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February 21, 2013
Column # 1,643
Catholics Reconsidering Celibacy
By Mike McManus

On New Year’s Day, 2012 Pope Benedict XVI took a big step toward reinstating a married Catholic priesthood.

Individual Episcopal priests who were married have been welcome as Catholic priests since 1983, and there are about 75 of them. However, the Pope took a new step by creating the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a home in the Catholic Church for former Episcopalians and Anglicans.

It allowed former Anglicans to retain certain treasured traditions within the Catholic Church. On the day the Ordinariate was created, Benedict appointed Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, a former Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rio Grande, as the new ordinary or bishop of the Ordinariate.

Former Episcopal churches have been received into the Catholic Church with beautiful Masses that included Vatican-approved prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, one of the oldest books in the English language.

One high profile former Episcopal priest joining the Ordinariate is Larry Gipson, who was dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Birmingham and former rector of the 8,000 member St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara were among the parishioners.

By late December, 28 priests and 1,600 laypeople became Catholics. Another 69 have applied to become Catholic priests.

They are joining perhaps a couple hundred married “Eastern Rite” Catholic priests, many of whom came from Eastern Europe. One reason the Orthodox Church split from Roman Catholicism in 1054, was that it allowed married men to be ordained priests. To compete with the Orthodox, nearby Catholic Eastern Rite churches were also allowed to have married priests.

Both cite Scriptures justifying their positions. In Matthew 19:12 Jesus said that some “renounced marriage because of the kingdom of God.” And St. Paul wrote, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife.”

On the other hand, Anthony Padovano, a Catholic priest for 15 years before he married 38 years ago, cites I Timothy 3:2: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober…” Husband? Yes. Peter (and many other Apostles) was married; Jesus healed his mother-in-law.

The author of 28 books, Padovano notes “We had a married priesthood for 1,200 years.” For a decade, he was President of CORPUS, the National Association for Married Priesthood and Vice President of the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests in 30 countries.

He says, “I’m convinced that the zeitgeist is with us.” A group of 22 Catholic organizations have called for a “justice-seeking Pope.” In a letter sent to the 11 American Cardinals going to Rome to vote for a new Pope, they wrote: “We claim our responsibility as committed laity, religious and clergy in advocating for the selection of a justice-seeking pope, one with a pastoral vision to heal, reform and renew the Roman Catholic Church.”

Their “prayer is that the newly elected Pope will: ensure accountability and transparency in the handling of sexual abuse cases, consult the laity in the decisions that directly affect them” and “consider optional celibacy and reopen the priesthood to married men and resigned priests.”

How realistic is that? “I don’t think you will ever see resigned priests who chose to marry to ever be accepted back in,” said Allen Moore, President of CORPUS. “The way forward is to allow married permanent deacons, who have had some seminary training and been vetted and are younger to be ordained.”

The 17,300 deacons could be a powerful shot in the arm. The number of American priests has plunged from 58,600 in 1965 to 38,900 in 2012 and 30% of them are resigned, ill or absent. Meanwhile the number of Catholics has jumped from 46 million to 66 million. Nearly 2,000 parishes have closed, due to the priest shortage and 3,400 of 17,600 churches have no priest.

New York Cardinal Edward Egan was asked in 2009 on a radio show about the possibility of making celibacy optional. “It’s going to be discussed. It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion. I think it needs to be looked at.” Later he added, “Is it a closed issue? No, that is not a dogmatic stand.” Celibacy is a discipline that could be changed, unlike the church position on abortion.

Egan is retired and over age 80, so he won’t be able to vote for the new Pope. However, he’ll meet with the active Cardinals in Rome before the vote.

How can the Catholic Church justify allowing former Protestant clergy to become married priests while lifelong Catholic priests are denied that opportunity?

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