One of Pope’s Francis’s new cardinals has been accused of appointing a known paedophile as a parish priest in Belgium.
Jozef de Kesel, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, was named as one of 17 new cardinals on Sunday, but has a controversial history and is known for expressing liberal views.
While serving as Bishop of Bruges, he appointed a man who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy as a parish priest.
The mayor of the town of Middelkerke, where the man was to have served, wrote to Bishop de Kesel expressing her shock.
“The municipal cabinet would like to stress that it doesn’t want to put this person on trial, but the character of the new priest does not meet up to our expectations for someone that is meant to set an example,” she said.
The appointment was all the more embarrassing as he had been chosen to clean up the diocese after his predecessor resigned due to a paedophile scandal.
Archbishop de Kesel has also in the past been widely quoted as saying women’s ordination “could be discussed, and I hope”, and said that celibacy for priests should be optional as for some people it may not be “humanly impossible”.
He has already been described as a “key ally” of Pope Francis, and is widely seen as a protégé of the controversial Cardinal Godfried Daneels, an ultra-liberal prelate who is accused of trying to cover up a sex abuse scandal.
In a sign of papal favourability, the archbishop was made a cardinal less than a year into his current position. His predecessor, André-Joseph Léonard, who is a strident conservative, was never made a cardinal despite serving as archbishop for five years.
Conservatives have reacted with concern to Sunday’s list of new cardinals. Another name on the list, Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago, has said he would not deny communion to politicians who promote abortion, or to sexually-active gay couples, if they decide to receive in “good conscience“.