Belgium, The Catholic Church in
BELGIUM, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in western Europe, the Kingdom of Belgium is bordered on the north by the netherlands and the North Sea, on the east by Germany and Luxembourg, and on the south and east by france. Brussels, the capital city, is the seat of both NATO and the European Union due to its location in the crossroads of Western Europe. The flat, coastal plains of Belgium's industrialized north rise to become rolling hills in the central region, then climb steeply as the country's southern regions encompass the deep forests of the mountainous Ardennes. Containing limited natural resources, which include coal and natural gas, Belgium relies on imports and its sophisticated transportation system to maintain its thriving industrial economy. Belgium's main exports include machinery, chemicals, and metals and metal products.
In antiquity Belgium was a part of the Roman Empire; in the Middle Ages, together with the Netherlands and Luxembourg, it became a part of the Low Countries. After passing under different dynasties, the country gradually began its unification in the 15th century, and its present frontiers date mostly from the 17th century. Belgium became an autonomous state in 1830, and was a charter member of the European Monetary Union in 1999. In 1993–94 Belgium was restructured into a federal system with three regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels; with three communities: Flemish, French and German; and four linguistic areas: Dutch-, French-, German-speaking and bilingual (Dutch-French) Brussels.
The essay that follows is in two parts: Part I discusses the history of the Church in Belgium through World War II; Part II continues that history through the present.
Church History to the Modern Era
Although originally settled by the Celtic Belgae and conquered by Caesar in 57 b.c., by the 5th century Belgium had achieved a large German population due to migrations southand eastward. Christianity entered the region—then part of Gaul—via merchants and soldiers who followed the Roman roads or descended the Rhine during these migrations. To the east, Tongeren formed a civitas whose first bishop was Servatius. In the western part of the country mention is made of Superior, Bishop of Bavai or cambrai (c. 350), although Christianity in this region seems to have been effaced during the German
invasions, whereas the Church continued to exist to the east. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Gaul reverted to the Frankish kings. clovis (481–511), the first great king of the Frankish merovingian dynasty, was baptized in 506. This led to the conversion of all his people, the franks. Both Arras and Tournai had a bishop at the beginning of the 6th century, but for want of Christians, Arras was soon united with the See of Cambrai, and Tournai with that of Noyon.
Evangelization and Consolidation: 625 to 800. St. amandus, a native of France, founded an abbey at Elnone c. 625. After converting the inhabitants of Ghent, Amandus became bishop of Tongeren and Maastricht, founded several other abbeys, and continued his evangelizing efforts in Antwerp. The region to the west was evangelized by St. eligius, Bishop of Noyon, and St. willibrord, Bishop of Utrecht, while conversions in eastern Gaul became the work of St. lambert and St. hubert, bishops of Maastricht and liÈge. The present area of Belgium was completely converted c. 730.
From the 8th to the 10th century many rural parishes were founded. The earliest ones were proprietary churches (Eigenkirchen ) built on the estate of the founder, who continued to be their proprietor and who could dispose of them as he saw fit. Because of the element of control—the proprietor could sell his church, cede it as a benefice, appoint the pastor, and take for himself church revenues—this system soon became corrupted.
During the Middle Ages the union of Church and State resulted in the spirit of Christianity permeating all aspects of Western culture. Frankish king and Holy Roman Emperor charlemagne (742–814) demanded that bishops hold synods and visit their dioceses, supervised clerical training, reminded clerics of their obligation to the infirm, favored the multiplication of parishes and prescribed the payment of the tithe for the support of pastors. Through such demands, Charlemagne was instrumental in the cultural revival called the carolingian renaissance, but by the late 9th century Norman invaders had partially depopulated the country, and had devastated the episcopal towns and abbeys that had engaged in this Christian-inspired cultural renaissance.
The Feudal Church: 900–1100. Part of German-ruled Eastern Gaul, liÈge became home to an imperial church, the bishop of which was made a prince-bishop by the German emperor. During the investiture struggle, Bishop wazo of liÈge (1042–48) was a principal supporter of the reformer Pope Gregory VII, although Wazo's successors would side with the emperors in their conflicts with the popes.
