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The Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium Part I



New Oxford Review

July-August 2003

Belgium is a small country whose geographical location led to her involvement in many European wars. Her climate is mild, and her rich soil, rightly considered a prized possession, was fought over for centuries. She has access to the North Sea, and is the cradle of great Catholic culture: Bruges is one of the architectural gems of the world; Ghent, the birthplace of King Charles V, has magnificent buildings; Brussels's Grand Place is known the world over. Her painters are among the greatest. The Belgians were mentioned by Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic War. He praises them as the strongest of the various tribes he had conquered: Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae (Of all these, the Belgians are the strongest). 


He who knows the history of Belgium knows much about the history of Europe. Belgium belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy, and then through marriage, she came into the hands of the Habsburgs, first to its Spanish branch under Charles V, then later to the Austrian branch. The French Revolution conquered Belgian territory, and most of the Napoleonic wars were waged to keep the French flag flying over her. This was un­acceptable to the British. They achieved their goal at Waterloo (about 14 miles south of Brussels), when Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815. The Congress of Vienna then decided that Belgium should be united to the Netherlands. This turned out to be a very unhappy marriage for the Bel­gians (the Dutch were Protestants and occupied all the key positions in the government), and so the Belgians revolted fifteen years later, and became inde­pendent in 1830. The country is now a constitu­tional monarchy. 


The Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven in Flemish, a Dutch dialect) is one of the glories of Belgium. It was founded in 1425 at the request of Jean IV of Brabant by Pope Martin V. From that time on the University acquired an international reputation for its scholarship, the quality of its fac­ulty, and its orthodoxy. Indeed, it was the Catholic University par excellence. 


Its fidelity to the teaching of the Holy Catho­lic Church kindled Martin Luther's ire, who called the theologians of Louvain "coarse donkeys, cursed sows, bellies of blasphemers, epicurean swine, heretics and idolators, putrid puddles, the cursed broth of Hell" (quoted in Jacques Maritain's Three Reformers). Apart from his Teutonic vulgarity, the Reformer did not realize that he was in fact paying a compliment to a Uni­versity whose pride was to be faithful to the teach­ing of Holy Church. 


The University's reputation continued through the centuries. Particularly talented young men studying for the priesthood were sent to Louvain. The late Bishop Fulton Sheen was one of its most brilliant students. 


In the 1960’s the Catholic University of Louvain broke up into two branches: One kept the old buildings in the beautiful Flemish town of Leuven; its courses are taught in Flemish, and it is called Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. The sec­ond one, of French expression, "emigrated" to the French-speaking part of the country, south of Brussels, and is called Universite Catholique de Louvain. Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Primate of Belgium, is Chancellor of both branches of the University. 


The question I wish to address is this: Does the University of Louvain still deserve the title "Catholic"? 


My report is based on official University docu­ments from the early 1980’s to the present (2003). What follows in this first installment is devoted only to the attitude adopted by members of the Univer­sity (both the Flemish and French branches) to­ward homosexuality. The reader can reach his own conclusions. 


Students registering for living quarters at the University are given a pamphlet titled "Questions: Some Answers," which they are told to peruse. Here is a brief summary of it: 


  • Homosexuality has always existed. But thanks to scientific advancement, new discoveries in the area of sexology now enable us to re-examine the question with a fresh approach.

  • The question of homosexuality, we are told, is very complex. The use of homosexual stereotypes does not do justice to the issue, and are often contradictory. Homosexuals are described as both effeminate and aggressive.

  • To ask whether one is homosexual because one has had a negative heterosexual experience can be counteracted by asking: Is one heterosexual because one has had a homosexual experience that was disappointing?

