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The archdiocese of Brussels has experienced controversy and turmoil in the past several decades under the oversight of Cdl. Godfried Danneels, who served as head of the scandal-ridden archdiocese from 1979 until 2010. During this period, the archdiocese suffered numerous cases of child abuse scandals, and Danneels is considered by some to have single-handedly destroyed the Faith there.
After Danneels retired in 2010 in disgrace, having been implicated in the cover-up child sex abuse, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Abp. André-Joseph Léonard that same year in order to clean up after Danneel's 31-year reign. Léonard is known as being partial to the Tridentine Mass, and has been noted as being very outspoken on Church issues, including homosexuality and marriage.
Archbishop Léonard was seen as a breath of fresh air and lauded by the faithful as being a traditionalist, gaining a reputation for being one of the most faithful archbishops in Europe. His successor, however, is causing concern amongst the faithful, as he has a reputation for openly questioning Church teaching.
Archbishop Josef De Kesel is 68 and was ordained a bishop in 2002. He spent eight years as auxiliary bishop of Mechlin-Brussels under the direction of Cdl. Danneels, until he was appointed to the diocese of Bruges in 2010.
During a news conference announcing his appointment last Friday, he said, "I'm for the separation of Church and State," answering complaints from critics who claimed he sought to impose Church teaching on Belgian law.
When asked about active homosexuals, he answered, "I have much respect for gays," including "their way of living their sexuality."
While auxiliary bishop in Bruges, Kesel openly questioned the tradition of celibacy in the priesthood, and went further by saying women's ordination to the priesthood is "negotiable," directly contradicting established Church teaching on the subject.
His heterodox beliefs are not the only concern, however, as he displayed a lack of judgment in 2014 when he tried to assign to active parish duty a priest convicted of molesting a teenage boy.
De Kesel defended this decision by saying the priest deserved "a second chance." He only cancelled his appointment when this decision sparked outrage in the media and the priest himself requested cancellation of the appointment.
This appointment is beeing seen as an attempt to undermine Pope Emeritus Benedict's attempt to clean up the archdiocese. De Kesel was formed and guided by Cdl. Danneels, and many fear De Kesel's appointment means a continuation of Cdl. Danneels' work.
Watch our Synod Profile of Cdl. Danneels here.