Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Curial cardinal says celibacy 'not a dogma,' can be discussed

Published on National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe (http://ncrcafe.org)
By John L Allen Jr Daily
Created Dec 4 2006 - 01:44

Pope Benedict XVI's choice as the church's top official for priests has said that celibacy “is not a dogma,” and that the Catholic church can reflect on the subject.

The explosive character of the issue, however, was reflected in a "clarification" issued in the name of the cardinal by the Vatican Press Office on Dec. 4.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 72, of São Paulo, Brazil, was nominated Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy on Oct. 31. He made the comments as he left for Rome in an interview with the Brazilian publication Estado de São Paulo.

“Even if celibates are part of our history and of Catholic culture, the church can reflect on the question of celibacy, because it's not a dogma but a disciplinary norm,” Hummes said.

Hummes, a Franciscan, recalled that several apostles were married, and that the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Western church developed several centuries after the institution of the priesthood itself.

"The church is not stationary, but an institution that changes when it has to change,” Hummes said. "The church must first discuss if it's necessary to reconsider the norm of celibacy.”

Hummes acknowledged that the priest shortage in Europe and other parts of the world has created new pressure for a reexamination of the discipline of celibacy.

Ultimately, any decision to reevaluate the question of priestly celibacy would be made by Benedict XVI himself, not Hummes. Nevertheless, the fact that the pope's choice for the top job on the priesthood would raise the question reflects a growing openness to discussion at senior levels of the church.

Hummes also discussed the scandals of sexual abuse by priests which have rocked parts of the Catholic world in recent years.

“Even if we were talking about just one case, it would be a great source of concern, above all as regards the victims,” he said. “But it's unjust and hypocritical to generalize the scandals of pedophilia, because 99 percent of priests have nothing to do with it.”

"Pedophilia is not just a problem for priests, but of the entire society,” stating that “there are cases of sexual abuse of children even within families.”

Hummes said it's the responsibility of bishops to take ever greater care with the “rigorous selection and demanding formation” of candidates for the priesthood.

"Priests are a strategic group for the church,” he said. “They are the ones who give life to the church, and for that reason, they deserve the support and affection of Catholics.”

On Monday, the Vatican issued a declaration offering clarifications from Hummes on his comments in the interview.

"With regard to the echoes created by my words reported by the newspaper Estado de Sâo Paulo, I'd like to clarify the following," it said.

"In the church, it has always been clear that the obligation of celibacy for priests is not a dogma, but a disciplinary norm. It is also clear that this is true for the Latin church, but not for the Oriental rites, where it is normal that priests are married in the communities in union with the Catholic church.

"However, it is nevertheless clear that the norm of celibacy for the priests of the Latin church is very ancient, and is based on a consolidated tradition and on strong motivations, both of a theological-spiritual character and also practical-pastoral, confirmed by recent popes.

"Also in the recent Synod of Bishops, the most common opinion among the fathers was that a change in the rule of celibacy would not be a solution for the problem of the priest shortage, which results from other factors, beginning with the secularized modern culture, as the experience of other Christian confessions demonstrates, which have married priests or pastors.

"This question is therefore not actually under discussion by the ecclesiastical authorities, as was recently confirmed after the last meeting of the heads of dicasteries with the Holy Father."

Hummes' comments on celibacy come at a moment of growing tension on the question. On Nov. 16, Benedict XVI convened a meeting of top Vatican officials in the wake of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's illicit ordination of four bishops as part of his campaign to relax the celibacy requirement.

After that meeting, the Vatican issued a statement indicating that “the value of the choice of priestly celibacy according to Catholic tradition was reaffirmed,” but it did not address if the pope might be open to reconsidering mandatory celibacy.
Currently, priestly celibacy is mandatory in the Western church, with the exception of a handful of priests who converted to Catholicism from another Christian denomination where they were already married. In the 21 Eastern rite churches in communion with Rome, however, married priests are common.

During the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in October 2005, there was a vigorous debate on the celibacy question. In the end, the synod upheld existing discipline, adopting a proposition that read: "The Synod Fathers have affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy in the practice of the Latin Church. With reference to the magisterium, in particular Vatican II and the recent popes, the Fathers have asked that the reasons for the relationship between celibacy and priestly ordination be illustrated adequately to the faithful, in full respect for the traditions of the Eastern churches. Some made reference to the viri probati, but this hypothesis was evaluated as a path not to follow.

