Van den Berghe obtained a degree in Thomist philosophy and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1957. He then earned a doctorate in theology in 1961 and became professor of exegesis at a seminary in Ghent, where he was one of the founders was the Hoger Instituut voor Godsdienstwetenschappen. He served as the editorial secretary of Collationes, a Flemish magazine of pastoral theology, and wrote numerous articles on the exegesis of the New Testament.
On July 3, 1980 he was appointed the 21st Bishop of Antwerp by Pope John Paul II (the third bishop of the re-established Diocese of Antwerp) and consecrated on September 7, 1980. His motto, chosen from a verse in the book of Galatians is: "Libertati liberavit nos" (For the freedom he set us free). In the Belgian bishops' conference he was responsible for the Interdiocesaan Pastoraal Beraad (Inter-Diocesan Pastoral Board).
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