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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,994
October 31, 2019
Catholics Consider Married Priesthood
By Mike McManus

Some 181 Roman Catholic bishops from across South America, who have been meeting for three weeks in Rome, recommended that the church allow married deacons to be "ordained priests, suitable and esteemed men of the community."

Such men have already had a "fruitful" experience as deacons, in which they "receive adequate formation for the priesthood," and have also been blessed with "a legitimately constituted and stable family."

The bishops also recommended that women be allowed to be ordained as deacons.

These proposals came from the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, of bishops dedicated to a "new paths" for the church.

Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, said he would respond to the recommendation by the end of the year. After the three-week session ended, he said the Vatican would continue to study the role of women in the early years of the Church. "We still haven't grasped the significance of women in the Church," he acknowledged.

The shortage of priests is acute across the Amazon region. "Sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist," the bishops acknowledged. Priest shortages are so acute that some Catholics are left effectively on their own. Some parishes serve more than 100 communities!

This makes no sense. A priest should serve no more than one or two communities. The ordination of married deacons would be a major step forward for the church. A second major step would be to ordain women as deacons.

In remote areas of the Amazon, there are about 8,000 Catholics for every priest, and the faithful might not see a priest for months!

The bishops also have an eye on the competition - the rapid growth of evangelical Protestants. More than 90% of the population used to be Catholic. However, evangelicals are expected to be 40% of Brazil's population in the next 15 years.

Brazil's president, Jair Bolsgnaro, is an evangelical. And Marcelo Crivella, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, is a former evangelical bishop.

Nevertheless, conservative bishops opposed allowing a married priesthood, which they viewed as a "radical departure from church tradition and an abasement of the priesthood." Cardinal Marc Guelict, the prefect of the Vatican's office for bishops, wrote in a new book that indigenous people welcomed clergy into their communities "precisely because of their celibacy," and that easing of priestly celibacy could ultimately be counterproductive for evangelization."

However, about two-thirds of the bishops felt it was time to change the celibacy rule. It is often forgotten that priests were married for the first thousand years of the church. Jesus healed Peter's mother-in law.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman, her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise, the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." (I Cor. 7: 1-4).

My question is why is celibacy the current standard of the church, when Scripture is so clear? And why is the possibility of a married priesthood only being considered in the Amazon?

Married men already serve as priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches that are loyal to the pope in Lebanon, Ukraine and elsewhere. . And Anglican priests who convert and are ordained in the Catholic Church can remain married.

A married priesthood was promoted by the retired Bishop Fritz Lobinger, now 90, who spent his career in remote areas of South Africa. In January, Pope Francis cited his books, which called for a married priesthood, who said it would "be a step of enormous proportions" that would lead naturally to a discussion of ordaining women.

The church in America - and that of Europe - would be strengthened by a married Catholic priesthood.

My hope is that the Catholic Church will take the advice of its pastors in the Amazon, to make celibacy optional, so that every Catholic priest can marry.

However, this change should not be limited to the Amazon, but be available to Catholic priests around the world.

__________________________

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

 

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