Secular Belgian court fines Catholic prelates for denying a woman access to deacon training

Country: Belgium

Date of incident: June 27, 2024

Belgian prelates Archbishop Luc Terlinden of Mechelen-Brussels and former archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Cardinal Jozef De Kesel were convicted by a Belgian court after they denied a woman entry into a diaconate formation program and ordered to pay compensation.

According to the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, Veer Dusauchoit, a Belgian woman, was refused to register for training as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels in June 2023 and again in October 2023. Dusauchoit made her first request to Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and her second to Archbishop Luc Terlinden. Both times, her request to join the four-year diaconal training program was denied because women cannot be ordained as deacons in the catholic church. The woman then went to court in Mechelen and demanded that the refusal to enrol in the training should be annulled because she was unduely discriminated against as a woman.

The court in Mechelen ruled that the archbishops made a mistake when refusing Dusauchoit entry to the program and ordered them to pay 1,500 euro each. However, the court did not address the question of actually ordaining Dusauchoit and does not have the power to overturn the archbishop’s refusal or decide in his place who will be admitted to deacon training. “The court finds that the archbishops made a mistake in assessing the candidacy,” says Luc De Cleir, press attaché of the court in Mechelen. “It only concerns admission to training, not the question of effective appointment as a deacon.”

The right to religious freedom includes the freedom of religious institutions to decide on internal procedures, such as training of clergy and ordinations, without state interference. Therefore, the involvement of a secular court in ordination procedures is a dangerous erosion of religious freedom, which includes the freedom of religious institutions to ordain clergy by their own theological teachings.