In late October, groups of faithful Catholics will join together to honor their parish priests and advocate for a return to the tradition of a celibate and married priesthood in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Over thirty celebrations are scheduled in cities all over the U.S. as well as in Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom on or around October 31, Priesthood Sunday or World Day for Priests. (see http://futurechurch.org/fpm/optcel/priesthoodsunday/celebrations.htm or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for locations)
"We need to return to our early Church custom of having both a celibate and a married priesthood," said Bill Wisniewski, FutureChurch board member. "St. Peter was married. St. Paul was celibate and the early church flourished perhaps in part because it incorporated both ministerial charisms. Since celibacy is a gift from the Holy Spirit, it will not disappear, but is a distortion of the gift to demand it of priests who are not called to it."
"We are excited by the excellent response since it is the first time we have ever held this special celebration," said FutureChurch Special Projects Coordinator Emily Holtel-Hoag. "It tells me how much Catholics appreciate their parish priests, and how much they are concerned about the future of the priesthood if the Church doesn't change celibacy rules."
"Parishes in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom are closing while thousands of Catholics in the developing world have virtually no access to Mass and the sacraments because of too few celibate priests," said Sr. Christine Schenk, FutureChurch Executive Director.
"At least 30 Bishops around the world, have openly called for discussion of celibacy rules," said Schenk who named three bishops in Belgium and the head of the German Bishops conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch who recently spoke out in the wake of revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in Europe.
World Priest Day was started by Worldwide Marriage Encounter in 2000 as a way to honor and affirm those men who chose to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and faithfully serve the people of God through ministry and prayer. In 2007, the day was moved to the last Sunday in October to coincide with the Serra Club's celebration of Priesthood Sunday.
FutureChurch isn't stopping with prayer, it is also taking action. In the past year over 5,000 electronic and paper postcards have been sent to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and to
local bishops asking them to "begin discussion at the highest levels of the Church about the need to return to our earliest tradition of permitting both a married and a celibate priesthood."
The FutureChurch website has been configured to send electronic and paper postcards in German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese as well as English. Scores of people have downloaded free organizing kits from begin educational programs, prayer and advocacy initiatives in their locales. An educational web video is also available on youtube.com (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6tB0lWsnhQ).
A 2004 anonymous survey of 14,000 priests in 53 US dioceses found that sixty seven percent of respondents believed the church should open discussion about mandatory celibacy. The survey was spearheaded by FutureChurch in partnership with Call To Action. Many priests spontaneously said it was time to discuss ordaining women too, beginning with women deacons.
FutureChurch believes the Church will not be whole or just until we recognize all of the priestly vocations, married and celibate, male and female that God is pouring upon the Catholic Church.
FutureChurch also advocates for the restoration of women to the diaconate in the So All Can Be at the Table campaign as an important next step for advancing women's roles in the Church. For more information on FutureChurch's programming regarding women's leadership in the Church, go to www.futurechurch.org.
To download a free copy of the Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be at the Table Priesthood Sunday prayer service, go to http://www.futurechurch.org/downloads/optcel.htm.
For locations of celebrations go to http://futurechurch.org/fpm/optcel/priesthoodsunday/celebrations.htm .
FutureChurch, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a U.S. coalition of 5,000 parish based Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch makes presentations throughout the country, distributes educational and informational packets and recruits activists who call on Catholic leadership to discuss opening ordination to all baptized persons who are called to priestly ministry by God and the people of God.