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Pope Francis swift to accept resignation of the Primate of Belgium

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, after being attacked with an egg by protestors in 2013 (CNS)

Pope Francis swiftly accepted the resignation of Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium.

As required by canon law, Archbishop Léonard submitted his letter of resignation on May 6 upon reaching the age of 75. The Belgian archdiocese announced on Monday that the Pope had accepted it, despite Archbishop Léonard only being in the position since 2010.

A Belgian court recently ruled that Archbishop Léonard was guilty of misconduct in failing to take action in a sex abuse case, which dated back to when he was Bishop of Namur, from 1991 to 2010. The court ordered him to pay €10,000 to a former Catholic seminarian, Joel Devillet, who was sexually abused as a choirboy in Aubange by a Catholic abbot, Fr Gilbert Hubermont.

The Catholic Church in Belgium has been dogged by abuse allegations for the past five years. In a 2010 pastoral letter, the bishops’ conference asked forgiveness from victims, after Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges resigned following an admission that he had molested his nephew.

Archbishop Léonard was seen as uncompromising, outspoken and at times confrontational. In 2007 he said: “Homosexuals have encountered a blockage in their normal psychological development, rendering them abnormal.” He angered HIV/Aids activists in 2010 by saying that although he did not see Aids as a punishment from God, “this epidemic is sort of intrinsic justice”.

His official spokesman left his job after just three months, saying: “Mgr Leonard at times acts like a motorist driving on the wrong side of a freeway who thinks all the other motorists are wrong.”

Archbishop Léonard will remain in office until the appointment of his successor. The process of selecting the new archbishop is now underway. Usually the Vatican announces the Pope’s acceptance of a bishop’s resignation at the same time that his successor is named. The fact that this has not happened emphasises Pope Francis’s swift acceptance of his resignation.