MARRIAGE FOR PRIESTS
By Andre Bagoo Friday, September 13 2013
THE VATICAN’s second-highest official in-waiting was yesterday quoted as saying priestly celibacy is not church dogma and is therefore open to discussion, marking a significant shift in approach towards the issue at the Holy See.
“Celibacy is not a dogma of the church and can be discussed because it is a church tradition and not an untouchable dogma,” Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s new Cardinal Secretary of State, was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview.
Parolin, 58, an Italian priest who later became the Vatican’s Apostolic Nunico to Venezuela, made the comments in an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. The newspaper posted a 36-minute video of the interview, which was conducted in Spanish, on its website on Sunday.
In the interview, Parolin suggested priestly celibacy is a tradition that served a purpose which may have been fulfilled, and suggested some “modifications” might be permissible.
“It is a tradition and that concept lives on in the Church because throughout the years there have been events that have helped to develop the revelation of God,” he said, according to a translation. “What happened then has been a growth in the understanding and performance of revelation. We can talk, reflect and elaborate on these issues, that are not entrenched questions of faith, and think up some modifications.”
The rare comments from such a high-ranking Vatican official on what has often been a thorny issue for the church mark a distinct shift in tone for the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, Roman Catholic (RC) priests have taken vows of celibacy, meaning they abstain from marriage and sexual relations; embracing chastity.
“It has never been the tradition of the church to allow priests to marry and celibacy has been the tradition for over a thousand years,” Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Joseph Harris said yesterday.
“It is a discipline in the Latin church.” He gave an account of the origins of the RC celibacy rule.
“Some people will tell you it began as an effort to protect the property of the church because if priests were allowed to get married they could bestow church property to their children in their wills,” Harris said. “Other people will say to you the big thing was this: celibacy was the imitation of Christ who was celibate.”
But the celibacy rule is not just a tradition as it is entrenched in the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic church.
The Vatican’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 277) reads: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”
Pope Francis himself — before being made Pope — suggested the celibacy rule could be reviewed. Questioned in 2012, he said celibacy should remain the rule, “for the moment”.
In the interview with El Universal, Parolin acknowledged the difficulties any change could face.
“It is a great challenge to the Pope because he has the ministry of unity and all such decisions should be assumed as a way to unite the Church, not to divide,” Parolin said. It has been reported that many of Pope Francis’ predecessors had declared the subject off-limits.
“There has been a lot of resistance to discussing the issue of celibacy,” said Abigal Frymann, online editor with the UK-based Catholic weekly The Tablet. “The new comments open up a fascinating argument.” The celibacy remarks also come after Pope Francis in July made highly-publicised comments on the Church’s stance on gays. “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised.” However, the Pope has maintained the Church’s stance that homosexual acts are sin.
While it is well-known that priests take a vow of celibacy, what is not known is that there are, in fact, priests who are married.
Harris stated there have been occasions when married priests of the Anglican or Protestant faiths switch to the Catholic faith and become Catholic priests.
However, these cases are very rare exceptions to the rule and priests are generally expected to uphold the discipline of celibacy.
Harris welcomed the call for dialogue on the issue.
“I think there should be a dialogue as the new secretary of state has said,” he said. But he was quick to dampen the interest of anyone out there thinking of making a proposal at some stage in the future.
“I belong to a religious congregation so marriage is not for me,” the Archbishop made clear, adding a hearty laugh.