Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Number of priests leaving the Church to get married is growing in Portugal

By Lusa (English translation by Rebel Girl)
June 3, 2014

The number of priests in Portugal who are leaving the priesthood to get married is growing, now exceeding 400, according to the Associação Fraternitas movement, which is concerned about the sudden abandonment and definitive break with the Church by some priests.

"We have seen an increase in the number of priests asking for dispensation. The numbers are upwards of 400," Fernando Félix Pereira, president of the Associação Fraternitas movement which brings together and supports priests who have asked for dispensation from the priesthood, whether they get married or not, told Lusa.

Fernando Félix Ferreira, 44, asked for dispensation from the priesthood to marry in 2000, a process that lasted almost a year and a half, and he was accompanied by a Jesuit priest. The president of Fraternitas is concerned about the current trend of sudden abandonment and definitive break with the Church by some priests.

"Lately we have witnessed a phenomenon which concerns us and that is self-dispensation -- young priests and others who aren't so young who just abandon the ministry and don't want to go through any process of seeking dispensation," he added. He also pointed out that, to reconciliation to life in the Church, these priests respond with "an adamant 'no'."

Fernando Felix Ferreira says he has no global figures on this trend, but adds that recently in the Diocese of Santarém, six priests left the priesthood overnight. The Association Fraternitas movement currently includes 115 priests who have asked for priestly dispensation and it is recognized by the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP).

The association supports priests being able to choose between being single or getting married, and it also wants to open the priesthood and the Church to married men who would like to be priests. So the recent words of Pope Francis who stated that priestly celibacy is not a "dogma of faith" in the Catholic Church, that there are married priests in the Eastern rites, and that "the door is always open" to address the subject, were well received by the association.

"A decision coming from the top would cause divisions. Something sensible that will emerge from the Synod on the Family [convened by the Pope for October] is that each local church make its way and that each diocese see if it's possible to have married priests along with single priests. That there would be a sort of gradual learning process, so that people get used to it," he argued.

The president of the Fraternitas thinks that Pope Francis is giving back to countries decisions that used to be concentrated in the Roman Curia, but he believes that in Portugal this question will not be "resolved peacefully". "The Portuguese bishops are quite dependent on the decisions of the Vatican [...] and have great difficulty in being pioneers," he says, pointing out as exceptions the bishops of Viseu, Ilídio Leandro Pinto, and the retired bishop of Fatima, Serafim Ferreira da Silva.

Pope Francis' words might encourage the Church's process of opening itself to married priests and there are other indications that this change might go forward. "We have done a study of every document that each priest receives from the Vatican when he asks for dispensation from priestly obligations. Before, it was called "reduction to lay state" and a lot of people thought that the priest who asks for dispensation becomes a layman. There have been changes and there is no longer that expression just to say "'dispensation from priestly obligations' and with that, it is acknowledged that the priest remains a priest for life," he explained.

The earlier document in particular forbade priests from giving classes in Catholic universities and seminaries, from leading liturgies, or giving homilies. According to the president of Fraternitas, the new text moves to another context where "the theology education, the family experience for catechesis, for working with married couples and young people" are valued.

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