In what is an unprecedented move, the Vatican has opened the door to the possibility of Catholic priests being allowed to marry.
For centuries Catholic Church tradition has required celibacy from priests and the Canon Law of the church clearly states: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and therefore are bound to celibacy, which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”
However, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the incoming No. 2 in the Catholic Church when be becomes secretary of state next month, has declared that priestly vow of celibacy derived from an age-old rule but was not Catholic dogma.
“It’s not a dogma of the Church and it can be discussed because it’s an ecclesiastical tradition,” Archbishop Parolin told El Universal in Venezuela, where he is completing his term as Papal Nuncio.
This has been interpreted to mean that the church under reformist-minded Pope Francis I would welcome married priesthood if most Catholics so desire.
The number of priests has been declining steadily partly because of the rule on celibacy. In the United States alone, about 30,000 priests have left because they wanted to pursue a relationship.
“I think it would be an enormously welcome conversation,” Thomas Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College, USA, told interviewers. “I think Catholics, certainly American Catholics, but Catholics of the world, have been waiting for this conversation.”
Groome said that the idea of complete celibacy among the clergy only started to become standard practice in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, adding:
“As far as we can tell from the Gospels, all of the apostles were married, with the possible exception of John.”