  • In order to demonstrate that heterosexuality is "normal" but homosexuality is not, the theory has been advanced that most adolescents go through a period of homosexuality, characterized by narcissism. According to this theory, those who mature overcome this stage whereas homosexuals are those who remain "stuck" in it, and therefore homosexuals must be helped to outgrow this stage of persistent adolescence. However, according to the pamphlet, to ask whether homosexuality is normal or natural is inadequate when one realizes that what characterizes human beings is their capacity to do things that are not "natural," such as "eating with a fork, knitting a pullover, making motors, riding a bicycle, and cleaning one's behind with flowered toilet paper," which "unnatural practices" are nevertheless fully endorsed by society. (I would note that this pamphlet confuses acts that are morally relevant and those that are not. It does not bode well for the teaching of ethics at Louvain.)

  • A common objection to homosexuality is that something about it just "does not click." But why isn't the same objection made about heterosexuality? Why create a "hierarchy" among different types of sexuality?

  • Homosexuals are accused of thinking about nothing but sex. But what about heterosexuals? Are they any different? Homosexuals are also accused of being unfaithful. But are heterosexuals always faithful?

  • Another major argument leveled against homosexuality is that homosexual unions are inevitably sterile. But heterosexual couples can also be sterile. (This leads to the endorsement of allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.)

  • People speak of the complementarity of heterosexual parents (male and female). But this complementarity can also be found among homosexuals.

  • Why condemn homosexuality when it can lead to "so much happiness"? There are couples who "blossom" in a homosexual relationship. Why condemn what for them is a source of so much joy? A young homosexual declares, "for me, homosexuality is happiness." 

  • A traditional argument leveled against homosexuality is a misreading of the biblical text con­cerning Sodom and Gomorrah. According to the pamphlet, today we know that these two towns were destroyed, not because they were practicing a "horrible vice" contra naturam, but because they had gravely sinned by refusing hospitality to those who needed it. Homosexuality is a prohibition that need no longer be observed by Christians, just like the eating of pork. (A dreadful confusion is made here between the moral law and a positive law which is indeed subject to change—for example, the pro­hibition of meat on Fridays, which was abolished by Pope Paul VI.) 


That these arguments are spread at a Catho­lic university is amazing. One is reminded of the prophetic words of Chesterton: "He who aban­dons the supernatural will inevitably fall into the unnatural." 


When he became Primate of Belgium in 1983, Godfried Cardinal Danneels opened, for the benefit of homosexuals, the “Center of Welcome for One and All” at the Catholic University of Louvain. When asked by a group of young people what he thought about homosexuality, Cardinal Danneels answered: "The question is not what one thinks about it; it is simply a fact. To be homosexual is a natural disposition, just as being heterosexual. One chooses neither one nor the other. The question is rather: “What do I do with it?”. I know excellent priest who are homosexuals; I also know excellent priests who are heterosexu­als. Celibates are not “nothing,” that is, “neuter.” We are always one or the other. But it cannot be denied that homosexuals are deprived of certain dimensions of existence: the distinction between man and woman, between parents and children. This clearly distinguishes them from heterosexu­als. But, this is no reason for excluding them...


When asked whether he thought that a child adopted and raised by homosexuals would be less happy than one raised by heterosexuals, Cardinal Danneels responded: "A heterosexual marriage is richer because it can procreate its own children. [But] a lesbian couple can have children, thanks to artificial insemination, though this is a technical act. Psychologists will tell us whether this can create a problem..." 


Note that the Cardinal, who received a Doc­tor Honoris Causa from Georgetown University in March 2003, carefully sidesteps the moral is­sue of whether homosexual practices are mor­ally licit. 


Two faculty members of the University of Louvain (Olivier De Shutter and Jean-Yves Carlier), together with six professors of the Free University of Brussels (which is anything but Catholic), published an article in Le Soir (a news­paper of socialist tendencies) defending the thesis that "marriage" between homosexuals should be allowed. But they never raise the issue of moral­ity. (Just recently, Belgium passed a law allowing homosexuals to "marry.") 


At this point, readers are entitled to ask with deep grief: Is the Catholic University of Louvain still Catholic?

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