Friday, February 23, 2007

Married Catholic priest ordained for remote, world’s largest geographic parish

I found this article very interesting especially since the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese was one of 7 dioceses that in 2002 raised the celibacy issue again with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. From a CNN news story from that period:

A new report by the seven bishops of Canada's northern dioceses says they desperately need priests but are hamstrung by the celibacy requirements.

Presented to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Cornwall, Ont. on Oct. 18, the report notes that most priests are advanced in age. In some communities, Mass is celebrated only two or three times a year. Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese has 40 parishes and 20,000 people with seven priests.

Several years ago, the northern bishops asked Rome to ease its ban on married clergy so that indigenous married men, who were respected leaders concerned about nurturing faith among their people, be ordained priests. The appeal was turned down.

"We don't dare make another request to the Vatican ... but maybe with the support of this conference, that would help us," said Bishop Vincent Cadieux.

Why is it so impossible for Rome to understand that a clerical model that was designed for the old European church no longer works in today's world and least of all in the indigenous churches in the Americas? Chiapas and the Northwest Territories are vastly different places but the call for a married priesthood is the same.

Married Catholic priest ordained for remote, world’s largest geographic parish
By Sara Loftson
Catholic Online (

YELLOWKNIFE, Canada (The Catholic Register) – Hundreds of parishioners packed St. Patrick’s Church in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, on Feb. 18 to see Don Flumerfelt ordained as the first Catholic priest married with children in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese.

After 29 years as an Anglican priest, Father Flumerfelt will now lead a Catholic church in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories.

“It’s an answer to prayer,” said Father Flumerfelt, 59.

Father Flumerfelt made the decision after taking a short break from his Anglican ministry to deal with family issues, including his daughter’s illness and mother’s death. During the difficult time, Father Flumerfelt said he received a lot of support from the Catholic Church and began to feel a strong connection to the faith.

The Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese covers most of the Northwest Territories and small portions of Nunavut, Alberta and Saskatchewan. While it’s the largest diocese geographically in the world, it only has seven priests: three are on loan from other southern Canadian dioceses, three are diocesan priests and one is an Oblate of Mary Immaculate order priest.

During the western bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome in the fall, Bishop Denis Croteau used most of his 15-minute audience with Pope Benedict XVI to petition for Father Flumerfelt’s ordination. After Croteau assured the Pope that Flumerfelt was a suitable candidate and would be accepted by the local community, the pope granted permission on the spot.

During the Mass, St. Patrick’s pastor Father Daley read the indult from the pope to assure the congregation that this is a legitimate ordination.

“It’s (my wife’s) ‘yes,’ along with the pope, that has given me the privilege of standing here today as a Roman Catholic priest,” Father Flumerfelt told the congregation in his closing remarks.

Father Flumerfelt’s wife of 35 years, Julia, read the first reading and was acknowledged throughout the Mass at different points. She said she felt very included during her husband’s formation.

“I try to respond when people have a need when they ask me, but I’m much more of a prayer person in the background,” said Julia Flumerfelt, 57, who has also converted to Catholicism.

While many hoped this ordination would be a sign of unity between Anglicans and Catholics, no Anglican clergy were in attendance.

The ordination also caused a sore spot for some Catholics in the diocese.

“I’ve had some very strong statements from Catholics who’ve said you can’t do this, it’s just impossible to have two loves, one for the church and one for your wife,” said Father Flumerfelt. “I don’t honestly believe that’s true for all people.

“The bishop has said the discipline of celibacy is a discipline of the church, it’s not a word directly from God and that discipline may in time change, but we haven’t been in this to try and change anything.”

“We are not crusaders,” added Julia Flumerfelt.

“It’s interesting for myself. They’ll let me through the back door, but they won’t let me through the front,” said James Lynn, the parish leader at the Dettah Mission, a small 30-person mission just outside Yellowknife.

He is one of two men in the diocese who have left the priesthood to marry. In Lynn’s case, he left 17 years ago to marry a native woman. He is no longer able to celebrate Mass, but instead he leads eucharistic services, in which the host is pre-consecrated by a priest.

