Tuesday, August 19, 2003

MILWAUKEE (AP) — More than 160 priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee have signed a letter arguing that married men should be allowed to enter the priesthood.

The letter marks the first time since the mid-1970s that a group of priests has spoken out in favor of loosening the rules on celibacy, said Dean Hoge, a sociologist at Catholic University of America.

“We join our voices to those of so many others at this time, voices urging that diocesan priesthood now be open to married men as well as to celibate men,” the letter said.

The letter was to be mailed yesterday to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

David Early, a spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he hadn’t seen the letter and declined comment.

The priests said they hope the letter will prompt a dialogue about the issue of optional celibacy because of the shortage of priests, said the Rev. Tom Suriano, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Whitewater, Wis., and one of three area diocesan priests who led the effort.

Catholic priests must take a vow of celibacy. However, the pope in 1980 allowed married Episcopal clergy to become Catholic priests. And married priests are the norm among Eastern Rite Catholics in their homelands in Eastern Europe and the Mideast.

The Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, said he would request that the letter be discussed by the Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, a subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will head that committee, beginning in November.

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