The Times of London
James Bone, Parsippany, New Jersey
Parsippany is a long way from the Vatican — not just geographically, but theologically. The town is the unlikely epicentre of a global campaign to drop the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests.
Hundreds of married priests and their wives will today reaffirm their wedding vows together in a hotel ballroom.
The campaign is led by the former Archbishop of Zambia, Emmanuel Milingo, who was excommunicated by the Pope in September for consecrating four married bishops.
“Marriage is the normal way,” Mr Milingo told The Times, wearing a wedding ring on one hand and his archipiscopal ring on the other. “People must now believe that the sanctity of the priesthood depend on celibacy. Not at all.”
The charismatic 76-year-old has had a troubled relationship with the Vatican since stepping down as head of the archdiocese of Lusaka after the Vatican opposed his endorsement of traditional African faith healing and exorcism.
In 2001, he married a young woman from South Korea in a mass ceremony organised by Rev Sun Myung Moon. He avoided excommunication then after bowing to an appeal by Pope John Paul II to renounce the marriage.
In July he announced the creation of the pressure group Married Priests Now! and he is now living with his wife, Maria Sung, who is a member of Rev Moon’s Unification Church.
His flamboyant character has given pause to some. Monsignor Robert Wister, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University, a Catholic college in New Jersey, said: “I think only a psychologist could explain why a person gets involved in a marriage to someone he has never met in a mass ceremony presided over by Rev Moon. I think we are dealing with a rather exotic figure.”
Mr Milingo says he knew his future wife in Rome, but did not know that she was the bride selected for him.
Mr Milingo said that he planned to ordain three more married men as priests tomorrow at a service in New Jersey. “They are talking about excommunication, but excommunication is just a word. It means nothing to me,” he said.
Married Priests Now! estimates that about 150,000 men have left the Catholic priesthood to get married.
John Horan, who left the Church in 1988 to marry, said: “I very much enjoyed being a priest, but I was in love. I just decided that my call to priestly ministry did not come with a call to celibacy.”
Advocates of change argue that St Peter was married and that celibacy became the rule only in the 12th century.
Eastern Rite churches, which follow Orthodox traditions but are loyal to the papacy, permit the ordination of married men. The Vatican has even granted full status to about 40 married priests who have converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. But Pope Benedict XVI has taken a strong line on celibacy, summoning the Vatican Cabinet to reaffirm church teaching.
Father Joseph Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press, the Pope’s publisher in the United States, said: “There is a theological reason for the celibacy, in that a priest wants to be in conformity with the high priest Christ whose bride is the Church. The Catholic Church will not ever change this discipline, which is not just a discipline like not eating meat on Fridays.”
The role of Rev Moon has provoked suspicions that he wants to create a new sect in Africa to rival the Catholic Church, a charge that Mr Milingo denies. The Rev Moon’s organisations fund Married Priests Now! and help Mr Milingo, who has lost his Vatican pension.
Louise Haggett runs a website that has referred 100,000 people to married priests for weddings and funerals and is a leader of the CITI ministry, an acronym for “celibacy is not the issue”. She has cautioned the group’s members, who have been “suspended” as priests but not excommunicated, to avoid Married Priests Now! because Mr Milingo has broken with Rome.
Since 1994 over 40 married Anglican priests have been ordained as Roman Catholic priests in the UK