Bishop Croteau has written a pastoral letter to explain these concerns and others.

For a “Protestant minister becoming a Catholic priest there is a continuous march on the journey of faith. With the Catholic priest who has renounced his vow there is a break in the journey of faith to do something else,” Bishop Croteau wrote.

Internationally, hundreds of married priests from other Christian faiths have been ordained by the Catholic Church in recent years.

While the Catholic Church only allows married priests in rare instances, the Orthodox Church allows married priests, as do the Eastern-rite Catholic churches.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Rent A Priest" website offers services of married priests

From WKYC Radio - Cleveland Ohio

Sunday was a big day for young Henry Daniel Gruler at St. Hilary parish in Fairlawn, Ohio. At the beginning of Mass, the baby boy was welcomed into the Catholic Church by immersion in the baptismal font.

Father Gordon Yahner held the infant as he recited the age old invocation, "I baptise you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

In his long career as a Catholic priest in the Cleveland diocese, Father Yahner has baptised hundreds of youngsters and adults. But after forty four years serving God, Father Yahner is stepping down as the head of St. Hilary next month.

His retirement is part of a growing problem for the Catholic Church in Northeast Ohio and across the country. There just aren't enough young men being ordained to take the place of the men who are retiring.

In 1976, the Cleveland diocese had 406 active parish priests. By last year, that number had dropped to 106 with another 85 in "retired" status.

The shortage of priests wasn't a problem for Craig and Amy Kaltenbach in Parma. When they wanted to get married, they found a priest on website called "Rent A Priest. The site provides a way to locate married priests who are willing to provide a variety of services.

Father Steve Sabanos is the man who pronounced Craig and Amy "husband and wife". Said Amy, "you could tell he likes what he does and he cared. And that really came through in the way he dealt with us."

Father Steve Sabanos and his wife, Mary live in Strongsville. Before they married, Steve was a parish priest in the Cleveland diocese. A few years after his ordination, he fell in love with Mary and was forced to leave his parish.

"I needed to remain true to the wonderful gift of the priesthood that i had," said Steve. "But I also became aware that there was a wonderful gift of marriage that God was sharing with me."

Pope Benedict the 16th met with Vatican officials a few months ago and said "the choice of priestly celibacy in accordance with catholic tradition was reaffirmed".

Even though the Vatican has clearly said rejected the idea of married priests, many Catholics are wondering if it's time to reconsider.

"Letting priests marry would be my number one preference," said Marlette Lewisin. "Because I don't see in my own mind marriage being a negative. I see it as positive for priests."

Fellow parishioners Harry Covington and his wife, Marie agreed with that sentiment. Said Harry, "the Church has to think outside the box. That means married priests and women priests."

At Borromeo Seminary celibacy is mandatory for the young men preparing for priesthood. Father Tom Dragga is director of the seminary. He told Channel 3's Mike O'Mara that the number of vocations seems to be increasing. However, this year only four men will be ordained.

"Once a man is ordained, he is ordained forever", said Father Dragga. "However, in terms of their ability to serve, if they've made that choice to move on or move out of ministry, then they would not be able to serve in that capacity as a priest."

Father Steve Sabanos does not agree. "I didn't give up my vocation because I got married", said Sabanos. "Matter of fact, God has enhanced my vocation".

Down in Akron, Father Phil Marcin thinks the Vatican policy on celibacy is a huge mistake.
For twelve centuries, the Catholic Church let priests marry. In fact, several popes were married and had children.

Said Father Marcins, "I've done weddings, funerals, baptisms, in people's homes, outside, and even in our own home. I am here to serve whenever someone requests my help."

Before he married his wife Linda, Father Phil Marcin was a parish priest at st. Bernards in Akron. He graduated from St. Mary's seminary in 1963. Now the father of two sons, Marcin has joined the rent a priest movement.

"If I'm going to love God, does it have to be as a celibate?" asked Father Marcin. "The answer came to me that I can serve god as a married person."

