Four months ago he was an unknown
priest. Now he has outraged Belgians by denouncing gays as ‘perverts’ and
criticising democracy – in a trashy magazine. Freddy Gray and Gaby Gatacre on
the strange case of Cardinal Joos.
It is the question on the lips of
every liberal Belgian this week. Who on earth is Cardinal Joos – and why won’t
he shut up?
Until last year, Gustaaf Joos was
an elderly parish priest and moral theologian. Almost no one had heard of him.
Then he was unexpectedly given a
red hat by his old friend, Pope John Paul II – and proceeded to address some
extremely frank views to his fellow countrymen.
In an interview with the Belgian
equivalent of a lad’s magazine, Cardinal Joos said he wanted it written down –
“in blood”, no less – that the majority of gays and lesbians were “sexual
His advice: “Don’t become gay, you
will end up sad.”
He also took a potshot at the
centrepiece of liberal democracy: the principle of one man, one vote.
“Democracy? Politics? Don’t make
me laugh,” he scoffed.
Why should “snot-nosed” teenagers
have the same voting rights as married people with lots of children?
When bien pensant Belgians had picked themselves
off the floor, they looked for ways of shutting up the 80-year-old prelate.
The government-backed Centre for
Equal Opportunities and Struggle against Racism has announced that it is
looking to sue him for violating an anti-discrimination law. But the cardinal
is not remotely repentant. “I say what thousands think,” he told Belgian
television after the row broke.
The Belgian Catholic Church,
meanwhile, has gone into full damage limitation mode.
An embarrassed spokesman said
cardinal Joos, a professor of moral theology and canon law, was speaking in a
private capacity and the country’s conference of bishops was not in a position
to reprimand him because as a cardinal he was under Vatican jurisdiction.
In his interview with P-magazine – by any standards, an odd choice of
organ – Cardinal Joos said: “I am prepared to write down in blood that of all
the people who say they are gay or lesbian, only five to 10 per cent actually
are, the rest are just sexual perverts.
“Real homosexuals do not wander
the streets in colourful suits. They are people who have a serious problem and
have to live with it.
“And if they make a mistake they
will be forgiven. We have to help these people and not judge them.”
Fearing he might not have made his
point clearly, the cardinal added: “I demand that you write this down. If they
all come and start protesting at my door, I don’t care.
“Don’t become gay, you will end up
sad’ – that is a golden piece of advice from a homosexual who came to his
Cardinal Joos did not stop there.
He also spoke out against the political values of modern society, condemning
parliamentary democracy as a “joke”.
He said: “It’s all well and good
but it’s a joke. On what basis are people voting? Not on reason, but on the
values of the media. It is the most sympathetic, not the most sensible, who is
victorious in politics.
“Whether he is an oaf or a decent
man is irrelevant. As a result, there are a lot of airheads in politics.
I find it strange that a
snot-nosed 18-year-old has the same vote as a father of seven. One has no
responsibilities whatsoever, the other provides tomorrow’s citizens.”
Asked about contraception,
Cardinal Joos argued that condoms brought out the “bestial” aspect of sexuality
and should never be used.
Belgian Catholics have every
reason to feel confused. Only the week before, Cardinal Godfried Danneels said
that a man with Aids must use a condom if he
feels obliged to have sex.
Cardinal Joos disagreed. “Do you
have to be abstinent to not get Aids?” he asked. “No, you have to be abstinent
to be happy, and not getting Aids is a bonus.”
He did, however, offer guarded
support for clerical marriage. “I have no problem with married priests. I
only have a problem with people blaming celibacy for the lack of vocations,” he
The new cardinal’s critique of
modernity goes against the secular tide that has swept through Belgium.
Belgian politicians have recently passed radical legislation in favour of
euthanasia, abortion and gay marriages. The Church has suffered severely, with
a 50 per cent drop in priestly vocations in the last five years.
Cardinal Joos was plucked from
obscurity as a parish priest in Landskouter to become a cardinal in October
Indeed, he was so little known
that the Belgian media mistook him for another priest, Mgr Andre Joos. His
only previous brush with public attention was when he gave consent for Helmut
Lotti, a Belgian pop star, to have his marriage annulled.
The fact that Joos had been a
friend of the Pope since their days as students at Rome’s Belgian College has
been viewed with suspicion. The newspaper L’Express described the nomination as “the Pope’s way of
saying goodbye to an old friend”.
But Gustaaf Joos is not ready to
say goodbye just yet, it seems.