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Enter the Belgian Ratzinger

In the post-Vatican II years, Belgium and the Netherlands have been known as the “lowlands” of liberal Catholicism. Here one is likely to find the most impoverished kind of Christianity in all of Christendom throughout history. Even the most liberal dioceses in the U.S. look rosy in comparison to the anemia that has long set in throughout the Lowlands. These are countries where those precious few who still attend Mass sit through the entire liturgy — no kneeling, no standing; and in some places, like the Church of the Madeleine in Brugge, Belgium, they sit on barstools instead of in pews.

The Netherlands, of course, gave the world the bestselling Dutch Catechism, the infamous 1966 re-writing of the tenets of the Catholic faith, specifically formulated to appeal to those hankering for a morally mushy brand of Christianity. The book, put together by the Dutch hierarchy, was deemed so “undogmatic” and misleading that American Bishop Robert Joyce refused to give his imprimatur to an edition slated to appear in the U.S.

Just next door, Belgium is home to the beautiful campus of the Catholic University of Louvain. Rich in history, Louvain (Leuven in Flemish) has earned a reputation as the most liberal pontifical university in the world. If you think Notre Dame and Georgetown are morally and religiously ambiguous, these flagship Catholic universities in North America glow positively traditional when compared to Louvain.

Further, both the Netherlands and Belgium have boasted the most liberal cardinals in the land in recent decades. The leader of the Church in Belgium is traditionally the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Since 1962 this post has been held by just two men. On the orthodoxy meter, Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens (1961-1980) and Godfried Cardinal Daneels (1980-2010) were about the equivalent of Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin — at best.

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