New Belgium Archbishop: “Mercy” is “somewhat condescending…I like words like ‘respect’ and ‘esteem'”

Archbishop-elect Jozef De Kesel also indicates his hope that the Church will soon allow "divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion."

If an archbishop-elect thinks the word “mercy” is  “somewhat condescending”, what must he think of words such as “sin”, “damnation”, “hell”, and “orthodoxy”? We don’t know for certain, but perhaps that is just as well, if only for the sake of keeping one’s stomach contents in place. The prelate in question is Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels, interviewed by Kerknet and translated into English by Mark de Vries of “In Caelo et in Terra”, who covers Catholic news in the Netherlands. The fuller quote:

You did not take part in the Synod on the family, but will probably get to work with its proposals. What will stay with you from this Synod?

“The Synod may not have brought the concrete results that were hoped for, such as allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. But it is unbelievable how much it was a sign of a Church that has changed. The mentality is really not the same anymore.

I may be a careful person, but I do not think we should be marking time. Mercy is an important word for me, but in one way or another it is still somewhat condescending. I like to take words like respect and esteem for man as my starting point. And that may be a value that we, as Christians, share with prevailing culture.”

Yes, the phrase “Belgium waffles” did come to mind—and heavy with syrup, please!—while reading this over breakfast. Not that a sensitive stomach can handle too much of this nonsense first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, this sort of thinking—or feeling, which is more apt—is quite prevalent. I recently had a Catholic tell me that he thought the word “sin” was too harsh to use in speaking to his secular friends; he preferred the term “reconciliation”. Again, the intent is to be “relevant”, and the working assumption, apparently is that people today are so complicated and fragile, that the wrong word is going to trigger some sort of spiritual combustion.

But isn’t that the point? People are walking around in a fuzzy, soft-focus world and we’re being told that bringing matters into clear, bold relief is going to ruin their eyesight. It’s completely backward and upside down. The world slumbers and we’re told that we need to tip-toe around so as to not startle anyone. But one wonderful thing about words such as “mercy” and “sin” and “salvation” is that they surely can shake up our world and force us to see things anew. Words like “respect” and “esteem” are not only safe, they are stuffed full of secular chloroform.

Now, I fully understand and agree that there are different ways to convey the Gospel, and that many of these words need to be unpacked and properly explained. For instance, most people equate “sin” with a moral code, which is fair enough but doesn’t go far enough, as sin, in Scripture and Tradition, is not so much the opposite of moral virtue as it is the opposite of faith and trust in God. It is the choosing of my will over God’s will. The Catechism emphasizes that sin is “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods” and, “Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods’…” (pars 1849-50).

And, speaking of mercy, the Catechism flatly states: “To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'” (par 1847). The horror!

Alas, as the Archbishop-elect rightly says, “The mentality is really not the same anymore.” At least not in many parts of the West, which is so saturated with therapeutic lingo and constant emoting that any sort of concentrated thought and straight talk (in every sense of the term), is deemed offensive, insensitive, and even bigoted. Condescending! Yet, the word “condescension” has a wonderful and joyful theological meaning:

In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.” (par 101; see par 684)

The Belgium archbishop says that he “dreams” of a “Church that accepts that she is getting smaller” and says, a “smaller Church must also be an open Church and relevant for society.” There is far more skittish fatalism than active faith at work here. The Church might become smaller for any number of reasons, but the Church does not cease to Christ’s Church, the Mystical Body, whose relevance flows directly from her Head, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Enough with the waffles—give me some steak and eggs. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1190 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.