Married priests: call for courageous conversation


Married priests: Groups call on UK church to have national, courageous conversation

Sarah Mac Donald

The ordination of married men to the priesthood “needs to be explored openly within the church in England and Wales at national and diocesan levels,” the retired bishop of Portsmouth, England, has said.
Speaking to NCR, Bishop Crispian Hollis said he was “increasingly aware” of the pressure which priests are under due to the shortage of priests. He believes the issue of ordaining married men should not be left to “conversations within parishes and among the lay faithful.”
His comments were made as new figures released by the National Office for Vocations in England and Wales showed a drop in the number of men entering formation for the diocesan priesthood. Director of the office, Benedictine Fr. Christopher Jamison, described the fall as “disappointing.”
The Movement for Married Clergy, a lay organization founded in 1975 to promote a married priesthood, recently called for a national assembly to discuss celibacy and the possible ordination of so-called “viri probati,” or married men of proven faith. Backing the call, Hollis said it would not, in some senses, be a new departure for the church in Britain because “we already have a number of former Anglicans who are married and who have been ordained as Catholic priests.”
But Hollis stressed that a commission should not be seen as an opening towards optional celibacy for Catholic priests.
“I am not campaigning to make celibacy optional. I want us to be able to ordain suitable married men, and that’s a different question,” he stated.
According to Hollis, if the church in England and Wales chooses to go down the route of ordaining married men, then a commission could establish the need and look at the best way in which it could be achieved.
“We can’t go into this question blindly,” he said. “There needs to be a responsible discussion within the church which is as broadly based as possible.”
There is a ground swell in favor of this among the laity and diocesan priests, according to 80-year-old Hollis, who retired from Portsmouth in 2012. But he identified “quite of lot of resistance to the idea” among the bishops of England and Wales. “I don’t go to the meetings of the bishops’ conference as a retired bishop, but I don’t think this question gets much air time in their discussions,” he said.
One bishop who does attend episcopal meetings is Bishop John Arnold of Salford. Speaking to NCR, he said that while there are a number of priests of retirement age still in ministry and others approaching retirement in his diocese, “I do not think it is justified to claim that there is a ‘shortage’ of priests.”
Describing himself as “cautiously optimistic about vocations to the priesthood,” he also stressed that dioceses must ensure that priests are doing “that for which they have been ordained” and encouraging members of the parish community to take on administrative and ministerial tasks, which they had been “slow in doing after Vatican II.”
Ultimately, Hollis knows the decision on whether or not to ordain married men rests with Pope Francis or his successors, as no national conference of bishops can make this decision without it being blessed by Rome. Francis, Hollis noted, has indicated an openness to the possibility of ordaining married men, but he believes the pope is “waiting for a compelling case to be put before him.”
An April editorial published in U.K.-based newspaper Catholic Times, referred to Francis’ interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which the pope stressed that removing the celibacy rule was not the answer to the Catholic Church’s priest shortage. But he did express an openness to studying whether viri probati could be ordained.
Financial, workload concerns
Referring to a letter to the Catholic Times from Chris McDonnell, secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy, calling for a commission on married priests, the editorial asked, “What has the Church got to lose by establishing such a commission? Or perhaps more importantly, the focus should concentrate on what the Church has to gain from such a move.”
Hollis suggests it may be possible to recruit married men from the corpus of married deacons. Concerns over the cost of funding married priests, he believes, is “a false argument,” as many viri probati would be men who have retired on pension from full-time secular employment and could therefore act as “non-stipendiary” priests, supporting themselves.
McDonnell is a retired teacher and a father and grandfather. He told NCR that introducing a non-stipendiary clergy is perfectly feasible. “My local Church of England vicar is a lecturer in law at Keele University, and he also runs a parish,” he said.
The current model of Catholic priesthood, where the priest does everything, is unsustainable, McDonnell said. A non-stipendiary clergy would only be possible, he emphasized, if the priest is seen “primarily a eucharistic center of the parish” and responsible for the aspects of parish life where only a priest can function. The laity must fulfil other functions.
Cost, according to Hollis, is therefore not the stumbling block for viri probati, rather it is the unwillingness of senior members of the church to take the question seriously.
“We are constantly asked to pray for vocations, and the response is only a trickle,” he said. “Maybe the Holy Spirit is saying to us that there are lots of priestly vocations around but they are married men — the viri probati — open your eyes!”
According to 59-year-old Liamy McNally, who was ordained for the Archdiocese of Tuam in Ireland in 1985, “There is no priest shortage!” For two years after ordination, he ministered on Inis Meáin, a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Then he fell in love and left public ministry but was not laicized. He now acts as executive secretary for the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland.
“We have many priests, but they are married and so are not allowed to have a public ministry,” he said.
McNally lives three miles from the picturesque town of Westport in County Mayo, which has a population of roughly 5,500. In this small area, he knows six married priests, only one of whom is in ministry — a former Columban missionary who married a nun. (Both became Anglicans.)
He told NCR that had celibacy been optional, he and many other priests would still be in ministry.
“I haven’t left; I was never laicized; I am still a priest — but I am married. If you look at the Western church where vocations have declined, we haven’t stopped praying for vocations,” he said. “So is God not listening to us? Perhaps it is the episcopal church that is not listening to the Holy Spirit working through the people of God.”
For McNally, the issue is wider than viri probati because in the early church those with a vocation to priesthood were married, whereas today, those who feel called to priesthood must also have a vocation to celibacy.
“They need two vocations — you cannot be a priest unless you take the rule of celibacy, even though you mightn’t have a vocation to it,” he said. A Protestant, he added, who becomes a minister and then is called to the Catholic priesthood doesn’t have to be called to be celibacy.
“We have to examine that,” McNally said. “How can we allow certain guys to have a married priesthood but I cannot express my married priesthood?” He also underlined that he is not against celibacy.
Call for discussion
McDonnell explained to NCR that Movement for Married Priests, which has 200 paid members but a far greater number of supporters, many of whom are fearful of publicly expressing that support, has written to the bishops in England and Wales on a number of occasions with little success.
“I strongly suspect that there is a moratorium on all the bishops working together on this issue,” he said.
McDonnell stresses that members “are loyal members of the Catholic Church.” Calling for courageous conversations, he is frustrated that they don’t have any way of dialoguing with their bishops.
“We are not a dissident group; we are not in opposition to the church,” he said. “The only thing we are asking for at this stage is discussion. That is why we are emphasizing the need to have a national commission. We have a small window of opportunity over the next 5 to 10 years where we could look at the problem as a joint group of bishops, priests and laity with a view to seeing what the issues are. But if we are not even willing to talk to each other about the issues — then we are heading for a brick wall. That worries us.”
That the lack of priests is making itself felt in England and Wales cannot be denied. The Wrexham Diocese in North Wales is set to close a third of its parishes. Elsewhere, some dioceses are solving the problem by amalgamation.
“This seems to me a very unfair way of doing things; you have a man of 60 running a parish — in a normal job he would be thinking of approaching retirement — and then suddenly he is told to take on not one but two parishes and in some cases three,” McDonnell said. “We are trying to hide the problem by having a physical entity which is called a parish but which is in fact three parishes.”
He hopes that if the commission gets the go-ahead, it would be able to look not just at celibacy but also at the issue of what constitutes a parish.
He feels people are ready to accept a married clergy, having seen a number of Anglicans make the journey to Rome and bring their wives and children with them.
People, he said, can see the irony of a situation such as occurred in St. Thomas More parish in Coventry, which lost its priest, Fr. Philip Gay, after he served 25 years and left to marry. He was replaced by former Anglican vicar Fr. Stephen Day who is married with three children.
[Sarah Mac Donald is a freelance journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.]

