BY FREDDY GRAY
POPE BeNance XVI has reiterated his support for clerical celibacy in response to a vociferous campaign to allow priests to marry.
The Vatican held a meeting last week to discuss how to respond to rebellious African Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's "Married Priests Now!" crusade, which has prompted reports of an international "schism" in the Catholic Church.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Archbishop Milingo's "disobedience", according to a Vatican press release, but participants also did talk about the Church's approach to the issue of married priests more generally, in particular the possibility of allowing clerics who have left the priesthood to marry but now meet certain conditions that render them suitable for active ministry.
"The value of the choice of priestly celibacy according to the Catholic tradition was reaffirmed, and the need for solid human and Christian forma tion was underlined, both for seminarians and for those already ordained," declared a brief Vatican statement issued after the three-hour meeting.
Some commentators have interpreted the Vatican's use of the word "value" rather than "requirement" as significant. But Fr Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University and editor of Ignatius Press. dismissed the idea that this represented a change in stance.
"There is some ambiguity, which is probably intended to show that the Church's position, which is firm and not going to change, will not appear to be simply an authoritarian response," he said.
The statement also revealed that participants at the meeting were given up-to-date information on how to deal with requests for special dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and on the possibility of readmitting priests who "meet the conditions foreseen by the Church".
In recent years the Vatican has approved the return to active ministry for some priests who abandoned their vocation to many, but who were later widowed and asked for readmission.
Church officials say that readmissions follow a long process and require an expression of penitence from the petitioner.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that the meeting did not consider major changes in the celibacy rule.
Instead, he said, the discussion focused on the pastoral situation of priests in those special circumstances seeking re-admission to ministry.
Latin-rite Catholic priests make a promise of celibacy. In the Eastern rites, married men may become priests, but are not allowed to many after ordination.
The Vatican meeting came less than two weeks after Archbishop Milingo wrote an open letter to the Pope calling for the immediate acceptance of married priests. The excommunicated prelate said the move would help address the Church's "dire straits because of the shortage of priests".
In his letter Archbishop Milingo claimed there were 150,000 married priests worldwide "who are ready and will
ing to serve". Archbishop Milingo, 76, married a South Korean woman in a Moonie ceremony in 2001 but at the request of Pope John Paul II left her and was reconciled with the Church. Last summer, however, the archbishop was reunited with his wife in the United States and founded Married Priests Now! And in September he ordained four married men as bishops.
The issue of priestly celibacy and married priests was raised at last year's Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
Several bishops called for discussion on ordaining married men to counter priest shortages around the world. But the synod reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy and made no recommendations for any change. The Pope is expected soon to publish a document based on the Synod's findings.
Priests who request and obtain Vatican dispensation from priestly celibacy in order to many are returned to a lay state. They are forbidden to administer the Sacraments, except for granting absolution when someone is close to death.
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