Can priestly celibacy be disputed?

September 15, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Is priestly celibacy merely a discipline or a doctrinal matter? The newly-appointed Secretary of State, Archbishop Parolin, asserts that this can be disputed.

Just after being nominated and before he even came into his function, the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, granted an interview to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on September 8, 2013, and declared that priestly celibacy “is not a dogma of the Church, it can be disputed because it is an ecclesiastical tradition.”

This interview was reprinted early this week by the international media, who saw in it the sign of a possible evolution, or even “the beginning of a small revolution.” The news made the front page of Le Parisien on September 13. And surveys have flooded the internet asking: “Are you for marriage of priests?” 88% are for it on the Parisien’s website, 75.8% on Le Figaro’s, 80% on RTL.FR, 83% on M6INFO.FR, etc.

Here are Archbishop Parolin’s exact answers to the Venezuelan reporter:

Q: …Priestly celibacy is not…
A. It is not a dogma of the Church and can be disputed because it is a tradition of the Church.

Q: That dates from when?
A. As early as the first centuries. Afterwards, it gradually became established all throughout the first millennium, and then the Council of Trent stressed its importance. It is a tradition and this concept resides in the Church because all throughout the centuries there have been events that have contributed to developing God’s Revelation. This Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle (St. John). What has happened since is a growth in the understanding of Revelation.

Q: And speaking of celibacy…
A. The effort agreed upon by the Church to adopt the ecclesiastical celibacy must be taken into account. No one can say it is simply a thing of the past…

As Jean-Marie Guenois pointed out in Le Figaro on September 13:

Archbishop Parolin insists—a point that the press did not always repeat—that it is not "the spirit of the times" that will decide upon an evolution."

The question is: Does Archbishop Parolin express the thoughts of Pope Francis who just nominated him as the head Secretary of State and his closest colleague? The sovereign pontiff has made no declaration for now concerning priestly celibacy, but in the book—interview with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, published in Argentina in 2010—translated into English this year, under the title On Heaven and Earth—Cardinal Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, declared:

For now, we firmly maintain the discipline of celibacy. Some, rather pragmatically, say that that makes us lose hands (sic). If, hypothetically, Catholicism were to rethink the celibacy, I think that it would be for cultural reasons (like in the East), not as an absolute. For now, I am for maintaining the celibacy, with its advantages and disadvantages, because for ten centuries we have had more positive experiences than failures with it. It so happens that scandals are very visible. But the tradition is not worthless or invalid. Catholic priests chose celibacy progressively. Until 1100, some opted for it, others did not. The Eastern Churches followed the tradition of individual choice, whereas the West choice the opposite. It was a question of discipline, not of faith. It can change."

One thing is sure: the extreme media coverage of Archbishop Parolin’s statementsnshows that he will no longer be able to ignore the question at stake, as Jean-Marie Guenois points out in the article quoted above:

The abolition of priestly celibacy is on the program for a progressivist view of the Church. With Pope Francis, this tendency can be felt with full force, rightly or wrongly. Hence the internal and external pressure on the Church—the interview’s questions show it—to make progress on certain matters."

Indeed, the new Secretary of State will soon understand the demands of the protesters behind movements like the Priests’ Initiative and the Parish Initiative, and of magazines like Golias… They all see in his words and open breach, a step to be taken. They will scarcely be content with a simple evolution. They are for a radical revolution. Judge for yourselves:

In June 2011, about 300 Austrian priests announced in a Pfarrer-Initiative (Priests’ Initiative) that they would no longer follow Rome’s directives concerning communion for remarried divorcees and that they would henceforth support the ordination of women and of married men. According to a survey, 30% of Austrian priests agree with this text. That is why the Austrian bishops were called to Rome on January 23, 2012.

According to the Swiss Jesuit Jean-Blaise Fellay, we are witnessing a sort of “Catholic springtime”, coming up from the bottom, because of the bishops’ loss of authority in the Church and in society. When questioned in the newspaper Le Temps on March 23, 2012, he considered the bishops as “high-ranking ecclesiastical officials and managers”. And he denounced Vatican Council II’s failure in one of its goals, which was, according to him, to restore the bishops’ role. “The synods have been transformed into suffocating rooms rather than workshops for creativity. The public interest in the synods has fallen because little or nothing comes out of them. Everything new and outstanding in the exposés has been erased and flattened in the final copies.”—Needless to mention the hopes aroused in these protestors by the plan to reform the Curia, in the sense of a greater synodality and a larger collegiality.

As for the French magazine Golias, it published in February 2009 and manifesto that attacks "the ‘castration’ (sic) imposed on the clergy in the name of an anachronistic vision that comes from the Old Regime (sic) and allows all perversities to hide under it unpunished” and it declares itself determined to "support a priest rejected by his hierarchy because he lives with a woman or with a man."

Let us recall that in late November 2006 Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, then the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, wrote in the preface of the second French edition of the book The Apostolic Origins of the Priestly Celibacy by the Jesuit Fr. Christian Cochini, that priestly celibacy was “a discipline” and not “a dogma”. He pointed out, however, that it “helped” priests to live their sacred ministry. And in early 2008, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, then bishop of Regensburg, did not hesitate to say he was firmly opposed to the speculations on the Church’s abandoning the priestly celibacy.

We must not expect the celibacy to be raised “now or ever”, he declared, pointing out that: "the specifics of access to the priesthood and the rules corresponding to the celibacy cannot be developed, as a theological subject ought to be, in a quick interview for a newspaper". "[T]he Second Vatican Council pointed out the necessary conditions, in Article 16 of the Decree on the ministry and life of priests,” he added. “That is and will remain the discipline of the Catholic Church.”

Are these declarations to become null and void under the new pontificate, as the progressivists relayed by the media hope?

Archbishop Parolin recognized in his interview that the question of priestly celibacy “is a great challenge for the pope (…) and all these decisions must be made with the goal of uniting the Church, not dividing it.” And the omnipresent Odon Vallet, who can hardly be suspected of traditionalism, declared to MYTF1News: “In this matter, there is a real risk of schism and of divisions within the Church.

(Sources: El Universal/Le Parisien/RTL/M6/TF1—DICI, 9-9-2013)