Similar Posts


  1. I worked as a journalist in the U K at the turn of the 60’s after leaving Ireland and the priesthood. An assignment comes to mind: to interview Morris West (The Devil’s Advocate, The Shoes of the Fisherman). In the course of the interview I asked him about the issue of clerical celibacy, married priests etc. He paused a moment, then said – “As I see it, the priest is pastor, the people are his flock. What does it matter whether he be married or single – as long as he is a good pastor?..”

  2. Kevin Walters says:

    To the moderator my original post has been rejected, this is amore concise shorter version (Not convoluted) I hope that this one will be acceptable. Kevin.
    “I haven’t left; I was never laicized; I am still a priest — but I am married. If you look at the Western church where vocations have declined, we haven’t stopped praying for vocations,” he said. “So is God not listening to us? Perhaps it is the episcopal church that is not listening to the Holy Spirit working through the people of God.”
    At this moment in time I personal cannot see the Church allowing priests who have married to have a public ministry. As it follows that all priests would be able to marry at any stage within their religious life this could even extend to bishops and to the Pope himself coupled with the fact (Without judging) that some priest have remained true to their vows in similar situations and for this reason I cannot see any progress be made in this direction.
    For any change to come about we need to step back and look at the overall situation.
    I have read on more than one occasion that there are many priests cohabiting if this is so we have to conclude many made their vows immaturely, this needs to be tackled as it contributes to the church’s ongoing loss of credibility as an institution and because of this many cultural Catholics have been drawn into the Mob as they have been unable to stand against the claim of moral hypocrisy and the on-going unaccountability of the Church, and for this reason the record of selfless service of the vast majority of religious men and woman is now in the present moment been expunged from public consciousness.
    In such an atmosphere it is fair to say vocations will continue to decline, credibility has to be restored for this decline to be reversed.
    The Church is at a watershed moment in her history it must face up to the reality of its ongoing failings or credibility will be lost permanently, it appears to be refusing to do so and is possibly waiting for the present situation to be lost in the fog of history.
    Because of global communications (Internet) knowledge is available instantly deflection/spin/half-truths can be researched with easy by Joe Bloggs and will no longer stand before mankind, this present episode will not be lost in history quite the opposite as historians will point to it as a point in time when the Church’s unified moral authority was lost never to be regained.
    It could be said the church needs an Amnesty within herself I believe this can only be done by looking at/embracing humility, the church has been given the means to do so, if she did so the church would grow rather than stagnate.
    Of course ordination of married men could commence immediately but this does not tackle the underlying problem that is one of the on-going loss of credibility.
    If an Amnesty were to be implemented married priests who have not been laicized could be reconsidered to perform their priestly duties publicly once again. While at the same time tackling the totally unacceptable situation of priests who cohabite If this is the case, (information on the net seems to say that it is so) is it any wonder that so many now look upon the Church with derision.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  3. Brian Hanley says:

    Well done on a very well written and interesting piece.
    On Good Shepherd Sunday,I posted this on the Facebook page of my local Parish in response for prayers for vocations and the priesthood.
    Thought I’d add it here due to its relevance.
    I will indeed pray for vocations and priests but rather an inclusive and modern priesthood with an openness and a willingness for change.
    In 2017 it would be my wish for the church to see the priesthood as a more human and indeed more humane vocation. It is my true belief that a celibate priesthood is not a requirement of God. God made us as perfect human beings. Human beings with needs and feelings. Feelings that need to be expressed not suppressed. I believe that God would not require a man to deprive himself of the most holiest and most beautiful of loves, the union of two loving partners.
    How refeshing would it be if next year at the World Meeting of Families we seen married priests. Men who would have a real and true understanding of family life and of its blessings and struggles. How refreshing would it be to see the man on the alter as a family man, someone we can have a better connection with, someone we can view as a person, a father, a husband.
    I felt a calling to the priesthood for many years. I entered St. Patrick’s College Thurles in 1979. During my final year for the priesthood I met and fell in love with a very special lady. Oh how I would have loved to have had both, my vocation and my wife. A vocation that was in my very essence. I know my wife would have made the perfect supportive partner, helping me throughout my life as a priest if that life could have been possible.
    I would never discourage anyone from entering the priesthood. While the early days of priesthood are full of vigour and enthusiasm, as the years roll away life’s road as a priest can potentially be a lonely one.
    As we are potentially nearing a crisis with the continuing shortage of priests, I truly believe if the Church were open to ending priest celibacy and dare I say also to welcome women priests into its fold we would see a greater influx of interest in people entering the priesthood.
    This will indeed be my prayer. My prayer will be for many future vocations in a Church open to change. I pray that the Church will listen to and be guided by the Holy Spirit.

