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BELGIUM: The decision of the Court of Ghent against Jehovah’s Witnesses is dangerous for the Catholic Church

Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

HRWF (17.03.2021) – Catholic priests in Belgium and all other countries are forbidden from blessing same-sex couples and are at risk of being prosecuted for discriminating against homosexuals, as a consequence of a judgment issued yesterday by the Court of Ghent against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

On 16 March, the First Instance Court of Ghent condemned the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW) to a fine of 96,000 EUR on the ground that their teachings about the social distancing of their members from excluded members and other ex-members amount to discrimination and incitement to hatred.

 

The Catholic Church and the ban on the blessing of homosexual couples

 

In the last few days, in a message approved by Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic Church announced it cannot bless same-sex marriages regardless of how stable or positive the couples’ relationship may be. That statement came in response to recent questions whether the church should reflect the increasing social and notably legal acceptance of same-sex unions.

 

“Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the question asked, to which the response was “Negative.” The Vatican added that that marriage should be limited to a union between a man and a woman, and that same-sex marriage is not part of God’s plan for family and raising children.

 

Explaining this decision in a lengthy note, the Holy See referred to same-sex unions as a “choice” and described them as sinful.

 

“The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote in the statement.

 

God “does not and cannot bless sin,” the statement added.

 

This doctrine stated and to be strictly implemented by the clergy was fixed by the Catholic Church in Rome on the basis of its interpretation of the Bible.

 

Catholic priests in Belgium and all other countries are therefore forbidden from blessing same-sex couples and are at risk of being prosecuted for discrimination against homosexuals and incitement to hatred.

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ case

On 16 February, a trial started against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW) at the criminal court of Ghent (East Flanders) on the alleged grounds of discrimination and incitement to hatred with a particular focus on their shunning (ostracization) practice in cases of disfellowshipping (exclusion) and disassociation (voluntary resignation).

A former Jehovah’s Witness who had voluntarily left the movement in 2011, filed a criminal complaint against the CCJW in 2015, and managed to have it supported by over a dozen more former Jehovah’s Witnesses.

According to the internal religious practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses, when the elders of a local congregation exclude a member or are notified about a voluntary resignation, they make a short neutral public announcement which states: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The CCJW is not involved in the making of that neutral announcement but is notified about the decision.

 

In their conclusions provided to the Court before the trial, they said that they do not segregate excluded or resigning members as these can always attend their religious services. They also point out that baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses who no longer actively associate with fellow believers, are not shunned.

 

Clarifying the relations between Jehovah’s Witnesses and disfellowshipped or disassociated family members, they say: “In the immediate household, although the ‘religious ties’ the expelled or disassociated person had with his family change, … blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue.” In other words, normal family affection and association continues.

 

In addition, the CCJW had provided the Court with nine statements of individuals who had been excluded and who had since been reinstated as Jehovah’s Witnesses. In their testimonies, they explained how they had been fairly treated by congregation elders, family, and others in the congregation when they were excluded.

 

The social distancing doctrine stated and practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium and all other countries was fixed by their Central College in the United States on the basis of their interpretation of the Bible.

 

The CCJW considers it is not legally responsible for the intra-familial relations between its members and former members, as it is an individual choice.

Conclusion

 

Are we on the way to put in the dock the Bible, the interpretation and the implementation of its doctrines fixed by the highest religious authorities and powers in the name of interpretations and implementation of human rights fixed by national judicial powers? If so, this would be a pandora box that would affect other religions and other holy scriptures.





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Germany’s Catholic Church struggles with women and power

Catholic women are demanding change in the church and giving Germany’s bishops an earful as they meet in Fulda. The bishops are under pressure — from the progressive grassroots at home and from a reluctant Vatican.

 

By Christoph Strack

 

DW (23.09.2019) – https://bit.ly/2n5MS1u – They won’t let up. Catholic women protested in the central city of Fulda ahead of the plenary assembly of Germany’s Catholic bishops on Monday afternoon. “We want to be visible and audible. And I believe that we owe it to the women and men of the Catholic Church that we are heard more,” said Mechthild Heil, head of the Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (kfd). With 450,000 members, the biggest Catholic women’s group in the country is pressing for women to gain access to all church offices — including the priesthood.

 

Heil and around 150 kfd members demonstrated in Fulda, making their way through downtown with a group of drummers, banners, placards and big pink crosses on their way to the seminary next to the cathedral. There they issued their demands to the bishops and spoke with the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

 

The lead-up to this protest has been long: Nearly 10 years ago the scandal over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany broke as numerous cases at a Berlin Jesuit school came to light. New information, as well as increasing numbers of cases and reports from victims, has continued to emerge since then. In the past decades, well over a thousand priests committed tens of thousands of offenses against thousands of victims. They were hushed up and ignored until a study in autumn 2018 revealed the magnitude of the scandal. That prompted a growing discussion about patriarchal thinking in the male-dominated church and the relationship between abuse of power and sexual abuse.

 

But the issue is also about women. “We can’t avoid the question of women,” said Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, vice chair of the German Bishops’ Conference. Bode and other bishops have been calling for a debate about allowing female deacons in the church.

 

Many prominent nuns go further still. Women should “pose the power question,” said Sister Katharina Ganz, mother superior of the Oberzell Franciscan convent, and underlines that no pope has said that excluding women from the ministry — as deacons, priests or bishops — is part of church dogma.

 

Post from the pope

 

Bishops and laypeople in Germany want to embark on a “synodal path” and tackle fundamental questions. On the subject of women in church office, a preparatory working group found that as women and men are equal in legal terms in most countries, women’s position in the Catholic Church does “not reflect the societal expectations of equitable participation in leadership services.”

 

But there is a deep chasm in the church. In late June, Pope Francis wrote a letter to German Catholics that was interpreted as being as encouraging as it was admonishing. Ten days ago, important cardinals of the Roman Curia joined in and admonished the German bishops, while Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Marx’s most important opponent in the German Bishops’ Conference, declared the discussion about women becoming priests over.

 

It remains unclear what will happen with the “synodal path.” Marx spoke to Pope Francis late last week in Rome and will discuss those talks when he meets with the bishops, who are divided over “the women question.”

 

“Somehow it harks back to the old days when Woelki says: ‘The debate is over,'” said Heil of the Catholic Women’s Community. Woelki’s rejection is out of tune with the times. “It is the last attempt to say: ‘I am putting my foot down,'” she told DW. There are issues of power and historical arguments for excluding women from the priesthood but there is no theological argument, she said.

 

That’s why they’re demonstrating. Every September for the past 10 years, Heil’s group has rallied under the slogan “Stand up for a gender-equitable church!” But this is the first time there’s been a full-throated demonstration like in Fulda.

 

Compensation for abuse victims

 

There has been some movement when it comes to dealing with cases of sexual abuse. For the first time ever, a prominent representative of the victims will be allowed to speak to the assembly of bishops. Matthias Katsch, spokesman for the Eckiger Tisch victims’ initiative, said he will present the 69 men with his group’s recommendations for redress on Tuesday, which include financial compensation of €300,000 ($330,000) for victims of sexual abuse. So far, the bishops have consistently rejected across-the-board settlements.

 

Monday’s women’s demonstration won’t be the only protest during the four days of discussions. On Thursday, the group Maria 2.0 plans to demonstrate under the slogan “Now it’s time: Women fight for their church,” while the Catholic Youth Community (KjG) will push for “courageous” structural change in the church.


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