American priests call for discussion on ordaining married men as priests
If a January letter from the more than 1,100-member Association of U.S. Catholic Priests is effective, the church might take steps to allow married men to be ordained as priests.
“Please take advantage of the opportunity that Pope Francis provides for the sake of the church in the United States: accept the offer of Pope Francis to consider the possibility of ordaining married viri probati
as priests,” says the letter sent to every U.S. archbishop, bishop, auxiliary bishop, and retired bishop.
The term viri probati
, in effect “proven men,” is “men that would have been proven by their life of faith, by their witness to the faith, the sincerity of their desire to be of witness to the people of God,” said the Rev. Bob Bonnot of Struthers, Ohio, who is the chairman of the association and one of the signers of the letter.
The priests are not asking that the tradition of celibacy be lifted. They are not asking that they marry.
Instead, the letter asks for “an open dialogue about a married priesthood serving alongside the witness of a celibate priesthood.”
That could include permanent deacons becoming priests, and seminarians getting married before ordination, but the details are up to the bishops, the priests say.
“Our resolution is not addressing and does not include any implication that we’re saying priests who were ordained and left the ministry and then marry will be called back,” Father Bonnot said. “This does not address that.”
The AUSCP also has welcomed the possibility that women serve as ordained deacons, but women becoming priests hasn’t received AUSCP support. The issue of women in the priesthood is not addressed in the Jan. 23 letter.
The AUSCP “is calling for a discussion about expanding the married priests that we have,” said AUSCP member the Rev. Donald Cozzens, writer-in-residence and adjunct professor at John Carroll University and author of the book Freeing Celibacy
, “because Eastern Rite Catholic priests are married and we also have probably 200-plus Latin Rite priests, mostly converts from the Episcopal church.”
“It hardly seems fair that our own are not allowed that privilege, but others that come into the faith are,” said Sister Jackie Doepker of the Tiffin Franciscans, who is the executive secretary of AUSCP and signed the letter.
Father Cozzens also noted, “Mandatory celibacy for priests really only goes back to the 12th century.” He added that there are “at least 39 married popes. Many are saints today.”
The AUSCP is raising the married-priests issue by carefully following words of Pope Francis. It was reported that in April, 2014, the Pope discussed married men’s ordination with a Brazilian bishop and indicated that bishops should suggest topics like that to him.
“There is a clergy shortage in the United States,” said the Rev. Frank Eckart, the treasurer and one of the founders of AUSCP, and a signer of the letter. Father Eckart, of Toledo, is a retired priest.
He said that proportionally, “we perhaps have more clergy than a lot of countries, but the structure of Catholicism in the U.S. is very parish-centered.” More priests are needed to minister to the people.
“Priests are stretched to the limit to cover so many bases,” said Sister Jackie.
“I think that we are exhausting them and they don’t have as much time for the pastoral care of the people.”
So the AUSCP is “asking the bishops to discuss this possibility among others that are dealing with the clergy shortage,” Father Eckart said.
“I think what we have in mind is what Pope Francis has in mind, that we have to provide ministry for people, and that’s pretty much how this resolution came about,” Father Eckart said.
A representative in the media office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the possibility of discussion “would really be the purview of the individual bishop” because the letters were sent to all the bishops and not to the bishops’ organization.
Bishop Daniel Thomas of the Diocese of Toledo did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
“The bishops value the service of priests to the Church but don’t have any comment on this matter,” said Don Clemmer, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2015...rried-clergy.html#WcRUQmlDcYeHU0Xt.99