  4. Jean Greenwald says:

    I am constantly amazed how the thoughts expressed about ‘married clergy’ and ‘priestly shortage’ are discussed without the inclusion of women. (Thank you, Brian, for finally adding women into the discussion.) Indeed, with the inclusion of optional celibacy for ordination (and in my thinking the ordained one can be female or male) we become a church where all are truly welcome. There is room for everyone in the diversity of calls from the God within and the God who calls us through those around us. Perhaps we need a church that witnesses to a healthier form of service and love that are genuine calls from our God who is beyond all names and manners of living out the best selves we can be. If some are celibate and some are not… so be it! As long as one is living out her/ his call, there lies the significance. Why do we limit our all-inclusive God with our rules, which apparently need transitioning? Why do we continually focus on what we don’t have rather than operate out of abundance. Finally, why not focus on the opportunity (inclusive ordination) for one to live out a call to love and serve rather than to focus on an increase of ‘vocations’. In other words, focus on the person, not the number. After all, happy, loving, generous, balanced… people are greater than any number. Thank you for beginning the discussion, Sarah.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    “At this moment in time I personal cannot see the Church allowing priests who have married to have a public ministry.” (Kevin)
    In fact there are now a considerable number of formerly Anglican priests conducted public ministry in the RCC. The LA Times reports:
    “Experts say as many as 120 Catholic priests in the U.S. are married.
    “That’s largely because of a policy change made by Pope John Paul II in 1980, which offered a path for married Episcopal priests to continue their ministry after converting to Catholicism.
    “Under the pastoral provision, Father Paul Sullins, a former Episcopal priest, was ordained in the Catholic Church in 2002 after converting four years earlier.
    “Each diocese is allowed up to two active married priests, according to the Pastoral Provision Office, which facilitates the Vatican’s policy. The restriction came several years ago after a number of dioceses sponsored four or five candidates, causing concerns that it might appear the discipline of celibacy was being relaxed.
    “As a married man with three grown children, Sullins said his parishioners at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hyattsville, Md., feel more comfortable coming to him with marital problems. He and his wife sometimes co-counsel couples together.”

  6. Joe Walsh says:

    Are the higher-ups in the church afraid of a married clergy? I’ve been listening to bishops since I was ordained fifty three years ago offering unconvincing reasons for celibacy. I’m convinced the real reason is fear. Fear casts out reason, love, common sense and a realistic view of the church’s mission. In addition to praying for vocations to the priesthood maybe we should be praying that our bishops, for the sake of the church, deal with their collective fears and phobias about married clergy.

  7. John Murray says:

    Cardinal Coccopalmiero, president of the Pontifical Council for legislative texts, seems to be shying away from Pope Leo XIII teaching that Anglican orders are absolutely null and absolutely void.
    A former Anglo-Catholic CoE priest, now a Catholic priest claims that his ordination as an Anglican may have been valid. He said the issue wasn’t so certain as there are Anglican clergy who can trace their ordination back to apostolic lines via dissenting Catholic bishops. Many Anglo Catholic priests would agree with the ordination rite of the Catholic church and the theology behind it.
    If it were the case that an Anglican clergyman might be validly ordained, and he and his wife join the Catholic church and he becomes a priest by being ordained (again?), where does that leave cradle born Catholic priests,now married, who must leave the active ministry? If objectively the Anglican clergyman had indeed had valid orders and had married subsequently whilst an Anglican clergyman, then technically he is in the same position as the Catholic priest who left to get married? That seems to put a spoke in the argument that Catholic priests can no longer minister if they contract a marriage after ordination. It seems to me that Canon Law needs to be revised and if the Cardinal overseeing it seems confused, God help the rest of us.

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Joe Walsh@6 is on the ball. But maybe we should declare a moratorium on praying for vocations to the priesthood for a decade or two and instead start praying that bishops and those other “higher-ups in the church” discern or rediscover their own vocations. We’re hung up on symptoms rather than root causes. Now there’s a programme to keep the new Nuncio busy for a few years. After all, isn’t St Jude Thaddeus the patron of desperate cases and situations, even of lost causes?

  9. Kevin Walters says:

    Joe O’Leary @5 thank you for your comment
    “In fact there are now a considerable number of formerly Anglican priests conducted public ministry in the RCC. The LA Times reports:”
    For clarity
    “Under the pastoral provision
    The provision also enables bishops to ordain married former clergy as diocesan priests, when the Holy See grants a dispensation from the usual rule requiring Latin Rite Catholic priests to be celibate (i.e., unmarried”
    My post above @2 is primarily dealing with priests who broke the rule of celibacy and married.
    With regards to married men becoming priests personally I see no problem with that although I tend to side with those who stipulate that those entering the priesthood who are unmarried at the time of ordination should commit to celibacy but perhaps this commitment should not be enforced before say the age of thirty.
    Then we have to consider the role of women within the Church’s hieratical structure.
    Pope Francis describes how far-reaching the task is:
    “I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”.
    I believe that the hierarchy of Church has been given the means to do this by our Lord Himself but it will take a public act by them of true humility before God and mankind, if this were to happen the missionary option that Pope Francis dreams of would then become a reality.
    We need practical honest ordained working male/female Christians committed to Christ who are courageous enough, to go out into the real world, leading from the front, in the paddy field, on the tea plantation in the factory, office, hospital, etc , with integrity, been seen by all, as an EXAMPLE were ordinary men and women work and live, acting as a lynchpin in a chain, holding the flock together and carrying our unity of purpose, the breaking and been the living bread of life amongst us.
    Please consider reading my posts @13+23 in the link below
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  10. @3,
    I see you have already conditioned the Holy Spirit to have accepted marriage for priests, and that’s why you pray that the church listens to the Holy Spirit.
    Celibacy for priests have received lots of criticisms over many centuries and somehow it still continues to stand. Maybe that’s a sign that this is what the Holy Spirits wants for the Church which she continues to guide in all her decisions.
    I believe the Holy Spirit never abandons the church and will always guide her. If He wants marriage for priests, its time will come, no matter how the church resists. But, also, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t want too, its time will never come, no matter how strong we fight for it.
    All i pray is that God’s will be done.

