Belgian court rules against 2 Catholic archbishops for refusing woman to enter training for diaconate – LifeSite

BELGIUM (LifeSiteNews) — A district court in Belgium has ruled that two Catholic archbishops must pay damages of more than $1,000 each for refusing to allow a woman to enter training for the diaconate.

In a bizarre case, a district court in Mechelen ruled against Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and his successor at the head of the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels since July, Luc Terlinden, for having “discriminated” against a female pastoral worker by refusing her two successive requests to enroll for a four-year training course for future deacons in June and October 2023, because she is a woman.

Veer Duchausoit, 62, who has worked for the parish church of Our Lady of Herent in Flanders for over thirty years, made no mystery of the fact that she filed a complaint in order to obtain “equal rights” for men and women in the Church, although she did not go so far as to call for the ordination of women deacons or priests.

She did, however, quote from the letter to Rome by the Belgian bishops in view of the current Synod on synodality which speaks of the “equal dignity of man and woman and the importance of equal opportunities for men and women.” It came to the conclusion that “giving increasing pastoral responsibility to women or ordaining female deacons need not be universally compulsory or forbidden.” It stated that “nothing stands in the way for women to carry out the contemporary tasks and duties of deacons.”

It is in this context that both prelates were found guilty of “discrimination” based on sex by a civil court after having confirmed in written submissions in view of the hearing on May 14 that they had refused Mrs Duchausoit’s request because she is a woman, and that under the law of the Church a woman cannot be ordained a deacon. They must each pay her 1,500 euros in damages (about 1,600 dollars) according to the ruling, which can still be appealed by both parties at this stage.

The court cannot force Church authorities to admit women into diaconate training programs

While Veer Duchausoit – a familiar name in Belgium insofar as her brother Chris is a locally well-known radio and television actor and producer – did obtain damages, her demands were not fully vindicated by the Belgian tribunal. Refusing to enroll a candidate solely because of his or her sex is a penal offense in the country by application of its anti-discrimination laws; on the other hand, she did not obtain an order forcing the religious authorities to allow her to follow the training course.

The result is a lopsided judgment which condemns the archbishops for not having done something that the laws of the land have no right to force them to do.

The spokesman for the courts of the Antwerp region, Luc De Cleir, put it like this: “The court cannot overturn the archbishop’s refusal decision or decide in his place who is to be admitted to the deacon training program. After all, that would violate religious freedom. The archbishops themselves should be able to decide who is a suitable candidate for such training.”

Fr. Tommy Scholtes, French-speaking spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ conference, commented on the decision, noting that the tribunal had “declared itself incompetent” to judge on which candidates can be admitted to diaconal training. He underscored that the decision to admit a candidate to such training belongs to the Church, and therefore to the bishop. Had the court judged on this point, “it would have called into question the separation of powers of Church and State.”

“Since the ordination of women deacons is not possible today in the Catholic Church, it would also be inappropriate to accept a person for this training,” he added.

This is despite the fact that in Belgium the State pays the salaries of ministers of the officially recognized religions, which include Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy and Islam.

Women are leading church ceremonies in the absence of priests

Veer Duchausoit’s story is in many ways a typical one in the modern-day Church. Describing herself in an op-ed published shortly before she filed her complaint as a “believing, socially committed, feminist and ecologically-inspired woman,” she said female volunteers in the Church are “a dire necessity, as there are hardly any priests left.”

She was called to teach catechism together with her husband thirty years ago by the local parish priest in Herent. Their pastoral work would only expand from then on, she told Nieuwsblad. Now a widow, she works with a team of five laymen and two laywomen besides herself in her parish that no longer has a permanent pastor.

“We preside prayer celebrations that are not so very different from the celebration of the Eucharist. I also do funerals, both in church and in the crematorium when people don’t want a church service. We’re not allowed to do the consecration. But twice a month, a priest who’s on leave for rest comes here to celebrate the Eucharist. He’ll bless an extra-large amount of hosts so that we can distribute communion all the same during our ceremonies”, she told the news outlet last April.

