Is the celibacy of Catholic priests coming to an end?

Source: The Guardian

BY Andrew Brown

Pope Francis may consider ending the celibacy of the parish clergy, at least if local bishops want him to. That much seems clear from the confused reports and counter-reports emerging in advance of a conference of Amazonian Catholic bishops in Brazil.

This is a special case of a more general problem affecting the church worldwide. There are far fewer men coming forward for ordination than it needs. In France the average age of the clergy is over 60; in Ireland Maynooth seminary, built to train 500 priests a year, this year had only six new entrants.

Ending the celibacy of the parish clergy is something any pope could do with a stroke of the pen. It wouldn’t require a change in doctrine. And in some limited cases it has already been ended in the west. Former Anglican priests in Britain and the US have become married Catholic priests; members of the eastern rite Catholic churches serving Ukrainian immigrants in the US have married clergy, just as they do in their homeland. But bishops all around the world are keen for this disruptive pattern not to spread. The Anglican experiment was established in the teeth of resistance from the English Catholic hierarchy, and is clearly going to die out within a generation, since no new married men are to be ordained.

The bishops’ hostility is easy to understand. A married clergy would break the economic and cultural basis of the church in the west. Parishioners would have to pay for the priest’s family, who would need a house as well as an income; the priest would belong to his family as well his flock; there would be divorces, as there have already been in the US. Clergy who had already signed up for a celibate life would be full of resentment at others not having to make the same sacrifice. Yet the present situation looks increasingly unsustainable.

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