  11. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    @10, perhaps this is not what the Holy Spirit wants at all and it is being suppressed by the wants and desires of a few men. In a living, breathing church, the Holy Spirit speaks through all of us, men and women, and only through consultation and listening to the full body of people, without any exclusions, does this happen.
    Does the Holy Spirit abandon those who exclude? Is exclusion God’s will and where it exists, is there a void in our religion?

  12. Michelle Housewife says:

    Married priests… hmmm that is a difficult one. I love the celibate priesthood. It has to be the chief element in making the Roman Catholic tradition the most widespread, most numerous and most effective at spreading the gospel of Christ. It finds its echo in the celibate religious life. It also has been a major factor in making us 1.2bn, something like a sixth of the global population of humanity. (1.7bn is another quoted figure, making us one third of global humanity.) If the Roman Catholic tradition keeps on going down the path of married clergy we will forsake that propagation. That is precisely what we have been doing for the last five hundred years in Europe since Luther published his written attacks on the Roman Catholic faith. I see 80million Anglicans globally, small fry to Roman Catholics. There are no billions of Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, or any other denomination. The figures speak for themselves. They do so because men, who on the whole are pretty flawed, have surrendered ENTIRELY to God in love and fidelity. That fact is so amazingly Holy, gobsmackingly awesome we HAVE to believe there really is a God. The priesthood has to be entirely masculine and celibate. It has to be a living recollection of the Christ and His apostles. If not, we are lost.
    Declining numbers, declining vocations show we don’t believe in our own faith and what it teaches. When we start dismantling the celibate priesthood we dismantle the echo, the celibate religious life and we are lost. To me it seems that is where we are right now. We can only see further decline because as the experience of the Protestant traditions show, a part-faith refashioned on our terms (which contradicts the Sacred tradition and teaching from Christ himself) cannot last.

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    Good point, Lloyd; we cannot claim to know what the Spirit wants if we continue to quench the Spirit by refusing open discussion and consultation. Meanwhile the cult of celibacy is becoming unreal and unwholesome.
    “There are no billions of Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, or any other denomination. The figures speak for themselves.”
    Only half of Christians are Roman Catholics. If you factor in actual participation as opposed to lapsed or ex, the balance might tilt significantly in favor of the non-Roman Catholic churches and communities.
    Roman Catholics: 1,125.5 million
    Christians overall: 2,265 million

  14. Michelle Housewife says:

    Thank you for your the clarification of the numbers. It is staggering that Roman Catholics make up half of all Christians. Is that not further indication of the marvellously effective propagation of the faith by way of our tradition? Celibacy has been at the heart of that. Celibate mission has made us the most fertile and numerous. A living example of God first. A sense that a sex-life is not essential to life nor is a spouse. A sense that you don’t need somebody to be somebody. A life without sex is OK. In fact, a life following the call of Christ is enough. When we have married priests we contradict that. If you think anything else you are fooling yourself. Ever since we accepted married clergy from the Anglican Church in the wake of desertions over the decision to ordain women we have been contradicting ourselves. As has been indicated elsewhere in this discussion we lose credibility by contradicting ourselves. Laicising our own priests who marry and accepting others who are married makes us look as though we cannot practice what we preach. And all this before we have examined what marriage is and what the implications are for that institution when combined under one roof with the priesthood. As a married woman am I really meant to stand in the way of priority over the sick and the dying? Or my bishop? And can I expect my sisters in Christ to deprive their own kids bread to feed mine? Conversely, why should I put money on the parish plate to feed Father and his wife and kids at the expense of mine? Whilst Father is single he is welcome to what we have to spare – he is my son. He is to be treasured and cared for. Once he has a wife there is no place for that.
    I have not addressed your other point that we may soon be out numbered by other Christians. If we fall in with them and give up the celibate priesthood there will be nothing to distinguish us. As history has shown the pattern is a married clergy begets a married church. It becomes a club for married people. As such, it enters decline. Most churches are in decline. Recent reports in the Scottish press show Roman Catholics to be the least numerous group. They are set to be the most numerous amongst church-going Christians. Deep faith, devotion are what count. That is what the fully alive celibate priest teaches by example. The people see it an adore it. He is after all an alter Christi, another Christ – here for us as Christ calls. And we don’t have to worry what his wife or kids think. The celibate Father is fully ours and we are fully His by the vocation Father devotes to us in Christ.

  15. Phil Greene says:

    “ That is what the fully alive celibate priest teaches by example. The people see it an adore it. He is after all an alter Christi, another Christ – here for us as Christ calls. And we don’t have to worry what his wife or kids think. The celibate Father is fully ours and we are fully His by the vocation Father devotes to us in Christ.”
    I feel I have been taken back in time… and am having profound difficulty with this comment!
    Priests are men, it’s that simple, no adoration of them or their actions needed! (we can of course admire their example, as we would admire good example from anyone)..
    Just look at all the blogs out there about priests and women , it’s another reason all on its own as to why priests should be allowed to marry if they so wish. But one that is discreetly ignored, and we could have many conversations surrounding that topic.
    I remember when 2 priests in America (Florida) were convicted of fraud etc. some years ago being absolutely astounded to see on TV a priest standing up in front of a female judge and boasting about how all the women loved one of these priests, as if this abuse of his position was something to be admired! I researched it afterwards online to see if this was how priests were taught to treat women.. the blogs are there for all to read! Neither gender can be 100% right or wrong, but there are some serious issues out there as a result of this law.
    Our clergy should be able to make the adult choice as to whether they wish to marry or not. Those clergy that do choose to marry will know what it is like to be in a relationship and have kids and be able to say to their parishioners “yes , the same thing happened to my young one” and I will put my money in the basket (if needed) to support them and their family if they treat their parishioners in a fair and equal manner. I would prefer my money to support this type of priesthood rather than support an institute owning many buildings and treasures that cost too much to be maintained, cleaned and safeguarded etc. And let’s not talk about Rome and it’s like!
    Oh, and being accountable to their wife and kids is no bad thing either, as they will also have the love and support of those same people,..who are we to deny anyone that choice in life. And why can’t these honest men that loved a woman and left, be allowed back into the fold to use and practise the gifts that God gave them.
    For those priests that do stay the distance without resorting to playing games with their parishioners, I suspect that you would find adoration uncomfortable, mutual respect would seem a more appropriate and healthier type of relationship

