Let priests marry, say laity in Herald poll
By PIERS MCGRANTILE SUPPORTERS OF an end to compulsory celibacy for priests this week reacted with delight to a Catholic Herald poll which shows they have the support of 69% of ordinary Catholics.
The poll — taken from 1,000 parishioners throughout England and Wales — is further evidence of a groundswell shift of opinion over priestly celibacy and married priests.
Speaking to the Herald, former Oratorian John Challoner, chairman of Catholics For a Changing Church, said that he was "surprised, but pleased that the support for us is so high".
"The message is getting through we don't have enough male celibates. Ministry is starved of labour; we need a more flexible and
varied approach. Change has to come if the Church is to be credible and fruitful. At the moment, the whole thing is bankrupt,"
The recent spate of scandais in the Church, aligned with the continuing reception of married former Anglican vicars into the Catholic priesthood, seems to have swayed the views of many churchgoers. Alex Walker, from Advent a support group for married former Catholic priests said that the figures showed that pressure for change was equally strong from within and outside the Church.
"This poll is in line with national polls among non Catholics," he said. "Recent events have shown how vulnerable the Church is on this subject."
However, the Church's official line was more subdued. Nicholas Coote, Assistant General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, said:"There was no evidence that an end to mandatory celibacy would solve the problems we currently face.The whole subject is more complex than people realise. If Catholic priests were to become divorced, the ensuing scandal would he as damaging as those who break their vow of celibacy in the Church today.
"We should also consider the impact on the priest's wife and children; the wife has a vocation too".
Difficulties also arise over the implications of ordaining married men to the Catholic priesthood. For instance, as such married people are now being allowed to become priests, why not others? And should priests who have taken a vow of celibacy under existing rules be allowed to marry?
The publication of the Herald's survey comes in the wake of the Bishop Wright affair.
Speaking after the revelations, Cardinal Hume said that the celibacy rule "was not divine law, it's Church law.In Western Europe and America it's very much debated. We need more time to look at it", he said at the time.