The Vatican and celibacy

The Vatican's newly appointed Secretary of State, Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, caused a stir recently when he suggested the centuries' old tradition of celibacy for priests was open for discussion.

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  1. In an interview, Parolin told the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that the Roman Catholic Church should be free to discuss the issue and consider "modifications."
    "The work the church did to institute ecclesiastical celibacy must be considered," he said. "We cannot simply say that it is part of the past. It is a great challenge for the pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking of the unity of the church and not to divide it. Therefore we can talk, reflect, and deepen on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think of some modifications, but always with consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God. It is not about what I would like but what God wants for His church."
  2. The full context of his statement can be found in the National Catholic Reporter, which published an English translation:

  3. Parolin noted in the interview that celibacy for priests is not church dogma, but simply a long-standing practice. Priests were not forbidden to marry until the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Parolin said the church really began to enforce celibacy after the Council of Trent in 1563.

  4. Parolin stopped a long way short of calling for an end to celibacy. In fact, he stressed that Pope Francis is no revolutionary. "I want to underline the theme of continuity," he said, "because sometimes it seems, and I don't know if I'm exaggerating here, that Pope Francis is going to revolutionize everything, he is going to change everything."
  5. Still, Parolin has signaled an important shift. Francis' predecessor, the now retired Benedict XVI, flatly stated several times that celibacy for priests was here to stay. He once called it "sacred." On another occasion, while revelations of sex abuse by priests rocked the church, Benedict called celibacy a "sign of full devotion" to the Lord.
  6. The issue, however, remains a hot one in the Catholic Church.  In Ireland, where sex scandals has seen the church toppled from its once dominant role, a public opinion poll conducted by an association of rebel priests found 87 per cent in favour of allowing priests to marry.
  7. Celibacy is part of a bigger battle going on in the church. Under Benedict, priests across Europe rebelled against the centralization of power in Rome. The election of Pope Francis in March brought new hope. He made clear from the start that he was open to a more grassroots approach to decision making, what in church terms, is called "collegiality."

  8. In his interview with El Universal, the Vatican's Secretary of State made clear that the need for a  more democratic church is the real challenge. "It has always been said that the church is not a democracy," he noted. "But it would be good during these times that there could be a more democratic spirit, in the sense of listening carefully, and I believe the pope has made of this one of his pontificate's objectives. A collegial movement of the church, where all the issues can be brought up, and afterward he can make a decision."

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