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Vatican: Pope Francis not in favor of optional priestly celibacy

The statement by Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni was issued Jan. 13 and was said to be in response to questions from journalists “regarding a recent editorial initiative.”

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 12, 2020.(CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2020 / 07:01 am (CNA).- A Vatican spokesman said Monday that Pope Francis’ position on priestly celibacy is “known,” quoting the pontiff’s remarks in a January 2019 press conference, in which he said he does not agree with making priestly celibacy “optional” in the Latin rite.

The statement by Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni was issued Jan. 13 and was said to be in response to questions from journalists “regarding a recent editorial initiative.”

The initiative referred to is a newly announced book on priestly celibacy and the crisis in the Church and priesthood, co-authored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is head of the pope’s liturgical office.

In his statement, Bruni quoted Pope Francis’ comments aboard the papal plane to Rome from Panama Jan. 28, 2019, in which he said “personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.”

The pope added at the time that he thinks there is room to consider some exceptions for married clergy in the Latin rite “when there is a pastoral necessity” in remote locations due to lack of priests, such as in the Pacific islands.

Bruni’s statement also noted Francis’ quotation of the words of St. Pope Paul VI: “I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy.”

The book by Benedict and Cardinal Sarah, called “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” will be published in English by Ignatius Press. It can now be preordered, and it is due to ship Feb. 20.

The French edition, published by Fayard, releases Jan. 15.

The announcement of the book’s publication prompted reports that by arguing in favor of priestly celibacy, Benedict XVI has placed himself in opposition to Pope Francis, who is right now considering allowing an exception to priestly celibacy by the ordination of proven married men, so-called viri probati, in the Amazon region in response to severe priest shortages.

At the end of the Amazon synod, which took place in October, the final document of the synod fathers called for the ordination of married men as priests.

The 33-page concluding document, which does not have magisterial authority, was presented to Pope Francis following the three-week meeting of bishops and representatives from indigenous communities, religious orders, lay groups and charities.

The pope’s own document on the synod, called a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, is highly anticipated, primarily for how it will respond to that suggestion and others from the synod fathers.

Bruni’s Jan. 13 statement also argued that on the topic of how priestly celibacy fits into the general work of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis is less interested in “this or that other intra-ecclesiastical point” as he is on the synod’s “diagnoses” of problems in the pastoral, cultural, social, and ecological dimensions.

At the final session of the Synod on the Pan-Amazonian region Oct. 26, 2019, Pope Francis said he was pleased “that we did not fall prisoners of these selective groups, who of the synod want to see only what has been decided on this or that other intra-ecclesiastical point.”

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  1. The issue here is not whether celibacy will be optional for the universal Church. The issue here is whether pastoral necessity dictates optional celibacy in some areas. Time will tell what Pope Francis has in mind. Let’s keep in mind the practical implications of Amoris Laetitia regarding the primacy of conscience and communion for those in adulterous relationships. Moreover, let’s keep in mind the practical implications of “Who am I to judge?”

  2. I would ask the Bishops “what, if any, options does the Catholic Church offer”?
    The older we get the more rigid we get. No disrespect, but just look at the church hierarchy. Some are in their 70s and 80s. After being celibate for that many years, what can we expect? In St. Mary of the snow parish in Saugerties, NY, we recently were blessed by “allowing” a married Episcopal Priest convert to say Mass with his wife and children in the pews. However, as usual, this event was not as one would perceive. Some ultra right parishioners were quick to say that the church may have allowed the family to convert, but the new Catholic Priest and his wife “must” live as if they were “brother and sister”. If true, WOW!

    I agree with Minister William Sloan Coffin when asked what he thought about the state of the current Catholic Church? Coffin retorted the church would do much better if they wouldn’t steer the faith by what they saw in the rearview mirror”. Other faiths do not seem to be constrained by dogmatic sand.

    • There are special exeptions for protestant priests converting. Ig married they can serve as catholic priests with no demand for living in celibacy. This has been so since the time of JOIi I believe. Celibacy isno absolue rule in tha Latin church (not mentioning the other catholic rites)

      • There are special exeptions(sic) for protestant priests converting.
        Married protestant ministers are not Priests since their orders are invalid. That is why those married protestant ministers who end up converting and get ordained under the 1980 Pastoral Provision, or receiving a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy from the Holy See, must be ordained for the very first time.

        Ig(sic) married they can serve as catholic priests with no demand for living in celibacy.
        Not quite. They all agree, prior to ordination, that if their spouse precedes them in death they will then adopt the discipline of celibacy for the remainder of their life.
        This has been so since the time of JOIi(sic) I believe.
        What is a “JOIi”?

    • morganB: You seem to think the virtue of coherent and sane respect for the unchanging mind of God, which is the definition of truth, and what the morally crude call rigidity, is somehow a bad thing. It is not. And why would you agree with the moral foolishness of a profound fool and moral coward like the pro-abort William Sloan Coffin who contended that faith is something that is “steered,” among his many other idiocies? It is bad enough that you believe truth is not immutable and eternal, and its tenants are therefore fungible, that you believe religion possesses something akin to a political spectrum, and its beliefs are cultural contrivances, but must you come to a religious forum to try to impose these inherently atheistic beliefs on religion?

