A Belgian cardinal has said that he “cannot exclude” that married men are called to the priesthood.

Driving the news

“If I meet a married man, a convinced Catholic, theologically well-trained, who has already exercised responsibilities [in the Church], I cannot exclude that the Lord calls him to the priesthood!”, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel told Cathobel in an interview January 7.

The question of the ordination of married men “has matured”, the cardinal, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, reflected, in the context of the discussions of married priests particularly at last year’s Amazon Synod in the Vatican.

“Now we have to think about it”, De Kesel insisted.

“Obviously, it is not a question of eliminating the celibacy of the priests: we are not going to ask the priests to marry!”, the cardinal joked.

At the same time, he recalled that the figure of the married priest “already exists in the Catholic Church”, in the Eastern and Anglican Uses.

“In my seminary there’s a young man of twenty-eight, married and father of two children. He belongs to the Chaldean community but he was born in Mechelen, and he will be a priest in our archdiocese. It makes me happy! Things are therefore changing…”, De Kesel explained.

Go deeper

On the subject of the other great desire of a majority of Catholics around the world – women deacons – De Kesel was less optimistic.

Regarding the place of women in the Church, “we must continue. The Church should become more involved”, the cardinal said.

“Women must be given more responsibility”, he declared, admitting though that the diaconal or priestly ordination of women “is a different thing”.

On female deacons and priests, “we’ll see”, De Kesel limited himself to saying, explaining “there are theological but also cultural elements there: let us not forget that the Church is present on all continents”.

That comment was in reference to the less-advanced social status women are still subject to in other non-Western countries.

Why it matters

Looking back on the past year, De Kesel said a highlight for him was “the young people who demonstrated for the safeguarding of our planet”.

“2019 was an important year for ecology, especially thanks to these young people who managed to mobilize public opinion”, the cardinal said.

On the flipside, the prelate said he was concerned about the push to decriminalise abortion in Belgium, and by Brexit, this last “because it reveals a tendency to withdraw into oneself. A trend that is found in several European countries but also in the United States or Russia”.

Over Christmas De Kesel declared that he sees poverty as “the biggest challenge for the future”, and he repeated those sentiments in his latest interview with Cathobel.

“Even in a society like ours, poverty increases!”, the cardinal deplored, warning that “if it continues to grow, all of society will be in danger”.

“Security will never be guaranteed solely by soldiers on the street; justice is also needed, De Kesel said, adding that the Church “can never forget the call for greater solidarity”.

“It is wrong to claim that man is responsible only for himself. He is also responsible for others, for society, for future generations, for the future of the Earth…”, the cardinal continued.

“Everyone has the duty to build society, and to do so in justice and in truth.

“After the Second World War, many countries began to build a social security system. These mechanisms have made it possible to fight against poverty and all the dangers which ensue from it.

“If we start today to deconstruct social security and to deny the need for solidarity, we run a great danger. I believe that social security is the sign of a civilisation”, De Kesel warned.

For the record

One final point De Kesel spoke to in the interview was the future of the Church in Belgium, which in December reported that it is going through a drop in baptisms (down 11% from 2016), confirmations (-4%), marriages (-14%) and Mass attendance (-17%).

Half of all Belgian diocesan priests, too, are now over 75 years old.

In the face of these problems, De Kesel said he expected more and more churches to be closed, for laypeople and permanent deacons to take on greater and greater responsibilities for the running of the Church and for the idea of Catholic “belonging” to continue to change.

“Going to mass is very important. If a Christian wants to live his faith, he must nourish it. From there to say that the one who does not come every Sunday is not Catholic… I do not have the right to say that someone is not Catholic. We must be welcoming!”, the cardinal insisted.

“When people come to church, they must feel welcome there, especially for the preparation of a wedding or funeral. These can be moments of grace. The most important thing is the authenticity of the meeting”.

Next on Novena:

Belgian cardinal: “Poverty is the biggest challenge for the future”

Religions in Belgium’s Flanders region receive almost 500 million euros a year in taxpayer money

Women, lay ministers now majority in Belgian Church but still barred from power

Why is this new Belgian bishop giving thanks for beer?

Belgian laypeople push Pope for married priests

Cardinal De Kesel decries reduction of Europe to “soulless economic and financial project”