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Letters Extra

Debating clerical celibacy
24 July 2014

Congratulations on highlighting Chris McDonnell’s excellent article (The Tablet, 19 July). The article states facts too often ignored about the historically late origins of the celibacy law for Roman rite priests – now modified to apply only to cradle Catholic candidates for ordination – and shows clearly and sensibly the blatant anomaly that results, to the amazement of all thinking Catholics.

May I comment on the two vocations of your headline for this article? Isn’t this word vocation – meaning God’s call – confusing, maybe dangerous, and surely presumptuous in a context that adds to God’s call to ministry the man-made requirement of celibacy which is admitted by popes to be unnecessary? Is it right to confuse those attracted to ministry – especially the young – by unjustifiably adding to a genuine attraction to priesthood the unnecessary obligation to live life alone?

McDonnell is right: "The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation."

Brendan Farrow, by email

In reply to the question posed by Chris McDonnell why Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, comes the flippant and hoary old saw: "only if they love one another"!

With no disrespect to those who may be in that situation and to be as serious as the issue he and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland raise, I refer to an un-sent letter written as I turned 70, some 5 years ago now to my then Bishop. As a former priest celebrating my 50th anniversary of ordination and 40th as a married man this year with three grown up children, prompted by the angel of an early morning inspiration, I wrote then, asking if he might consider using my ordained services should Eucharistic and pastoral necessities require it. They did then. They do now. Viri probati yes.

But some of us who left the priesthood have reached those gifts of contemplative old age, which would fit well alongside theirs, to serve the good People of God whose lay and ministerial lives we have been privileged to be part of for the last 40 years or so. Some such are keen to do so. Others like myself are totally content as we are, but have at last learnt that real contentment comes from meeting the needs of others. Marriage and a de-clericalised priesthood can teach that - a lesson I was too immature and young to heed when ordained. My letter remains unsent. Should I send it now?

David Jackson, Shipley, west Yorkshire

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Comment by: Michael Kerrigan
Posted: 26/07/2014 16:37:58

As to David Jackson's question: yes, you certainly should send your letter - when finally you get a new bishop! The Movement for Married Clergy has focussed thus far on persuading the Church to ordain married laymen, as a first, realistic objective. But another obvious way of increasing the number of priests would be to welcome back those who have left but would dearly love to serve again, whether they be now married or not. We simply felt that our bishops were less unlikely to resist the first proposal than the second - but perhaps, with Francis, they'll find more collegial courage...

Comment by: Michael Kerrigan
Posted: 26/07/2014 16:35:49

Two very good contributions. About Brendan Farrow's first. While I agree that 'vocation' to diocesan priesthood currently tends to mean both a call to priestly ministry and an acceptance of celibacy, there would be less confusion if we distinguished clearly (as Richard Gaillardetz does in his article which you can find at: ) between 'various ministries on the one hand and various forms of holiness on the other'. On the one hand, ' Am I called to serve the church through the charisms I have received from baptism or through ordination?' On the other, 'Am I called to pursue that Christian holiness proper to all disciples of Jesus, or am I called to give a public witness to the demands of discipleship and the values of the reign of God through a form of public vowed [celibate] life?' Thus, we can begin to 'unhinge' priesthood from celibacy, 'since the call to priestly ministry would be realized along one axis, and the call to the single life, marriage, or committed celibacy along the second'. And this isn't just one theologian's view: it stems from Vatican II - Lumen Gentium.