Priests in St. Cloud Diocese Join Call for Dialogue on Celibacy Rule

By Joseph Young
Iobserve [St. Cloud MN]
Downloaded March 13, 2004

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (CNS) -- Thirty-seven priests in the St. Cloud Diocese have signed letters to the president of the U.S. bishops' conference calling for dialogue on the issue of mandatory celibacy.

The letters were sent in early March to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Each priest signed a copy of the same letter and all were sent along with a cover letter.

Their action resulted from a survey mailed to priests in mid-February by Father Robert Kieffer, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Fergus Falls, and Father Ronald Weyrens, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park.

"We join our voices to those of other dioceses to urge the bishops of the United States to talk with priests on the issue of mandatory/optional celibacy for diocesan priests of the Roman rite," they said in a cover letter that listed the priest-signers.

"We ask the bishops to create a format for discussion in which any priest who wants to may be heard on the issue," they said.

"Our concern for the well-being of our priesthood is genuine, as is our concern for the sacramental life of the church," they added. "The celebration of the sacraments becomes more problematic as the number of priests available to serve in parishes declines."

The survey was not motivated by concerns over clergy sexual abuse, the priests said.

The identical letters signed by each priest expressed hope that the church "will embrace a more ancient tradition" that distinguishes priestly ordination from the vocation to celibacy.

Mandatory celibacy has been a universal rule in the Western church since the 11th century.

The St. Cloud Diocese is not the first to have priests petition Bishop Gregory, Fathers Kieffer and Weyrens noted.

In the past year, similar letters have been signed by associations of priests from Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York state and by priests from St. Paul-Minneapolis and New Ulm; Milwaukee; Albany, N.Y.; Belleville, Ill.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Priests from the Diocese of Arlington, Va., signed a letter supporting mandatory priestly celibacy.

Bishop Gregory, who heads the Diocese of Belleville, has responded to previous petitions by saying optional celibacy would not necessarily increase the number of priesthood candidates, and that celibacy is a "spiritual means to draw closer to Christ."

Fathers Kieffer and Weyrens mailed their survey letters to 130 St. Cloud diocesan priests, active and retired, living in and outside the diocese. The letters also went to 105 priests in the diocese who belong to religious orders. Nearly 16 percent of the total number of priests signed the letter. Signers included 18 diocesan priests, 18 Benedictines and one Crosier.

Fathers Kieffer and Weyrens hand-delivered copies of the signed letters along with a cover letter to the St. Cloud chancery on March 1.

Bishop John F. Kinney declined to comment on the survey. A few priests, however, contacted by the St. Cloud Visitor, diocesan newspaper, explained their decisions to sign or not.

"How serious are we about keeping our sacramental ministry central?" asked Father Eberhard Schefers, who signed the letter. "We have to at least talk about other options" for the priesthood, he added.

Father Leo Moenkedick said he did not sign the letter "because I believe that I took a vow of obedience to the bishop and to the church, and whatever they decide on (optional celibacy) is fine with me. I don't feel I need to voice my opinion on that."

Father Kevin Anderson also did not sign because, he said, "letters like this, although well-intentioned, will set back 50 years or more the discussion of the more urgent task of women's ordination."


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