His wife Linda added, "there really isn't a good argument for mandatory celibacy. So it makes no sense. It's heartbreaking, and it's totally frustrating."

At St. Hilary's, Father Yahner may be retiring, but as he approaches his 70th birthday, he remains open to new ideas that may be contrary to the Vatican policy.

Said Father Yahner, "I, as a priest, have no problem, pardon me, with anyone - man or woman, who wants to come to work as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let it happen."

In the meantime, Catholics pray for guidance and the shortage of priests continues to grow.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Churches back plan to unite under Pope

This has little to do with celibacy other than the admission of married Anglican priests as Catholic priests but it's important to think about as it would have a significant impact on the Catholic Church.

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Times
February 19, 2007

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.

It comes as the archbishops who lead the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in an attempt to avoid schism over gay ordination and other liberal doctrines that have taken hold in parts of the Western Church.

The 36 primates at the gathering will be aware that the Pope, while still a cardinal, sent a message of support to the orthodox wing of the Episcopal Church of the US as it struggled to cope with the fallout after the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson.

Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of women priests.

Rome has already shown itself willing to be flexible on the subject of celibacywhen it received dozens of married priests from the Church of England into the Catholic priesthood after they left over the issue of women’s ordination.

There are about 78 million Anglicans, compared with a billion Roman Catholics, worldwide. In England and Wales, the Catholic Church is set to overtake Anglicanism as the predominant Christian denomination for the first time since the Reformation, thanks to immigration from Catholic countries.

As the Anglicans’ squabbles over the fundamentals of Christian doctrine continue — with seven of the conservative primates twice refusing to share Communion with the other Anglican leaders at their meeting in Tanzania — the Church’s credibility is being increasingly undermined in a world that is looking for strong witness from its international religious leaders.

The Anglicans will attempt to resolve their differences today by publishing a new Anglican Covenant, an attempt to provide a doctrinal statement under which they can unite.

But many fear that the divisions have gone too far to be bridged and that, if they cannot even share Communion with each other, there is little hope that they will agree on a statement of common doctrine.

The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.

The commission was set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity. Its aim was to find a way of moving towards unity through “common life and mission”.

The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the “imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and other issues.

In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.

In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

Other recommendations include inviting lay and ordained members of both denominations to attend each other’s synodical and collegial gatherings and conferences. Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic ones on visits to Rome.

The report adds that special “protocols” should also be drawn up to handle the movement of clergy from one Church to the other. Other proposals include common teaching resources for children in Sunday schools and attendance at each other’s services, pilgrimages and processions.

Anglicans are also urged to begin praying for the Pope during the intercessionary prayers in church services, and Catholics are asked also to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In today’s Anglican Church, it is unlikely that a majority of parishioners would wish to heal the centuries-old rift and return to Rome.

However, the stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the present dispute dividing his Church gives an indication of how priorities could be changing in light of the gospel imperative towards church unity.

Dr Rowan Williams, who as Primate of the Church of England is its “focus for unity”, has in the past supported a liberal interpretation of Scripture on the gay issue. But he has made it clear that church unity must come before provincial autonomy. A logical extension of that, once this crisis is overcome either by agreement or schism, would be to seek reunion with the Church of England's own mother Church.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pilfering Priests

By Tim Padgett / Delray Beach
Time/CNN Feb. 15, 2007

Until two years ago, the Roman Catholic diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., ran audits of its parishes only when they changed pastors. It was a risky, even foolhardy policy when you consider that a parish like St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, in Delray Beach, hadn't changed pastors in 40 years. In September 2003, upon the retirement of St. Vincent's pastor, the Rev. John Skehan, diocesan accountant Denis Hamel dutifully showed up to inspect the books and the procedures for counting Sunday collections. The new pastor, the Rev. Francis Guinan--a close buddy of Skehan's--told him to beat it. But the new bishop, Gerald Barbarito, eventually ordered Guinan to comply--and by Easter 2005, after parish staff had come forward with what they knew about St. Vincent's slippery bookkeeping, Hamel was left dumbfounded. "I called the bishop," says Hamel, now the diocese's financial administrator, "and I told him we had a tiger by the tail."

