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Married men could be ordained priests if world’s bishops agree – Pope Francis

Pope Francis continues to ask people, especially bishops, to accept responsibility for the future of the Church. When Brazilian bishop, Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu, met with Pope Francis to discuss problems in his diocese Francis told him that it was the prerogative of the bishops to generate solutions and bring about change.
Francis immediately showed how collegiality could operate but that puts the onus and responsibility back on bishops to come up with solutions to the problems that beset the church today.
Are they, are all of us, ready to accept this responsibility?
In an article in the current issue of The Tablet Christa Pongratz-Lippit covered this story.
Pope says married men could be ordained priests if world’s bishops agree on it
10 April 2014 15:23 by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest, spoke to the Pope about Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment, and the treatment of indigenous peoples but the desperate shortage of priests in the bishop’s huge diocese came up in the conversation. According to an interview the Austrian-born bishop gave to the daily Salzburger Nachrichten on 5 April, the Pope was open-minded about finding solutions to the problem, saying that bishops’ conferences could have a decisive role.
“I told him that as bishop of Brazil’s largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most,” Bishop Kräutler said. “The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,” he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome,” Kräutler said.
Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation.
“It was up to the bishops to make suggestions, the Pope said again.”
Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. “Yes,” he replied. “After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.”
Last September the Vatican Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin – who was then Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela – answered a question put to him by El Universal newspaper by stating that priestly celibacy “is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition”. “Modifications can be made, but these must always favour unity and God’s will,” he said. “God speaks to us in many different ways. We need to pay attention to this voice that points us towards causes and solutions, for example the clergy shortage.”
In 2006 Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes issued a clarification in the Holy See Bollettino reiterating his support of church teaching and tradition just hours after telling a Sao Paolo newspaper: “Celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma of the Church … Certainly, the majority of the apostles were married. In this modern age, the Church must observe these things, it has to advance with history.”
The topic of ordaining “viri probati” was raised with a question mark over it in a speech by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, at the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist – the first synod of Pope Benedict XVI.
“To confront the issue of the shortage of priests, some … have put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue, the so-called viri probati,” he said. Cardinal Scola, who read his speech in Latin in the presence of Pope Benedict, did not say which bishops from which countries had suggested discussing the ordination of older married men.

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  1. Margaret Trench says:

    Pope Francis really is stealing the best ideas of the ACP.
    Did Brendan Hoban not write a book on this very topic and explain how and why allowing married priests back into ministry was both possible and necessary.
    The Holy Spirit is truly at work.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    A US bishop told me in 1978 that the bishops were forbidden by the Vatican to discuss celibacy at their meetings. Things are changing.

  3. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    There is a difference between ordaining married men and ‘allowing married priests back into ministry’!

  4. Mary O Vallely says:

    I’m not so sure, Margaret @1. It’s more a case of desperation really as there is a great shortage of priests. I know two men here in my own parish who are studying/training for the diaconate. I have the greatest admiration for their commitment and perseverance as the training is long and arduous especially for those working and rearing families also but… pause while many of you sigh or groan loudly… there are religious sisters/nuns, women, single and married who have also discerned a vocation to the priesthood. Maybe we need to examine again the nature of the ordained priesthood and what it actually is.
    It is remarkable how wonderfully patient these women are,waiting for the RCC authorities to catch up with the mindset of the One they purport to follow. I don’t think Jesus looked at people in terms of gender but as all equal and beloved in God’s sight. Just try to imagine it the other way round. Would men have been so patient? There am I thinking in gender terms again. Hard to break bad habits, eh?

  5. Tommy Murphy says:

    Liamy makes a very valid point and one that I would like to see get more attention.
    While it would take some time, maybe even years to train married men to become priests,there are many men, like Liamy, who are already trained and ordained and who are willing to serve in our parishes. Over one week our ‘shortage of priests’ problem could be solved.
    They would be a wonderful gift to the church if the bishops would allow them to exercise their ministry. And surely bishops know ‘once a priest always a priest’.
    In the Westport area there are now seven ‘married priests’ living with their wives, none allowed to minister and this at a time when many of the churches in this area are cutting back their services to the people.
    What an outcry this is an injustice to those men and to their faith communities.
    And all of this against the backdrop of discussions about introducing married deacons into the diocese to try and deal with the ‘shortage of priests’
    It’s time those men were welcomed back, not just because it is their calling, but because they have so much to offer our church at this time.
    We need them, maybe even more than they need us, right now.

