by Chris McDonnell

Reports from Rome in recent days suggest that there may be a movement in the current position over priestly celibacy. Archbishop Pietro Parolin is quoted as saying that “The issue of priestly celibacy is one of the thorniest issues facing Pope Francis.”

Now that is, at least, a recognition that there is a problem. For so long is has been a matter of “no discussion.” Things are as they are and are to remain so. Now we have this comment from the new Secretary of State and we should presume that he was speaking with the full knowledge of Pope Francis.

Not before time. The crisis in the priesthood that is facing the Western church cannot, must not be ignored. We have an aging clergy and not that many coming in to the seminaries to replace them. Yet all we seem to do is to patch and mend. Where a parish has no priest, let’s join it to another parish and so double the burden on the resident priest now responsible for two parishes. And so on.

Here in the U.K. the issue has been highlighted by the acceptance of the Ordinariate, and so in effect we already have a married clergy. What message does that send to those already ordained through the Roman Catholic seminary route? And what does it say to those who had to set aside their priesthood through the circumstance of falling in love with a woman? In one parish recently in England a priest had to leave as he wished to marry. He was replaced by a married man from the Ordinariate with nine children…

Of course it won’t be an easy matter to make such a change. It is a long time since the Council of the Lateran in 1139 standardized the varying practices from the first millennium and laid the groundwork for our present discipline within the Western Latin Church. But let us at least begin to examine the issue realistically and tease out the pros and cons.

Archbishop Parolin is further reported as saying “that celibacy could not be dismissed as irrelevant in the modern world, that celibacy was only a tradition and not a dogma, but added that a way must be found to unify the Church on the matter”.

And of course there will always be those individuals for whom a celibate life is a personal choice and is part of their vocation to the priesthood. But I think the emphasis ought to be on the word “choice.”

We must ask the honest question of what is the most sensible option for a pilgrim church in our present time. Maybe with the brief comments from the archbishop we are seeing the beginning of an honest discussion.

In U.K I am secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy. You may find our website of interest.

Chris McDonnell is a regular reader and commenter at Pray Tell Blog.