Milingo, meanwhile, plans to lead a "convocation in Parsippany, New Jersey, Dec. 8-10, where he intends to ordain three married priests, further deepening his rift with the Vatican.

1 comment:

Archbishop Peter Brennan said...

Married Priests Defend Cardinal Hummes

Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Married Priests Now! Prelature said in a letter today to his bishops: “I would like to share with you my deepest concern with the situation of our Roman Catholic Church. I cannot personally accept the treatment which Cardinal Claudio Hummes has received in the Vatican after declaring clearly that celibacy is not a dogma but a church discipline. But as soon as he arrived in Rome he was questioned and forced to change his attitude to say that celibacy is a long standing law which has contributed a lot to the Catholic Church. We must protect and defend his integrity, and the dignity and status of the Church to tell the truth.”

Milingo continued, “This is what I have to say. If the Holy Father has appointed him responsible for the Congregation of the Clergy it is undoubted because he has the gift and the charism to run this congregation. In ecclesiastical language we say that when the Church appoints somebody to take certain great responsibility it means that they have discovered in him a certain worthiness and special divine grace to carry out the job. In simple words we say that we believe he has Gracious Status. That is a divine grace that supports his work and will influence his work. In the case of Cardinal Hummes what came out of his mind and heart immediately after his appointment to be head of the congregation of the clergy was to tackle the problem of celibacy. We believe this was the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit who presented the actual problem of the Church.”

His letter continued, “We know this about Archbishop Claudio Hummes, who is a simple Franciscan priest whose deep love, faithful service and distinguished church career to the people of God eventually raised him to the level of Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was personally selected and recently appointed by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, to serve as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. In that capacity, he is entrusted with the heavy duty and awesome responsibility of advising the Pope and the rest of the Roman Curia on matters related to the life and ministry of the Roman Catholic Clergy. It is ironic that, while his advice and counsel are eagerly sought at the highest levels of decision making, Cardinal Hummes' explosive statement concerning celibacy as "NOT a dogma but a discipline of the Church," was not well received or welcomed. Cardinal Hummes was simply telling the truth. His statement came two weeks after the Pope met with department heads (dicasteries) of the Roman Curia, effectively slamming the door on any possibility of change to the Church's current stance on celibacy. Cardinal Hummes' prophetic voice immediately provoked the chastisement of the Vatican, leaving him with egg on his face while feebly attempting to re-shuffle his remarks by regurgitating stale Vatican pronouncements on celibacy, thus minimizing the impact of his original statement. The Vatican's dissatisfaction with the Cardinal's forthright and self-effacing statement impugned his integrity and damaged his sterling reputation as an uncompromising voice of truth. It is totally apparent that the Vatican has no tolerance or appreciation for independent-minded clerics who bring a Spirit-inspired and pastoral approach to matters affecting the growth, health and well-being of its clergy and parishioners. Persons who go against the grain are swiftly silenced and made ecclesiastical eunuchs for the sake of preserving the status quo. Cardinal Hummes has become a public relations nightmare for the Vatican and, unfortunately for the Congregation of the Clergy that could have benefited greatly under the aegis of Cardinal Hummes, his tenure may now amount to nothing more than an asterisk in the annals of Church History as another muzzled voice crying out in the wilderness to let the Holy Spirit once again renew the face of Catholicism.”

“It may be contagious,” Milingo said, “because today, in Belgium a survey of 234 priests revealed that a clear majority or 57% said their work load was too severe. The priests supported the admission of married men into the priesthood which did not surprise Cardinal Danneels who said, “Everyone knows celibacy is an ecclesiastical rule that could change.”” Archbishop Milingo wondered. “Can we expect now that Cardinal Danneels of Belgium will now be called to Rome and asked to clarify his statement?”

“We know that marriage is a sacrament and it is a higher calling than celibacy,” Milingo continued, “and the church will one day soon re-instate the married priesthood and that is the way Christ intended the priesthood to be lived because he called married priests first. St. Peter was a married priest. The Holy Spirit is moving the hearts of the cardinals and bishops and they will do what is right for the church.”