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Bush bishop backs priestly celibacy debate

Bishop Gerard Hanna of the southern NSW Diocese of Wagga Wagga has supported calls from the National Council of Priests to debate the issue of priests marrying.

ABC Radio Riverina reports that Bishop Hanna, who is a member of the Council, said the issue has yet to be approved for debate at the Synod in Rome mid year, but if it is, he'd welcome it.

"I think the matter needs to be discussed," he said. "It's a very complex thing, it's not a question of right or wrong or good or bad in a sense, it's a question of whether relaxing the law of celibacy will in fact open up those other questions about how we operate, if you like, as a church."

On Thursday, Bishop Pat Power, auxiliary of the neighbouring Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, urged 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."

Meanwhile parish priest of Dubbo, in the Western Plains region of NSW, told the local newspaper that the issue of celibacy is just one of a number of important questions facing the Church as it attempts to minister to Australians in the 21st century.

"There is a need for more lay people in the church and they have to be allowed to take leading roles," he said. "I see this issue (the celibacy debate) as a positive because it is raising the much broader issues facing the church."

In Tasmania, Devenport parish priest told the Burnie Advocate that he believes Catholics are "quite ready for their priests to be allowed to marry".

"Priests have a fairly high workload and I can see how several in the church would see having a wife as someone wonderful to share their life with, benefiting both them and the parish," he said. "There would be priests out there who would enjoy the company, telling their partner about their day and doing all the things normal couples do."

The National Council of Priests, which represents about half of Australia's 3000 priests, wrote to Rome urging the October Synod of Bishops to reexamine the celibacy requirement for priests.

Another priests' representative organisation - the 300-strong Confraternity of Catholic Clergy - has expressed a contrary view, affirming priestly celibacy as a "unique witness to total service of Christ".

Anglican laywoman and religion commentator for The Age Muriel Porter, whose doctoral thesis was on clergy marriage, argues in today's paper that " spiritual gift of priesthood and the spiritual gift of celibacy are not the same".

She says that "unlike the issue of women priests, which the Pope has declared to be theologically impossible, the celibacy requirement is not a matter of church doctrine".

Wagga Bishop backs marriage debate (ABC Riverina NSW 28/1/05)
Priest backs call to change marriage rule (Dubbo Daily Liberal 28/1/05)
Aussie priests seeking Vatican's blessing to marry (Burnie Advocate 29/1/05)
No change to rule on celibacy ( Press 27/1/05)

Catholic Diocese of Wagga Wagga
National Council of Priests

Alternative priests' council hits back on mandatory celibacy (CathNews 28/1/05)
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)

Church will benefit if priests are able to marry (The Age 31/1/05)

31 Jan 2005