  16. Mary Vallely says:

    Phil @ 15 it’s that ‘ontological’ change that many of us cannot understand and that perhaps makes some ordained believe themselves superior and allows some foolish people act in an overly deferential way towards them. Not good for either the ‘adorer’ or the ‘ adored!’ We could argue forever about whether priests should be allowed to marry but what makes me sad is the hypocrisy. If a vow of celibacy is taken then it should be honoured. Simple. What matters the sexuality of a candidate for priesthood as long as that vow is kept? It is the hypocrisy that is mind boggling. We can all understand the loneliness of having to go through life without a special person by one’s side with whom to share one’s joys and woes but I imagine the majority of ordained are sure enough of their relationship with Christ to cope with that loneliness. There is so much structural injustice in the RCC that we must fight to change. Allowing those priests who left to get married back to help is the first injustice to tackle. I am afraid women’s issues are on the back boiler but we do not give up hope. NEVER. LOSE. HOPE. I feel sorry for vocation directors posting pleas on parish Facebook pages about the need to answer the call for vocations. It is deeply and profoundly unjust that priesthood is restricted to males only. Come Holy Spirit and open our hearts and minds!

  17. I find it rather quaint that in this modern age that if priests were allowed to marry that one of the obstacles would be that parishioners would have to support his wife and family as well. It is a fact that many women today have their own careers. A salary scale for all priests should be agreed and all funds centralised . In most walks of life couples have to manage their finances on whatever salary they earn. Why should clergy be any different.To facilitate future transfers accommodation should remain in Church ownership. No mortgage a distinct advantage . The reason why I know this would work is because my late husband was a Garda Sgt. We brought up a large family on one salary although I did work outside the home later. . Our accommodation was provided , we moved six times . At that time the Gardai lived in the community that they served in and were available 24/7 for emergencies. When tragedies occur the first on the scene are the doctor, the priest and the Gardai. The Area that my husband was responsible for was far wider than the average parish . This way of life has been eroded by the closure of many Rural Garda Stations to the detriment of society. I know I was a great support to my husband and our children attended the local schools.He had the trust of the community and we were both involved in many community organisations.Eventually by planning for the future we built iour own home when we decided that we were not going to move again.
    I just gave this as an example but there are many professions where several moves are necessary and part of the job so why should clergy not be expected to live and manage like everyone else. And just to be the devils advocate has anyone noticed that many Parochial Houses are usually of a high standard, with plenty of room for a family .

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    The failure of the bishops to grasp the nettle at the 1971 synod is the original sin of the present “celibacy” debacle. If you don’t move with the times, the times crush you, and you deserve to be crushed.

  19. Phil Greene says:

    To Mary @16
    “We could argue forever about whether priests should be allowed to marry but what makes me sad is the hypocrisy. If a vow of celibacy is taken then it should be honoured. Simple.”
    In a lot of the blogs celibacy is actually honoured Mary , it is the mind games that are the problem … the promise of something more.. the isolation that many women are faced with.. and then possibly having to deal with a backlash because the priest after all was a mere innocent in all of it and being led on by, the silly woman! Or, it was all only in her mind, she got it all wrong! No doubt some do get it wrong and there are some scary posts out there but they can’t ALL be the only ones at fault and indeed some are very vulnerable people that are preyed upon.. so it’s much worse than hypocrisy in many cases! More of these sites are appearing so who knows what is coming down the line? Allowing priests to marry could help to weed these types of people out or offer them help.
    “Allowing those priests who left to get married back to help is the first injustice to tackle….” “It is deeply and profoundly unjust that priesthood is restricted to males only. ”
    I would love to go over every post since the site began to see how many times these 2 sentences (or variations of the same theme) are included!! (Thank God for this site) One does loose hope as these amount to nothing more than words in a conversation in the end.. let’s just keep talking and the status quo will remain..!!
    The solution is out there .. unity of expression and unity in intent – both lay and religious working together to say “enough” . A months strike by every woman in every parish, both in Ireland and the UK (as well as further abroad) would have this sorted the month after the strike.. and it’s also in the clergy’s interests so all they have to do is sit back and allow it to happen. I could be wrong, but one thing that comes across is that whilst they want change , the majority want someone else to bring change about! (Sometimes there is just too much that needs changing, where to begin?)
    Why do bishops have to be retired before they start talking sense about the current vocation situation? And why more discussion? Surely there are tomes written on these subjects by now? Sure let’s have a cup of tea from the pot – another 10 years will go by!

  20. I should also have said what a marvellous post from Anne @17, I have just read it, Anne, and it is a great example of how a wife and family need not be an obstacle to any professional involved in a caring role in the community. Infact, quite the reverse. Another example of the nonsense we have been fed over the decades and which we have always digested without much questioning. But,not anymore.
    Like Phil@15, I found Michelle’s comment @14 a step back in time and I am being extremely euphemistic !!

  21. Paddy@21
    Thank You Paddy for your kind words. I just wish that people could see what I see and that is that priests are human beings like the rest of us and should not be deprived of the choice to marry if they so wish . It was all about property really which is worse.

