BY A STAFF REPORTER
CARDINAL HEENAN told priests of the Westminster Archdiocese this week that abolition of the celibacy rule would not produce the priests needed by the Church.
In a frank talk to two meetings of priests, the Cardinal declared that there was at present "almost a public cult of lapsed priests, as if they and not the faithful clergy were to be admired."
The meetings, in Cathedral Hall on Wednesday and yesterday, were to elect representatives for the National Conference of Priests in June, and gave the Cardinal the opportunity of offering guidance to 'his priests on the celibacy issue.
He said: "Astonished by the agenda proposed for the January meeting of the Dutch Pastoral Council, Pope Paul last Christmas Eve wrote in some perplexity to Cardinal Aifrink, the Primate of Holland.
"He charged the Dutch bishops `to affirm serenely your total and unreserved accord with the Universal Church' on the matters to be raised—the chief of which was priestly celibacy. The bishops, however, felt unable to meet the Pope's wishes. "It is not for me to criticise my Dutch friends and colleagues. I appreciate the immense pressure to which any group in the Church can subject their bishops.
"The failure of the Dutch hierarchy to support the Holy See inevitably led neighbouring bishops in France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland to exercise collegiality by affirming in unequivocal language their firm support of Pope Paul in defence of celibacy for the clergy of the Latin Church. "The Conference of Bishops of England and Wales will not meet until April. At that time we shall doubtless reaffirm the already well-known loyalty of the bishops, priests and people of this country to the See of Peter. Lest our silence meanwhile be misunderstood I take this opportunity of giving to my fellow priests in Westminster some reflections on priestly chastity. "It is hard to credit that the plain teaching of the Second Vatican Council could so soon be contradicted. Before the priesthood was debated the decree on the training of priests (Optatam totius) had already been promulgated. "Because of the significance of the Obligation of chastity for priests of the West, the proposition that careful training is needed to fit priests to follow the holy and fixed law of priestly celibacy was made the subject of a separate vote. The voting was 1,971 in favour with only 16 against. When the decree on the priestly ministry and life which re-affirmed celibacy was put to the Fathers, 2.390 voted in favour and only 4 against.
"That vote was taken in December, 1965. Nobody can seriously suggest that less than five years later circumstances have so radically changed that celibacy of priests of the Latin rite should no longer be required.
Essay by Bacon
"The contention that priesthood and celibacy are separate callings is now made as if it were one of the famous postconciliar insights. It was, in fact, clearly stated in the decree itself which recalls the practice of the early Church and the customs of the Oriental Churches (Presbyterorum ordinis No. 16).
"The Church does not make celibacy an issue of faith. It is content to affirm that priests arc more able to serve Christ with undivided love if they arc bound to chastity. They are more free to 'devote 'themselves to the service of God and man.
"Even those outside the Church can see the practical value of celibacy. Bacon's essay, 'Of Marriage and the Single Life,' says 'A single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool.' "It is not the pragmatic reason, however, which is most compelling. It is the spiritual dedication of the whole man, body and soul. The Council says 'Priests proclaim by the state of celibacy their determination to give themselves completely to their sacred task' (Pres. Ord. 16). "This aspect of celibacy was admirably described by Archbishop Young of Hobart. Australia, commenting on the decree: 'The world is cynical about man's capability of virtuous sex . . . the Church calmly restates the high value she places on the centuries-old tradition of perfect continence for her priests . . . The priest's manhood . . . is in a new way consecrated by celibacy . . . By this consecration he stands in the midst of the faithful showing forth to them that it is his mission to espouse the Church, the Virgin Bride. to the one Bridegroom Christ.'
"The Council taught that although vocation to the priesthood is not the same as vocation to celibacy, God will give the grace of perfect continence to those he calls to serve Turn to P.2; Editorial Comment—P.4.