Pope `Re-Affirms' Celibacy, Ends Married Priests Bid (Update1)
By Flavia Krause-Jackson
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI today ``re- affirmed'' the celibacy requirement for priests, putting an end to the possibility his papacy would open up to married clergymen in a bid to offset a shortage of recruits.
The pontiff and the heads of the nine congregations and 11 pontifical councils that make up the administration of the Holy See met today in response to mounting calls for the Catholic Church to drop the celibacy obligation and examine the cases of priests who have married and sought readmission.
The participants of the meeting ``re-affirmed the value of a priest choosing to be celibate in accordance to the Catholic tradition,'' the Holy See said in a statement sent by e-mail.
Pope Benedict is facing a shortage of priests as the Catholic faith wanes in popularity in Europe and the U.S. amid debate about the Vatican's stance on issues such as contraception, abortion, celibacy and the role of women in the church. The number of Catholic priests in Europe and North America dropped 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, between 1999 and 2004, the church's statistical yearbook showed.
There are about 140,000 Catholic priests in Europe, and 46,000 in the U.S. Asia's priesthood grew by 13 percent and Africa's by 18 percent.
The world's Catholic population is 1.1 billion, according to the 2006 edition of ``Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae,'' the Vatican's official statistics book. Islam is the fastest-growing religion, with Muslims expected to number 2 billion by 2025, according to the United Nations Department of Statistics.
The celibacy debate was triggered by Emmanuel Milingo, a former archbishop of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, who was excommunicated by Pope Benedict two months ago for ordaining four married men as bishops.
`Married Priests Now'
Milingo provoked controversy in 2001 by marrying a South Korean woman in a mass wedding conducted by Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. Milingo later renounced his marriage and in July formed a lobby group called ``Married Priests Now'' to try and convince the Catholic Church to drop the celibacy obligation.
``It is very clear that the Roman Catholic Church has a great need of priests,'' said Milingo on his Web site. ``Currently on the sidelines, there are approximately 150,000 validly ordained priests. But these priests are married. The majority of these priests are ready and willing to return to the sacred ministry of the altar.''
Milingo, 76, says he continues to celebrate Mass each day. Born in Zambia into a poor family of farmers, he was ordained in 1958 and became one of Africa's youngest bishops before his activities as an exorcist convinced the Vatican to recall him to Rome in 1983, according to the biography on his Web Site.
There were married priests in early church, though they were supposed to refrain from sex with their wives, following the example of the twelve apostles who renounced their families to follow Jesus, according to Father Anthony Zimmerman, in a 2001 paper entitled ``The Logic of Priestly Celibacy.''
The practice wasn't outlawed until the fourth century. The council of Elvira, held between 295 and 302, imposed celibacy on the clergy, according to the New Advent, an online Catholic encyclopedia approved by the church. Still, apart from bishops, priests that were married at that time were allowed to keep their wives and moreover the practice of marriage remained widespread in the converted Byzantine Empire.
Some married priests do work inside the Catholic Church, primarily clergymen from other Christian faiths such as Anglicanism, who already had wives when they converted to Catholicism and were ordained by special dispensation, according to Father William P. Saunders, a former dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School at Christendom College, in Alexandria, Virginia, and author of the 1998 work ``Straight Answers, Answers to 100 Questions about the Catholic Faith.''