We Are Church Intl.


Letter to our Belgian representatives at the Synod

Published in PAVÉS Bulletin n°78 (3/2024)

Gentlemen, representatives of Belgium at the Synod on Synodality
Mr Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, Monsignor Koen Vanhoutte, Mr Geert De Cubber.
And copy to Monsignor Luc Terlinden, Mr Bruno Spriet, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Herman Cosijns, deputy secretary general of the Episcopal Conference, Father Alphonse Borras, Madame Claire Jonard.

Created almost 30 years ago, the PAVÉS network – Pour un Autre Visage d’Église et de Société – connects groups of reforming Catholics in French-speaking Belgium, all committed to greater freedom, openness and justice in the Church and in Society. There are certainly not very many of us anymore who keep this network alive, but we still represent several think tanks and around twenty grassroots communities in Wallonia and Brussels. Our quarterly newsletter seems very popular with its thousand readers, subscribed to its paper or digital formats. Let us also add that we maintain close contact with other wider networks, in particular the European Church on the Move network and the international We Are Church network.

The last weeks since the first session of the Synod have been used by some of us to study the Summary Report, to become better informed about the proposed themes and to share their thoughts and proposals.

Following our investigation two years ago and the sending of its results [1] to the national secretariat of the Synod, we would like to share with you our current thoughts in preparation for the second session where you will represent us. Here are the priorities to which we would like to draw your attention: these are the ones we care about most because they directly touch on our beliefs and our experiences.

1. Following the results of our survey in the grassroots communities, the first priority would consist of putting in place completely new models of participation and co-responsibility, at all levels of "councils" as they already exist or are considered, but also up to and including the celebration of the sacraments. The analysis which is proposed in the Synthesis Report in chapter 3 concerning the "ministerial" consequences of baptism greatly disappoints us by its lack of perspective. Regarding local celebrations, let us recall that our friend Paul Tihon suggested, almost 20 years ago, that even the presidency of the Eucharist could be assumed by a person other than the priest, for example through a “fixed-term pastoral delegation”, or even on the occasion of a “charismatic assumption of responsibility”. [2] This would obviously result in greater freedom and more participatory functioning of local communities. And the "ordained" character of the priest could take on a more specific "ecclesial" dimension, freed from its managerial or presidential aspect, and more dedicated to ensuring the link with other communities and the universal Church. [3]

2. The second priority is obviously total and absolute equality between men and women. It seems obvious to us that our Church and our communities have everything to gain by manifesting a more balanced experience of faith and mission and by paying more attention to its feminine and masculine dimensions. The arrival of women theologians and biblical scholars has already greatly enriched our understanding of the Christian message. The consequences of their total involvement could be significant, in all areas and in "the way of being and acting", but also, as most commentators have pointed out, concerning the various abuses of power of the clerics . Furthermore, there is really no serious "theological" reason to delay this total equality. Chapter 9 of the Synthesis Report devoted to this subject is absolutely not credible in asserting that we still need in-depth studies to be able to move forward... When we read the very numerous recent publications by women theologians on this subject, we would not -which in French, we would almost be entitled to question the seriousness of the reservations expressed. [4]

3. Our third priority would be to finally recognize that the diversity of cultures requires different responses, but that this also applies to the increasingly heightened tensions between "traditionalists" and "reformists". As they exist on the ground and in speeches, the differences are sometimes so strong that recent commentators have not hesitated to use the very worrying term “risk of implosion” to describe the situation. We clearly saw this during the first session, where the African members of the synod seemed to block discussions as soon as the place of women or the reception of LGBT people was discussed. And the thing has become very clear and very publicized with the refusal of the same bishops to accept the authorization of blessing for homosexual couples proposed by Fiducia supplicans. We therefore hope that the flexibility displayed by Pope Francis and Cardinal Fernandez in this circumstance of granting an "African exception" will only be a good first step in the direction of a "subsidiarity" more usual and more necessary than ever . We appreciated that several § of the Summary Report addressed the question of a necessary "decentralization" (5b and 5m), that of the importance of the "local" (the bishop and his councils: 12), and the suggestion of "particular councils" harmonizing "episcopal conferences" and "continental assemblies" (7 p.m.) ... It seems urgent to us to aim for a rebalancing between unity and universality of the Church on the one hand, diversity, differences and respect for local initiatives of somewhere else. And this even if the risk of a slightly more "patchwork" Church repels some and even if the project is difficult to implement, as the difficulties of the Anglican Communion have shown us for at least 25 years or, in terms of politics, the recent functioning of the European Union. [5]

We thank you in advance for your attention to our request and are obviously prepared to continue this exchange if you wish. We will be with you wholeheartedly during your synodal session, we wish you a rich and beneficial experience, and we of course hope that your enlightened choices and decisions will bear fruit for the future.

March 3, 2024

Joseph Pirson, for the PAVÉS Council
Pierre Collet, for the Council of Hors-les-Murs
Sylvie Kempgens, for the Coordination of Wallonia-Brussels Base Communities
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


[1]   https://sites.google.com/view/ccbwalloniebruxelles/processus-synodal

[2]   Paul Tihon, On the animation of Catholic communities. The presidency of the Eucharist, a closed debate? in Revue Théologique de Louvain, 2008, 39/4, p. 492-519. Free access:  On the animation of Catholic communities. The presidency of the Eucharist, a closed debate? - Perseus (persee.fr)

[3]  Jean-Pol Gallez, The Word and the Spirit. For a transformation of the “Catholic system”:  https://paves-reseau.be/revue.php?id=2139

[4]  Just to illustrate the point: Reform or die, by 7 theologians, Ed. Salvator 2023, Women to the aid of the Church, by Sylviane Guillaumont, Ed. Jesuits 2023, The part of women, by Sylvaine Landrivon, Ed. de l'Atelier 2023, etc.

[5]  We completely agree with the reflections of Jacques Neirynck who clearly shows that uniformity can be harmful to unity:  https://baptises.fr/actualites/luniformite-nuit-lunite

Frenchspeaking Belgian report to IMWAC Council - March 2015

 The Frenchspeaking Belgian group's name is PAVES (For Another Face of Church and Society). It involves three main groups :

  • the Grassroots Communities
  • a group of married priests (Hors-les-Murs = Out-of-the-Walls)
  • a Christian Peace Movement (MCP).
  • In 2014 we had an event to organize : the European Network meeting in Belgium in May. We organized a studyday about ethical questions, and invited at the same time a Dominican and a teacher of humanist moral to debate about it. We also had a workshop with a consultant in ethics : he helped us to work and discuss on the same way they do it in the hospitals within the ethical committee, when someone asks for euthanasia or when the doctors and the nurses hesitate about stopping cares.
Read more: %s