It was an especially ravenous beast if the allegations are true. Forensic auditors estimate that Skehan and later Guinan misappropriated $8.6 million over 42 years. They allegedly diverted St. Vincent collection money to secret slush-fund accounts while living as hedonistically as Renaissance Popes. The police report says Skehan, 79, gave a "girlfriend" $134,000, made a rare-coins purchase for $275,000 and owned an oceanfront condominium worth $455,000. It says Guinan, 63, whom Barbarito removed as St. Vincent's pastor in 2005, spent his take on expensive vacations to Las Vegas and the Bahamas; a $220,000 renovation of his parish residence; and payments to his own "paramour," the bookkeeper of his former parish, whom he gave $47,000 for credit-card bills and her child's tuition. Both priests were arrested by Delray Beach police last September--after Guinan returned from a South Pacific cruise--and were charged with grand theft. (They pleaded not guilty.)

St. Vincent's may be the worst known case of embezzlement to hit U.S. Catholicism, but Skehan and Guinan are joined by a gallery of other recent alleged klepto-clerics. Last month a Virginia priest was indicted for allegedly embezzling $600,000 from two Catholic churches--in part to help support the woman and three children he had been secretly living with. Last year a Connecticut priest was accused of pilfering up to $1.4 million to pay for his Audi cars, luxury-hotel stays, jewelry for his boyfriend and a Fort Lauderdale condo. And last June another priest was sentenced to five years in prison after the misappropriation of $2 million from the Church of the Holy Cross in Rumson, N.J.

Just when the Catholic Church in the U.S. was beginning to recover from the sordid sexual-abuse scandal of 2002, it may be staring at a new crisis. "This is the last thing the church needs when you think how low its moral credibility already is" in the wake of the child-molestation tragedy, says Chuck Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "But I'm appalled at the lack of internal [financial] controls at Catholic parishes." In a recent study co-authored by Zech and Villanova accountancy professor Robert West, 85% of the 78 U.S. Catholic dioceses responding to their survey (out of a total of 174 queried) reported embezzlement cases--and 11% had scandals of $500,000 or more. Some cases involve laypeople and not priests; and the study's one silver lining is its finding that priests are often the whistle-blowers.

Still, the increasing number of clergy getting caught with their hands in the offertory is once again prompting questions about the Catholic priesthood. Not that clerical enrichment is by any means an exclusively Catholic scourge: it's hard to forget that Protestant TV evangelist Jim Bakker once defrauded his followers of $158 million. But scholars like Zech argue that the financial apparatus at Protestant churches is often "more transparent and encouraging of lay participation" than it is at Catholic parishes--where, says Hamel, some pastors still carry "an Old World attitude that what's in the collection basket is theirs personally to do with as they wish."

Priestly arrogance may not be the only factor. Unlike monks, parish priests do not take a vow of poverty; but they promise to be celibate, which many assume blunts greed since they don't have families to support. Ironically, says one South Florida priest, many priests see the sacrifice of sex and family as a source of "entitlement--a reason parishioners should provide extra pin money for Father." What's more, priests can resent seeing how comparatively well their Episcopal or Jewish counterparts live--and the fact that Catholics in the U.S. give half the share of their income to their churches that Protestants do, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

That's no excuse for pick-pocketing parishioners. But the issue underscores a changing social dynamic between priests and their flocks. In past generations, U.S. Catholics tended to be working-class, and priests often had comparatively cozy lifestyles. "Today," says Terry McKiernan, co-director of the watchdog site "there's been a strange flip-flop." Parishioners are often middle or upper-middle class, while priests--whose median salary is about $35,000, including their free room and board--can be left with a nagging sense of diminished stature in our money-conscious society. Palm Beach is home to some of the nation's most affluent Catholics; but Skehan and Guinan were born in Ireland when it was still dirt poor. By most accounts, Skehan was a beloved pastor, yet one of his most telling remarks to police was that he felt he was "never properly paid."

