Leading Australian archbishop predicts end to priestly celibacy

priestly celibacy

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, has indicated that the Vatican may be considering the end of compulsory priestly celibacy, potentially opening the doors for married Indigenous men to be ordained as Catholic priests.

Archbishop Coleridge (pictured) stressed the need for the Catholic Church to evolve in order to thrive, especially in diverse cultural contexts.

Coleridge has proposed that Indigenous priests be granted an exemption from the celibacy requirement, arguing that the church would struggle to recruit celibate clergy within certain cultures.

The Archbishop cited the case of West Australian Labor senator Patrick Dodson, the sole Indigenous man ever admitted to the Catholic priesthood, who eventually left the priesthood.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council chair John Lochowiak said devout Indigenous men had shunned the priesthood because it meant choosing between their family-orientated culture and serving God.

“A big part of our worldview is family … you’re expected to have children as an Aboriginal man, and it is a big thing to turn your back on that to become a priest,” Lochowiak told The Australian.

“For most of us, it is just too much. I think that is why you have had only one Aboriginal priest ordained after all these years, so I would welcome the (celibacy) question being looked at.”

The discussion of ordaining married men is not entirely new within the Catholic Church.

A lesser-known provision allows married ministers from Anglican and other Protestant denominations to become Catholic priests, maintaining their marital status and family life.

Pope open to change

The celibacy issue was notably brought to the forefront after a special Vatican conference in 2019 suggested suspending the celibacy rule in the Amazon region of South America to address the shortage of priests.

Though Pope Francis initially showed openness to this idea, further contemplation was deemed necessary.

Archbishop Coleridge refrained from using the term “inevitable” to describe a relaxation of the priestly celibacy rule but emphasised the likelihood of change. He noted that there will likely come a point of maturation where allowing married men to become priests will seem like a natural progression rather than a sudden upheaval of tradition.

The push for change to priestly celibacy is gaining support from other church leaders as well. Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci expressed openness to discussions about ordaining married men, particularly within Indigenous communities, respecting their cultural context.

“I am of the opinion that it is a question that will continue to be raised,” he told The Australian. “It is certainly not going away. I would not say that (change) is ­inevitable – the universal church has much to decide on this ­matter.”

Change does not contradict church teaching

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference National Centre for Pastoral Research director Trudy Dantis said the ordination of married men did not contradict church teaching and should be considered.

Dr Dantis said calls for the ordination of married men as Catholic priests – allowed in Protestant denominations as well as Eastern Orthodox churches – had emerged “quite strongly” in Australian consultations for the Synod on Synodality.

“Given that this model does not contradict church teaching, I believe it is worthwhile considering alongside the current celibate clergy model which continues to have strong value and appeal for many,” she said.

Archbishop Coleridge said he would not be attending the Synod on Synodality in October, convened by the Pope. It would be up to others to push for changes to priestly celibacy.

In line with church practice, he will offer his resignation as Archbishop of Brisbane to Francis on turning 75 next month.


The Weekend Australian

The Australian

CathNews New Zealand


Additional reading

News category: Top Story, World.

Tags: , ,