BELGIUM: A strange court decision: Catholic bishops to pay 1500 EUR on a gender-based issue

Only men can become deacons in the Catholic Church. The judges say they cannot change this but can sentence Catholic authorities to indemnify the woman.

By Massimo Introvigne


Bitter Winter (02.07.2024) – On June 25, the Civil Tribunal of Malines, in Belgium, rendered a strange decision against two Roman Catholic Bishops. Jozef De Kesel, the former Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, and the current Archbishop of the same Archdiocese, Luc Terlinden, have been sentenced to pay Euro 1,500 to a woman called Veer Dusauchoit.

The woman tried twice to enroll in training to become a Catholic deacon and was rejected with the motivation that only men can become deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. While the matter whether women can be ordained as deacons (a lesser position with respect to priests) is being discussed in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his negative opinion on the issue.

The decision is both surprising and dangerous since it is yet another intrusion of secular courts into the internal affairs of a religious organization. It would be inconceivable in the United States and in other countries that affirm the principle that the corporate freedom of religion of religious organizations prevails on the individual rights of the devotees.

However, the decision should be read in its entirety, and has been somewhat misinterpreted by some international media. First, the decision does not compel the Belgian Catholic Church to ordain women as deacons. It emphasized that its subject matter was Dusauchoit’s right to attend a training, irrespective whether at the end of the training she might be ordained or not.

Veer Dusauchoit. From Facebook.

Second, the decision was very cautious in affirming that, not to violate principles of religious liberty, the court cannot compel the Catholic Church to admit Dusauchoit to the training. It can only sentence her bishops to pay to her a monetary indemnification.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that the court wanted to accommodate prevailing feminist orthodoxy without violating general principles of religious liberty in a way that would compel the European Court of Human Rights, if not higher Belgian courts, to intervene (unless the Catholic Church would prefer to settle and close the case for public relations reasons).

As it is, the decision is a legal monstrosity. Churches and other religious organizations have the right to organize trainings and courses restricted to certain categories of persons (a man cannot train to become a nun either). The religious liberty of individual devotees such as Dusauchoit is protected by their possibility to leave the Roman Catholic Church and join one among many other Christian churches that ordain women as deacons and even as priests. Nobody compels Dusauchoit to remain in the Roman Catholic Church. But as long as she stays there, she should respect its rules—which should be left to the Holy See and the bishops, not to secular Belgian courts.

Further reading about FORB in Belgium on HRWF website