Embezzlement is a plague of all nonprofit organizations, given their threadbare accounting systems. But the nation's 19,000 Catholic parishes, which gather about $6 billion a year from congregations, "are still often medieval in the way they secure or don't secure Sunday collections," says Michael Ryan, a Massachusetts Catholic and former U.S. postal inspector who runs another watchdog site, At St. Vincent, for example, Skehan and Guinan had immediate access to offertory cash--and according to the police report had staff hide purloined stacks of bills in parish-office ceilings. Ryan and other experts emphasize that church ushers should put that money into tamperproof bags with numbered seals; that rotating teams should count it; and that separation-of-duties standards, such as ensuring that bookkeepers logging the funds aren't the ones counting and depositing it, should be adhered to. Professor West says that parish-finance councils--which are required by canon law but are too often as ornamental as stained glass--"have to stop acting like rubber stamps for priests."

But as in the sex-abuse crisis, many are asking, Where are the bishops? Barbarito was sent to Palm Beach in 2003 to fix a diocese already reeling from the departure of two of his predecessors under sexual-abuse accusations--one of whom had also dismissed reports of financial misconduct against Guinan at another parish in the 1990s. Following the St. Vincent discovery in 2005, Barbarito decreed biennial audits for every Palm Beach parish. But only a handful of other U.S. dioceses are cracking down. Chicago recently set up a hotline to report malfeasance, and St. Louis is creating a centralized bookkeeping system. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops insists that canon law does not allow the Vatican or the Conference to impose such reforms on dioceses.

So the job may be left to Catholic laity. The sex-abuse litigation "forced church documents like parish audits into the open for the first time ever," says McKiernan, emboldening more lay scrutiny. After Barbarito began a probe into the St. Vincent mess, an anonymous parishioner sent a letter to the Palm Beach County state attorney. That made it harder for witnesses to keep the case "a secret within the church," as the letter said--despite the efforts of Skehan, who had allegedly sent Christmas cards to church secretaries with $1,500 each and an oily thank-you for not cooperating with diocese investigators. The secretaries refused the supposed bribe and are now prosecutor's witnesses. That's the kind of lay resolve that Hamel believes will give the church "a better chance of dealing more effectively with this crisis" than it did with the one that so badly tarnished it five years ago.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Celebrating Women

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Valentine's Day by paying tribute to the many women who served in the early Christian church. His remarks are refreshingly non-sexist, steering largely clear of old stereotypical notions of women's roles.

Our brother blogger, Rocco Palmo, from Whispers in the Loggia has published a translation of the Pope's reflections and added his own interesting commentary on the prominent women surrounding this Pope. I learned a lot from this article and found it very encouraging.

Go to: "Anything Other Than Secondary": All the Pope's Women

40th anniversary of "Sacerdotalis caelibatus"

I'm just passing this on without comment since I did not see the original text. And because it's good to know what the "other side" is putting out, as long as it is stated respectfully and accurately.

Priestly celibacy precious gift to church, says Vatican clergy head in vigorous defense
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Two months after taking over as head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes has issued a strong and lengthy defense of priestly celibacy.

"Priestly celibacy is a precious gift of Christ to his church, a gift that must continually be meditated upon and strengthened, especially in the deeply secularized modern world," Cardinal Hummes said.

The cardinal made the comments in a full-page article he wrote for the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. It was published Feb. 14 under the headline "The importance of priestly celibacy."

Cardinal Hummes, formerly the archbishop of Sao Paolo, arrived at his new Vatican post last December, shortly after telling a Brazilian newspaper that priestly celibacy was a disciplinary norm and not a church dogma and was therefore open to change.

Vatican officials were concerned, and within hours of arriving in Rome Cardinal Hummes issued a statement emphasizing that priestly celibacy was a long and valuable tradition in the Latin-rite church, based on strong theological and pastoral arguments.

The cardinal's newspaper article was written to mark the 40th anniversary of Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on priestly celibacy, issued June 24, 1967.

Cardinal Hummes reviewed what he said was strong evidence that priestly celibacy has its roots in apostolic times, not later centuries.

