From Mark Webster in Paris
SEVEN out of ten French Catholics favour the idea of married priests but the majority are still hostile to women being ordained, according to a major public opinion poll just published.
The independent investigation, commissioned by the Catholic weekly Le Pelerin (The Pilgrim), shows an interesting evolution of public opinion.
A poll in 1963 showed 55 per cent of French people in favour of priests marrying, In 1968 the number had risen to 68 per cent and it has now reached 70 per cent.
Men and women were equal in their opinions, but age proved very important — the 24 to 34 age group were more sympathetic than their elders.
The poll took in all French Catholics, both practising and lapsed. Among practising Catholics opinions were less favourable, with only 42 per cent coming out for the ' idea, There was less of a margin of difference on the issue of women priests. Only 38 per cent, most of them among the young, liked the idea while 48 per cent were totally opposed.
In a third category. 61 per cent did approve of having men already married entering the priesthood. One of the biggest stumbling blocks on the issue, said a Church spokesman, was that many of the parishes were now too poor to support the family of a priest.
The poll also showed that a substantial number ofpeople were still going to priests for advice, though the number has dropped since 1968.
The fall is partly explained by the increase in the population and the declining number of vocations. in 1900 there were 1,679 priests ordained, 1,029 in 1925, 987 in 1950 and 161 in 1975.
Nonetheless, one in three people had consulted a priest within the previous six months and one in six had seen one within a month. Strangely. the percentage was much higher among men than women, especially in the 35 to 49 age group.
The least visits were by the young. In the 21 to 24. age group only one in four had consulted a priest recently, though in the entire survey only 9 per cent said they had never consulted one.
The countryside remains the strongest bastion for the Church. In the country 45 per cent said they had talked personally to a priest within the past six months; in towns with over 100,000 population the percentage fell to 29. In Paris the figure was a mere 21 per cent. Much of the survey was designed to get a clear picture of the priest's role in today's world, A significant number thought it natural for a priest to have a job. Since 1968 the percentage favourable to the idea has risen from 60 to 70, with the most enthusiastic group being the 21 to 24-year-olds.
Among the young 76 per cent found the idea of a priest with a job normal, while the number shrunk to 55 per cent among the over 65s. The lower middle class found the system most acceptable (79 per cent) and farmers were the least sympathetic (57 per cent).
If a priest is to work, most people felt he ought to be a lecturer, teacher or nurse. It is interesting that 44 per cent thought it more in keeping with his ministry for a priest to be a workman than a doctor (28 per cent) or a farmer (24 per cent), What is even more surprising is that 42 per cent of those questioned saw no objection to a worker priest being a union militant, Age played an important part, but only 46 per cent were against the idea.
The majority were far more hostile to the idea of a worker priest being apolitical activist — no matter what the party. Politics and the priesthood have long been a sensitive issue in France, and 62 per cent were opposed to mixing the two. Men were more sympathetic than women.
Yet when asked what they thought the political leanings of the priesthood were, 43 per cent said it would be impossible to say. The only substantial number (22 per cent) thought the majority or priests were socialists.
Finally, the poll dealt with attitudes to the priest tomorrow. What should be his role? Some 28 per cent listed; "Saying the Mass and giving out the Sacraments," and "animating the Christian community".
Only 23 per cent, most of them non practising Catholics, said his role would become that of parish administrator. Practising Catholics opted for the fourth possibility announcing the word of Jesus Christ.
Catholics in France have generally taken heart after the strong line taken by the annual synod of French bishops in Lourdes.
If their attitude is not very positive, at least 63 per cent of those questioned said they would do nothing to stop their son becoming a priest if he felt he had a vocation.
Modern NT Concordance launched
As publishers, "our aim is to serve scholarship," stated Mr Gerald Darton of Darton, Longman and Todd, at a reception to launch the "Modern Concordance to the New Testament" this week.
The chief purpose of this new, 832-page work, which has been edited by Michael Darton,
is to serve scholars and students at a time when there are five
accepted versions of the Bible widely used in English-speaking countries.
It achieves this by being English and Greek. The English index lists the words used in the
New Testament of all the English-language Bibles in wide use, and the Greek index refers the user to the English headings under which texts containing each word are found in translation.
When the project was conceived five years ago, a price of £8 a copy was envisaged. In fact it comes on the market today at £25.
Review by Fr William Berridge, WE, P6.
Co-operation on religious education urged
NEARLY 300 parents, teachers, priests and religious packed the hall at Brentwood Ursuline Convent, London, last Saturday to discuss the problems and needs of religious education.
The meeting, chaired by Bishop Casey of Brentwood and organised by Brentwood Diocesan Commission for Education, stressed the need for greater co-operation between parents, teachers and priests in the field of religious education, and suggested that adult education courses should be organised for parents.
Parents suggested that a diocesan centre be established to help parents with children at nonCatholic schools, and that priests with special gifts of communication be released for full-time work in the field.
Bishop Casey promised that the meeting's proposals would he studied by the diocesan commission. He added that a residential centre for the diodese was already under discussion.
Church unity problems
Members of four denominations met at St Olave's, York, at the weekend to look at the problems of Church unity at neighbourhood level. They tackled the practical rather than the theological difficulties brought up by ecumenism.
Those taking part shared their experiences of co-operation and related them to the needs of a hypothetical town. From this they were able to evolve new ideas for joint action in their own parishes.
There will be an ecumenical Service of Remembrance this Sunday at the Anglican church of St Peter le Moors, Bolton, The Bolton Catholic Operatic and Choral Society will sing Beethoven's Mass in C, and Rev Edward Hardy, the former Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge, will preach.