(By Gerard O'Connell, 11/16/2006, UCANews)
This article contains some interesting details about the substance of today's meeting at the Vatican. Inter alia (and aside from Archbishop Milingo who, as I said in earlier comments, was not really the main issue):
At the Vatican consultation, German-born Pope Benedict also wants to reflect with his senior collaborators on the seeming unending flow of requests from priests asking for a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy.
Vatican sources calculate that an average of 300 such requests have arrived annually in recent years, almost one a day. But the same sources reckon that the number of priests who actually leave the ministry each year is much higher than 300, as many do not bother to seek dispensation.
Such a dispensation means the person is released from celibacy and from the obligations of priesthood, and so can marry in the church. But unless his ordination also is annulled, he remains a priest, and canon law envisages that in an emergency situation he could still give sacramental absolution. A canon lawyer has confirmed that "the dispensation from celibacy does not imply any judgment on the validity of the ordination."
The late Pope John Paul II sought to contain the exodus of priests from the church by putting brakes on the process for granting dispensations. Some observers claim that this may explain in part why many priests no longer request dispensation.
Pope Benedict is well aware of the history and the actual procedure for the granting of such dispensations, because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he headed as prefect for 24 years until his election as pope in April 2005, had responsibility for this up to February 1989.
After that, the task was handed over to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, until the responsibility was transferred again on Aug. 1 last year to the Congregation for the Clergy.
The consultation provides an opportunity for top Vatican officials to reflect together on the current situation regarding requests for dispensations from celibacy, and could lead to proposals for changing the procedure or even decentralizing it, as some bishops have suggested in recent years.
The third and final point on the agenda relates to requests for readmission of priests who left the ministry to marry. Vatican sources say the number of such requests for readmission has increased in recent times, and some suggest it has even reached an average of approximately 1,200 over the past few years.
It seems that while many seek permission to return to active ministry, some requests come from priests who are now old and would like at least to be allowed to celebrate Mass once again, even if they cannot return to public ministry.
The question is a very delicate one, and Pope Benedict wants to hear the views of his senior collaborators on the matter.
The issues surrounding married priests aside, there is no evidence that today's summit meeting will revisit the bigger question regarding the obligation of celibacy for priests of the Latin Rite, which was raised in October 2005 at the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
Even though the synod fathers heard a lot about the great shortage of priests in many countries, they still voted overwhelmingly (202 in favor, 28 against and 10 abstentions) to "affirm the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy" for priests in the Latin-rite church.
They also agreed that the proposal to have recourse to the ordination of mature married men "was considered a path not to be followed," a position Pope Benedict is expected to reaffirm in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, which he will promulgate in the coming months.
All caveats aside, this blogger smells change in the air. Don't donate your vestments, guys!