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BY Plats MCGRANDLE
AN OVERWHELMING number of Catholics are in favour of married priests and an end to compulsory celibacy, according to a poll published in the Herald this week.
Parishioners also believe that the mandatory rule on celibacy, with which the Catholic Church struggled for centuries, will eventually be revoked.
The findings of the poll, conducted over the past few week: in parishes up and down the country as well as through the newspaper itself, will disturb the church hierarchy and put further pressure for change in the Church.
The survey was targeted at a cross-section of the Catholic community, from university students to inner-city parishioners. It comes in the wake of a series of scandals — the Bishop Wright affair being only the most recent — which have thrown open the whole question of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church. Unlike many of its European counterparts, the hierarchy in this country has been steadfast in its support for the hard-line view emanating from the Vatican.
Of the 1,000 people polled, a startling 69 per cent said that they were in favour of a change in the Church's law on celibacy for priests.
Although only 21 per cent felt that change would come soon or under the present papacy 60 per cent believed that hange would come eventually in the Church.
The poll then asked whether an influx of married priests would be good for the parish, for individuals and for the Church as a whole, Of all those polled, 69 per cent said that married priests would be good for the parish, 75 per cent said it would be good for the individuals concerned and 69 per cent said that it would be good for the Church world-wide.
The poll can he divided into those who answered the poll through the newspaper i.e. Herald readers and those who responded through questionnaires handed out by their parish priest.
As might be expected from a traditionally liberal newspaper, Heald readers are very much in favour of an end to mandatory celibacy: 68 per cent said they supported making priestly celibacy optional, 66 per cent said it was good for the parish and only 33 per cent said that it would be bad for the Church.
But what will be more disturbing for conservativeminded Catholics is that the numbers demanding an end to mandatory celibacy are almost identical among those polled in their parishes: 69 per cent say that priestly celibacy should not be obligatory, and only 30 per cent say married priests would be bad for the Church.
It is also worth comparing these polls to similar ones conducted by the Herald in past years.
For instance, a similar poll conducted in July 1993 restricted to subscribers to the Herald — produced a lower figure of 63 per cent in favour of married priests.
A poll conducted 16 years earlier in January 1977 produced much lower results: only 33 per cent were in favour of the change in the Church's law then.
This time around, the Herald has been inundated with suggestions and comments about the whole issue of celibacy, which is certainly one of the most serious to hit the Church this century.
Comments ranged from specific issues (such as the cost of keeping families) to the general, such as the role of the Church in standing against sex-obsessed society.
A selection of lemers inchcates the level of concern being shown on this subject. One reader writes: "We definitely need more priests and I feel if they give a little time to their families their church work would not suffer".
Another reader gives short shrift to the argument that the priest has too much responsibility to bring up a family: "Must men have jobs and families. Nobody sug-gests that a married doctor's patients are thus at risk through neglect. or that a married lawyer can't serve his clients adequately."
Another writes: "Why should a vocation to priesthood also imply a vocation to celibacy? What is so wrong with marriage?"Many priests, one writer comments, are in danger of growing into "grumpy, cantankerous old bachelors".
Some argue that it could not be supported on Scriptural grounds.
"Celibacy should be optional; the Church should not impose what Jesus didn't".