Belgian Catholics, both lay and ordained, are signing on in droves to a manifesto -- Gelovigen nemen het woord ("Believers Speak Out") -- which was initiated on the First Sunday of Advent by Fr. Johan Dekimpe, a 69-year old priest from Kortrijk, and several of his colleagues. Fr. Dekimpe has told the press that the protestors are acting out of faith because they care for the Catholic Church. "The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers," Fr. Dekimpe said.
The manifesto, which was launched on November 19th with 50 names, now has over 6,000 signatures. It echoes many of the same demands raised in the Austrian "Wir sind Kirche" petition: that laypeople be allowed to lead parishes in the absence of a priest, the holding of Communion services when nobody is available to preside with laypeople being allowed to read the Gospel and preach, allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and expanding the priesthood to include women and married men.
Most of Belgium's bishops have not responded to the manifesto but Msgr. Johan Bonny, the bishop of Antwerp, expressed understanding of what led to it. In an interview with Tertio, he said the priests feel like they're drowning (because of the shortage). He advocated for pastoral teams in parishes and reiterated that the Latin rite Church could be enriched by admitting married men to the priesthood.
English translation of the Belgian manifesto courtesy of National Catholic Reporter
Believers Speak Out
Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed Church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland, and many other countries, with all who insist reform on vital for Church reform.
We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g. parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!
We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!
We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.
We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the Word of God!
We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately there are some places where this is happening.
We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!