  22. Brian Eyre says:

    As a catholic married priest I endorse Anne’s words, I too cannot see why parishoners would have to support his wife and family if priests were allowed to marry.
    Thirty four years ago I took the decision to get married, to leave the group of men called clergy, but not to leave the priesthood,for the sacrament of Orders is permanent. I was a parish priest here in Brazil and from one day to the next I was out in the world as a married man and had to fend for myself.
    In order to live I took up teaching English as a foreign language, my wife too took up teaching as a Biology teacher. Our salaries were small but still we managed to set up our home. This experience of having to furnish your own home was a tremendous lesson in daily living, we had to live and manage like every other married couple.
    It was through doing church work that I met my wife and so after getting married we continued and continue to pastoral work. I do everything I did as a celibate priest except celibrate public mass. I am not allowed to say public mass because I am married. Every organisation has its rules and regulations and so priests who marry in the Latin Rite are not allowed to say public masses. I accept this rule but I don’t agree with it.However a priest’s work is not only saying Mass, most of his time should be spent working with groups and visiting people in their homes. I have managed to do this for the past 34 years ever since getting married while at the same time having my teaching job.
    Some of the greatest men in the world, who carried enormous responsibilities, were married with a wife and family who supported them in their work and who were not a hindrance but a help and comfort to their husbands. Think of doctors, surgeons, counselors, social workers etc, all these have a very demanding life, in most cases though they benefit from the companionship of a partner. My wife has been this companion all these years.
    There are though some Bishops who are afraid to introduce married priests because they fear that their diocese won’t be able to support the priest, his wife and family. If however priests who want to marry take on a secular job as I do then this financial burdon won’t exist as they will be financially independent, as I am.As regards the question of availability it is only a matter of organising your time. I have never felt that my job made me less available to the people, I have time for both, job and people.

  23. Kevin Walters says:

    Mary Vallely@16
    “I am afraid women’s issues are on the back boiler but we do not give up hope”………..
    The Spirit is likened to the “wind that blows where it will,” …
    We see God’s Will in the action of Kapiolani, taken from the link below my post @ 17
    Kapiolani was a great chieftainess who lived in the Sandwich Islands at the beginning of the twenthy century. She won the cause for Christianity by openly defying the priests, of the terrible Goddess Peele. In spite of threats of vengeance she ascended the volcano Mauuna-Loa than clambered down over a bank of cinders over 400 hundred feet high to the great lake of fire (nine miles round) Kilauea the home and haunt of the goddess, and flung into the boiling lava the consecrated berries which it was sacrilege for a woman to handle
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  24. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Joe @ 13,
    The Spirit moves in and among the 13-17 year old generation these days, that’s for sure – they are not hamstrung with guidelines and red tape. Students at a local school are reeling after the suicide of a 2nd young person this school year due to bullying, in this case because of this particular student’s sexuality – a trans-gendered girl perhaps not getting the support she needed from the school body. Along with counsellors, the LGBTQ community, which my 17 year old daughter is a proud member of, is starting to focus on preventative measures to combat the isolation people feel when they are treated differently from the group.
    My daughter will be presenting a 45 minute talk and interactive exercise on this subject matter to 30-40 students of this specific school. Making people feel like they are a part of a connected community is the most important thing and highlighting the talents of people with gifts in bridge building is the only way forward for that community so that they can unite and assert their position within societies that are not always welcoming.
    I disagree and see the plight of our clergy in much the same way and perhaps completely contrary to Mary @ 16 : “If a vow of celibacy is taken then it should be honoured. Simple.” I say that things are much more complex than simply honouring a vow of celibacy, which in the real world, is unenforceable from a legal perspective especially where these priests occupy spaces in civil society and are not bound to the geographic location and birthplace of said celibacy – Vatican City State.
    I say that if it is companionship that you seek in order to make you feel spiritually/mentally complete, then let your conscience guide your actions and allow it to manifest in a companionship if you so desire, especially for mental health reasons.
    “Can. 277 §1. Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence…” has been essentially rendered null and void with their “pastoral provision” for a select few priests which is clearly seen as a financial decision and not one of a “special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity…”
    Would it be such a chore to poll the bishops where it concerns “companionship and mental health concerns” especially where :
    §2. Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose
    company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give
    rise to scandal among the faithful.
    §3. The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific
    norms concerning this matter and to pass judgement in particular
    cases concerning the observance of this obligation.
    I personally think you are taking it way too easy on your bishops especially where they are given administrative authority to make decisions on the observance of this obligation.

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    Lloyd, the Spirit is moving in those young people, but it is in the clergy with their sustained silences and taboos (of which “celibacy” is the capital) that the Spirit is quenched. When a transgendered person is bullied to death all of us who cultivate taboo are to blame.

  26. Mary Vallely says:

    Lloyd @ 25 I simply mean that it must be soul destroying to take a vow and to willingly break it. That’s what I meant by ‘simple.’ Of course it is more complicated than that and I have always been in favour of optional celibacy as I believe that mandatory celibacy is actually cruel. Is it not more honest to drop out of ordained ministry if that vow cannot be kept? Surely it must tear at the soul to live a life of subterfuge. Maybe I am guilty of expecting too much from priesthood but is not honesty the first prerequisite ? I don’t want to prolong this discussion or take up more than my fair share of space on here but I strongly believe in being upfront and honest. There is a great deal of dishonesty which is not healthy for the soul.
    Good for your daughter by the way. I applaud her efforts and her spirit!

  27. Joe O'Leary says:

    The main reason to get rid of “celibacy” is that it is a fetish and obsession that gets in the way of a meaningful church. Ministry in other churches is not saddled with the mystification of this decayed piece of canon law, so the faithful and their ministers can get on with their Christian lives in a more creative and communal manner.