In the 10th century, although monastic and cathedral schools enjoyed great renown, monastic life fell into decadence, partly as a result of the Norman invasions. However, it was restored by reformers such as St. gerard of brogne, founder of a reformed abbey near Namur and appointed to reform several other abbeys, including those of St. Pierre and St. Bavon in Ghent. In the 11th century the Church persuaded warlike lords and knights to abide by the peace of god, which protected women, religious, peasants and pilgrims; and also by the Truce of God, which forbade wars during Lent, Advent and other periods. The knights of the Low Countries joined the cru sades, while godfrey of bouillon, a mediator between the French and Germans, because of his character and knowledge of the two languages, became the first ruler of Jerusalem.
The Communes and the Dukes of Burgundy: 1200–1400. By 1200 the ecclesiastical division of the Low Countries had become defined. In the west were the Dioceses of Cambrai, Tournai, Arras and Thérouanne, all of which were suffragans to the ecclesiastical province of Reims in France. In the east was the See of Liège, and in the north the See of utrecht, both of which were suffragans of cologne. Flourishing towns were also established in the Low Countries beginning in the 12th century, and Franciscan and Dominican settlers acquired profound influence a century later. The beguines were a creation peculiar to the Low Countries and the Rhineland; although not nuns, they observed a vow of chastity during their residence and devoted themselves to prayer, manual works, care of the sick and teaching. St. Juliana of Liège, an Augustinian canoness of the Monastery of mont-cornillon, helped in the first celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi at Liège in 1251; it was prescribed for the whole Church in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. By far the most renowned mystic of the Low Countries was Blessed Jan van ruysbroeck (1293–1381), a devout prior of the convent of Groenendaal, who was one of the promoters of the devotio moderna, which insisted on the interior life and methodical meditation and which produced a spiritual classic in the imitation of christ by thomas À kempis.
The Reformation: 1500–1640. During the western schism (1378–1417) the Low Countries had remained faithful to the Roman line of claimants, and in 1477 they passed by marriage to the Hapsburg emperor. By the 16th century the region's traditionally strong faith remained deeply rooted, although piety was sometimes difficult to discern. Many priests were ignorant, and their disordered
private lives and lack of zeal caused scandals. The coming of the renaissance and the rise of humanism began to foster religious indifference. erasmus, a leading humanist, was a native of the Low Countries.
lutheranism penetrated the Low Countries through Antwerp, where the convent of the Augustinians provided the first Lutheran center. King charles v organized the inquisition and published severe edicts (placards ) against the Lutherans. After 1530 Anabaptism began to spread, especially in Holland and in Antwerp. In putting into effect the placards during the 16th century, the civil authorities put to death nearly 2,000 heretics, mostly Anabaptists, a group seen to disturb social order.
A peace with France in 1559 opened southern Belgium to calvinism, which quickly made inroads in Tournai, Cambrai, Lille and in the textile centers of French Flanders; later they advanced toward Antwerp. philip ii, who succeeded Charles V in 1555 and who ruled the expanding Habsburg empire from Spain, was eager to apply the placards rigorously, but he did not comprehend the changes that had occurred in the distant Low Countries. The Compromise of the Nobles (1566), which demanded the cessation of the Inquisition and abolition of the placards, made the failure of a purely negative repression evident. At King Philip's request, Pope Paul IV reorganized the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Low Countries by erecting 14 new sees and grouping the 18 bishoprics into three ecclesiastical provinces independent of Reims and Cologne. The decrees of the Council of trent were promulgated in the Low Countries in 1565–66, and seminaries were established that trained priests who were well educated and morally exemplary.
Unfortunately a revolution erupted in the region, its cause partly political and partly religious. Eighty years of war (1568–1648) ended with the permanent separation of the northern and southern section of the Low Countries. By 1600 the Protestant north had won its independence and began persecuting Catholics (who would continue to remain a minority in the Netherlands). The south—comprising for the most part present-day Belgium—remained subject to Spain and preserved its Catholic faith. Under Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella (1598–1633) the region became one of the most Catholic in the world. Fervent bishops, aided by the nuncios at Brussels, trained an enlightened clergy and attacked abuses. Through their colleges, jesuits oriented the laity toward a more profound piety and toward apostolic works, and also taught the catechism to thousands of children. The Capuchins (see franciscans, first order), who founded 41 convents between 1585 and 1629, were highly esteemed by the populace for their simplicity, their joyous abnegation and their simple, apostolic preaching.
