Hungarian Bishop for Lifting Mandatory Celibacy

Austrian public radio is reporting on an interview with Bishop Miklos Beer, 74, of the diocesan of Vac in Hungary which is drawing much attention. In it he says “I think it is time” to lift optional celibacy and allow suitable married men to become priests.

 Bishpo Beer indicates in the interview that he plans to take his concern to the Pope.

 There are ten pastor positions in his diocese which Bishop Beer is unable to fill because of the shortage of priests. “It is no longer possible to continue as now, that we await foreign priests from Poland or India,” he said. When he thinks of people to whom he could entrust leadership of Catholic congregations, he includes men “who lead a credibile, beautiful family life.”

Bishop Beer does not favor placing permanent deacons in parishes as a sort of replacement for the priest. The permanent diaconate is “another mission” and should not be a transition to the priesthood, he said. “Let us not confuse this with the priest’s role!”

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  1. I do wonder how parishioners would react to having a non-celibate priest – I wonder to what extent celibacy is intrinsic to their notion of priesthood (regardless of church history, the reality that there already are some married priests, etc.).

    1. My parish (located in a small city) had a married priest for a few years back (Episcopal convert). I tend to stay out the gossip train so I just found out this year that the priest had left the parish primarily due to parishioners not accepting of his marriage and complaints to the bishop. The parish isn’t particularly progressive or conservative by any means. Although I am tentatively supportive of ending the celibacy requirement for diocesan priests, I do suspect there would be more pushback from ending the discipline than polls would suggest. There is a difference between a hypothetical situation and the real thing.

      1. Devin Rice, that is very interesting about the married priest with the parish assignment. I thought I had heard – but this must have been quite a few years ago – that married priests didn’t typically get parish assignments. Perhaps what your parish experienced is one of the reasons why.

    2. I think that two practical aspects are often underperceived in discussions of this topic:

      1. The Roman model of bishops being able to move priests and, since the 1983 Code of Canon Law, pastors around with relative ease would need significant modulation. In a sense, bishops act within their diocese like Jesuit provincials vis-a-vis giving missions to their clergy. However, this practical culture is not founded on dogma or doctrine, and it can be changed. In dioceses with smaller geographic footprints, change in this regard may not be as significant as in vaster dioceses.

      2. Catholic laity would need to adjust the cultural expectations built over centuries that parish priests can and will give them their undivided attention 24/6, as it were.

      By contrast, as a *practical* matter, ordaining celibate women religious would be closer to the existing model, as it were.

      1. I think the expectation of the priests total attention is becoming less of an issue. Many priests now are assigned to multiple parishes or other assignments (chancery, chaplains of hospitals and armed forces, etc) or they assigned to mega parishes where there time is limited anyway.

        The lack of flexibility in transferring priests would be a more radical change. If a priest and his parishioner’s don’t gel you can’t just move the priest as easily. And in some areas not all pew sitters can shop around.

        But the bishop’s inability to move priests around still wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem as long as the relaxing of the celibacy discipline leads to a modest increase in vocations and ordinations. While differing denominations are also having their vocational struggles despite a married clergy ( for example, the episcopal churches in my area are struggling to fill rural parishes), a potential increase in priestly ordinations is reasonable to expect based upon the number of candidates and ordinations to the permanent diaconate.

        But this is still not a guarantee. And so the worst case scenario is that we exchange the same number of celibate priests for the same number (or less) of married priests so you lack both numbers and flexibility.

      2. KLS, I agree wholeheartedly that moving a priest who is also a husband and father will be much more difficult. The Chicago Archdiocese, during Cardinal George’s tenure, tried to implement a program of moving married deacons at regular intervals. It was, as the kids used to say a few years ago, a fail. When families are in a good place they don’t want to be uprooted.

  2. First of all, opening priestly ministry is about justice. While no man has a right to be a priest, the most ancient tradition is that men have a right to marry prior to ordination. Sadly the Latin Rite has acted for too long as if it is the same thing as the “universal church”. Realistically, the issue arises because of the acute shortage in numerous areas of men willing to forego marriage in order to serve as priests. I am convinced that for the millions of Catholics in the US who have had their parish churches closed or amalgamated with one down the road or in the next county over, they would have been very willing to accept the services of a married priest. But no one offered them any. No one even asked them if they could think of a different solution to closing or consolidation.
    Changing the discipline should include differing understandings of priestly servant leadership. The episcopal church has had non-stipendiary priests who are available for ministerial duties on a part-time basis. Our church has long included priests who have full time jobs as teachers or ecclesial officials who only offer specifically priestly ministry part-time. We have a growing number of retired priests who continue to work part-time as supply priests or fill ins. I can assure you that if any changes are made they will not initially include permitting men under a certain age to be both married and ordained. Married priests will be drawn from the ranks of older men whose marriages have met the test of time and whose children are grown up and on their own. No need for worrying about a “great expense” to support married priests.
    I object to the bishop’s rhetoric on excluding married deacons as potential candidates for priestly ministry. Yes, there are technically two different vocations, but notice we have no problem with ordaining transitional deacons because they are willing to be celibate. Many men who now serve as married deacons may well have always had a call to be married and ordained but no one offered them that…

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