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Marnix Peeters dedicates novel to… Roger Vangheluwe

In ‘A priest comes to Beelzebub’, the latest novel by Marnix Peeters, the focus is on a pedosexual priest who is sent to purgatory. Remarkable: the book is dedicated to ex-bishop Roger Vangheluwe.

In ‘A priest comes to Beelzebub’, the latest novel by Marnix Peeters, the focus is on a pedosexual priest who is sent to purgatory. Remarkable: the book is dedicated to ex-bishop Roger Vangheluwe. “I have sent my book to him, but have not yet received a reply.”

For Roger Joseph Vangheluwe. Usually novels are dedicated to loved ones or friends, but the beginning of the book ‘A Priest Comes to Beelzebub’ is remarkable to say the least. In it we follow Ambrosius Pelkmans, a ruthless and scrupulous pastor, who has made the abuse of minors almost a kind of sport. His thoughts are downright perverse and distasteful. Unlike Vangheluwe, however, the main character seeks his horny, uh… salvation, not in the Westhoek but in Southeast Asia, from Thailand to Cambodia.

According to author Marnix Peeters, the character had already existed in his head for a while, but only now found its way onto paper. “Twenty years ago I went to Pattaya (coastal town in Thailand, ed.) as a journalist to portray sex tourism there. That has stuck. When it comes to sex tourism you always think those images are bad, but in reality they are horrible. I ended up in an open sewer. One big brothel, where many young girls end up in prostitution. A blurring of standards that you can’t imagine. Many people think that Pelkman’s figure is exaggerated, but in fact he is a distant echo of reality. The character is also based on a Fleming, a family doctor from Ninove. At the time I didn’t dare say that out loud, out of a certain trepidation, but today I do. How it went… It was so awful that it almost bordered on the unbelievable.”


Dedicating the book to the detested ex-bishop Roger Vangheluwe came at a later stage. “Without minimizing things, certainly not, but Vangheluwe is almost a choirboy compared to what Pelkmans eats. I wondered what happened to Vangheluwe. I didn’t know if he was dead or still hiding in an abbey somewhere. I got through to his address and sent the book to him. I still hope for an answer, but I fear it. (laughs)

Striking: although there are clearly a lot of things wrong with Palkmans’ psyche, you will not find a deep psychological understanding of the character in the novel. “Or as Frank Vanderlinden once quipped in a review: draft is for ships. The characters are in a way caricatured.”

Childlike Joy

Even before we link the name of Madam Pheip to another character, Peeters himself already mentions Nero. “I often hear that comparison, but I have always looked up to Marc Sleen. Of course I also read books by, say, French Nobel Prize winners, but I can just as easily enjoy a Nero comic. I think that childish fun in a comic strip is fantastic. That everything is possible. Not everything in my book is equally believable, but it doesn’t have to be. Dance along in the rubble, I think. At 57, I can still enjoy a kind of unbridled childish joy, from singing a toddler song when I get up to talking to a cow when I go for a walk with my dog.”

Anyway, the book doesn’t make you happy. “Whether that report affected my faith in humanity at the time? Let’s say it was already shaky, but my world view is above all very realistic. You can give free rein to your imagination, but you can assume that it does exist. Last week I read an article about underage refugees who disappear without a trace and turn up in prostitution. It is also clear that introducing celibacy was not a good idea. It was simply asking for trouble. If we had had the psychological insight we have today, we might not have started it. But I find it fascinating to say the least. Also faith itself. A year after that report on sex tourism, I went to Lourdes. If faith can be a supreme form of comfort, I think it’s very beautiful. Here in the East Cantons, where I live, you can still find a German form of devotion, often with rituals that we have never known and that are experienced twice as intensely.”

The cover of the book. © GF

It has been ten years since Peeters made his debut with ‘The day we sawed off Andy’s arm’. “Then I wrote with a certain guilelessness. After all, it was never my intention to fish for a writing career. Rather, it was a combination of coincidence and silliness. But I don’t regret it for a second. I really liked being a journalist, and sometimes I still write in that sense. As a journalist you can be guided by curiosity, but with fiction you are twice as free and you can work without inhibitions.”

Remarkable: in the acknowledgments of his novel we also find the name of Wim Opbrouck. “I read an interview with him a while ago, where he talked about one of my books. We called then, because I think he has an interesting vision of the art sector, not only supporting young people, but also seeking money from private and personal businesses. That gave me a lot of interesting contacts. Oh yes, and the trailer for the book was made by Manon Sels, a 16-year-old girl from Damme. She studies digital art and computer technology in Spain. It is fantastic to be able to take young people on board.”

‘A priest comes to Beelzebub’ by Marnix Peeters, published by Pottwal Publishers and now available in bookshops.

The article is in Dutch

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