The Age of Empires: 1640–1830. Augustinus, the posthumous work of Cornelius jansen, a professor at Louvain and former bishop of Ypres, appeared in 1640. During the second half of the 17th century jansenism gained fervent adherents among Louvain professors, bishops, clergy and educated laymen before it was finally subdued in the 18th century. Meanwhile it chilled the fervor of the Catholic restoration considerably.
In 1713 the Catholic Low Countries came under the control of Austria. During the next century the enlight enment made slight headway in Belgium except in Liège. In 1763 Johann Nikolaus von hontheim, coadjutor bishop of Trier, published De statu Ecclesiae, which conceded to the State great power over the Church while reducing the papal primacy to a mere primacy of honor (see febronianism). The ministers of Austrian Archduchess maria theresa (1740–70) also manifested their anticlericalism. Thus, when the Society of Jesus was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, they treated the Jesuits with special severity.
Emperor joseph ii (1780–90), an enlightened despot, believed he had a vocation to reform the Church in the Catholic Low Countries. In 1781 he published an edict of tolerance in support of the region's Protestant minority, and the following year suppressed contemplative orders and confiscated the property of the 2,600 contemplative religious. He also reorganized parishes and liturgical worship, and in 1786 ordered seminarians to study at the college of philosophy, that he instituted at Louvain and staffed with professors imbued with his own ideas (see josephinism). These religious changes, together with administrative and judiciary reforms, incited a revolution to overthrow Austrian rule in 1789. Following a revolt in Liège the prince-bishop fled and the equality of all citizens was proclaimed. Unfortunately, the troops of the new emperor, Leopold II, would quickly reinstate the prince-bishop and reconquer the region.
In 1792, while in the midst of their own revolution, the French conquered Belgium. Religious persecution began in the region in 1796, and after the coup d'état of Fructidor 18 (Sept. 4, 1797) antireligious hatred was given free rein. When the oath of hatred for royalty and of submission to the laws of the republic was put into effect, 8,565 priests were condemned to deportation for refusing to subscribe to it, although only 865 were actually apprehended. Churches were closed and religious services celebrated only in secret. Ecclesiastical properties were sold, the University of Louvain was closed and all religious orders and congregations of religious were suppressed. The Flemish population to the north became exasperated by this persecution—as well as by compulsory military conscriptions demanded by Napoleon Bonaparte in his effort at world conquest—and began the wars of the peasants (Boerenkrijg ) in 1798. Lack of organization caused the failure of that uprising, and Bonaparte eventually gained the good will of Belgian Catholics by the French concordat of 1801 which permitted Catholic worship once again. However, that good will was rescinded after Bonaparte imposed the Imperial cate chism (1806), arrested and imprisoned Pope pius vii from 1809–14, interfered in religious matters and closed the seminaries in Ghent and Tournai. His downfall at Waterloo was hailed in Belgium with great joy.
After Waterloo, Belgium became a province of the Netherlands, and was ruled from 1815 to 1830 by King William I. The Fundamental Law the king imposed, which suppressed all the former privileges enjoyed by the clergy while proclaiming religious liberty, displeased many Catholics. Still more disquieting to them was William's determination to rule the Church as an enlightened despot. He subjected private education to severe restrictions, banished the Jesuits and Christian Brothers, and in 1825 imitated Joseph II by compelling seminarians to attend the college of philosophy at Louvain. Before 1825 Catholics aimed only to restore the privileges of the ancien régime, but from 1825 to 1830 they sought religious freedom. When negotiations for a concordat between the king and the Holy See failed in 1827, Catholics joined forces with the Liberals to demand both civil and religious liberties. This union created a climate favorable for the successful revolution of 1830.
1830 to World War II. In 1830 Belgium became an independent kingdom ruled by Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The constitution of 1831 accorded liberty of association, reunion, education, the press and worship. It deprived the government of all right to interfere in clerical appointments or to prevent clerics from corresponding with their superiors. It also provided that the State would assume the obligation of financially compensating clergymen. In regard to marriage, the constitution provided that the civil ceremony precede the religious one. The cults recognized by the constitution were the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. The encyclical of gregory xvi Mirari vos (1832) reflected Rome's concern over this constitution.
From 1830 to 1847 political figures from the right and the left worked together to form the new Belgian state. This period also witnessed another Catholic restoration: a papal nuncio was established in Brussels, the Diocese of Bruges was reestablished and Belgium's reorganized seminaries soon provided sufficient priests to replace a thinly scattered and aged clergy. The number of religious increased from 4,791 in 1829 to 11,968 in 1846. Missions preached by Redemptorists, Jesuits and secular priests worked among the populace, and soon the country was covered with a network of Catholic primary and secondary schools. The Catholic University of Louvain reopened in 1834.
Belgium's Liberal party was organized in 1846 and held an almost constant majority in the Chamber until 1884. One of the crushing arguments of the Liberals was that the Catholic approval of the constitution was feigned. To be sure, suspicion at this liberal constitution was voiced by one Catholic group promoting ultramontanism. However, Cardinal sterckx, the Archbishop of Mechelen (1832–67), was a vigorous defender of the constitution. It was Pope leo xiii who put an end to this dispute among Catholics by stating in March 1879: "The Belgian constitution consecrates some principles that I, as Pope, could not approve of; but the situation of Catholicism in Belgium, after the experience of half a century, demonstrates that in the present state of modern society, the system of liberty established in this country is most favorable to the Church. Belgian Catholics should not only abstain from attacking the constitution, they should also defend it."
As early as 1850 Liberals passed a law on secondary education that displeased Catholics; in 1879 they would instigate a five-year war over the school question, when laws were passed obliging each community to establish an official school wherein the teaching of the Catholic religion would only be permitted outside class hours. Catholic bishops reacted vigorously and the country was soon dotted with private schools. By 1881 the majority of Belgian students attended Catholic rather than public schools. In 1880 Liberals caused Belgium to sever diplomatic relations with the Holy See because of the Pope's refusal to disapprove the Belgian bishops. A Catholic government came into power after 1884 and restored educational freedom.
The Catholic party became a confessional party because of the activities of the anticlerical liberal government (1878–84), and between 1884 and 1914 it gained an absolute majority in the legislature. It lost this majority after the introduction of universal suffrage (1919) and was then obliged to form a coalition government.
During the late 1800s Catholic leaders attempted to remedy the social ills of the proletariat in an unfortunately paternalistic spirit. The encyclical rerum novarum (1891) finally set in motion a soundly conceived Catholic social movement. Around 1900 Christian trade unions were finally established, but in some cases it was too late; masses of workers had lost the faith. Wallonia, the most highly industrialized area, saw the greatest decline in Catholics, as the majority of the working class there quit the Church. In Flanders, which was industrialized later and which imbibed much less influence from French anticlericalism because of language differences, the faith was much better safeguarded.
Besides engaging in educational work, caring for the sick and devoting themselves to other social and charitable works, Belgian religious were second only to the French in the numbers who served in mission territories by 1900. Best known among these religious were Pierre Jean de smet, SJ, who labored among native tribes in North America and whose statue was erected in Washington, D.C.; Joseph damien, a Picpus priest and apostle of the lepers in Molokai; and Konstant Lievens, SJ, a defender of the aborigines in Chota-Nagpur, India. The conversion of nearly half the Africans in the Belgian Congo was due almost exclusively to the labors of Belgian missionaries, although the region would suffer under Belgian control. The work of Flemish priests was also noteworthy of special note. P. Meeus established a foundation that led thousands to monthly Confession and Communion. Edward Poppe established the Eucharistic Crusade to promote the reception of Communion by the very young. And in 1925 the Jeunesse ouvrière chretienne was organized by the parish priest Jozef Cardijn, created cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
In 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and World War I began. Occupation followed, during which time Catholic religious supported Belgian interests. In 1940 Belgium was again invaded, forcing King Leopold III to exile in London for the duration of World War II. With their country under Nazi occupation, Belgian bishops were firm in their opposition to the doctrines of National Socialism and in their protest against the deportation of workers. Between 1940 and 1945, 85 Belgian priests and religious were either put to death by the Germans or perished in concentration camps.
