On November 1st, 2005, the well-known French priest and homeless activist Abbé Pierre wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and all French bishops in which he called for married men to be admitted to the priesthood as a solution to the shortage of priests. He gave the letter to Frédéric Lenoir, the editor-in-chief of Le Monde des Religions with instructions that it only be published after his death. The letter has been published in the May-June 2007 edition of the magazine and a PDF of the original French text is available here. I have provided an English translation below. Abbé Pierre passed away on January 22nd of this year.
I had a dream one night. Along the road, from cities to villages, I saw innumerable tabernacle lamps miraculously relit. A voice said: "Once again Jesus, given to you in all His Body, is there."
It hurts to wake up from such a dream. Who is counting all the extinguished lamps?
So I decided to ask all those who for several dozen years no longer understand.
I asked them what we should do. Groups of faithful, priests, bishops, two cardinals from Rome...all had the same thought: Ordain married, fervent, and capable men to the priesthood. Also, those who are not in the Church but wish it well have repeated to me: "What association of such importance would act unreasonably to this point -- or would not act -- when it has at its disposal a manpower reserve of such size and faith? Think of the number of retired people renewed each day.
All during my questioning, everyone concluded not "What is to be done?" but "When will it be done?"
Brother bishops, recently gathered together in the synod in Rome, you have still not been willing to open this door and present to the impatient faithful the answer that most of them know is there. Why wait longer, when the needs are so great? None of you has to wait because you are also the agents of this word: "Tend my lambs. Tend my sheep."
I know, of course, that problems will come up. I can think of three; none of which is insoluble.
1. Teaching this flood of new arrivals the science of the faith and initiation by some elders (should we not call them this -- those who have come before?) What elder would conceal himself?
2. Be sure to guarantee the families of the priests what they need to survive. Do we doubt that groups of the faithful would attend to this?
3. To take away the temptation to rob the tabernacles which would be lit in every church and before which everyone could come to pray night and day, would it not be more gospel-like to place the consecrated bread in simple cloth, allowing the golden vessels to be locked in the sacristies?
Brothers, let us not be afraid! Let us open the doors to our churches! Open the door to the priesthood to these millions of men of fervent faith who are ready to enter into this vocation. I know that the vocation of celibacy, which I lived for 75 years, is difficult but I know that when it is lived with fervor it is a gift from God, and everyone knows that the vocation of spouse can, itself, only be well-lived with the same fervor and it receives similar gifts -- even more so when combined with a priestly role. I am also convinced that the ordination of married men will in no way silence vocations to consecrated celibacy.
Brothers, what else can I say to you? Doesn't our world, now more than ever, thirst for Jesus and the gift of His Presence in the Eucharist? I am no longer young but I still have the enthusiasm of being your brother and friend in Jesus.
With great affection,