  28. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Joe @ 27 I agree wholeheartedly. Kids today see a problem and can figure out a solution by connecting the shortest distance between actions to provide the correct workaround. They are the experts in forgiveness and connectivity (which are paramount in today’s society) setting an example for us all to follow. Mimetic desire influences adults in a way that this “status quo” is protected commodity just like your home, your children, or your job. People have tried on this website to explain to the general masses here the detriment that acting in unison on a broken model provides without much success. This outdated model is voracious in its self-preservation – silence and inactivity become a defence that can’t be defeated; the same silence and inactivity this poor child experienced at school, as you point out Joe. The only way to break through is by persistence when examples present themselves.
    It is less a clergy issue and more of an adult phenomenon although under the microscope, we see the Church’s response to what Pope Francis calls an emergency situation in which all are called to act upon as a perfect example of this.
    Mary @ 27 without taking too much space on this topic also, your comments point to the direction of truth, first and foremost. Celibacy is cruel. Being called to be “in service” to the Catholic faithful doesn’t require it so priests who feel like they claim integrity when they don’t prescribe to it are correct. They are in violation of Canon Law which dictates this condition but changes nothing of their ability to be in the service to Catholics, via Catholics. Driving with an expired license doesn’t make you more likely to be in an accident, right? As these man-made written rules don’t dictate universal truths, they certainly establish a mimetic, man-made order which are defended for reasons of pride and not logic. I can guarantee that if Jesus were to materialise in this current day and age (impossible), he’d set fire to the Canons or what should be deemed as the corporatisation (the transformation of state assets into corporations) of our Church. We are not assets to the Church – we are God’s assets and his kingdom can never be corporatised.
    Joe @ 26, the good news is that Pope Francis is slowly but surely burning them in the only way he knows : by inverting the pyramid structure which makes titles obsolete and action inevitable. He is setting fire to clericalism and in its wake, exposing those of us in our midst who can’t come to terms with collegiality and open consultation. Silence is always an option but never the solution.
    I will gladly pass along your comments to her from Ireland, Mary – thank you – she is excited to know that there are people in Ireland who are courageous enough to end the violent cycle of abuse towards the LGBTQ community that the corporatisation of our Church has been responsible for. She wants to visit Ireland some day soon because the “Burke” in her hears its calling and the courage emanating from that rock in the Atlantic is starting to become legendary among the LGBTQ community of her generation.
    She champions all your efforts abroad and echoes them proudly at home.