Bibliography: h. pirenne, Bibliographie de l'histoire de Belgique, rev. h. nowÉ and h. obreen (3d ed. Brussels 1931). General. É. de moreau, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al., (Paris 1912–) 7:520–756; Histoire de l'Église en Belgique, 5 v. (Brussels 1945–52), 2 Suppl; L'Église en Belgique (Paris 1944). Special studies. a. cauchie, La Querelle des investitures dans les diocèses de Liège et de Cambrai, 2 v. (Louvain 1890). u. berliÈre, Monasticon beige, 3 v. (Maredsous-Liège 1890–1960). g. kurth, Notger de Liège et la civilisation au Xe siècle, 2 v. (Brussels 1905). c. terlinden, Guillaume I e r, roi des Pays-Bas et l'Église catholique en Belgique, 1814–30, 2 v. (Brussels 1906). a. pasture, La Restauration religieuse aux Pays-Bas catholiques sous les archiducs Albert et Isabelle (Louvain 1925). a. poncelet, Histoire de la Compagnie de Jésus dans les anciens Pays-Bas, 2 v. (Brussels 1927–28). f. willcox, L'Introduction des décrets du Concile de Trente dans les Pays-Bas et dans la principauté de Liège (Louvain 1929). l. j. van der essen, De gulden eeuw onzer christianisatie VIIe -VIIIe eeuw (Diest 1943). m. lobet, L'Épopée belge des Croisades (Liège 1944). j. scheerder, De Inquisitie in de Nederlanden in de XVIe eeuw (Antwerp 1944). a. mens, Oorsprong en betekenis van de Nederlandse Begijnenen Begardenbeweging (Louvain 1947). s. axters, The Spirituality of the Old Low Countries, tr. d. attwater (London 1954); Geschiedenis van de vroomheid in de Nederlanden, 4 v. (Antwerp 1950–60). l. willaert, Les Origines du jansénisme dans les Pays-Bas catholiques (Brussels 1948). m. dierickx, De oprichting der nieuwe bisdommen in de Nederlanden onder Filips II, 1559–1570 (Antwerp 1950). a. simon, Le Cardinal Sterckx et son temps, 1792–1867, 2 v. (Wetteren 1950); Le Parti catholique belge, 1830—1945 (Brussels 1958). h. haag, Les Origines du catholicisme libéral en Belgique, 1789–1839 (Louvain 1950); "The Catholic Movement in Belgium," in Church and Society, ed. j. n. moody (New York 1953) 279–324. É. de moreau, Les Abbayes de Belgique, VII e -XIIe siècles (Brussels 1952). m. becquÉ, Le Cardinal Dechamps, 2 v. (Louvain 1956). p. hildebrand, Les Capucins en Belgique et au nord de la France (Antwerp 1957). k. van isacker, Het daensisme (Antwerp 1959). v. mallinson, Power and Politics in Belgian Education, 1815–1961 (London 1963).
The Church After World War II
Following World War II Leopold abdicated in favor of his son, Baudouin, who remained king until 1993. In 1977 the country was organized into three political regions—Flanders, Walloonia and Brussels—as a means of uniting regions that had ties due to language and cultural differences. Gradually the Church, too, followed the trend toward confederation. Most religious orders split along language lines. In 1967, the vast diocese of Liège was divided into the Dutch-speaking diocese of Hasselt and the French-speaking diocese of Liège. In 1982, the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels was subdivided along linguistic lines into three vicariates, Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and bilingual Brussels, with four auxiliary bishops, one for each linguistic area, plus an auxiliary for French speakers and one for Dutch speakers in Brussels. In May of 1998 King Albert and Queen Paola visited the Vatican and received a private audience with Pope John Paul II, signaling the respectful relationship between the Holy See and the Belgian State.
Throughout the 20th century the government continued to support the church by paying the salaries, retirement and housing costs of priests and teachers in Churchrun schools, and also provided financial assistance in renovating church buildings. While freedom of religion continued to be respected, the Belgian government became increasingly concerned about the rise in the number of "harmful sects" in the country, and by the late 1990s was singling out the Church of Scientology in particular. The Catholic Church sponsored nation-wide groups to maintain a dialogue between the various faiths in Belgium.
