Bishop criticised over Aids remarks
Belgium's Catholic Church, already reeling from allegations of sexual abuse, faced a new scandal today after its primate wrote that Aids was "a sort of inherent justice".
Many lawmakers condemned Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian church, for the remarks in a new book and Belgium's centre for equal opportunities received a series of complaints, including one by a lawyer who said his comments were incitement to hatred.
The Church is struggling to recover from the resignation of the Bishop of Bruges in April after he admitted sexually abusing a nephew.
In his book Monseigneur Leonard - Conversations, the archbishop referred to a remark by the late Pope John Paul II who said, when asked whether Aids was a punishment from God, that it was difficult to judge God's will.
"I would not at all think in such terms. I do not see this illness as a punishment, at most a sort of inherent justice, a bit like how we are presented with the bill for what we do to the environment," Archbishop Leonard said.
"Perhaps human love also wreaks revenge if it is mishandled without there having to be a transcendental source."
Jean Marie de Meester, a lawyer from Oostkamp near Bruges, said he had filed a complaint with the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism.
"You can claim freedom of speech, but in his position he needs to be careful what he says. It has a lot of influence," he said.
"The comments are not just unfortunate. They are incitement to hatred... In its current condition, the Church does not have the moral right to judge others."
The centre said it shared the indignation that the archbishop's comments had caused, even if they did not break the anti-discrimination law.
"He threatens to create a discriminatory climate for people with HIV or Aids and by extension people with other illnesses or a handicap," it said in a statement.
Archbishop Leonard told a news conference today he felt he had been misunderstood as regarding Aids in all forms as a punishment. He said his words referred to promiscuous sex.
"It was not about Aids from a blood transfusion or as an illness with which someone has been born," he said.
"If someone gets lung cancer from smoking, the cancer is a sort of inherent justice. The actions, consciously done, have a result."
He also said he was targeting "certain practices" and not HIV positive people or those with Aids, who should not be discriminated against.