  29. In this weeks Tablet there is a piece by the author, Thomas Keneally, who is a former seminarian writing about, among other things, his struggles in seminary and the “celibacy problem.”
    He says;
    “The “celibacy problem” encouraged a tendency to stereotype a little over half the species as a perilous massed threat. This wariness and fear of women spilled too easily into contempt, and the cramping of emotional development”
    I was reminded of Tony’s piece on the Language of Doctrine when he says:
    “Not only did I have problems with theological fables such as the Virgin Birth,……”.
    You know, in the last 20 years I have studied and learned that a lot of what I had accepted since I was a child has been based on very flimsy evidence and I would now be able to regard myself, I think, as being fairly mature in acknowledging the bits of our church teaching which are, simply, untenable. Yet, the Virgin birth, despite what Raymond Brown has had to say about it, remains something I would quite like to hang on to. Yet, “theological fables …” !!
    The main thrust of his article, which I have pasted in full below, deals with the clerical sex abuse scandal in Australia. He has just published a new book, Crimes of the Fathers”
    Crimes of the Fathers: a former Seminarian writes of his fury over the extent of clerical sexual abuse in Australia Premium
    07 June 2017 | by Thomas Keneally
    One of Australia’s greatest living writers, a former seminarian, writes of his shock and fury as the extent of sexual abuse by priests in his native country has been revealed / By Thomas Keneally
    I doubt that any Prince of the Church would consider me his child, yet the truth is that in many ways I am irremediably so. I’m not the first ambiguous Catholic to reflect that leaving the Church is the easy part – it’s getting the Church to leave you that is, for various reasons, not all of them healthy, often the vain struggle of a lifetime.
    I was raised in the Church in Australia at a time when it was extremely Hibernian in both senior personnel and membership. Troops of Catholics from Italy, Poland, Croatia, Germany, Holland would arrive gradually in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, but in my childhood the Catholic Church was an Irish one. The Church and the Australian Labor Party were close, since social justice was important for a faithful predominantly working class or lower middle class.
    We needed equity and opportunity, and, through struggle, as in the United States, we eventually achieved that. Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s robust social justice encyclical of 1891, was a standard text for many ordinary Irish Australians, including my parents. It is undeniable that the Christian Brothers in Australia, notable though their role has been in the recent abuse scandals, also had a positive social impact on the lives of many Irish Catholic children, elevating them to the professions and to academe.
    I studied for the priesthood in the Australian equivalent of Maynooth and of the English College in Rome. This was the imposing St Patrick’s Seminary at Manly, overlooking Sydney’s northern beaches. I was devoted and immature and somewhat neurotic, but very much interested in books and social justice. I will always be grateful for the generous and in some aspects open-minded education I received. And there were good men there, many of whom went on to become priests, though some of those later went through the painful business of laicisation. The “celibacy problem” encouraged a tendency to stereotype a little over half the species as a perilous massed threat. This wariness and fear of women spilled too easily into contempt, and the cramping of emotional development.
    I might well have been a disaster had I lasted, a haunted creature hiding behind doctrine, perhaps even wielding it like an axe. Or else a whisky priest. It’s a not unfamiliar story but I might as well tell it. I suffered a nervous collapse after ordination as a deacon. It was caused more by a crisis of faith than by repressed sexuality.
    Not only did I have problems with theological fables such as the Virgin Birth, but I was shocked – perhaps naively – at the callous way the institution treated the young men who left, particularly those who were physically or psychologically unwell. A number of seminarians caught tuberculosis in that draughty old building; they were dispatched back to their parents, who were to bear the entire cost of their recuperation. They were simply earnest boys, who in many cases had obeyed the rules to the letter. We were told not to contact them. One of them, on finally leaving, asked the rector for a reference for the big wide world. He was told, “The Church does not give references.”
    My feeling was, it bloody well should.
    As for myself, I eventually became a mental patient. I spent a month in a hospital full of priests and seminarians. I don’t contend for a moment that the Church had caused our problems. But it had created a rich mulch for compulsions and illnesses to flourish in.
    Much later, as the abuse cases set off an era of Church scandals, I saw a connection between the nugatory way the Church treated their young “failed” priests and the way the victims of abuse were dealt with and disposed of, after being cajoled into remaining silent. I was asked in 2002 to write an article for The New Yorker on the scandal of clerical sex abuse. I spoke to priests I knew in both the US and Australia. One of them, an Australian living in his religious order’s house in the US, was an extremely close friend. His name was Pat Connor. As a priest in Sydney he had held together a group of young Catholics, including me, through the heady days of Vatican II and then the shock of Humanae Vitae.
    Pat had been an uninhibited anti-Vietnam and anti-apartheid campaigner. He was reported to the Archbishop of Sydney for sermons that were said to be too political, and tinged with Communism. His devotion to Gandhi was seen as heterodox. The archbishop insisted that his order remove him from the diocese. We, his people, aware that he had been guilty of no turpitude, were consumed with rage, but Pat took his exile with Gandhian serenity, and went to the US, where he had a fruitful ministry. He died in 2015.
    When I spoke to Pat in 2002, he predicted that the way the Church was dealing with the abuse crisis would have two outcomes. The priest at the centre of my new novel, Crimes of the Father, Frank Docherty, repeats the same warnings. The first was that if the Church failed to address the matter openly, according to its angels of compassion rather than its angels of legal advice, the civil arm would ultimately step in and force it to do so. The second was that a time would come when all priests would be tainted with suspicion, not necessarily that they were themselves abusers, but that they were complicit, as enablers of the abuse and as keepers of criminal secrets.
    Pat proved to be on the money with both prophecies. Sure enough, in 2013 the civil arm in Australia appointed a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is still running, and its findings are proving calamitous for the Church. In my novel, I did not want to diminish the unutterable vileness of the crimes, their satanic opportunism, and their killing and maiming of the young. I wanted to be sympathetic to the innocent priests I have known, but they now all bear a certain institutional shame.
    In writing Crimes of the Father I could not be unaware of the progress of the Royal Commission. It was particularly impossible to ignore the statements of Cardinal George Pell, former Archbishop of Melbourne and Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. Cardinal Pell has built an unfortunate reputation in Australia as the church dignitary par excellence who just didn’t get it.
    Pell objected that the Church had been described as “the only cab on the rank” when it came to child abuse. Though no one had described the Church in those terms, since Pell had chosen to, many were quick to point out that no other cabs on the rank – the Boy Scouts, football teams, even the Anglican Church – had claimed with such gusto to be the ultimate authority on faith and morals.
    The same kind of argument was advanced by Pell when under further interrogation he raised the analogy of a trucking company. If a truck driver sexually assaulted a passenger picked up along the way, he opined, “I don’t think it appropriate for the … leadership of that company to be held responsible”. The choice of the image of the Church as a trucking company boggles the mind. It also glides over the issue of the authorities’ knowledge of the propensity of the “truck driver” to abuse, and the failure to report alleged abuse to the police.
    Since 2014 Pell has been the first Cardinal Prefect of the newly created Vatican Secretariat for the Economy. Summoned by the Royal Commission again in early 2016, he advanced a medical certificate as reason he could not fly home, and so the commission went to Rome to question him. Crowdfunding raised the fares to enable victims of abuse to travel to Rome to observe his evidence. Pell repeatedly claimed total ignorance of any abuse by fellow priests, either as priest, bishop or archbishop. He was quick to blame others, including the deceased Archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, and the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne.
    In February this year, the commission announced its findings on the percentages of abusers among the priesthood. They make shocking reading. I emphasise “shocking”, since some might think a disgruntled Catholic might be pleased to have the scandal exposed. In fact, I was aghast. The commission found that 7 per cent of priests were offenders, rising to 15 per cent in some dioceses. Of the St John of God Brothers, 40 per cent were believed to be offenders, with 22 per cent of Christian Brothers and 20 per cent of Marist Brothers.
    What a devastating tragedy it would be if such figures were to be repeated worldwide. Few of us had suspected the scale of the scandal that the commission has revealed. I recently met an old, amiable and rebellious priest, removed from his parish in Melbourne for being overly outspoken, but nevertheless continuing to minister to a congregation. He is innocent of everything, except perhaps of being too forthright. He told me of his friends Chrissie and Anthony Foster, two of whose daughters were sexually assaulted while in primary school by the same priest. One daughter, Emma, took an overdose and died in 2008, while her sister Katie is brain damaged and in a wheelchair after a car accident.
    The Fosters campaigned tirelessly and courageously for survivors of abuse; they went to Rome to listen with great dignity to Pell’s evidence. Anthony died on 26 May; he was granted a state funeral. The old priest told me that before his death he had received at least fleeting solace from my novel. If that is true, then any passing writerly vanity is swamped by the scale of his family’s suffering.
    Thomas Keneally is the author of more than 40 books, including the Booker Prize-winning novel Schindler’s Ark. His latest novel, Crimes of the Father, is published in the United Kingdom next Thursday.

  30. Kevin Walters says:

    Mary Vallely@16
    “I am afraid women’s issues are on the back boiler but we do not give up hope”………..
    Mary, further reason not to give up hope
    From the link below
    Patriarchy, not nature, makes women unequal
    “The glaring injustice of downgrading women to mere co-operators is not done by nature but by the society and patriarchal tradition,” writes Chenginimattam”.
    “The bishop, head of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of Mavelikara in the southern Indian state of Kerala, critiques the church’s patriarchal system and says “there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever” that men and women had equal roles in the Scriptures”.
    “Patriarchy by its very nature is exploitative,” he writes. “It does not facilitate change in the subordinate situation of women in any significant way.”
    See link below
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  31. Mary Vallely says:

    Kevin, my brother in Christ, I really appreciate you posting this link. It is indeed a sign of hope and does the heart good to see some of those in the Church in India raising awareness of the many injustices against women. They have a particularly hard struggle in that culture as we all know but hope and change comes dripping slow. It was also good to see the growing awareness of women religious who so often go unacknowledged and who have given so much in serving us all. Time to own up to the neglect of such an important and essential ministry. We so often forget those who work away silently among the marginalised seeking nothing but the good of others. “”Honour and glory to God alone” I remember was the refrain at my old Sacred Heart school prizegiving. Thank you again for sharing this Kevin. Your heart’s in the right place. God bless.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.