Catholic Group Asks for Married Priests

By Daniel J. Wakin
The New York Times
April 28, 2004

Representatives of priests in at least nine dioceses, from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Long Island, have announced the birth of a new nationwide effort to allow married men in the Roman Catholic clergy.

The priests met in Riverdale in the Bronx on April 20 and 21 and created the Priests' Forum for Eucharist, which the organizers said yesterday would press the church to increase the ranks of the priesthood through optional celibacy.

They said those at the meeting represented groups of priests totaling about 1,000. There are roughly 30,000 diocesan priests and 15,000 religious order priests in the country. The total is down by nearly a third since 1965.

"Priests' Forum for Eucharist sees that the Church law of mandatory celibacy is endangering the identity of the Catholic faithful as a people of the Eucharist," the organizers said. "They believe that making celibacy an option for those who wish to become priests or by ordaining those who are already married is an obvious and welcome way" to bolster those ranks.

The movement stems from a letter sent in August by 163 priests in the Milwaukee diocese urging the nation's bishops to make celibacy optional. Priest organizations in other dioceses began sending letters of support spontaneously, said Thomas McCabe, a married former priest.

He said the forum members hoped to organize a large-scale meeting on the subject in the spring of 2005. The group generally favors optional celibacy for diocesan priests, and not for priests in religious orders.

A driving force in the forum is Voice of the Ordained, a recently organized group of priests in the Archdiocese of New York and dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, which covers Long Island. The forum's coordinator is the Rev. Andrew P. Connolly, pastor of St. Frances de Sales parish of Patchogue, N.Y.

The meeting last week included priests from Milwaukee, Chicago, Albany, Belleville, Ill., and Pittsburgh.

The organizers stress that what drives them to push for optional celibacy is what they call a major shortage of priests, leaving some parishioners without anyone to administer holy communion and crushing workloads for many pastors.

Some pastors celebrate five or more Masses a weekend, others travel to distant churches and many dioceses depend on imported priests whose "differences of language and culture limit their effectiveness," the forum organizers said.

Last summer, 3,040 parishes out of 19,081 in the United States did not have resident pastors.

The American bishops and Pope John Paul II have consistently rejected any questioning of the celibacy requirement for Latin-rite priests. Married men are allowed to be ordained in the Eastern rite outside of the United States, and married Anglican clergy who convert to Catholicism are allowed to be ordained in the Latin rite.


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