The cardinal said celibacy represents "a more full configuration with the Lord Jesus," who lived his own life as a celibate, and is a sign of the total love priests give to the church. For all priests, he said, celibacy should be a call to happiness and not a burden of suffering.

Cardinal Hummes said celibacy is also a sign of pastoral charity.

"Common experience confirms that it is easier to open one's heart to one's brothers fully and without reserve for those who have no other emotional attachments, no matter how legitimate and holy, except the attachment to Christ," he said.

Cardinal Hummes reviewed Pope Paul's reasons for confirming priestly celibacy 40 years ago and said the same reasons were still valid today.

At the same time, he said, Pope Paul also recognized that celibacy is not required by the nature of the priesthood itself, as shown by the fact that the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church allow the ordination of married men.

Cardinal Hummes reviewed various discussions on celibacy over the last 40 years, particularly in synods of bishops and other Rome meetings. On every occasion, he said, the participants have ended up confirming the value of priestly celibacy.

At the 2005 synod on the Eucharist, some bishops wanted a discussion on ordaining married men in certain circumstances, but the idea was rejected as "a road not to travel," he said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The priest shortage by the numbers

This story from Catholic News Service puts a positive spin on the data from the new 2007 Annuario Pontificio -- the "state of the Church" book that the Vatican issues every year. So we will rearrange the article's data to get some real insight into the actual state of our Church:

The priest shortage is getting worse. While the total number of Catholics has risen 1.2%, the number of priests has only increased 0.1%, though the number of seminarians did keep pace overall at 1.2%. Given the large number that drop out prior to ordination, this is not necessarily a sign that the crisis will end any time soon.

The number of priests increased in Asia (3.8%) and Africa (3.6%) but declined by half a percent in the Americas and in Europe. In Oceania the number dropped more dramatically by 1.8%.

Does this relate to mandatory celibacy? You bet it does. The largest Catholic population in Oceania is in Australia and, to refresh our collective memory, in 2004 a survey by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference found that 71% of priests in that country believed that celibacy should be optional. And further, the National Council of Priests in Australia sent a response to the Vatican asking that mandatory celibacy be reconsidered:

"We request that ... the Synod Fathers examine honestly the appropriateness of insisting upon a priesthood that is, with very few exceptions, obliged to be celibate. Priesthood is a gift, celibacy is a gift: they are not the same gift," said the statement, which was written in response to a discussion paper on the place of the Eucharist in Catholic life.

As far as seminarians are concerned, again Africa (3.46%) and Asia (2.9%) showed adequate increases while seminarians in the Americas increased by 0.6% (half as much as the increase in the number of Catholics in our continent). In Oceania the number of seminarians remained static while in Europe, seminarians declined by 1.9%.

Don't start to think too much about a reverse missionary flow from Africa and Asia to the rest of the world. Those numbers barely keep up with the demand for Catholic clergy in those continents. They won't have any spare priests to send to us.

It's time to take off the rose-colored glasses, quit spinning the numbers, and start crunching them instead. "Catholic Church growing, especially in Asia, Africa" makes a pretty headline but the underlying truth is far from attractive.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Abbé Pierre on Celibacy and the Marriage of Priests

Well, I finally got a copy of the late Abbé Pierre's collection of reflections, Mon Dieu...pourquoi? ("My God...why?"). Abbé Pierre devoted his life to the poor and homeless. This little book is a gem and anyone who reads French should try to get a copy. I have taken the liberty of translating his refection on celibacy — "Célibat et mariage des prêtres" — for this blog.

Simplicity can only exist in what is true. Hypocrisy, which exists too often, must be refused. Yielding to carnal temptation — which is an extremely powerful life force — can happen to anyone but it's a different thing for a priest or a monk not to be able to make a choice and to be leading a double life that in some cases makes women suffer for decades.

At the same time one should guard against any judgement or generalizations. I have known priests who have lived in domestic partnerships with the woman they love for years and adapted to this situation well. They continue to be good priests. That raises a crucial question for the Church about the marriage of priests and the ordination of married men.

