Vatican Official Opens Door to New Debate Over Celibacy for Priests

Thursday, 12 Sep 2013 12:03 PM

By Courtney Coren

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Ecclesiastical celibacy is not church dogma but a matter of tradition and open for discussion, says Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

His comments in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal have set off speculation that the Catholic Church under Pope Francis is ready to tackle the issue of whether priests should be allowed to marry head on, even though it has been a matter of continuing debate for years.

"It is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition," Parolin, the Vatican's second in command, said in his interview with El Universal.

Urgent: Should the Pope change the Catholic Church?

But he added that any consideration of the topic of celibacy should be approached from a position of maintaining unity within the church, according to a translation of the interview provided by National Catholic Reporter.

"The work the church did to institute ecclesiastical celibacy must be considered," he said. "We cannot simply say that it is part of the past. It is a great challenge for the Pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking of the unity of the church and not to divide it."

Parolin acknowledged in the interview that one way to avoid dividing the church over such matters is to open the discussion among all bishops, rather than keeping it within the Vatican's top leadership.

"It has always been said that the church is not a democracy," he said. "But it would be good during these times that there could be a more democratic spirit, in the sense of listening carefully, and I believe the Pope has made this one of the pontificate's objectives."

NBC News Thursday suggested Parolin's comments may have been "a well-placed trial balloon" by the church to gauge public reaction.

Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome told NBC that a conversation on celibacy would be "enormously welcome" in the United States, where some 30,000 priests have left the church because they wanted to be in relationships.

"I think Catholics, certainly American Catholics, but Catholics of the world, have been waiting for this conversation," Groome said.

Groome noted that Catholics tend to assume that celibacy among the clergy has always been a church rule rather than option. But he noted that "all of the apostles were married, with the possible exception of John," and that "the Orthodox Church has always had a married priesthood."

As to Pope Francis' position on the issue, the online Slate magazine reported that he said in 2012 when he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio that celibacy "is a matter of discipline, not faith" and "can change."

But the Pope added at the time, "I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all of its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures."

Urgent: Should the Pope change the Catholic Church?


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