Belgian bishop calls for married men in priesthood

A Belgian bishop is calling to change the doctrine to allow the ordination of married men, a move to which Pope Francis has signaled he is open

A Belgian bishop called Wednesday for married men to be allowed into the priesthood, a hot-button topic within the Roman Catholic church as it grapples with falling priest numbers and sexual abuse scandals.

"I am convinced that some young people, who have drawn from the baptismal vocation their call to wed, would gladly say 'here I am' if the church were to call them to the priestly ministry," Bishop Jean Kockerols told a global meeting of bishops being held at the Vatican.

He said the ordination of married men would help attract more priests to the calling.

Kockerols, Auxiliary Bishop of Brussels, was speaking on behalf of all Belgian bishops, a spokesman of the Belgian episcopal conference told the religious website "CathoBel".

The debate as to whether celibacy fosters sexual dysfunction and abusive behaviour in prelates has intensified in recent years.

Pope Francis has signalled that he is open to considering changing the doctrine to allow the ordination of married men.

But Belgian episcopal spokesman Tommy Scholtes warned that, in terms of the vocation crisis, it was "not the only solution".

"We know that in the Protestant or Orthodox world too, where pastors can marry, it is difficult to find young men to serve the church," he said.

The German Catholic church has recently led the debate on celibacy following revelations of the sexual abuse of thousands of children.

A study published by the German church last month showed that at least 3,677 minors were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who heads the German Bishops' Conference, apologised to the thousands of victims and promised a broad discussion that would also examine questions on celibacy and the church's sexual morals.