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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Church needs debate on married clergy, celibacy, Irish prelate suggests

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNS/Press reports) – An Irish bishop has called for a debate within the church on the issue of married clergy and its understanding of celebacy.

In an interview published in the Dec. 18 Sunday Tribune here, Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe said that there was room for both married and celibate priests in the church and that he believes that this might happen in the future.

Bishop Walsh said that the celibacy rule has led to many priests leaving the priesthood to pursue relationships, and that they have been a great loss to the church.

"There is room for both priests who are married and celibate priests in our church," he said. "I have known some very fine priests who have left the priesthood because they found the challenge of celibacy not life-giving for them.”

"Obviously each one of us longs for love and intimacy in our lives, because without that we live alone and in isolation. Unless in some way celibacy is a generous gift to others and to God, it is meaningless. If we see celibacy simply as abstaining from sexual intimacy, then it is negative, not life-giving," the bishop said.

But there are many priests who think celibacy is a positive aspect of their vocation, the bishop said, adding that he knows priests who give love, time and service with "amazing generosity" and that "some of them wouldn't be able to give as generously if they were married."

"If a priest is married, then obviously his first concern will be for his wife or family. But that is not to say that a married priest would not give as generously as a celibate priest," the bishop said.

Church officials have repeatedly and strongly defended the Latin-rite rule on priestly celibacy. The late Pope John Paul II called it a timely challenge for contemporary society and said allowing a married priesthood may create bigger problems than those it intends to solve.

Ten years ago, Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns made similar calls, and was then supported by Bishop Walsh.

On that occasion, Bishop Comiskey was summoned to Rome to explain his remarks for saying that the issue of mandatory clerical celibacy needed to be discussed, noting that to end the drop in vocations the Latin-rite Catholic Church must allow a married priesthood.

``Where there is no priest there is no Eucharist, and where there is no Eucharist there is no church,'' he said in an interview published in the June 11, 1995, Dublin Sunday Tribune.

Bishop Walsh said, in a June 12, 1995, radio interview, he saw no contradiction in being a priest, a husband and a father at the same time. The bishop said he had no problem about considering changes in ``any particular church law at any time.''

The decrease in vocations is ascribable ``in some part but not in great part'' to celibacy, he said, adding that the major factor in declining vocations is a diminution in faith and spiritual outlook.

Bishop Comiskey was called to the Vatican in July 1995, and never again called for a debate on celibacy.

Bishop Comiskey, a U.S. citizen, resigned as bishop of Ferns in April 2002 over allegations that he failed to protect children.

  • Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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