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February 27, 2013
Column #1,644
Optional Celibacy: Issue for Next Pope
By Mike McManus

“Celibacy is not working and has not worked. Its track record is very, very poor,” says A.W. Richard Sipe, author of five books on celibacy.

“Everyone knows that the sexual abuse crisis is the symptom of mandatory celibacy not working. If there were optional celibacy, it would eliminate many problems,” he added. Sipe was a monk for 18 years and a priest for 11 of them. He left the priesthood, married and became a therapist who helped care for hundreds of priests.

In 1993 the BBC asked Cardinal Jose Sanchez, who led the Congregation of the Clergy, about Sipe’s studies estimating that no more than 45%-50% of priests are practicing celibacy. “I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures,” the Cardinal replied.

This week Pope Benedict XVI asked Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland to resign immediately after being accused of “inappropriate” and “intimate” acts toward three priests and one former priest. Britain’s “The Observer” newspaper quoted one man who said he was a 20-year-old seminarian when first approached by O’Brien:

“You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him. He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He controls every aspect of your life.”

O’Brien planned to retire March 17 when he reached age 75. Benedict accepted his resignation on February 18, so he won’t be among those voting for a new Pope.

Last Friday O’Brien told the BBC, “There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine origin. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.”

In fact, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Brazilian Bishops Conference and the Canadian Bishops Conference have called for the consideration of optional celibacy. In 2010 three bishops in Belgium and the head of the German church, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, said that married men should not be excluded from the priesthood.

In the last week, two American cardinals gave formal depositions on their management of priests accused of abusing minors.

Last month retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was stripped of his remaining duties over allegations that he shielded pedophile priests in the 1980s. He was deposed last Saturday, questioned by lawyers representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). The Los Angeles Archdiocese paid $660 million to 508 victims by 221 priests.

Similarly, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was deposed by lawyers for some of the victims of sexual abuse by priests in Milwaukee when Dolan was Archbishop from 2002-2009. During that period, the archdiocese moved $55 million into a fund for cemetery maintenance and $74 million to a fund for individual parishes. The archdiocese later declared bankruptcy when faced with lawsuits by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse.

Dolan “made a conscious decision to secretly and in a quite sinister way to move funds into parishes and transfer funds into other corporations to avoid having to pay the survivors,” charged Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for some of the abuse victims. In a month, 40,000 documents revealing Milwaukee clergy abuse will be released by court order.

Nevertheless, both Dolan and Mahony will be among the cardinals electing a new Pope.

SNAP argues that Mahony should not be allowed to vote for the new Pope. In fact, SNAP held a press conference Tuesday in Rome asking Benedict to “discipline at least a handful of current prelates who are concealing or who have concealed child sex abuse and insist that every bishop post names of the credibly accused predator priests on his website.”

Two Italian newspapers published reports that the Pope’s health is not the reason he is stepping down, but because some senior Vatican priests are being blackmailed by male prostitutes. The Vatican denounced the reports as “unverified, unverifiable or completely false.”

There have been more than 3,000 civil lawsuits filed against the church over child sexual abuse in the U.S. and $3.2 billion was paid to victims. The revelations led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to issue a “zero tolerance” policy, and the number of reported incidences has dropped substantially. However, more cases are surfacing around the world.

Will this lead to the election of a Pope willing to make celibacy optional? More than 70% of American Catholics support a married priesthood.

That would certainly end the priest shortage and restore moral credibility.

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