The Belgian Church is buying up big on prime Brussels real estate while warning of the prospect of church closures.
Driving the news
The Interdiocesan Centre of Belgium has added to the list of buildings it already owns on the Rue Guimard in the capital’s European quarter, near the Parc de Bruxelles, with the acquisition of the 9-story corner building standing at number 7 on the street.
The Centre has its headquarters at Rue Guimard 1, but the street is also home to the Dutch-speaking Catholic Education directorate, as well as to Church press, judicial and other assorted services.
According to the Brussels Times, this latest purchase at number 7 is part of a plan of the Interdiocesan Centre – the seat of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference – to extend office space into nearby buildings.
In addition to owning buildings on Rue Guimard 1 and 7, the Belgian Church lets out a dozen meeting rooms in the area, and also owns the Guimard Shop bookshop, at number 1 on the street.
As well as the income from the meeting rooms and bookshop, the Church will also be able to count on substantial revenue from the corner building at number 7, given that the address is occupied by around a dozen tenants, including the real estate services of French banking giant BNP Paribas.
The latest building buy on the part of the Belgian Church is part of a broader investment in real estate which has also seen the Interdiocesan Centre acquire properties in the nearby Etterbeek municipality.
The new purchase comes just a month after the Belgian Bishops themselves revealed in their second annual report that sacramental practice is on the way down from 2016 number, with baptisms dropping -11%, confirmations -4%, marriages -14% and Mass attendance -17%.
Why it matters
Commenting on those declining December numbers, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, the President of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, recalled “there is nothing that says the Church can grow only in a culture in which it is dominant”.
“[The Church] does not necessarily need to represent the entire population. We remain relevant in many aspects of society”, the cardinal attempted to explain.
Luc van Looy, the Bishop Emeritus of Ghent, later tried to argue that the Belgian Church was in “transition” and “evolving” in the midst of “a crisis of faith… due both to secularisation and to the tendency of politics to favour a secular society”.
“Our infrastructure, inherited from the past, no longer corresponds to the real situation of the Church”, the cardinal lamented, warning that because of the decline in the Catholic population “churches must… be closed”.
“At the same time, one should not exaggerate”, De Kesel added, explaining that although churches no longer host as many Masses and are no longer as full as they used to be, they could perhaps find a second life as places “of silence, of prayer” open to all, regardless of belief.