Pray Tell reader Chris McDonnell reports that he is now secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy in the UK, and Dr Michael Winter is now chair. At its recent general meeting in London, the group approved the following statement.
The Movement for Married Clergy: Choice
- Historically, only since the mid 12th century has the church of the Roman Latin rite required the discipline of celibacy of those men wishing to take major orders. In 1139, the Second Lateran Council officially imposed mandatory celibacy on all priests, and it has remained a discipline within the Western Church ever since.
- The Movement for Married Clergy came into being in 1975, not to challenge the church on matters of faith and doctrine, but to question the continuing necessity of this discipline. Members of this Movement remain committed to the Roman Catholic Church as their home.
- We do not seek to say that all priests should be married but that the element of choice remain with the person who is offering himself for formation and eventual ordination.
- We do not see the Sacrament of Marriage conflicting in any way with the ministry of the priest. In fact, we believe that family life might enhance priesthood and ministry and offer a fine example to the Christian Community which he serves.
- We now have the experience of a number of individual Anglicans who were married in their Anglican ministry being received into the [Catholic] Church and later ordained, their ministry continuing as married priests. Their ministry has been welcomed by our people.
- More recently we have seen the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which has once again highlighted in a very public manner the anomalies permitted in this discipline of the church. It is most unwise for any organisation to have its rules applied inconsistently.
- Over the years, many good priests, highly valued by their congregations, have had to resign in order to marry. This has been a great loss to the church, which, it should be noted, teaches that marriage is an inalienable human right. It is fully acknowledged that in former centuries and in Eastern rites today, marriage was and is only permitted prior to receiving Holy Orders. However, we feel that in natural justice and in Christian charity, those men who have left to marry could be invited to return to active ministry.
- Now, with the age profile of those priests currently serving parish communities rising at an alarming rate, diocesan authorities are looking to the amalgamation of parishes to be served by one priest, adding greatly to his personal load, as a solution to the problem. We feel that the introduction of ordination for married men would provide a happier way forward.
- We therefore continue to ask that the Western church should consider the relaxation of the discipline of celibacy in order that we might meet the needs of the church in our time. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian mission, and we ask that those called to this sacred ministry should have the choice of living either a married or celibate life. Vocation to priesthood, the answering of a call to ministry need not be associated with an altogether separate calling to the celibate life. The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation and a service to the church rather than maintain it in radically changed circumstances.