Bishops Won't Discuss Celibacy, Marriage in Priesthood

By Susan Hogan
Sun Herald [Washington DC]
November 11, 2003

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Three months ago, 163 Catholic priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee touched an ecclesiastical nerve by calling for a discussion of celibacy and of marriage in the priesthood.

Soon, priests from Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere joined the call, as have thousands of lay Catholics.

But U.S. bishops, holding their fall meeting this week, say the matter isn't on the table.

Instead, they said, they'll focus on "more pressing issues" - devotional prayers, Catholicism in Africa and their disgust with same-sex unions.

"Society needs the witness of (priestly) celibacy now more than ever," Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante said Tuesday. "Rushing headlong into totally changing the church's teaching wouldn't be constructive."

Most bishops aren't open to talking about allowing priests to marry because Pope John Paul II flatly opposes it, said Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks, Ala.

"We've got to do what the boss wants," he said.

But Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, said the "boss" isn't the pope, but God. A discussion about celibacy could be beneficial, he said. "We don't lose anything by listening."

Many people contend that allowing priests to marry could help address the church's chronic clergy shortage. There are 44,000 U.S. priests - 13,000 fewer than in 1965.

Polls show that more than half of American Catholics are open to the idea of married priests.

In other business, Illinois Appellate Judge Anne Burke of Chicago, interim director of the bishops' national lay review board, told the bishops that results of a diocese-by-diocese audit of compliance with church policies on sexual abuse will be released in January.

Outside the meeting, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, distributed a list of 13 cases of what they called "known or suspected predator priests" who have remained in or been restored to active ministry. SNAP leaders said they fear the diocesan audits will be skewed because interview teams are getting only the information that bishops are willing to share.

"In essence, the bishops have drawn up the rules of the game, hired the umpires and are now declaring they're winning," said SNAP leader Terrie Light.


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