Brazilian Bishops Establish Commission on Married Priesthood

Pray Tell has tracked the story of Bishop Erwin Kräutler’s meeting with Pope Francis about the severe priesthood shortage and mandatory celibacy in Brazil, and Francis’ suggestion that the bishops of Brazil set up commission to make suggestions to Rome for a solution. This has now happened.

According to apic, the national conference of bishops of Brazil (CNBB) has formed a commission to study the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. It is under the leadership of Bishop Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Amazon, and Cardinal Claudio Hummes, and is to seek out solutions to the problem of a shortage of priests.

90% of all communities in the Amazon have no Sunday celebration of Mass. 70% have Mass two or three times a year. Kräutler’s diocese has 800 communities and 27 priests.


    1. @John Mann – comment #1:
      Good suggestion. I changed the headline from “…Commission on Mandatory Celibacy” to the above. I hope this is less misleading – they’re not angling to expand mandatory celibacy to the laity. 🙂
      Thanks, John.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #2:
        I read here with great interest on matters that will determine the Future of The Catholic Church. Gerald Songy has written a novel that you may find interesting. Thunderbolt — Father Paul loves God, loves his Church, and he’s in love with a married woman. She threatens the young priest’s assignment of a lifetime –to help move the Catholic Church into the 21st Century.

  1. Lets hope that this marks the beginning of a movement that will lead to the end of the present discipline. For me, this is not about optional celibacy. It’s about inviting mature married men to be considered for ministry along with those who believe they are called to celibacy and priesthood.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #3:
      I’m sure you mean to say “considered for priesthood“. (I, for one, would have done this so as not to appear repetitive, but it can’t always be helped.) Because if it were really a consideration for ministry (alone), then no-one should be raising a fuss who wants to be so considered because they can access this with the (permanent) diaconate.

      Likewise, you must mean to speak of “those who believe they have been called to celibacy and priesthood”. The use of the present passive, for some reason, makes me wonder if a distinction (in general, not with you) is made between celibacy – having a wife, in this case – and continence, or chastity – having relations with her.

      Well, as St Paul reminds us, some of us can’t help not being celibate; but, though he ties this with continence, it doesn’t mean that the uncelibate must be unchaste. Come to think of it, maybe St Paul’s view is the whole reason for mandatory celibacy. (As I said, the tense makes me think of this for some reason.)

    1. @crystal watson – comment #4:
      I highly doubt that. It would have deep and severe ecumenical impacts with the Orthodox. One would likely have to be married before becoming a Priest, and Bishops would likely have to remain unmarried….. that is if continued ecumenical progress with the Orthodox means anything.

  2. I just hope that Dr. Ed Peters is asked for his input … I didn’t used to think that this was a big deal, but his writings on Canon 277 (as well as other canonical complications) make me think that there is more to discussion than a simple vote by some Bishops. Certainly Canon Law shouldn’t be a barrier to genuine development of doctrine, but it still raises concerns.

    He has a good post here:

    And here: “Kicking the can down the road”

  3. My hope is that the commission truly is “to seek out solutions to the problem of a shortage of priests” in a general way and not simply to focus on the single possibility of married priests. Since our Eastern fathers have consistently warned us not to view their own model of married priesthood as a silver bullet for our Western problems, it would wrong simply to fixate upon celibacy. And, let’s face it, in a diocese like Xingu, I don’t really know that we propose the most promising solution by saying “you’ll be paid relatively little and yet be responsible for shepherding a near unbearable number of souls spread over a vast territory – but we’ll let you balance this with the demands of family life!”

    Call it a technocratic mindset, but I really hope the first step of this commission is to look at leading dioceses in priestly vocations (in our own country I know Lincoln ranks consistently in the top 10 each year; in France I believe Frejus-Toulons stands out; I’m sure there are many others we might use as test cases). What can we identify as setting such places apart from those unable to redress the shortage? Which of those characteristics might be replicable? Conversely, what challenges are particular to (in this case) Brazil? Can we expect a married presbyterate to tackle those specific challenges (e.g., if rough terrain, poor living conditions, or linguistic barriers are discouraging vocations, can the option to be married be expected to overcome those disincentives?) IF it is done as a response to the priest shortage, I would think we should only countenance a change in our discipline of priestly celibacy after we had given the old college try to other methods, whatever those may be.

    1. @Aaron Sanders – comment #6:
      Good questions. Having been married partway through my ministry career, I would have to testify that being a husband and a father has helped me to be a more effective minister. But maybe that’s due in part to making more mature choices like not being at the church five nights a week.

