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Council of Priests argues for married clergy

In an unprecented move, Australia's priests have written to Rome asking that the priesthood be extended to married men and that the Church re-instate priests who left the priesthood to marry.

Online Catholics reported yesterday that the National Council of Priests (NCP) wrote to the Vatican's Synod of Bishops in December as a response to Vatican issued discussion document, called a lineamenta, about the place of the Eucharist in Catholic life. Since celibacy was mandated in the 10th century, only unmarried men could become Roman Catholic priests. The Orthodox Churches permit married and unmarried clergy. Only a priest may 'consecrate' the Eucharist, or hear confession.

"We request that the Synod Fathers examine honestly the appropriateness of insisting upon a priesthood that is, with very few exceptions, obliged to be celibate. Priesthood is a gift, celibacy is a gift : they are not the same gift," the statement says.

NCP President Fr Hal Ranger of Dalby, Toowoomba said that Australian priests were concerned about the increasing number of communities being deprived of weekly Eucharist because of the lack of ordained ministers. "It is surprising and of concern to us that there are no questions in the Lineamenta document about the serious shortage of Priests in many places and the consequent impossibility for many communities to celebrate Eucharist frequently and regularly," he said.

There are numbers of married Anglican ministers worldside converted to Catholicism in protest at the time of the Church of England's acceptance of Prince Charles' divorce. These men were welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church and have served as priests without apparent ill effect. The National Council of Priests say that this shows greater diversity in the priesthood should be explored more seriously.

"We welcome these brothers in Christ and their families. We ask also that the Synod earnestly and seriously consider extending this opportunity (to train and become priests) to other married men."

But one of Australia's married former Anglican priests - Fr John Fleming of Sydney - has spoken out in defence of the celibate priesthood. He argues in today's Sydney Morning Herald celibacy provides a positive witness to chasisty in a "sexually obsessed society", and that it is cheaper to support a celibate male than a family.

But the chairman of the Church's Bishop's Committee for Clergy and Religious, Bishop David Walker of the Sydney Diocese of Broken Bay, said the National Council of Priests' statements did capture a feeling among some priests.

Former Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest Paul Collins told the Herald that the "citadel of celibacy is crumbling in front of us".

In a previous report in yesterday's Herald, Cardinal George Pell declined to say where he stood on the issue of celibacy, only that he agreed with much of what had been written by the council, but not all.

"Reflections on the lineamenta [discussion paper] are offered by the executive of the NCP as 'indications of the thinking of many Australian Catholic priests'," he said. "As a member of the NCP, I would agree with much of what they have written, but not all of it. There are many rooms in the Father's house," he said.

Aussie Priests argue for married clergy (Online Catholics 26/1/05)
Split in push for married priests (Sydney Morning Herald 27/1/05)
Catholic priests demand the right to marry (Sydney Morning Herald 26/1/05)

National Council of Priests | Reflections on the Lineamenta
71% of Aussie Priests give obligatory celibacy the thumbs down (Online Catholics 29/9/04)
Priestly Celibacy, a Supernatural Sign (Zenit 6/9/03)
The growing cost of mandatory celibacy (National Catholic Reporter 17/10/03)
Optional Celibacy (Call to Action USA)

Bishops' Secretary confirms priests' survey on celibacy (CathNews 31/10/04)
US priests urge optional celibacy (CathNews 21/8/03)

Australian priests ask the Vatican to abandon celibacy (Yahoo/AFP 26/1/05)
Aussie priests demand the right to marry (National Nine News/AAP 26/1/05)
Catholic priests urge Church to reconsider celibacy rules (ABC Radio AM 26/1/05)
Choice of Priest, Bishop a lay right - ARC (Online Catholics 26/1/05)
Priests plea to Pope: let us marry (The Age 26/1/05)
Celibacy issue must not overshadow the case for female ordination (Sydney Morning Herald 27/1/05)

27 Jan 2005