The Need To Discuss Mandatory Celibacy

At the very center of Roman Catholic life is the Eucharist. In large and

small communities, hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics throughout the world

gather on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist, and in this they find their

identity.

Integral to the Eucharistic community is the priest pastor. He gathers the

community, he preaches the word, and most importantly, he is the one who leads

the community in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The parish pastor is charged to enter into collaboration with members of the

parish in building up the body of Christ and proclaiming the good news of the

gracious and inclusive love of God. He is not the only parish minister, but

his ministry is unique and central to the identity of a Catholic parish.

The pastor is not a circuit rider, he lives in a parish community, shares

life with that community, mourns and rejoices with the community. He is present

at birth and death, victories and defeats. He is an integral member of the

parish community. When he gathers the community for Eucharist, he stands in the

midst of a community in which he is both nourished and challenged.

In the past 25 years the number of Roman Catholics in the United States has

dramatically grown by 14 million people, that is a 27 percent increase. At the

same time the numbers of Roman Catholic priests has dramatically diminished

from 58,500 to 45,700, a decrease of 21 percent.

Parishes are larger and more diverse, and the number of priest pastors is

smaller and aging.

What is at stake is the ability of the Catholic Church to remain a

Eucharistic community: a community that gathers each Sunday at the table of the Lord; a

community which is nurtured and nourished on the book and the cup; a community

in which a local priest pastor shares life with a congregation and gathers a

congregation in the mystery of Christ.

In the main, Catholic clergy are celibate males; although one third of the

Catholic clergy of the archdiocese are married men -- deacons of the church, so

constituted by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Priests and bishops, so cons

tituted by the same Sacrament of Holy Orders, are celibate males.

It seems to me, that for the sake of Catholic identity, for the sake of

Eucharistic identity, it behooves the Catholic Church to seriously discuss the

shrinking number of priests and the pastoral demands of the church.

For Roman Catholics there is no value higher and more precious than the

Sunday Eucharistic gathering, and there can be no Eucharist without the ministry of

a parish priest.

In growing numbers, funerals take place without a parish priest and the

celebration of the Eucharist. More marriages are solemnized without the presence of

the parish priest and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In many places the

opportunities to gather for daily mass is lessening, and in some places in the

United States Catholic communities gather on Sunday, but without the celebration

of the Eucharist.

I submit that there are hundreds, thousands of great, large souled, deeply

committed, faith-filled married men who are eager to offer themselves as

candidates for the Catholic priesthood.

Some hold that the demands of parish ministry are too much for a man

committed to his family. I submit the same can be said for tens of thousands of physici

ans, police officers, firefighters and many others who are called upon in all

circumstances to serve the needs of a community. Life is not easy, but it

works; and the life of a married parish pastor can work too.

A celibate priesthood has been and is a great blessing to the Catholic

Church. The preceding remarks are in no way intended to denigrate or lessen the

value of celibacy and the gift of celibacy to the priesthood.

Yet, the Eucharistic identity of the Catholic community is far more important

and far more central to Catholic life than a celibate priesthood.

It is past time for the church, bishops and laity, to seriously, creatively,

boldly open a far-ranging discussion on the future of our Eucharistic

identity.

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