  6. Brian Eyre says:

    As a Catholic married priest living in Brazil I would like to offer my thoughts on the question of ordaining married men.
    Speaking from my pastoral experience of 47 years, 16 as a celibate priest and 31 as a married priest, I personally know some fine married men who could be ordained priests. These are good husbands and fathers, men who are deeply committed to evangelisation in their own communities. I can see no reason why they cannot be ordained after a 2 to 3 year theological, scriptural and pastoral training.
    One of the arguments against a married priesthood is that the church will not be able to financially support the priest and his family. This question should not arise as these married men, for the most part, will already be financially independent supporting their families with their secular job, which after ordination they should still continue to do.
    If married men are ordained we should be looking at a new kind of priest and not a photocopy of existing celibate priests. So a parish could be divided up into communities, each community having a married priest as its leader and pastor.The married priest will need to learn how to organize his life so he will have time for both his wife and family and the needs of the community.
    As a married catholic priest I do not wish to jump on the bandwagon so that I can get the advantage of the discussion for myself. But can we not also talk about “proven” priests who are married? For the past 31 years, ever since getting married I have been doing pastoral work. I have been able to reconcile being a husband, a father, a priest, holding down a secular job and giving myself fully to pastoral work. I am called by the people do administer to them and I will always answer that call. I do everything I did as a celibate priest except say public masses, I respect canon law on this although I don’t agree with it. I know so many communities that are deprived of frequent access to the Eucharist, I could be saying Mass for these people if the powers to be welcomed back married priests.The people with whom I work know who my wife is so there is no mystery or secrecy about her.They see too that I have a very good working relationship with the celibate parish priest and they respect both of us and our choice of life.For them a priest is someone who loves them, who is deeply interested in their spiritual and material well-being and they know that these qualities can be found in both celibate and married priests.
    The meeting between the Brazilian Bishop and Pope Francis re the ordination of “proven” married men- viri probati, has opened up for discussion subjects which in the past were unheard of and even forbidden to be discussed. Surely we can see here the hand of the Holy Spirit shaking up all of us to find solutions to these deep problems that the church is going through?
    Brian Eyre – Recife, Brazil

  7. Clinton Obinna Ibeh says:

    We all have rightly contributed valid points. I am of the opinion that the Church in its infallibility cautiously look into these recent happenings. We could for the time been relook into countries having “excess Priests/Deacons” and see how evenly they could be distributed amongst areas lacking adequate Priests.

  8. While there is the danger of women losing still more ground in terms of their being accepted for ordination, I do think, that the bishops considering married men for the priesthood, does set a precedent for the Church Institution, to change and adapt to new ecclesial circumstances.

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    As members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference are keen as mustard to put Pope Francis’s hints on ‘viri probati’ on the agenda of their June Meeting in Maynooth, they might wish to ask whether those many ‘viri probati’ (or even ‘mulieres probatae’ – thanks for your reminder, Mary O!) in the parishes of their dioceses are, to put it at its lowest, any worse reprobates than the shoal of married Anglican priests who twenty years ago abandoned the Church of England, to escape the new era of women priests and the prospect of women bishops, while cleaving fast to their wives and, with the blessings and welcomes of Cardinal Hume and Pope John Paul II, to adapt their careers to ‘manning’ Catholic parishes of Westminster and beyond. And of course the Irish Bishops will also want to ask: “well, why can’t our many ‘viri probati’ retain their Catholic Matrimony to join the Ministry if Benedict and Vincent Nicholls, by sleight of hand behind the back of +Rowan Cantuar, could set up their Ordinariate to allow married priests to retain their Anglican Patrimony and Anglican wives while ‘manning’ even more Catholic parishes with their own pet bishop?”
    Two excellent and pertinent questions, Your Eminence & Eminences-to-be, Your Graces, Your Excellencies and Lordships! I could never have thought of them myself.
    And the 3rd day of Your Meeting could be devoted to a thorough exegesis or even eisegesis of that hoary old Pauline prescript: “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, welcoming guests, a ready teacher.”
    Following the well established custom of hospitality to Anglican Patrimony, who better as keynote speaker than Maynooth’s near neighbour, the Bishop of Meath & Kildare, Bishop Pat Storey from Moyglare – a bishop blameless, vigilant, sober etc, and the wife of one husband who is also in the Ministry.
    Sorry, lads, if I seem to be rushing you a bit.