She said she wanted to go deeper into her understanding of her role, remarking that thirty years ago, wives of candidates to the (married) diaconate were not only not barred from joining, but required to do so because of the impact the husband’s commitment as a deacon has on a married couple.

So why did she want to join the training? She protested vigorously against the idea that she herself is aiming to become a deacon or a priest. “Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking to become a deacon now. Let alone that I should wish to become a priest. Considering the way the priesthood exists today, no thanks. Especially regarding celibacy. That leads, in my opinion, to little that is good.”

Later during the talk, she said: “I just want to take that course to have even more background, and to get even more depth so that I can make my services even better. Because that’s what we do it for. First and foremost, people want a beautiful celebration. Most people don’t really care if there’s a priest there at all.”

This is in fact a perfect illustration of the confusion that has arisen in priestless parishes as lay men and women officiate during religious services, without “consecrating,” to be sure, but giving the impression that they are carrying out a ministry that fulfills the needs of the people. What has clearly disappeared is the sense of what a Mass actually is: the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ. Once that has disappeared, the pastoral agent’s individual approach indeed can take over.

At the time, the spokesman of the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Geert De Kerpel, dismissed the upcoming judiciary trial saying that there were other options open to Veer Duchausoit as a woman: “There are many training programs within the Church for specific pastoral tasks that are open to men and to women.”

He even added that at present the conversation about allowing women to become deacons is taking place worldwide and that “the Belgian bishops are in support of this.”

Both of the archbishops have spoken in favor of women deacons

Ironically, both Archbishops De Kesel and Terlinden have spoken in favor of women deacons. For instance, Cardinal De Kesel stated in 2015 that such ordinations “are not a taboo” and insisted that there are already ways of giving women more responsibility within the Church. Luc Terlinden went on record last December saying that while allowing women to become priests “is not on the agenda at present,” he does “believe that women should be able to become deacons.”

“They were allowed to do so in the early times of the history of the Church. But we must not wait for that to give women more responsibilities in our governing bodies. I shall certainly take initiatives in that direction,” he told last December.

So why the fuss?

Clearly, Belgian bishops are obeying Rome regarding the ordination of women, but in a way the Mechelen ruling can help them on their way to revolutionizing Holy Orders. It certainly puts undue pressure on the Church by using civil laws that should not be applied within the Church. Already, it is an encouragement to other women to apply for “men-only” training organized by the Catholic Church in Belgium, if only to obtain damages when they are turned away. It will be interesting in this respect to see whether the Cardinal and the Archbishop go ahead to appeal the decision.

When Veer Duchausoit was awarded the non negligeable sum of 3,000 euros by the civil court of Mechelen last week, she was interviewed by She said she was “happy for all the women in Flanders and even worldwide who do a lot, who have great meaning and who are not recognized for that: for me it’s the most important.” She told how the open letter she wrote before the lawsuit was read out in her church at the time and garnered enthusiastic applause. “Where there are priests, fine, they also have role” she told the reporter.

She already leads “eucharistic celebrations,” as the newspaper puts it – probably incorrectly, but it is true that during services she wears a white vestment that looks like an alb as well as a multi-colored stole. VRT made a video report on her activities prior to the lawsuit, commenting that she acts very much like a deacon, solemnly carrying the New Testament for the readings. Mrs Duchosoit complained that she could not follow training simply because she has “2 X-chromosomes”: “I’m a woman, end of story.”

She now hopes things will change. “The Church is part of the overall society. If you don’t want to part of society, you’re irrelevant. If you are, are you also part of society in the year 2024 where everyone or nearly everyone accepts the idea of equality or equal dignity?”

Whatever her aspirations to being trained in the same way as a deacon, Veer Duchausoit already knows all the subtleties of modernist Newspeak in the Church.

Previous ArticleNext Article