As far as I'm concerned, if I had been married or involved in a particular emotional relationship, I would never have been able to do what I did. My vocation demanded complete availability. By the way, I am convinced that it is necessary to have married priests in the Church and celibate priests who can devote themselves completely to prayer and to others.

Jesus chose married apostles — like Peter — and celibate apostles who doubtlessly remained so — like John. The Church maintained this dual vocation for centuries before imposing celibacy on priests, as was already the case for bishops. Today married men are being ordained not only in the Orthodox Church but also in the Catholic church, among the Maronites and the Copts who have a choice between marriage and celibacy.

Since the Catholic Church has allowed these Eastern communities to ordain married men for centuries, I have a hard time seeing how John Paul II could assert recently that going back on priestly celibacy for the rest of the Catholic Church is out of the question.

It doesn't hold up. Not only would it help to partly solve the crisis in vocations and the priest shortage, but I'm also certain that there would always be as many vocations to celibacy.

Interestingly, in a different chapter about the selection of Pope Benedict XVI, Abbé Pierre predicts that this Pope will make two major changes in the Catholic Church: allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion and ordaining older married men to the priesthood.

A Priest, a Nun and Their Children

For those who are interested in how these stories are lived out, former priest Bill and former nun Mary Manseau's son, Peter, tells his family's story in a new book titled: "Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun and Their Son". Details about this publication are available at

The story was summarized yesterday by Dan Harris of ABC News. Here are some excerpts:

...As a kid, Bill Manseau said he "used to play Mass ... as many Catholic kids do." He would recruit his younger siblings to be altar servers and use Necco wafers for communion. At age 19, he entered the seminary.

At age 17, Mary Manseau entered the convent. "I was a very strong, very loyal, very devout Roman Catholic," she said. "And in those days, whatever the church said, that's the way it was."

Despite their devotion, both Mary and Bill eventually began to question the church. Mary left the convent after only a few years.

At the seminary, Bill came to a radical conclusion: Forced celibacy is wrong -- an invention of the church, not the Bible. "For thousands of years," he said, "there were married Catholic priests, married bishops, married popes." Manseau decided that to be more fully a holy man, he needed to experience the "holy union" of marriage...

In 1969, the priest and the former nun got married. They went on to have three children.

...Bill became a crusader for the rights of married priests -- a position that put him at odds with the church hierarchy. The church believes that the commitment of celibacy is an act of love for God and is central to a priest's ability to do his job.

Manseau's conflict with the church entered a new level in 2003, when he decided to ask the church to formally recognize his marriage. In response, he said the church asked him to sign papers that essentially said his ordination was a mistake, "I could not assent to that," he said, "because it's not true."

Even though he now faces a church trial over his marriage, Bill Manseau continues to argue that forced celibacy is at the heart of the priesthood's current problems: poor recruitment and sex abuse scandals. ...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Most Polish priests want to get married and have children

This article, "La mayoría de los curas polacos quieren casarse y tener hijos", originally appeared in Spanish on the Web site courtesy of the Spanish news agency EFE. English translation supplied by Rebel Girl. A more reliable and detailed source of the same information for those who are blessed with ability to read Polish is this article in the Polish Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny which Rocco Palmo summarizes in his blog. The articles are somewhat contradictory with respect to the primary motivation for men leaving the priesthood. The Tygodnik Powszechny piece quotes Prof. Baniak as suggesting that priests leave due to identity and ideological issues and then get married later, while the article translated below suggests that celibacy is the primary motivator.

Sixty percent of Polish priests want the right to get married and have children, according to the findings of an [unpublished] study on the attitude of priests towards celibacy.

The study, which was done by professor Jozef Baniak of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, confirms that the desire to have their own families is supported by a majority of Polish priests.

The daily "Super Express", which published the findings, also quotes the opinion of Kazimierz Franczak, a priest who has studied the celibacy problem and who asserts that for the last ten years, most Polish priests have wanted the right to form a family.

Acoording to data gathered by Baniak in recent years, in 1998 32 percent of priests supported the right to marry and have children, while 57 percent did so in 2004 and 60 percent in 2006.