In the 1960s the central issue in Belgium became the splitting of the University of Louvain along linguistic lines into Flemish- and French-language universities. The situation became explosive in 1966 after the Flemish bishops' decision that the university, already bilingual at faculty level, should remain unified. The University of Louvain became a lever for those in support of the "Frenchification" of Flanders, while Flemish-speakers viewed it as an attack on their efforts to emancipate Flemish culture. All of Belgium's political parties became involved, and the government fell. Finally, in 1968, the Flemish bishops admitted they had erred, and in 1970 the University of Louvain was divided into the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) and the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), the latter which moved to a new campus south of Brussels called Louvain-la-Neuve. The KUL eventually established an English-speaking faculty, and attracted students from all parts of the world. As a result of the division of the University of Louvain, Belgium developed into two ecclesiastical regions.
Influence of Vatican II. The vitality and organization of Church life in Belgium at mid-century was reflected in the contribution by Belgian bishops and theologians during the Second Vatican Council and in the openness of the faithful to the call for reform and renewal. Professors from the University of Louvain also had a decisive influence on the most important constitutions, Lumen gentium and Gaudium et spes. After the Council completed its work Louvain educators continued to play central roles in the implementation of Vatican II. Between 1967 and 1972 pastoral councils and priestly senates were created in all dioceses.
In 1970 an interdiocesan pastoral council was established for Belgium's Flemish region. Its influence in dealing with such subjects as prayer life, economic crisis, priestly ministry and celibacy, adult catechesis, immigration and care of the sick and the dying was impressive, and its status as a permanent consultative church parliament remained unique in Europe. However, social issues threatened to derail the council's progress; in 1968, for example, the nuanced position of Belgian bishops with regard to Humanae Vitae was met with objections from Christian women's organizations that accepted the use of contraceptives and polarization began to occur.
Beginning in 1938 the country's major Catholic charitable institutions were grouped in four sections under Caritas Catholica. The Fédération des Institutions Hospitaliéreres focused on hospitals, clinics, psychiatric institutions and homes for the aged. The Fédération des Services Médico-sociaux was concerned with home services and institutions for preventive medicine and small children. The Fédération des Institutions de l'Enfance Inadaptée supervised the care of mentally impaired children, while the fourth section, Caritas-Secours, provided aid in emergency situations, both in Belgium and elsewhere. In addition to the work of Caritas, many charitable works were performed by small, grassroots organizations.
Church Battles Increasing Secularization. Despite the reorganization following Vatican II, some in the Church began to express concern that an increasingly liberal Church leadership was growing indifferent to certain positions taken by the Holy See that were unpopular with the public at large. In one such example, during the late 1990s a Vatican directive not to participate in in-vitro fertilization procedures was disregarded by one Catholic-run Belgian hospital. The tendency of some priests to split with Vatican positions and preach a censured doctrine acceptable to an increasingly secular culture was condemned by one cardinal in attendance at the 1999 Synod for Europe as "suicidal".
The number of priests and religious decreased during the late 20th century, from 10,450 in 1961 to 6,832 by 1990, with more than half over the age of 65. The situation became so pronounced that Flemish and Walloon pastoral councils began to plead for the ordination of married men to the priesthood and of women to the diaconate, with a majority of people even supporting women's ordination to the priesthood. After 1970 an increasing number of laity were trained for pastoral responsibilities as volunteers, catechists, or part- and full-time pastoral workers. The decline in the number of priests had dramatic consequences: some celebrations were "confederated" with small teams of priests; parishes increasingly found themselves without a priest; and the laity were increasingly involved in preparations for baptisms, weddings and funerals. By 2000 the numbers of priests had begun to rise from 1990 levels, although the numbers still remained inadequate for the needs of a growing population.
While Catholicism remained Belgium's major faith, Christians as a community of believers found themselves in crisis and disarray by the late 20th century. As was the case elsewhere in Europe, church membership declined steadily, regular church attendance becoming a practice of the elderly only. Adherence to traditional Christian beliefs waned particularly among young people, while society as a whole increased its acceptance of such things as premarital sex, extramarital affairs, divorce and tax evasion. Active believers became increasingly conscious of being a "minority Church" in an atmosphere of religious indifference and viewed their central task as transmitting the faith to a younger generations. A somewhat effective pastoral strategy was eventually developed that focused on pastoral teams, base communities and Bible and prayer groups. Despite the continued statistical decline in church membership, a substantial proportion of Belgians continued to see the Church as a defender of major human values and as a source of spiritual guidance within a spiritual void. An important witness was the funeral of King Baudouin in Brussels' Cathedral in August 1993, which was followed on television by millions of people throughout Europe. A Christian who strongly opposed the decriminalization of abortion—in 1990 he temporarily resigned his throne rather than sign an abortion rights bill into law—Baudouin was honored as a leader in matters ethical and a man of faith. In 1995, 70 percent of all children born in Belgium were baptized in the Catholic Church.
