Pope Francis today named Jozef De Kesel as the new Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and de facto leader of the Catholic Church in Belgium.
Currently Bishop of Bruges, he is seen as a moderate in comparison to his conservative predecessor, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, whose offer of retirement aged 75 has been promptly accepted by the Pope.
Bishop De Kesel, 68, has called for a relaxation of mandatory celibacy for priests and said that women’s ordination is “negotiable.”
At a press conference announcing his appointment in Brussels today, he is reported to have stressed his “respect” for gay people adding that respect for each person, regardless of their sexual orientation, “is a value that the Gospel shares with modern culture."
Traditionally the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels is made a cardinal, although this did not happen with Archbishop Leonard.
Bishop De Kesel, who served under leading progressive, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, has not, however, been as bold as another contender for Belgium’s primatial see, the Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, who has called for Church recognition of gay couples.
The archbishop-elect was ordained for the Diocese of Ghent in 1972 and wrote a doctoral thesis at Rome’s Gregorian University on the work of the liberal German Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann.
He has taught at a teacher training centre at the University of Leuven, the seminary in Ghent and was auxiliary Bishop of Mechen-Brussels from 2002-10.
He took over in Bruges from Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted to sexually abusing two of his nephews.
Meanwhile, the Pope today also named Bishop Juan Jose Omella as the new Archbishop of Barcelona, one of the most important sees in Spain. Its relevance will continue to grow due to calls for Catalan independence, a move the Bishops’ Conference in Spain opposes.
Bishop Omella is currently Bishop of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño, in northern Spain, and has been a member of the bishops’ conference commission for social ministry since 2004.