Married clergy on Pope Francis’ agenda?

Pope Francis, is, according to Cardinal Walter Kasper – a Swabian formerly responsible for ecumenism – neither a traditionalist nor a liberal – “both of which categories have become rather timeworn and hackneyed” – but rather a radical who wants to advance a revolution of forgiveness.

Well, that’s what Christians are kind of for, even if most of us fall rather short of the ideal. But though the liberal/trad categories may indeed be a bit hackneyed – possibly because they’re completely and utterly lost on the secular majority — it’s not to say that the old agendas aren’t still being fought over with gusto.

And right at the top of the liberal shopping list is a married clergy.

According to the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, after a mass earlier this month attended by five priests who left the ministry to marry, a campaigner for married priests made the case for the practice of the Eastern churches in which married priests can be ordained.

In reply Francis said ambiguously that “the issue is in my diary” and “the door is always open but we are not talking about it now as the order of the day”. Really? There has been similar noises off, apparently, from the former head of the Vatican apostolic penitentiary, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti.

Now I happen to be against the idea, and I take a really dim view of priests who leave the ministry to marry (the married Anglicans who became Catholic priests are another matter), but my sense of revulsion against this line of argument is on the basis that it’s dishonest.

As it happens, for the first millennium of the Church’s history, until the Gregorian reforms of the eleventh century, bishops could ordain married men (St Peter was married). Just the once; if your wife died, tough, you couldn’t have another.

But what you couldn’t do was allow someone already ordained to marry. A nice distinction, I agree, since the upshot was the same, but the line was drawn there. Continue reading

Melanie McDonagh is a leader writer for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

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