  10. Darlene you are in dreamland with your hopes of women priests.

  11. Ah…Shaun….dreams very often come true, especially, when Christ acts on behalf of the welfare of his beloved!

  12. Mary Wood says:

    So we couldn’t afford to support married priests? The C of E decided they couldn’t afford to continue to maintain full-paid clergy in all parishes so they have successfully adopted a two-fold supplementary stratagem:
    1) Non-stipediary ministers, similar to our married deacons as they continue their own jobs but get expenses and stole fees of course. But they are priests, so can act as such.
    2) “House for duty” priests who obviously have some form of personal income, but receive a free, often very attractive, house in return for “part-time” ministry in the parish.
    Worth considering.

  13. Con Devree says:

    Priestly celibacy is a discipline that can be changed.-
    However, this article does not bear out the title heading which is misleading.

    A story in the Tablet (hardly given to openness) based on an Austrian newspaper article, which in turn is based on an interview! It reads as a “duirt bean liom about story.

    The vital sentences are: “Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. “Yes,” he replied. “After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.”


    “He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome.”

    I think it’s better to concentrate on what the Pope has been saying about the nature of reform in the past year. The quest for the “viri probati” has not reached his agenda.

  14. I think we should avoid jumping on the band wagon here, although there is no harm discussing the discipline of celibacy. I was just struck by the words of bishop Erwin, 27 priests for 700,000 people. Just wondering what the ratio is in Ireland? Over here in the UK I think there is a priest for every 2000 Catholics.

  15. Con Devree says:

    Re Kieran #14

    The 700,000 is just 250,000 – 300,000 short of the number of Catholics who are regular attenders at Mass on Sundays in Ireland. Many priests provide a choice of three Masses at the weekend for these Catholics.

    The majority of nominal Catholics seem to have no felt need to attend these Masses. They seem to be doing fine without them. There are no grounds for saying that their attendance would be greater if there was a larger number of priests available.
    This situation reveals the lack of realism that attends the notion of “reform” that characterises this article.

    Neither the priest nor the Bishop is responsible for the response of the laity to Church teaching. Each parishioner has responsibility for his/her own response. This is all the more so if we believe as some would have us do, that we laity are competent to exert greater influence on Church teaching.

    The reform needed is that which helps bring about a level of faith and practice which among other things lead to more vocations to the priesthood. In this regard the present Pope is constrained by the same restrictions of his predecessors – his message regarding the nuts and bolts of reform are not trickling through to the laity.

  16. Con Devree, the bishops and priests have the responsibility to teach and form the people. If that has not been done, but rather the people have been formed by the popular anti-Christian media, then there is a problem. Of course, the internet and books allow a person to form themselves and their families.

  17. The Catholics who do not attend Mass on Sundays are not necessarily people who do not pray and worship God. There are many ways to serve God. It is often assumed that the Catholic Church pactices all of them. However, in fact, it seems to have put all its eggs in one basket : ritual and ceremony and the rote recitation of prayer. It may well be that many Catholics are weary of ritual and ceremony. As has been remarked above, providing more priests to do more of the same in the same old way is hardly likely to work. However, there is no ban on people proposing in this website new and better ways of creating and sustaining local Christian communities. Is there? Or does anyone have any ideas beyond these repetitious debates?

  18. John, the Catechism is full of activity ideas. As an example there are the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy – enough to keep us all occupied for a lifetime. All that stuff is meant to go hand in hand with liturgical worship of God and the Sacraments, personal prayer etc… It’s all there in black and white. If Catholics are tired, it’s cos they aren’t living the full Catholic life and we can wonder why that is.

  19. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    John @17,
    Some of the most God fearing people I know are environmentalists. They constantly have their minds on the “future generation”. Yet, they are not drawn to church despite most of them being Roman Catholics who don’t relate to the ritual or the sermon. They pray more than any other people I know. They pray we get our heads screwed on properly. I feel that anyone who is out there fighting for the future of our children, is serving God in its fullest capacity. I wish every day that our Catholic Church’s seven new social sins become a talking point for priests.

  20. Sean : Yes, plenty of theory in the penny catechism and the back of Kellogg boxes. Little idea though about reality.

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