January 2010 – present
Ordinary of military ordinariate of Belgium
27 February 2010 – present