Australia's National Council of Priests has asked next October's Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist to reconsider the rule of priestly celibacy. The Council represents half of Australia's 1649 Catholic clergy and includes 42 bishops and 3 cardinals. The Australian priests complained that the pre-Synod papers ignore the serious shortage of priests and how in many places this makes regular celebration of Eucharist impossible. They asked that marriage not disqualify someone from ordination and that the church consider readmitting priests who left the clerical state to marry. They stated quite pointedly, "Priesthood is a gift. Celibacy is a gift. Priesthood and celibacy are not the same gift."
A stimulus for the Australian statement was a survey of 300 priests in the Sydney archdiocese last Spring. Some 55% said celibacy should be optional. Similar surveys by laity in 53 U.S. dioceses found 67% of responding priests in favor of an open discussion of the celibacy rule.
The Australian priests complained that the hierarchy pays too much attention to so-called liturgy abuses and not enough attention to places with no priest and no Eucharist. "The gnat of liturgical 'abuse' is carefully strained out while the camel of dying communities is being swallowed," they said. Church reform groups in the United States echoed this point, declaring that bishops seem more intent on enforcing liturgical minutiae than facing up to so many parishes closing down over the next ten years."
In Boston, for example, the archdiocese is closing 82 of 357 parishes. The idea of these parishes continuing and still being Eucharistic without a resident priest is not even considered. The Australian priests think otherwise: "Every faith community is priestly and Eucharistic through Baptism. The foundational Eucharistic character of every community of faith, with or without a resident priest, needs to be explored and affirmed."
[Read the full text of the Australian Priests' Council at www.ncp.catholic.org.au/members/index.html]