Mail & Guardian
June 8, 2007
Parishioners of a Johannesburg Roman Catholic church, concerned at a growing shortage of priests, have challenged church authorities to allow priests to marry.
The proposal is made in a "discussion document" compiled by a working group of the pastoral council of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rosebank.
The document has been presented to the Catholic Bishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale, and was published across two pages of the latest edition of the SA Catholic newspaper, the Southern Cross.
The parishioners said in it that they were extremely concerned about the growing shortage of priests in their diocese and worldwide.
The document said that while celibate priesthood should be encouraged, the "current discipline" of celibacy was restrictive, and inconsistent within the church.
There were already many priests in the church who married before becoming Catholics, and were still married, while there were also many married priests in the Eastern, as opposed to Roman, rites of the church.
The document pointed out that since 1962, about 110 000 priests had abandoned their vocation, and many people probably wanted to become priests but did not possess "the gift of celibacy".
It said that of the 110 parishes in the Johannesburg diocese, 15 were now forced to share priests.
Of the 135 religious priests, as opposed to those attached to the diocese, just over half were over 75, or engaged in other ministries and not available for parish work.
"By 2015, which is less than ten years away, 71 of the 180 current priests in the diocese will be over 75," the document said.
"We, the members of the church, are concerned about this and want to know what those in charge intend doing about the situation."
The issue of celibacy in the Roman Catholic church has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, particularly following the controversy over the former archbishop of Zambia, Emmanuel Milingo, who married a much younger Korean bride.
In November last year, the Vatican issued a statement referring "the value of the choice of priestly celibacy".
It said it would examine requests by priests wishing to marry and requests for re-admission by clergy who had married in recent years.
However, it emphasised there was no change in "the current discipline" on celibacy.
Priests of the Roman rite promise to remain unmarried and chaste for life. -- Sapa