FROM ALAN McEl.WAIN IN VATICAN CITY TWO cardinals appealed at the Rome Synod of Bishops this week for married men to be allowed to be ordained. Cardinal Aifrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, asked: "What is betterto , preach the Gospel through married priests or not to preach the Gospel at all?"
Cardinal Suenens, the Belgian Primate, said the majority of his bishops, priests and people favoured the acceptance of married men as priests, and he hoped the Synod would recommend this to the Pope.
Cardinal Alfrink's down-to-earth words crystallised the theme of speeches made by several bishops favouring acceptance of married priests. Optional clerical celibacy has been approved by the Dutch hierarchy and clergy for some time.
Pope Paul. stern opponent of change in the Church's traditional celibacy law, was present in the Synod as points in favour of a married priesthood were put forward. But many other bishops were ranged with him in his opposition to this.
Cardinal Alfrink made it clear that the Dutch Episcopal Conference wanted the ordination of married men "in certain circumstances and under determined conditions."
Pope Paul has already said, reluctantly. that he would be prepared to consider the ordination of mature married men in places desperately short of clergy. That is as far as he is willing to go.
The Cardinal argued that the married state was in no way repugnant to the priesthood, as the history of the early Church clearly demonstrated. The Church respected matrimony. and always had.
Lack of priests
Circumstances in various parts of the world today seemed to demand the ordination of married men, as various episcopal conferences had emphasised. Cardinal Alfrink said. In many places, lack of priests made it difficult to bring the Gospel to baptised people, and the evangelisation of the world made little progress.
No one doubted the right of the faithful to receive the Eucharist, and the Church must not let the shortage of priests in some areas deprive them of this right.
"The Dutch Bishops therefore request that, with the Pope's consent, those Episcopal conferences which want to ordain married men should be permitted to do so."
Equally important as anything else he said was, I think, the Cardinal's appeal for an end to what might IT* termed the "competitive" element among hierarchies who do and do not want the celibacy law changed. I le urged those who were opposed to married priests—perhaps because they did not need them—to show "fraternal charity and sincere collegiality" towards those who approved them.
Cardinal Suenens said married men should be accepted whether or not there was a shortage of clergy. He pointed out that Christ had founded his Church -not on St. John, but on Peter. a married man."
He urged the Synod to speak its mind. A non-celibate clergy must not exclude the celibate clergy and optional celibacy should not become a universal discipline, but be made available to individual countries.
The Cardinal severely criticised the ban Rome had imposed on discussion of the celibacy problem. Some churchmen consi dered this a cause of the present crisis in the priesthood, whose ranks were being depleted at the rate of about 3,000 a year. Pope Paul, reluctantly, had lifted the ban only last year, whereas useful discussions could have begun five years ago.
Bishop Alexander Carter. of Sault Sainte Marie, Canada, a leading "progressive,said the present discipline on celibacy in the Latin Church was not one of the central or basic issue in the Synod's examination of the priesthood. But as it continued to provoke ardent discussion, especially in Europe and the Americas, where more than 85 per cent of the world's priests were, it could hardly be termed peripheral.
The bishops looked in vain, in the Synod's "working paper," for any arguments against the present celibacy discipline. There was one indication that in extreme circumstances "one might be obliged to ordain a married man," but even here other remedies were proposed.
"I fear that the suggestion that it is preferable to experiment by giving more offices to laymen and deacons denotes an unhealthy obsession with celibacy," Bishop Carter said. "It would be dangerous to become so preoccupied with saving the present discipline that we would risk eroding the very nature of the priesthood rather than admit married men to Holy Orders. Such a process would effectively deny what we have been saying about the necessary role of the priest in the Church since the beginning of this Synod."
Neither bishops nor priests in Canada questioned the great value of the charism of celibacy, Bishop Carter said, but research had shown that many priests were living celibate lives for motives considerably inferior to those traditionally advanced by the Church.
The Canadian bishops almost unanimously favoured ordaining mature married men where there was need, and a small majority favoured changing the present discipline so that married men could be ordained even if there was no Shortage of clergy. Ninety per cent of the Canadian priests also favoured this.
Bishop Carter said: "We favour the ordination of married men because we arc convinced that married men who have the experience of family life, and of life in the heart of the secular world. have a new and valuable dimension to bring to the priesthood. To speak of the Church in the modern world implies the reality of the priest being in the modern world."
Cardinal George Bernard Flahiff, Archbishop of Winnipeg, in a striking speech. asked the Synod to recommend to the Pope the immediate setting up of a mixed cornmission of bishops. priests, laity and men and women in religious orders, to study in depth the question of women being admitted as ministers of the Church.
Leader Comment —p.4.