- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Although the vast majority of Catholics favor married clergy, the nation's Catholic bishops won't even be discussing the topic during their meeting next week in Dallas. Instead, they will consider ways to stem a sexual-abuse debacle that has enveloped numerous dioceses,
priests and a few bishops since January.
Protestants have stayed mostly silent on a debate that ceased concerning them back in the 16th century when Martin Luther, a monk who led the Protestant Reformation, married a nun. He rebelled against the medieval ideal of life as a two-tier ethic; an upper tier for celibate men and women and a lower tier for the married.
Priests were allowed to marry until the 12th century and the threat of their children inheriting church property was one reason for the celibacy requirement. The first pope, the Apostle Peter, was married, and Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 3:2 stipulate a bishop be the husband of only one wife.
Thus, marriage remained a sacrament of the church, and Luther combined both tiers, in which all people are called to marriage as God's plan for creation. But Catholics said the priest must symbolize Christ, the high priest who is married to His church.
The idea of married clergy gained more acceptance in the 20th century, after many priests and nuns left their callings to marry after the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. Only one American prelate, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, has publicly tried to handle this hot potato and that was only to say recently that the issue that should be discussed. In March, the diocesan newspaper for the Boston archdiocese ran an editorial also calling for a discussion on married priests.
Still, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will not be considering wedding bells for their clergy any time soon, because, conference spokesman Bill Ryan says, the prelates "don't see [marriage] as a solution."
Pope John Paul II, a tough-minded octogenarian, is adamant that his clergy be celibate. The only crack in the wall came in 1980, when he signed a provision allowing married Protestant clergy to be ordained Catholic priests. One such man, Donald Paul Sullins, an assistant professor of sociology at Catholic University and a former Episcopal priest, was ordained May 25 at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
"In Rome, they don't want to talk about it at all," says Dean Hoge, a Catholic University scholar who specializes in research on the United States' 48,000 Catholic priests. "Many of the people here don't want to talk about it either."
That's because priestly marriage is not the answer, some say. "It's as logical as getting new tires to deal with a faulty muffler," wrote Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Catholic Conference.
But most lay Catholics favor married clergy. A survey in 1999 by the National Catholic Reporter said 71 percent of Catholics polled supported having married men as priests.
"Not a single verse in the Bible supports [clerical celibacy], except possibly one," Mr. Hoge says. "And the discussion of optional celibacy only applies to diocesan priests, not the religious orders. The latter are not in the direct line of authority under the bishops, plus they are not so urgently needed to run parishes."
A University of Connecticut Roper Center poll conducted last month got a split vote on whether a married priesthood would reduce clergy sexual abuse of children and teen-agers (47 percent yes; 46 percent no; 7 percent didn't know). In an online Newsweek poll conducted in March, 69 percent of the respondents felt that a married priesthood would lead to a major increase in the number of available clergy. Only 18 percent repeated the official church stance: Parishioners would get less time and attention if their priests were married.
Anthony Padovano, a former Newark priest who speaks for Corpus, a Morris Plains, N.J.-based organization of married priests, their spouses and other laity, says 75 percent to 80 percent of Catholics support the idea of married clergy.
The conversation has been even more "intense," he says, since January.
"The church wants to talk about it, but the pope won't allow the discussion to go forward," he says. "When you hit around 80 percent, you're dealing with virtual unanimity. And that's not just in the United States. Ireland and Spain come out even higher. There's a real, worldwide sense among Catholic laity that the time for married priests has come."
Mandatory celibacy, he says, "doesn't have a direct relationship to pedophilia, but it does create an oblique relationship. People are being forced into a lifestyle they don't prefer. Anything that makes the celibate system not look perfect or better creates a clerical system of secrecy and entitlement that leads to an abuse of power. The Bible never called for mandatory celibacy."
Plus, Eastern Rite Catholic clergy in countries east of the Danube River are allowed to marry. So are clergy converts from Lutheran or Episcopal churches, such as Father Sullins. Such men are not allowed to be pastors, but they can be assistant pastors or take jobs as teachers, chaplains or administrators.
The Archdiocese of Washington has two such priests: the Rev. Peter Reynierse, an associate pastor at St. Rafael Catholic Church in Rockville, and the Rev. Scott Hurd, director of the archdiocesan "Hearts of Flame" program for adult education. Both were Episcopal clergymen.
Father Hurd said there are "some negatives" to being a married priest.
"I have two vocations, as a husband and father of two children and as a priest," he said. "I need to find a healthy balance between the two, and that's a challenge. A celibate priest is always able to give more of himself to a priestly ministry. Catholic parishes are very big places, and there's a lot going on."
The sheer weight of Masses, confessions and other sacraments on the daily life of a marriage almost mandates the priest be a single man, he says.
"There's a whole sacramental component to our expression of Christianity that demands a celibate priest," he says. "It's one thing to have married clergy, but are they as free to pack their bags and go to a challenging parish?"
Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick repeatedly has said that celibacy is a "gift" allowing clerics to give themselves fully to others. But Jesus in Matthew 19:12 explained this "gift" was not for everyone, points out the Religion & Society Report, edited by Reformed theologian Harold O.J. Brown.
"The dismay and revulsion caused by the revelation of so many acts of pedophilia among the Roman Catholic clergy has caused many, both in the church and outside it, to question the retirement for priestly celibacy," it says. "It seems reasonable to suppose that the omnipresent hypersexualization of society today makes it harder for priests, monks and nuns to say no to sexual appetites and temptations."

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