In the Apostolic Palace this morning, November 16, the Holy Father
presided at one of the regular meetings of the heads of dicasteries of the
Roman Curia, for a moment of shared reflection.
The participants in the meeting had at their disposal detailed information concerning requests for dispensation from the obligation of celibacy presented during recent years, and concerning the possibility of readmission to the exercise of the ministry of priests who currently meet the conditions established by the Church.
The value of the choice of priestly celibacy in accordance with Catholic radition was reaffirmed, and the need for solid human and Christian formation was underlined, both for seminaries and for ordained priests.
There has been some discussion about the use of the term "value" rather than a
more stringent term such as "requirement" in the last paragraph -- whether this is another example of subtle ideological repositioning. Some argue that it is. Others argue that it is just Pope Benedict's way of softening a rather hard message.
Interestingly the most recent UCANews story offers even higher figures for the number of requests for dispensations granted annually than previous stories reported:
However, the Italian news agency ANSA, in a report based on Vatican sources, said the Vatican has figures only for dispensations granted, not for priests who left the ministry. Many priests who leave do not apply for dispensation.
ANSA said the Vatican has granted an average of 500 annual dispensations in recent years, but other sources say as many as 1,000 priests leave each year.
According to ANSA's information, the Vatican granted 587 dispensations in 1997, of which only 75 were to priests under 40. It granted 564 in 1998; 612 in 1999; 443 in 2000; 539 in 2001; 550 in 2002; 545 in 2003; and 406 in 2004.
Those of you who really like to look at this problem statistically should visit the Web site of the Congregation for the Clergy and click on "Statistics." They are revealing and more than a little scary -- such as they are. The problem is that they are not up-to-date and they are presented in a hodgepodge of languages so one really has to be multilingual as well as versed in oblique clerical terminology to make sense of them.
The site is also entertaining for lay people like myself who want to know exactly what the Vatican is telling the guys who stand in front of us every Sunday. The teleconferences are particularly "enlightening". Here, for example, is the teleconference on celibacy from April 2006.
The one on Women and the Church is also enlightening, if depressing. On my more mischievous days, I wonder what would happen if one of the newly-ordained women tried to sign up for the Congregation's e-mail alert service. I thought about doing it myself, but they ask for your date and place of ordination and I couldn't summon up the nerve to invent something.
The best thing that can be said about the Internet is that it has spelled an end to "Father Knows Best"!