By Cian Molloy - 16 January, 2017
The failure of the Irish bishops to raise the issue of ending the celibacy requirement for priests during their current Ad Limina visit to Rome is a cause of “deep disappointment” to some Catholics in this country.
The Association of Catholics in Ireland, which describes itself as a lay reform group, believes that allowing married clergy would help the vocations crisis.
Not only would it allow married men to seek ordination, says ACI spokesman Noel McCann, but it would also allow priests who have left active ministry in order to marry, but who have not been formally laicised, to return to ministry.
Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore proposed setting up a commission to examine the celibacy issue, but his proposal came to naught, says the ACI. As a result, the Irish bishops have not been able to bring proposals for ending the celibacy rule to Pope Francis during their meeting with him in Rome this week.
Having married clergy is not that far-fetched, says the ACI. Not only do Eastern Rite, or Orthodox, Catholic Churches allow married priests, but there are already married priests in ministry in the Roman Catholic Church on these islands.
These married priests are former Anglicans who were allowed into the Catholic Church following the Church of England’s decision in 1994 to ordain women priests. Indeed, it is reckoned that about one in ten of England’s priests are former Anglican clergy though, of course, not all of these are married.
“The growing shortage of priests needs to be addressed now as a matter of urgency to ensure access by the faithful to Eucharist in the years ahead,” said Mr McCann. “The high percentage of priests over 65 years of age in Ireland and the low intake of seminarians suggest that in ten years’ time many parishes will be without a resident priest.
“The question of celibacy is already being discussed at the highest levels in the Vatican.
“In September 2013, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that celibacy is not a dogma of faith and that ‘it can be debated because it is an ecclesiastical tradition’.”