Celibacy is the main reason for leaving the priesthood for most Polish priests who choose to renounce their vocation.

In three diocese in the last year alone, 60 priests left the priesthood and subsequently formed families.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Theologian Hans Kung on Celibacy

I found this little excerpt from an article by theologian Hans Küng in the German news magazine Der Spiegel as a result of some Googling inspired by a review of one of Küng's books which has recently been translated into French. The entire article, "Crisis in the Catholic Church" (3/26/2005), is worth reading and can be found here.

... CELIBACY AMONG PRIESTS: By propagating the traditional image of the celibate male priest, Karol Wojtyla bears the principal responsibility for the catastrophic dearth of priests, the collapse of spiritual welfare in many countries, and the many pedophilia scandals the church is no longer able to cover up.

Marriage is still forbidden to men who have agreed to devote their lives to the priesthood. This is only one example of how this pope, like others before him, is ignoring the teachings of the bible and the great Catholic tradition of the first millennium, which did not require office bearers to take a vow of celibacy. If someone, by virtue of his office, is forced to spend his life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail, which can lead to pedophilic acts, for example.

Consequences: The ranks have been thinned and there is a lack of new blood in the Catholic church. Soon almost two-thirds of parishes, both in German-speaking countries and elsewhere, will be without an ordained pastor and regular celebrations of the Eucharist. It's a deficiency that even the declining influx of priests from other countries (1,400 of Germany's priests are from Poland, India and Africa) and the combining of parishes into "spiritual welfare units," a highly unpopular trend among the faithful, can no longer hide. The number of newly ordained priests in Germany dropped from 366 in 1990 to 161 in 2003, and the average age of active priests today is now above 60. [emphasis added] ...

Yo, Your Holiness, we are talking about your home country here! And this is precisely why many theologians are urging the Vatican to slow down on the canonization of Pope John Paul II. Let's take time to look at the complete record here and the long-term impact of his policies on the Church.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Mgr. Tharcisse Tshibangu of the diocese of Mbuji-Mayi in the Congo has just suspended five of his priests and chastized an additional three for violating their celibacy vows. The suspended priests must leave their parishes and are forbidden from celebrating Mass or performing any sacraments for a year. Not a lot of detail but if you can read French, the story is available here.

Deacons help fill clergy gap

Some more interesting tidbits on the priest shortage and the rise of the permanent married diaconate from today's The Oregonian :

The Catholic Church in Oregon and nationwide is quietly transforming its clergy from a centuries-old tradition of celibate priests to a ministry that includes married men with children and secular careers.

As the number of U.S. priests declines, church ranks are swelling with permanent deacons, a recently revived class of ordained ministers who can baptize, witness marriages, lead funeral services and assist with many other functions central to church life.

By 2010, the number of permanent deacons in the United States is projected to exceed the number of priests actively working in parishes, said Joseph Claude Harris, a Seattle independent research analyst who has spent years tracking demographic trends in the Roman Catholic Church. The projection does not include sick, retired or otherwise inactive priests or those who belong to religious orders such as the Jesuits. Combined, those categories account for more than half of U.S. priests.

"There's a whole revolution going on in the way the church is being staffed," Harris said.

Nationwide, priests retire at double the rate of new ordinations, even as the Catholic population continues to grow.

[Rev. Richard Huneger, a priest who oversees the permanent deacon program for the Portland Archdiocese] doesn't see deacons as a way to make up for the dwindling number of priests, saying deacons would be needed even if the church had a sudden influx of new priests.

Still, no flood of priests is in sight.

Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese, said, "When I grew up in the '50s and '60s, there were multiple priests at every parish. Now there are multiple parishes for each priest. It's just a complete reversal of what it used to be. A deacon can do so many of the liturgical functions because they're a member of the clergy."

The article goes on to discuss the impact of reliance on a permanent married male diaconate on prospects for women priests.

On the pro-celibacy side, we have this gem from recent retrospective articles on the life of the late Jesuit priest and Congressman Robert Drinan:

Once asked how he got so much done in his life, Drinan is said to have responded, "The answer is simple: celibacy."