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.
Paul VI, during the final meeting of Vatican II in 1965, made an extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of the rule of priestly celibacy since he had elected to study this issue himself. Accordingly, on 24 June 1967, Paul VI published an encyclical on priestly celibacy known as Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.
With the renewal of the Church following Vatican II, hundreds of thousands of priests had anticipated a relaxation of the rule of celibacy. The adamant position taken by Paul VI in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus killed any hope for compassionate change. Many Spirit-filled priests, facing a crisis of conscience between their call to ministry and their call to marriage, decided to apply for laicization. All told, 200,000 priests worldwide left their ministry in order to marry. Those who stayed called for more compassion, more collegiality, and more discussion on this matter.
In 1970, nine German theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), signed a letter publicly calling for a fresh discussion of the rule of celibacy. Such official discussions never took place. Why not? Because the false idol of papal conformity prevented biblical and historical theologians from exposing the flawed foundations for celibacy set out by Pius VI and because only priests faithful to Sacerdotalis Caelibatus were elevated as bishops for well over 45 years.
I remember vividly during my 25 years in seminary formation how there was a growing number of priestly candidates who confided to me that they experienced an acute personal struggle between their calling to priesthood and their calling to intimacy. “What kind of God,” one seminarian urgently asked me, “would call me to be a celibate priest while confounding me with an equally strong call to be a loving husband and father?” Archbishop Pilarczyk publically declared, during an ordination homily, that such “confused sentiments” were entirely unworthy of a true priest and that they originated within the “selfishness” promoted by a secularist culture.
Thus, a flawed authoritarianism surrounding Paul VI prevented us from nurturing a slowing growing married clergy that would have admirably filled the gaps left by the diminishing appeal of clerical celibacy. Now, in a moment of great crisis, we have to expose the stupidity and blindness of the past 45 years in order to rush forward and do (in Brazil at least) what we should have been doing all along.
Parce Domine! Parce populo tuo!
“ They turn a blind eye”
Recently the Irish Independent published the results of a research in a book by Dr John Weafer on the sexual lives of Irish priests. Dr John Weafer claims that “as long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest, they(i.e. the Bishops) turn a blind eye”.
The research was carried out among a small number of celibate priests and so we should not generalize, nevertheless if this claim of Dr Weafer about Bishops attitude towards those priests in relationships is true then this is a very sad situation and as a married priest it leaves me indignant. Here we have two standards for dealing with priests. A lenient one for the celibate priests who are in relationships and a hard line one for priests who have been dispensed from celibacy and are married. We married priests who openly profess our love for a woman are barred from public ministry.
If the Bishops allow those celibate priests who are in relationships to work in parishes then they should also call back married priests to public ministry. As pastors to pretend that they are not aware of the situation because they should do something about it but do not want to, this displays a very weak form of leadership.
I am not advocating that the Bishops should come down hard on the celibate priests who are in relationships. These priests are good men who are serving their people; they of course have to reconcile their relationship with their conscience.
Why is it though that the hierarchy in this day and age, with a few exceptions, still treat priests who have received a dispensation from celibacy to marry, in a stand-off manner? This policy towards married priests in general is world-wide. It would be nice to see the Bishops enter into dialogue with married priests to see how their pastoral experience, especially in the area of family life and conjugal love could be used in the diocese.
The walls of the Vatican won’t fall down if married priests are allowed to do some public pastoral activities. In 1995 when my father died in Dublin, his parish priest, a man in his 50s, allowed me to concelebrate at the funeral mass for my father and asked me to give the sermon. In 1998, in the same parish, but this time with a different parish priest, who was a younger man, he refused me permission to concelebrate the funeral mass for my mother.
Some will point to Canon Law and even quote it to show that married priests are not allowed to do public ministry. I say though that the blood ties between a married priest and his deceased parents are much stronger and more important than Canon Law. No one in his right mind will object to a married priest concelebrating the funeral mass for his mother or father. This punitive and killjoy attitude towards married priests should end. For example, the process of dispensation from celibacy should be more human, less severe and less humiliating. In 1989 I received the official document from Rome granting me a dispensation from celibacy which allowed me to marry in church, the dispensation was granted after a wait of six years. The document however stated that there should be no pomp, no ceremony or flowers during the wedding ceremony. However the parish priest who presided over the wedding and in whose parish I was doing pastoral work had flowers put on both sides of the aisle of the church and on the altar too. It was a beautiful simple wedding with a human touch thanks to a very human parish priest.
Recently Pope Francis has allowed the Eastern Catholic church in the Diaspora to ordain married men thus making it clear that celibacy, while it is important, is not essential to the priesthood. Let Bishops take heart from this new move from Rome and enter into contact with the married priests that are living in their diocese, they should not turn a blind eye and pretend that they do not exist. Not all married priests of course if approached by the Bishop would want to return to some form of public ministry. This decision must be respected. But for those married priests who are doing pastoral work and who have not lost the missionary spirit of service, they could be approached, there is nothing to be lost and some valuable pastoral experience to be gained.
Brian Eyre: Married Catholic priest, Recife, Brazil