12 April 2014, The Tablet

A married priesthood would right many wrongs

by Alex Walker

Pope Francis has indicated he is open to the possibility of allowing married priests, but as The Tablet reports this week, he says it is up to individual bishops’ conferences to reach a consensus on the issue first and then petition Rome.

Francis made these startling comments to Bishop Erwin Kräutler, a visiting Austrian bishop who works deep in the Amazonian rainforest and has 300 deacons and only 27 priests for Brazil’s largest diocese, Xingu, where many Catholics can only receive the Eucharist a couple of times a year.

Coming from South America, Pope Francis will understand more than most about the need for priests and the nurturing of faith through the celebration of the Eucharist because there are many dioceses there in the same situation as Bishop Kräutler’s.

If the celibacy rule were lifted, a large number of the 300 deacons in Xingu could consider priesthood and therefore have the ability to preside at the Eucharist and the other Sacraments.

In England and Wales there are 2,282 secular priests and 788 deacons. Some of these deacons will have a calling to priesthood. Although the Church won’t release the figures, the support group Advent estimates that in the last 50 years as many as 10,000 priests in England and Wales have left ordained ministry in order to marry.

Some have argued that a drought of vocations to the priesthood is because of a lack of faith on the part of the faithful; we do not need to change the rule concerning celibacy, rather we need to increase the faith of Catholics so they hear the call of Jesus to serve him in the priesthood.

Others argue, and I would be one, that there is no shortage of candidates for the priesthood, but there is a shortage of celibate candidates for the priesthood.

The Church’s insistence on a celibate priesthood is starving the vast majority of Catholics today. Jesus’ imperative of “Feed my Lambs, feed my sheep” is being frustrated for the sake of the discipline of a celibate clergy.

There are priests like myself who when leaving the priesthood to marry went through the long and painful process of applying for dispensation from clerical celibacy. Others refused to put themselves through the ignominy of the process and simply married in a register office.

The terms of the dispensation stipulate that we cannot even serve the Church by preaching, distribute Communion, teach in higher education or hold any kind of pastoral office, and we have to keep away from places where we were known as priests. Some priests would consider returning to active service if their rescript of dispensation from clerical celibacy were rescinded .

The Catholic Church in England and Wales, via the establishment of the Ordinariate, has proved that a married Catholic priesthood is not only possible and acceptable to the vast majority of Catholics but brings with it an additional dimension to the priesthood.

Now that Pope Francis appears to be giving greater authority to bishops’ conferences they need to be brave in finding a solution, in consultation with their dioceses, to the shortage of priests and offering Pope Francis and the Church a way forward. It has been staring them in the face and requires courage and belief that a married priesthood working alongside celibate priests will not bring the Church to its knees but could enrich it.

Alex Walker is the director of Advent, a support group for men and women and their partners who have left the active ministry or religious life

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User comments (7)

Comment by: Mike
Posted: 15/04/2014 19:09:48

Sorry to disagree with the perpetual agreement committee, but why should the Church accept men back into the priesthood who left to marry? I understand the Eastern practice of ordaining good married laymen to the diaconate and then priesthood, but this is different than one who left his vowed commitment to marry. If this man can't stay vowed, why should he be worth readmitting? And since he did leave priesthood to supposedly commit to his wife, why can't he remain happily committed in that? Now he wants to have both, yet hasn't proven committed to either. I agree with the Eastern practice, but not at all what is being suggested here. The Church should not allow those commitment-phobes to be readmitted without proving himself worthy, at least with a proper Church-acceptable marriage and perhaps a waiting period of 50 happily married years!

Comment by: Edd Bartlett
Posted: 15/04/2014 09:39:20

I would also suggest that young men who have a vocation to a celibate priesthood are often very traditional, possibly more suited to monastic life.
While there is no harm in this, I believe that there isn't the diversity in men joining the priesthood that there has been in the past.
I believe that congregations would benefit from a variety of experience and preference, which would also be beneficial to the New Evangelization.

Comment by: Christopher McElhinney. Melbourne. Australia.
Posted: 15/04/2014 02:30:39

To press for change to enable a priesthood which is free to marry or not is an urgent matter and an injustice to be addressed. But while we are at it, (I suggest this in particular to those clergy seeking re-admission to ordained ministry having left to marry), please add to your drive the admission of women to the presbyterate and episcopate. This has nothing to do with the shortage of priests. It has everything to do with the gifts both men and women bring to ordained ministry. Add to that a quest for a complete revision of the Church’s teaching of human sexuality to acknowledge all persons of whatever sexuality as children of God with a legitimate ability to love before God and remove obscene teachings as that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2357 regarding ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ etc. It is no longer enough to speak of respect, compassion, and sensitivity. This does nothing to remove homophobia from the Churches and secular society. These persons too must be able to marry before God and to also be admitted to ordained ministry married or not!
“Every human being is precious. We are all -- all of us -- part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy”. (Arbp. Desmond Tutu)

Comment by: Nula67
Posted: 13/04/2014 23:54:26

Our current priest is a converted Anglican priest and was already married before conversion. I feel this gives him significant advantages in understanding the daily challenges of the lives of his congregation, and whilst I understand the conflicts that may arise being married, I feel this is far better than the paedophile priest we had in the past !

Comment by: Ciara
Posted: 13/04/2014 23:10:00

Well written article Alex. Yes I think these are very interesting times. For too long, bishops and Rome have being ignoring the elephant in the Rome or else toeing the party line when questioned on the future of celibacy. I think pope francis maybe the man to take on this issue.

I am shocked at the terrible conditions you had to adhere to following leaving the priesthood.

What I would Love to see is mandatory celibacy being abolished across the board; not only married men being ordained, but currently serving priests having the option of marriage and men like you having the option of returning to ministry. Will pope Francis do it? I think he will make moves.

Comment by: Joseph
Posted: 13/04/2014 20:35:07

People are generally living longer - e.g. the English life expectancy has almost doubled from the year 1900 to 2000. This is a happy story and miracle that we should give thanks for. However, it does mean that requiring a person to live a celibate life from the age of, say, thirty-five would now be for around fifty years, whereas, previously, it would have been shorter.

I appreciate that it is rare to have ordained priests marrying (married men being ordained seem to be the more usual way around) - but as we discuss ordaining married men, we could also think about allowing ordained men to be married as well?

Comment by: agnes dobson
Posted: 13/04/2014 16:53:23

thank you Alex; I couldn't agree more; when will our leaders see the situation as it is and review the rules??/

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