Bishop of Antwerp: "Married men should be able to become priests"

The Bishop of Antwerp Johan Bonny has spoken of his wish to ordain married men to the priesthood. The Bishop of Antwerp is not the first Belgian bishop to express such a wish, but theologist Jürgen Mettepenningen of the Catholic University of Leuven believes the bishop's words mark an important step.

Johan Bonny told the daily De Standaard that married priests could form an enrichment to the pastoral service rendered by priests. The Bishop of Antwerp's opinion is at loggerheads with thinking in Rome.

Theologist Jürgen Mettepenningen: "Johan Bonny is no minor figure. He is in chime with the Church and our times."

Celibacy rules mean that Roman Catholic priests may not marry, but the taboo surrounding celibacy is being questioned more openly nowadays partly because of the practice in the Eastern Church. In countries like Ukraine there are already Roman Catholic priests who are married.

Jürgen Mettepenningen: "The Bishop of Antwerp is well placed to judge if it's a success there. That's why he's saying why not in Belgium? Priests being celibate is not the essence of Christian faith."

In order to allow the practice the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome would have to give its permission, but it's feared that at present the time is not ripe for such a change.

If the Bishop of Antwerp is prepared to accept wedded priests, woman priests remain a bridge too far.

Jürgen Mettepenningen explains the bishop's position: "Not a single woman was appointed as an apostle in the gospel. It's an evangelical problem."

The theologist himself is a supporter: "In the spirit of the gospel it should be possible to ordain women. I do not believe in a God who only calls men to the priesthood."