Into the 21st Century. By the year 2000, the Belgian Church had 3,919 parishes tended by 5,442 secular and 3,366 religious priests. There were 1,497 brothers and 17,734 sisters also working in the country, as well as many more in missionary service around the world. Many religious continued to dedicate themselves to educating the young, and Belgium's Catholic primary and secondary school network remained among the strongest in Europe. In the mid-1990s the Catholic school system educated approximately half of all school-age children in Belgium, although the percentages varied between Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. Eight Catholic universities also operated in Belgium.
Social issues continued to weigh heavily on Church leaders as they looked beyond the Jubilee Year 2000, with the realization that recent elections had relegated Catholics to the position of the opposition party in an increasingly liberal political climate. A consequence of Belgium's membership in the European Union was that its government abide by human rights provisions established by far more liberal nations, one of which was removing legal obstacles to women choosing abortion. The defense of the right to life by Belgian bishops in the face of abortion rights legislation was a position praised by the pope as "strong and courageous" in their insistence "on the necessity to respect the intrinsic dignity of the human being from conception to natural death." In a related matter, concerns were raised that the legalization of euthanasia across Belgium's northern border would spill down into Flanders, supported by that region's liberal coalition government. It was estimated that by 1998, 40 percent of deaths in Flanders involved a medical decision to end life.
Bibliography: j. kerkhofs and j. van houtte, De Kerk in Vlaanderen (Tielt 1962). Rapport annuaire de la Fondation Universitaire (Brussels 1964). Annuaire statistique de l'enseignement catholique, 1960–1961 (Brussels 1963). Caritas, 1938–1963 (Brussels 1963). Het Verbond der Verplegingsinstellingen van Caritas Catholica (Brussels). e. de smet et al., Atlas des élections belges, 1919–1954, 2 v. (Brussels 1958), with app. for the elections of 1958. Each One for All. All for Each: The Belgian Boerenbond (Louvain 1958). Mouvement ouvrier chrétien: Rapport d'activité, 21e congrès, Bruxelles 17–19 avril 1964 (Brussels). a. brys, Comment est conçu et organisé le Mouvement ouvrier chrétien en Belgique (Brussels 1960). r. aubert, 150 ans de vie des Eglises (Brussels 1980). Kerkelijk leven in Vlaanderen anno 2000, eds., j. bulckens and p. cooreman, (Leuven-Amersfoort 1989). a. denaux, Godsdienstsekten in Vlaanderen (Leuven 1982). België en zijn goden/La Belgique et ses dieux, eds., k. dobbelaere, l. voye and j. billiet (Leuven 1985). k. dobbelaere, "Secularization, Pillarization, Religious Involvement and Religious change in the Low Countries," in World Catholicism in Transition, ed. t. gannon (New York and London 1988) 80–115. Het 'volk Gods' de mist in? Over de Kerk in België (Leuven 1988). m. elchardus and p. heyvaert, Soepel, flexibel en ongebonden. Een vergelijking van twee laat-moderne generaties (Brussel 1990). p. ester, l. halman and r. de moor, The Individualizing Society, Value Change in Europe and North America (Tilburg 1993). Bilan du Monde 2:124–142. Annuaire catholique de Belgique, 1963–64 (Brussels 1964). r. c. fox, "Is religion important in Belgium," Archives européennes de Sociologie, 23 (1982) 3–38. j. kerkhofs and r. rezsohazy, De stille Ommekeer (Tielt 1984); L'Univers des Belges (Louvain-la-Neuve 1984); De versnelde Ommekeer, eds., j. kerkhofs and l. voye (Tielt 1992); Belges, heureux et satisfaits (-Brussels 1992); "L'Eglise en Wallonie," La Foi et le Temps (January 1992); "Les Protestants en Belgique," Centre de recherche et d'iformation socio-politiques (CRISP) 1430–1431 (Brussels 1994); The Church in Belgium, Pro Mundi Vita Dossiers, 18 (Brussels 1982). Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses.