The French bishops' conference just concluded their meeting in Lourdes and spent a large amount of time talking about the crisis in vocations in that country (Le Parisien, 11/11/2007). In France the number of diocesan priests has declined from 40,000 in 1965 to 15,957 en 2005, the last year for which statistics are available. There were only 98 new ordinands that year.
In spite of this, ordaining married men is not on the table for discussion, according to the bishops' conference. "L'idée que l'ordination des hommes mariés pourrait résoudre la crise des vocations est illusoire" ("The idea that ordaining married men could resolve the vocations crisis is illusory"), they said, citing Pope Benedict XVI's reaffirmation of the mandatory nature of celibacy.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gave an interview in the same issue of Le Parisien (interview not available online; summary here) where he suggested that the ordination of married men, being a question of discipline and not doctrine, was open for discussion. But, the cardinal added, this is not the solution to the vocations crisis. Etchegaray believes the solution lies in a renewed appreciation for service to the Church.
In spite of this conclusion, Etchegaray's remarks were received as a positive sign by many married priests. In an article in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, "Ordinare preti sposati? Parliamone", don Giuseppe Serrone, president of the Associazione Sacerdoti Lavoratori Sposati (Association of Married Worker Priests) stated: "E’ una grossa apertura, confidiamo che sia il primo passo verso un cambiamento delle leggi della Chiesa." ("This is a great opening; we are confident that it is the first step toward a change of the laws within the Church.")
Photo: Cardinal Etchegaray and Pope Benedict XVI