When the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, an orthodox group of priests, deacons and seminarians, was unceremoniously booted out of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels in 2016, the archbishop, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel (right), claimed that his decision to shut down the apparently flourishing fraternity was motivated by solidarity with his French brother bishops. As the majority of fraternity members were French, it would not be fair to keep them in Belgium when France was also struggling with a shortage of priests.

Few believed this reasoning. Belgium is also home to priests from Poland, India and other countries. They are welcome to stay and help evangelise an increasingly secular society.

It is rumoured that the fraternity appealed to Rome. But last week it was reported – though without any clear proof – that Pope Francis had signed a decree dissolving the fraternity. There is no official statement, and the matter has received little coverage beyond the conservative Catholic media.

While we must await official confirmation, it is clear that many regard the dissolution as an act of hostility towards orthodox Catholics. The precise role of the Belgian bishops, who agreed with the fraternity’s initial removal from the

archdiocese, is also unknown. In what sense have they, and especially the two Belgian cardinals – the aforementioned De Kesel and his predecessor-but-one Cardinal Godfried Danneels – influenced the current mysterious papal decree to abolish the fraternity?

Some speculate that De Kesel and Danneels are seeking to settle a score against the conservative Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who founded the fraternity while serving as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels from 2010 to 2015. But again, there no firm evidence.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection