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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,927
Advance for July 26, 2018
Catholic Celibacy Should Be Optional
By Mike McManus

Last year Pope Francis told a major German newspaper, Die Zeit, that the Roman Catholic Church should consider ordaining married men in make up for serious shortages of priests in some countries.

He considered the possibility of ordaining of so-called "Viri Probati," religious married men of proven character. "We have to give a thought to whether Viri Probati are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on." He said that priest shortages are "an enormous problem," which has to be tackled "fearlessly."

There is such a shortage of priests in metro New York that the Archdiocese is merging 112 parishes into only 55 churches. More than half - 57 churches - would no longer exist.

The same pattern can be seen nationally. In 1988 there were 19,705 parishes - which shrank to only 17,483 in 2014. Yet the number of U.S. Catholics has grown in the past half-century from 48.5 million in 1965 to 76.7 million in 2014.

However, the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly fell by nearly half, from 47% to 24% between 1974 and 2012. In New York, only 12% of its members attend weekly.

Why has there been such a plunge in attendance?

Let me offer two reasons. The first is personal.

I was raised Catholic, and attended Mass weekly through college. But when I was assigned as a young TIME correspondent to Argentina I was turned off by the church there. The Mass was totally in Latin and the priest did not even preach a sermon in Spanish.

A friend at work invited me to attend his Anglican Church - which was invigorating. The liturgy was in English, not Latin. And the sermon was moving. I never went to another Catholic Mass, and am an Anglican today.

Certainly, one reason for the plunging church attendance in America - is the continuing scandal of pedophile priests and bishops.

A month after the Vatican suspended Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from ministry, charging that he had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a teenager decades ago, four additional men have charged him with sexual misconduct.

James, for example, said that his abuse started when he was only 11 and lasted for 20 years.

"What he did to me was ruin my entire life. I couldn't break the hold. I couldn't live up to my ability - to stay employed, married, have children. I lost all those opportunities because of him." He was driven to alcoholism as a teen.

Robert Clolek, now a lawyer in his 50s, told The Washington Post that McCarrick would invite small groups of men to a beach house, and then ask some of them to sleep in his bed - and more. Clolek decided to come forward for the first time in the early 2000s. In 2004 he was paid $80,000, with "no discussion or questioning or disbelief or awe." Another victim who became a priest, was paid $100,000 for McCarrick's sexual abuse.

These incidents happened decades ago, and additional generations of young men were molested by this Catholic bishop who became a cardinal.

Incredibly, McCarrick was supposedly "one of the architects of the church's policy on sexual abuse."

Perhaps these problems could have been avoided if the Roman Catholic Church had allowed priests to marry. The priesthood would be filled with normal, healthy married men with families.

My question is why does the Catholic Church demand celibacy? That is an unnatural requirement. St. Peter was married. (Jesus healed his mother-in-law.)

Catholic priests were allowed to marry for hundreds of years, until 1100, when celibacy was made mandatory.

The result was the priesthood attracted many homosexuals and child molesters, some of whom became predatory like Cardinal McCarrick.

I interviewed Father Tom Knoebel, a professor at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He said, "A large number of churches can no longer afford two celibate clergy. If we had to pay a married clergy a living wage, the church could not afford it."

I disagreed, noting that there are about 330,000 Protestant churches in America, all of whom have a married pastor.

More important, Pope Francis himself is considering making celibacy optional.

Catholics should encourage him to do so.

American Catholic churches have 15,000 "permanent deacons," 93% of whom are married. Deacons can baptize, witness marriages, perform funeral and burial services outside of Mass, distribute Holy Communion, and even preach.

Probably all of them would become priests if the rules changed. Not only would the priest shortage disappear, but the Catholic Church would have a new burst of life.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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