The Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) expresses deep disappointment that the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference (ICBC) has been unable to agree to bring proposals on ending the celibacy requirement for priestly ministry in Ireland to Pope Francis for their Ad Limina visit to Rome beginning this weekend.
We fully support Bishop Leo O’Reilly’s proposal to set up a commission to examine the celibacy issue, whose proposal reflects elements of our own submission made to Pope Francis prior to the Synod on the Family in 2015.
The growing shortage of priests needs to be addressed now “as a matter of urgency to ensure access by the faithful to Eucharist in the years ahead”.
We underline that the move would be in keeping with the practice of the Eastern Rite Churches where clerics can be married and eliminates the current anomaly of the Ordinariate whereby married Anglican clergy have been accepted into the Catholic Church as ordained priests.
The ACI holds that married clergy would bring the warmth and richness of their lived experience to their pastoral ministry and be well placed to offer support to married couples and families in difficulties.
In addition to ordaining married men, we believe there is a cohort of ordained priests who left active ministry to marry, without seeking laicisation, who could be invited back into ministry right now.
These, we would suggest, would bring their experience of marriage to pastoral work while providing extra resources to meet the challenge of the shortage of priests.
The high percentage of priests over 65 years of age in Ireland and the low intake of seminarians suggest that in ten years’ time many parishes will be without a resident priest.
Already the clustering of parishes has resulted in some parishes being without a daily Mass and on selected weekdays only having prayer services without distribution of Holy Communion. This is upsetting to parishioners, particularly daily Mass-goers.
The ACI commend Bishop O’Reilly for initiating the listening process and extensive consultations with his priests and lay members of the church at the Kilmore Diocesan Assembly where a key element was seeking realistic solutions to the challenge arising from the decreasing number of priests and from which these radical proposals have emerged.
We point out that, in seeking the establishment of a commission, Bishop O’Reilly is reacting positively to the urging of Pope Francis who, speaking about the shortage of priests, said that local bishops are best acquainted with the needs of the faithful and should be courageous and bring concrete suggestions for reform to Rome.
We also point out that the question of celibacy is already being discussed at the highest levels in the Vatican.
In September 2013, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that celibacy is not a dogma of faith and that “it can be debated because it is an ecclesiastical tradition.”
The Association of Catholics in Ireland is committed to the pursuit of a reform and renewal agenda in the Irish Catholic Church in the spirit of Vatican II.