  3. Morgan,
    My general experience has been that the older the clergy, the closer to the 1960’s and 70s they are-both literally and figuratively. Younger priests tend to be more orthodox.

  4. Sex, all by itself and as proposed to our present ideological, anti-True-Catholicism dictators inside and outside the Church, is a remedy for absolutely nothing, it just makes matters worse. I find it quite graphic, powerful and illuminating by God that sexual organs and orgasms have no absolute, intrinsic value for holiness or even Heaven (Matthew 22:30) and that, therefore, among the first body parts to be eaten by maggots after death are the gonads. That should help get our priorities straight! In a holy, Catholic marriage, those sexual organs and orgasms are vehicles to communicate their mutual, selfless, faithful, sacrificial love not absolute destinations in and of themselves.

    The Church does not have it as dogma that all Priests should be celibate, just like it has taken a while for other dogmas to be accepted and implemented, like the Immaculate Conception, etc. By the way, the church does not invent dogmas, it accepts them, just as it does not make Saints, it merely accepts and recognizes them upon research and investigation. In the case of True Saints, the Sainthood was already there, in the case of dogmas, they were already there as well.

    In today’s hyper-sexualized Anti-Culture of Death, where sexual organs are gods and invented genders are kings, Priestly Celibacy must be on its way to become a dogma, as it directly reflects the total, absolute consecration of Jesus to the Father in the Holy Spirit. It is truly a sacrifice that truly brings God to Earth in a most physical form and we need a lot more of those. It’s a powerful physical SIGN to call all of us to chastity (sexual purity) to all married or not. It’s God’s weapon against all kinds of sexual perversions, including the BILLIONS of dollars market of the despicable crime of human trafficking of sex slaves.

    Should we accept married ministers of other religions as Priests when truly converted to Catholicism? Yeah, we could, just as we adopt external forms from different cultures in the Mass without perverting the sacred core of the Mass. It would not change Jesus message reminding us to NOT hold on to sex as an absolute value and/or remedy for all ills: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”, (Matthew 22:30). By the way, Jesus is the eternally young, infinitely vibrant and supremely passionate, so his message is not tainted by age, declining testosterone, fashion, prejudice, historical period, or obsolescence.

    • Tell me ….. the apostles were any one of them married? Once again the Church makes sex unGodly. I have met many a ministers who were priest who left the Catholic Church to marry have a family and serve God. Study the history of this practice and seek truth of this belief NOT DOGMA. When all our older priest have died. What than?

      • If the priest took a vow of perpetual celibacy, then he is violating same. The time to work through that sort of thing is before one takes the vow, not after.

      • the apostles were any one of them married?

        One, Simon Bar-Jona, was married at one time.

        Once again the Church makes sex unGodly.

        Only to the obtuse. Marriage is a Sacrament.

        Study the history of this practice and seek truth of this belief NOT DOGMA.

        You should follow your own advice and obtain and deliberately read “The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy” by Christian Cochini and get yourself edified before opining on a topic you are ignorant of.

  5. Some of the commentators sound Protestants. Priesthood can be compared to marriage. You get committed to your partner: In case of the Priest it is the Church, the Body of Christ; in case of man it is the woman. So you cannot have two masters: you cannot love both equally. You have divided effort.
    Even the Apostles who were married left their homes and followed Jesus. We never heard of Peter’s wife although he was married. Paul chose not to marry and was committed to the teaching! Priesthood is a call, “You did not choose Me, I chose you” (Jn 15:16).

  6. It wasn’t until the 4th century that celibacy was no longer optional. St.Peter was married. What exactly do celibate priests know about marriage- its joys and its sorrows?

    • PH.D-Retired Clinical Psychologist

      Irrelevant to the topic at hand.

      It wasn’t until the 4th century that celibacy was no longer optional.

      Do you know what the term “lex continentiae” means? Get yourself edified before opining on a topic you obviously know little about, madame.

      St.Peter was married.

      St. Peter was married at one time. His wife is never mentioned in Scripture. Any idea what her name was?

      What exactly do celibate priests know about marriage- its joys and its sorrows?

      Using your logic, Elizabeth Taylor should have been a marriage counselor due to her vast firsthand body of knowledge of failed relationships.

      What exactly do you know about living life as a celibate?

      • St. Peter was married at one time. His wife is never mentioned in Scripture. Any idea what her name was?
        True we do not know her name, nevertheless
        1 Corinthians 9:4:This is my defense to those who scrutinize me: 4Have we no right to food and to drink? 5Have we no right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

    • How are psychologists who have never had particular mental problems really able to deal with those particular problems that someone has?

      How are married psychologists really able to deal with problems that can occur with single people? How are unmarried psychologists really able to deal with problems that can occur in marriages?

      Show some sense.

    • Sarah,
      Considering how many Confessions priests hear I imagine they know quite a lot about marriage and many other things.
      How do psychologists deal with schizophrenia having never been schizophrenic?

  7. Father Gerald Murray on EWTN’s World Over on Thursday night made a comment that if the Amazon region is allowed to ordain married men then you can expect the German church to immediately claim a dire shortage of priests and push for ordaining married men. Thus, he predicts that changing priestly celibacy in the Amazon region will “open Pandora’s box” and things could get very messy.

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