Priest Celibacy Is Open for Discussion, Says Vatican Number Two

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 11 2013 7:59 PM

Priest Celibacy Is Open for Discussion, Says Vatican Number Two

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A view of St. Peter's Square during the 'urbi et orbi' blessing held by Pope Benedict XVI from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.

Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

The Pope’s new number two says that the practice of celibacy by priests in the Roman Catholic Church is open for discussion.

Archbishop Pietro Parolin said in response to an interview question with Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that “celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss (it) because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the church.” Parolin also noted, even though the church is not a democratic institution, it must "reflect the democratic spirit of the times and adopt a collegial way of governing."

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According to the National Catholic Reporter, Parolin’s comments “are raising eyebrows today, with some wondering if they herald looming changes in Catholic teaching and practice.”

It's not clear exactly when celibacy became mandatory for priests, the Huffington Post explains, but “the first written mandate for chastity dates back to 304 C.E., when Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira stated that all ‘bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics’ should ‘abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.’ A definitive ruling was handed down at the Second Lateran Council of 1139, which ruled that priests were forbidden to marry.”

“In truth,” the National Catholic Reporter writes “Parolin's comments represent what might be termed the standard moderate Catholic line – priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and can therefore be revised, but it nonetheless has value, and the church is not a democracy but it can and should be more collegial.”

In a 2012 interview, Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, said celibacy "is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change." Pope Francis went on to say "I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures.”

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.