Page 9, 5th June 1970

5th June 1970
Page 9
Page 9, 5th June 1970 — Louvain's linguistic schism

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Louvain's linguistic schism


THE Catholic University of Louvain faces a physical schism. It is being forced to divide into two distinct French-speaking and Dutch-speaking universities.

There have long been separate administrations within the university for each linguistic group, but an impending transfer of the Frenchspeaking hall to a Walloon district 30 miles south of Louvain town has now hit the world-renowned theological department First founded in 1432, this has hitherto been Louvain's one integrated faculty but it is now in its first term where two autonomous teaching bodies, Flemish and Walloon, are running separate courses.

This split is the most bitter fruit of the Belgian hierarchy's failure to prevent a final rupture in the university, which it has governed since Cardinal Mercier refounded it as a Catholic institution in 1834. Trouble followed government clarification in 1963 of Belgium's linguistic boundary, which placed Louvain just inside the Flemings' zone.


By the time that Cardinal Suenens and his fellow bishops returned from Vatican II which was greatly influenced by Louvain-trained theologians they found themselves unable •to stem the violent campaign to eject the French section.

Their joint declaration that Louvain, united, would stay put caused uproar among the Flemings while the later defection of Bishop de Smedt of Bruges mortified the Walloons.

French-speaking priests now feel betrayed by their bishops, while their Flemish compatriots take the line that the hierarchy simply had to bow to a political problem. And it is certainly a reality that any central decision in Belgium reflects the struggle between Catholics, Socialists and Liberals as mudh as that between Flemings, Walloons and bilingual Brussellois.

Premier Eyskens (Catholic) even had trouble this summer about how to reorganise the unhappy institution, for the coalition Socialists sought a grant for the Flemish faculties at the Free University of Brussels to counterbalance the allocation for building "French-Louvain" down at Ottigny.

The Catholics argued that it would cost more to rehouse the 3,000 students at Louvain than support 1,000 at the secular Brussels University. And although the parties reached a mini-accord that will provide £40 million for Ottigny over the next decade, it is not known whether this is repayable or when building will start in this hamlet.

Ottigny forms an equilateral triangle with Louvain and Brussels, where the Catholic university has long had its medicine school. The importance of the geographical factor was stressed by Mgr. Philippe Delhaye, dean of the new French theological faculty.

He said : "We must be near the doctors and economists to pursue our studies properly." And he pointed to the significant fact that the brilliant answer to Humanae Vitae from Louvain's Fr. Louis Janssens was quickly followed

by a medical treatise by Dr. Jacques Ferin with whom he had collaborated.

Walloon theologians, once expected to leave last, now reckon it will take ten years before Ottigny is ready and they are already thinking of moving temporarily into a religious house in Brussels. "Working with our Flemish brother priests might be easier if we go," said one of them.


The Flemish theologians' attitude is that their Frenchspeaking colleagues are in a hurry to leave and Canon Frans Neirynck, dean of their new faculty, emphasised : "We want to co-operate as much as possible. I personally was always against dividing the department." But out of evil comes good, for the main religious orders

Scotists, Jesuits and Dominicans are now to bury rivalry by integrating their work and collaborating with the secular priests who have monopolised Louvain theological teaching for 135 years. Flemish Jesuits are opening their magnificent library, but their Walloon brethren have yet to do likewise.

Carving up the main university library, twice rebuilt by Americans after war, poses its own problem. And the United States ought to be taking some lead in telling Louvain that it belongs too much to the Christendom to be ruined by parochial quarrelling.

The American College at Louvain provides the bulk of non-Belgian theo logical

students 55 altogether in schola major, .schola minor and canon law. Its rector, Mgr.

Paul Riedl, told me that the Flemings' introduction of English language 1 e ct ur es might lead U.S. bishops to send more seminarists here.

To compensate for the disadvantage of Dutch, when com pared with French, the Flem ings have even imported two Americans and one Irishman as visiting lecturers. And at the Irish College Fr. Hyacinth Ennis said that names of the new teachers would be a big factor in whether its dozen students opted for the Flemish or Walloon theological faculty.

The most controversial newcomer is Fr. Schillebeeekx, the dangerously outspoken Bel gian Who had such influence on Holland's Cardinal Aifrink.

Bearing in mind how Fr.

Cchillebeeckx was accused of heresy before being acquitted in Rome, I asked CanonNeirynck whether rival doctrines might develop in Dutch and French.

He said: "No 1 but there could be a different evolution.

There will be more contact with Dutch, German and English theologians in our faculty." At the same time he foresaw high-level col laboration and exchanges with the French-language faculty for example in Biblical studies.

Mgr. Delhaye commented: "There is not much danger of a theological split, but there will be differences in pastoral problems. Brussels and Wallonia are secularised, whereas 80 per cent are practising Christians in Flanders."

LATIN ORBIT And while he mentioned contacts with Britain he made it clear that his faculty must veer towards the Latin orbit attracting more S out h American students and cooperating with Strasbourg, Paris and Lille.

The first impressive result of this is a joint work with Lille on the moralist Tertullien, while the Flemings see their earliest achievement as the "concentration" of the religious orders within Louvain.

Both theological faculties are bravely optimistic about the future in or near the institution where Erasmus fought both German heresy and Latin obscurantism.

Yet one can foresee diverse schools of thought, while as a Belgian Catholic paper put it: "Saving Europe's only Catholic university of world-renown constitutes a mammoth task."

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