Momentum growing for married priests in England and Wales

The unique experience of the Catholic Church in England and Wales could give weight to any case it might put for more married priests, a bishop says.

Emeritus Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood told The Tablet he thought it could be argued the Church in England and Wales was in a unique position to prompt Rome on the issue.

“We are well viewed as a conference at the Vatican and we are not seen as extreme,” said Bishop McMahon.

“I think we would have a very sympathetic hearing and we can draw on a very unique experience in this country.

“We have fewer priests, and we used to have many; and many of our Ordinariate clergy are married. We also have married deacons,” he said.

Bishop McMahon added that the feedback from ordinary Catholics has been very positive on both married Ordinariate priests and married deacons.

Bishop McMahon is one of several England and Wales bishops to have added their voices to what some see as a groundswell for change to allow wider ordination of married priests.

The need is becoming more urgent, they have said, because of a shortage of priests.

The Bishop of Menevia in Wales, Bishop Thomas Burns, SM, said priestly celibacy should be made optional.

He said it is wrong to claim that celibacy should be abandoned because it was linked to child abuse.

He added that there wasn’t evidence that it should be abandoned to improve vocations.

If celibacy was made optional, he said, “[it would leave] the way clear for the status of married clergy to be recognised in its own right as a true gift of the Spirit to the Church.”

In summary, said Bishop Burns, the obligation for priests not to be married was neither Church doctrine nor dogma, but “a disciplinary measure dating from the twelfth century and potentially can be re-stated as a gift of the Spirit to the Church”.

However, when asked about the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said that he did not see it as a “pressing issue”.


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