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Alternative priests' council hits back on mandatory celibacy

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (ACCC), which represents 300 of Australia's 1650 Catholic priests, has begged to differ from the more established National Council of Priests (NCP), which wrote to Rome urging the October Synod of Bishops to reexamine the celibacy requirement for priests.

ACCC National Chairman Fr John Walshe has issued a statment regretting the assumption of media reporting that the NCP represents all of Australia's priests, when in fact its membership only around 50%. While the ACCC is the smaller of the two organisations, Fr Walshe says it is the more "youthful", claiming that most members are priests under 40 years of age.

He described celibacy as a "counter-cultural" witness.

"The ACCC supports the continued practice of mandatory celibacy because it stands as a unique witness to total service of Christ and a witness to the life to come," he said. "In a world that struggles with commitment, chastity and discipline the witness of celibacy is powerful and godly."

Fr Walshe also suggested that the anti-clerical celibacy argument "is based upon a questionable analysis of the practice of celibacy in the Church of the West prior to the tenth century". He claimed "scholarship has unearthed that priests of earlier ages who were married often were required to live 'Josephite marriages' once they were ordained" which "often meant the separation of priest-husband and wife".

Meanwhile the NCP yesterday received an accolade from the US-based organisations FutureChurch and Call To Action, which described the NCP intervention as a "courageous" which significantly spreads widespread calls for optional celibacy beyond the USA.

"This prophetic action by the Australian priests internationalises the movement and will certainly energise our base," the groups said in a joint media release.

ABC Radio is reporting that Canberra-Goulburn auxiliary Bishop Pat Power is urging other Bishops to support calls for the relaxation of celibacy rules for priests.

"To what degree are we prepared to read the signs of the times, to what degree are we prepared to listen to the pleas of our people?" he asked. "If we're going to continue to be blind and deaf in those areas well I think we're heading down the wrong path."

The ACCC's Fr Walshe stressed that ACCC members are "one with our brother priests in the NCP in recognising the crisis that we face in the Church in Australia regarding the shortage of priests".

"We differ very significantly, however in our analysis of the why of this crisis and the way forward out of this crisis."

The Catholic Leader is reporting this Sunday that the Archdiocese of Brisbane is anticipating the number of priests in parish ministry to drop by 25% over the next six years.

Commission for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning chairman Fr Peter Dillon told the Leader that the schedule of planning requirements is "asking us to think outside the parameters we've normally been working with".

Celibacy of the Clergy: another response (Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy 28/1/05)
Aust Catholic bishop joins call for change in celibacy rules (ABC Radio Australia 27/1/05)
Reform Groups Welcome Australian Priest Council Call for Optional Celibacy (FutureChurch 27/1/05)
25 per cent drop in priests predicted (Catholic Leader 20/1/05)

National Council of Priests
Call to Action USA
Commission for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning, Archdiocese of Brisbane

Council of Priests argues for married clergy (CathNews 27/1/05)
Bishops' Secretary confirms priests' survey on celibacy (CathNews 31/10/04)
US priests urge optional celibacy (CathNews 21/8/03)

Australian priests' council asks synod to rethink priestly celibacy (Catholic News Service 26/1/05)
Australian priests seek end to celibacy (Reuters 27/1/05)
Editorial: Catholic priests and marriage (Sydney Morning Herald 28/1/05)

28 Jan 2005