How good to see Bishop Crispian Hollis make the case for married priests and to know that up to ten of his fellow bishops share his views (The Tablet, News and Letters, 4 July). For the past 30 years the age profile of the clergy and the steady decline in ordinations has clearly signalled the acute shortage of priests that we are now experiencing.
Yet no one in authority dared to openly address this existential issue. Rigid centralised control by the Vatican under the last two popes produced intellectual paralysis. At last, under Pope Francis, we are able to confront the reality of our dire situation.
Accepting married priests as advocated by Bishop Crispian is one of many measures needed to ensure the future of our parishes. But it is an essential next step. Sr Joan Chittister has observed that the official recognition of married priests of Anglican origin means that the Latin Rite now has a married priesthood. The question is therefore no longer whether to allow married priests but why we have so few of them.
Frank Capocci, Southampton
Bishop Hollis' letter “Ordain married men” (The Tablet, Letters, 4 July) is nothing new for him. He has been open to married priests over the years and sadly when he spoke openly about the subject (“Priests in search of a role”, The Tablet, 17 August 2002) during the pastorate of Pope John Paul II, he was called to silence. Now that he is retired and under the pastoral ministry of Pope Francis, he and other bishops may feel more confident to speak out about such things.
The Advent Group, a support group for priests and Religious, has been promoting a renewed priesthood for the past 46 years! As we approach the Year of Mercy, maybe the first thing Pope Francis could consider is either to repeal or modify the rescript of dispensation which is issued to every resigned priest when they apply for permission to marry:
“He remains excluded from the exercise of the sacred ministry… and therefore cannot give a homily. Moreover he cannot perform the extraordinary ministry of distributing Holy Communion nor can he undertake a leading office in the pastoral sphere."
If we are considering recalling dispensed priests back into ministry, the first thing we could do immediately is afford them at least the opportunity to read at mass, distributethe sacrament and adopt a pastoral role.
Alex Walker, Advent Group UK, Lancaster
The title on the cover of your 4 July edition could easily have been not “Are the Jesuits bailing out of Britain?” but “Are the priests bailing out of Britain?” Two contributions dealt with the current critical shortage of new priests being trained to meet the known level of priests approaching retirement in Britain. The letter from Bishop Hollis advocates the priestly ordination of married men, which might arrest, for example, the situation in this part of England, where parish churches are being closed and congregations being invited to seek the Eucharist at Downside Abbey.
The second reference to the dire shortage of priests is your reporting of the ecumenical conversation held in Magdalene College, Cambridge, in which many clearly spoke against the Roman Catholic Church remaining as one of the last bastions of feudalism in Western society.
I share the view of Professor Janet Soskice that the current deathly silence by your bishops is a licence for misogyny in your Church. Vis-à-vis priestly celibacy, those who have the insight and courage to complete the uncorking of the bottle will find that some of the outpouring is of a good vintage.
As a member of the Church of England I look forward to the day where historical attitudes no longer inhibit the path towards unity of the Christian Churches. Faced today by the real threat of male-dominated feudalism rampant in parts of the Middle East and in Africa, if we don’t hang together we may surely hang separately.
Air Vice-Marshal Michael Robinson, Wells
Many of our dioceses are glad to have the assistance, week by week, of married priests of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Most of our people do not care whether the priest is married or not – that is, until they are told there will not be a Mass. I would be loathe, however, to simply ordain present lay ministers, so that they could “recite the missing Canon”, as another correspondent suggested.
Breaking the Bread of the Eucharist goes along with Breaking the Word and with some pastoral leadership. There must be proper training, which will take time. A more urgent solution, as other correspondents suggest, is to reinstate priests who have left the active ministry. I know some of them and they obviously still have a priestly vocation but the Lord did not give them the vocation of celibacy, which only the Western (not the Eastern or Oriental) Rite demand.
Another solution is to consider men who are already permanent deacons. They have had several years training and exercise varied pastoral ministries. Many dioceses (my own included) have several (not me – I am too old!) who may be suitable, with a little extra training, for priestly ministry.
At first they would be reluctant because they see their vocation as deacons but they (and their wives) would respond with generosity to a call (i.e. vocation) from their bishop to whom they have already promised obedience. It would not cost anything because, like now, they would not be paid!
Deacon Fred Beddow, Shrewsbury
It does seem odd to me that whilst we are talking about the necessity of ordaining married men we deny the priesthood to willing, competent women dedicated to the celibate life (The Tablet, Letters, 4 July).
Jim Malia, Isle of Wight
In response to Bishop Hollis, Paul Salter (Letters, 4 July) refers to the bishops as "burying their heads in the sand" in one way by "importing priests from abroad, who are not always suited to the task".
If the task he is referring to is sacramental, (Eucharist and Reconciliation), as mentioned by Bishop Hollis, then I don't understand how this so called "imported priests" are not suited for the task.
I have been a missionary in the UK for six years and never had any complaint of unsuitability. Moreover when as missionaries we come over to the UK, we are not some "imported market goods" who have to prove their value or worth. We have a role to play in the building of the Kingdom of God, the "mission ad gentes". Coming from Africa, I have no right to say that the missionaries who evangelised the continent were not "suited for the task".
Let the bishops not be intimidated as they try to find solution to serve the people of God, even if it means inviting missionaries from outside the island.May be that is also the work of the Holy Spirit who is the primary agent of mission. Who can dispute?
Fr Ephraim Odhiambo MHM, Maidenhead, Berks
I believe the ordination of married men would be the right thing at the right time (The Tablet, News, 1 July). But the real question, I suggest, is this: is the traditional parish based system for the pastoral care and development of the local Catholic community, centred on the resident priest, still the most effective way of meeting the circumstances of our own times? It has served us well in the past but what about the present and indeed the future?
Rev Mgr John T. Dunne, Leeds