      The key in the US has been bishops who prioritized forming relationships with seminary candidates. Lincoln, yes. But also Erie. Probably less the airport bishops and culture warriors.

      The thing about ordaining married men is that the Church already has a body of ministers fro which to draw: catechists and those who lead Word services. We’re not talking about pious youngsters, but literally viri probati.

  4. “in France I believe Frejus-Toulons stands out; I’m sure there are many others we might use as test cases). What can we identify as setting such places apart from those unable to redress the shortage? ”

    Frejus-Toulon welcomes movements that are looking for a diocese willing to host them. Versailles (that also has more ordinations than average and whose number of ordinations is planned to increase by 7% in the next ten years) is a Catholic ghetto welcoming committed Catholic families looking for a town where they can raise their children in a strong Catholic environment, I believe. Neither model can be replicated, I think.

  5. In light of what is usually the reoccuring issue with respect to mandatory celibacy for Latin Rite Priests, one often hears about the consideration of viri probati.

    When speaking with several friends in Rome who are associated with the CDF, CDWDS and Clero, one of the things which is also often attached to discussions about this topic — though not often mentioned — is that they usually end up back at the point of talking about simplex Priests who would be restricted to Baptisms, Marriages, and Mass (throw in delegation of Confirmation at Easter)…..

    What this would mean in practice, I don’t know. But it’s something that needs to be considered.


  6. There a number of other stand-out “priestly vocation” US dioceses – like Denver and Lansing, Michigan. And their atmosphere is very different from that of Lincoln (where I have worked). There is no one particular way to go about this effectively but always central is calling prospective seminarians to personal encounter with Christ and discipleship. I work with lots of dioceses and increasingly with seminaries and hear the same thing around the world as I travel. (Last month, it was England and Australia)

    1. @Sherry Weddell – comment #13:

      I did not mean to imply that Lincoln was THE model, only to point out that it is one diocese I know to have been consistently successful (based on the most recent CARA numbers in which it had stood out to me). The more exemplary dioceses, the better, because the diversity could help to identify what elements truly seem to be common to success (versus what is accidental or only pulling in a certain personality/spirituality).

    2. @Sherry Weddell – comment #13:
      One reason why Lansing works might be that there are three very large state schools in the diocese. Making connections with college students is vital. My parish sent five men off to seminary this year–they didn’t come from our parish originally, but were all formed in discipleship as students while here.

      You can’t beat one-on-one. Anybody who tries to make a program out of it will have an unsuccessful seminary recruiting campaign on their hands. It has always struck me that confining seminarians to schools apart from parish life and campus ministry was a dumb idea. Happy and enthusiastic seminarians may be the best poster boys for the presbyterate. Why do so many bishops hide them?

  7. It’s hard to believe that ecumenism would make a difference in deciding about celibacy. We are the only Christian church (I think?) that does not have married priests …. the Catholic church is already out of step with everyone else and that hasn’t deterred it 😉 I’d like to see us adopt the Anglican model of priests being able to marry or not after ordination and married bishops being ok. The Catholic and Orthodox model too seem to be based on an unspoken belief that sex is bad (priests dating – gasp!).

    1. @crystal watson – comment #14:
      The Orthodox would insist that Priests mus be married before ordination. To them, to allow it after ordination would be a grave departure from Apostolic tradition.

      To suggest otherwise shows that you little understand the Orthodox tradition.

      Furthermore, the Catholic Church has plenty of married Priests. Maybe it’s just your latinate tradition makes you think we don’t…. but we do.

      1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #15:

        “The Orthodox would insist that Priests mus be married before ordination.”

        The Roman Catholic church observes the same discipline, not only regarding its relative handful of married priests, but also with its many thousands of married deacons.

      2. @Jim Pauwels – comment #19:

        I agree fully with you. I was responding originally to comment #4, pointing out that allowing marriage after ordination presents serious ecumenical problems with the Orthodox

  8. OK, yes, there are some married Catholic priests. What needs to change is the mindset that believes there’s an ontological difference between priests/bishops being married or not. Perhaps instead of appealing to Apostolic tradition, we should instead look to the example of the actual apostles Jesus chose, most (all?) of whom were married.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #16:
      Well, if we focus on that, one would have to speak about the Apostolic Tradition that the Priests Christ chose remained perpetually continent also.

      It’s more than just “some Catholic” Priests whom are married. There are whole standalone rites inside the Church that have them. They are of an equivalency with the Latin Rite.

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