Clerical Celibacy: The Beginning of the End?

It’s been rumoured for some time, and now it’s out in the open. Pope Francis could permit the ordination of married priests, at least in the remote Amazon region.

Amazon basin – Wikipedia

The Pope has requested a debate over allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region of Brazil, a move likely to outrage conservatives in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff took the decision to put a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote by Brazilian bishops after a request by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, Il Messaggero newspaper quoted the sources saying.

In itself, this is just a very tiny step, restricted to a particular region with unique difficulties. It’s also just the start of what will be a protracted process: an invitation for local Catholics to “debate” the issue, possibly followed by the bishops having a vote on the matter. Still, it’s clear where this process will lead.  For years, it’s been known that Brazilian bishops do indeed want to ordain married men.

Nor can it in the long run, be restricted to the Amazon region. With the topic once again open to debate, and the new emphasis on decentralised decision making, other South American bishops will be pressing for the same flexibility elsewhere on the continent. So will those in Asia and Africa – where there are already very many Catholic priests living openly with wives and children.

Clerical celibacy is a myth.  It lacks any sound basis in either doctrine or scripture, and does not apply to other Christian denominations, or even to Catholics of the Eastern Rite, or to married priests of other denominations, converting to Rome. It is not strictly observed, contributes to the harmful cult of clericalism that Pope Francis has warned against, and limits the ability of the priesthood to speak with the wisdom of experience, about matters of sexuality, love and marriage.

Opening up discussion of married priests in the Amazon, is just one tiny step. However, it must in the long run lead to much more, and so is most welcome.

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