Value of priestly celibacy reaffirmed

By  John Thavis, Catholic News Service
  • November 24, 2006
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials, meeting to review the status of married priests, reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy and said its importance should be highlighted among priests and seminarians.

At the same time, the participants examined the possibility of the return to active ministry of some priests who may have left the priesthood to marry but who now meet certain conditions, a Vatican statement said.

The Pope presided over the three-hour meeting of more than 20 heads of Vatican congregations and councils Nov. 16.

"The value of the choice of priestly celibacy according to the Catholic tradition was reaffirmed, and the need for solid human and Christian formation was underlined, both for seminarians and for those already ordained," a brief Vatican statement said.

The Vatican encounter was triggered by the case of Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who recently was excommunicated after he ordained four married men as bishops without papal permission.

The Vatican statement, issued a few hours after the meeting, made no mention of Milingo. It said the participants were given updated information on requests by priests for dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and on the possibility of readmission for priests who "meet the conditions foreseen by the church."

In recent years, the Vatican has approved the return to active ministry for some priests who left to marry in civil ceremonies, but who later divorced or were widowed and petitioned for readmission. Such readmissions follow a long process and require an expression of repentance from the petitioner, according to Vatican officials.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Catholic News Service it was his understanding that the meeting did not consider major changes in the priestly celibacy rule. Instead, he said, the discussion appeared to focus on the pastoral situation of priests in those special circumstances seeking readmission to ministry.

When ordained, Latin-rite Catholic priests make a promise of celibacy. In the Eastern rites, married men may become priests, but are not allowed to marry after ordination.

The Vatican encounter came less than two weeks after Milingo wrote an open letter to the Pope, calling for immediate steps to accept married priests in the Catholic Church in order to end what he said was the church's "dire straits because of the shortage of priests."

In his letter, Milingo said there were an estimated 150,000 married priests worldwide "who are ready and willing to serve."

Milingo, 76, married a South Korean woman in 2001 but at the request of Pope John Paul II left her and was reconciled with the Vatican. Last summer, however, the archbishop was reunited with his wife in the United States and founded a movement called Married Priests Now!

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.