FROM JOHN THAVIS IN ROME
THE NEW HEAD of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, was this week forced to clarify comments about priestly celibacy, saying the question was not up for discussion by the Church.
In a newspaper interview Cardinal Hummes said priestly celibacy was a disciplinary norm and not a Church dogma, and was therefore open to possible change. Although he was not arguing in favour of changing the rule, his comments caused a stir.
Shortly after arriving at the Vatican from Brazil on Monday, the cardinal issued a statement emphasising that priestly celibacy was a long and valuable tradition in the Latin-rite Church based on strong theological and pastoral arguments.
Cardinal Hummes, a Franciscan who has led the Archdiocese of Sao Paolo, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in October as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, a move widely seen as bringing a moderate Latin American voice to the Roman Curia.
He told the Brazilian newspaper 0 Estado de Sao Paolo that "even though celibacy is part of Catholic history and culture, the Church could review this question, because celibacy is not a dogma but a disciplinary question".
The cardinal said that the shortage of priests in some areas of the world was a challenge, and that the Church was not "immobile" but "changes when it should change". He also pointed out that most of the Apostles were married men.
Cardinal Hummes said the first step would be for the Church to "discuss whether it is necessary to re-discuss the norms on celibacy".
In his clarifying statement, released by the Vatican press office, Cardinal Hummes noted that while priestly celibacy is not a Church dogma — in fact, Catholic Eastern-rite communities have married priests it is an ancient value in the Latin-rite Church. "It is based on a consolidated tradition and strong theological-spiritual and practical-pastoral arguments that have also been backed up by popes," he said.
He also said that in the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, the majority of bish
ops thought that relaxing the celibacy rule would not resolve the problem of priest shortages, and that such shortages were probably caused by reasons other than the celibacy rule.
"This question is therefore not presently on the agenda of Church authorities, as was recently reaffirmed after the latest meeting of Roman Curia heads with the Holy Father," he said.
Last month Pope Benedict met top Vatican department heads for a discussion of priestly celibacy in the wake of Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's illicit ordination of four married men as bishops. The meeting strongly endorsed the value of celibacy in the priesthood.
Vatican Notebook: Page 2