Push to Loosen Celibacy Rules

CBS [Milwaukee WI]
August 19, 2003

More than 160 priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee have signed a letter arguing that married men should be allowed to enter the priesthood.

The letter marks the first time since the mid-1970s that a group of priests has spoken out in favor of loosening the rules on celibacy, said Dean Hoge, a sociologist at Catholic University of America.

"We join our voices to those of so many others at this time, voices urging that diocesan priesthood now be open to married men as well as to celibate men," the letter said.

The priests hope the letter will prompt a dialogue about the issue of optional celibacy because of the shortage of priests, said the Rev. Tom Suriano, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Whitewater.

Catholic priests must take a vow of celibacy and the church forbids priest to be married.

The Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, said he would request that the letter be discussed by the Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, a subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will chair that committee, beginning in November, Silva said.

Archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski said Dolan did not attempt to stop the priests from circulating the letter. Topczewski also did not expect any fallout for priests who signed the letter.

Copies of the letter were mailed to 442 retired and active diocesan priests living in the 10-county archdiocese, and 128, or 29 percent, returned signed copies, the organizers said. Another 35 religious order priests signed copies.

"Given the present context of the scandals of the last several years, many see optional celibacy as something that needs to be discussed. It opens up the pool of candidates for the priesthood," Silva said.


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