Editorial: A marriage made in heaven

Times of Malta [Mriehel Malta]

January 20, 2024

Archbishop ruffled feathers within the Catholic Church after he said priests should be allowed to marry

Archbishop Charles Scicluna during a Times of Malta interview earlier this month. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

Charles Scicluna is arguably the most eloquent, smart, humanitarian and conscientious archbishop Malta has ever had.

He has no qualms in voicing publicly his views about corruption, the loss of values and the way we are constantly selling a piece of Malta to the highest bidder. In other words, he can be political (as opposed to ‘partisan’).

That means he is not dissimilar to his boss – Pope Francis – a man carrying out a silent revolution within the Catholic Church.

There is good reason why Scicluna serves as adjunct secretary of the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. And that is why Scicluna has repeatedly been tasked by the Vatican to investigate the delicate cases of child abuse.

“These appointments established his credentials and integrity. When he [Scicluna] speaks, people listen,” former Irish president Mary McAleese said this week.

It was no wonder that the archbishop’s interview with Times of Malta hit the headlines worldwide and ignited a fervent discussion within the Catholic Church after he said priests should be allowed to marry.

The archbishop questions why a young man, possessing the potential to be an exceptional priest, should be compelled to choose between his commitment to God and a desire for marital companionship.

“A man may mature, engage in relationships, love a woman. As it stands, he must choose between her and priesthood, and some priests cope with that by secretly engaging in sentimental relationships,” he admitted.

Acknowledging that it is the Pope who has the final say on the matter, Scicluna says the Catholic Church has lost “good priests just because they chose marriage”.He was brave to propose necessary change in a fast-changing world

Of course, Scicluna’s comments has ruffled feathers, especially among the ultra-conservative factions of the church.

They say celibacy allows a priest to dedicate himself entirely to the Church. There might be some truth in that, but it would also be an insult to the many who served the Church in the first millennium when priestly celibacy was optional.

The critics conveniently forget that the issue is one of discipline not a doctrine, rendering it subject to change by the reigning pontiff. They forget that this is a practice that has persisted for centuries within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. They forget there are already married priests in the Catholic faith.

Celibacy, as mandated by the Church’s Code of Canon Law, is viewed as a ‘special gift of God’, symbolising a sacrifice for spiritual devotion. However, Scicluna’s argument reflects a compassionate understanding that individuals can mature, engage in relationships and still contribute productively in priesthood.

Scicluna did not shy away from the uncomfortable reality. He acknowledged there are Catholic priests around the world who also have children, including possibly in Malta. It is an open secret that some priests resort to extreme measures to conceal their deeds (and misdeeds).

Scicluna said the Pope is right in insisting such a change in the requirement for priestly celibacy should not be about mitigating the vocation crisis, and rules should not be changed to merely attract more men to priesthood or fill in the gaps.

There is, however, also a stark reality facing the Catholic Church to recruit priests. The percentage of Catholics in a growing world has remained steady, while the number of priests has decreased.

Scicluna said what is expected of any good leader. He was brave to propose necessary change in a fast-changing world.

But there is an important caveat: his perspective is rooted in a profound understanding of vocations, underscored by faith. On the other hand, too many priests remain conspicuously silent.

Some might even publicly claim they disapprove of the idea of marriage, even if, in private, they agree with Scicluna’s views; or worse still, are themselves not observing the celibacy requirement. This cowardly approach can be a noose around the Church’s neck.