Page 2, 27th February 1970

27th February 1970
Page 2
Page 2, 27th February 1970 — Cardinal Heenan's talk to priests

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Cardinal Heenan's talk to priests

Him in the priesthood of the Latin Church.

"The most specious of all arguments used to attack the rule of celibacy is to call it an obstacle to vocations. The Greek Orthodox Church in Egypt, despite a married clergy, has recently reported the virtual drying up of vocations.

"According to Cardinal Suenens there are 3,000 vacant posts in Protestant churches in England Colleges of divinity, both Anglican and non-Conformist are regularly being merged or closed.

"Shortage of vocations comes not from celibacy but from a lack of religious faith and the spirit of self-denial. The abolition of celibacy would not produce the priests needed by the pilgrim Church. The Church will be blessed by vocations by surrendering, not to the world, but to Christ carrying his Cross.

"Earlier this month the Pope wrote an open letter to his Secretary of State, of which Cardinal Villot has just sent me a copy. In it the Pope stresses the need of taking our standards from Christ and not from the world. the Cross. He says that priests are as capable as the apostles of giving up all, family and fishing nets, to follow Christ.

"The Pope gently chides those who concentrate on the comparatively small number of priests who do not persevere in their sacred calling. He reminds us that the great majority of priests wish by God's grace to remain faithful to the pledges they made before God and the Church.

'There is at the moment almost a public cult of lapsed priests as if they and not the faithful clergy were to be admired. These men freely undertook their sacred responsibilities. Any priest forced against his will to accept ordination was always able to seek release from the obligations of the priesthood. Such cases were rare but to my knowledge they did occur.


"It is playing with words to allege that celibacy is forced upon unwilling young men. Nobody is forced to accept ordination and nobody has any right to ordination. We are accepted on the Church's own terms. When we were ordained we all knew what we were accepting. It is untrue to say that we are celibates by compulsion.

"It is also sometimes said that men become priests too young. They accept obligations before they are sufficiently mature to understand what they are doing. But a man of 24 or 25 is not a child. If he were not being ordained he would in all probability already have been married.

"Marriage is much more of a venture than ordination. For marriage is a contract with another fallible human being. At ordination the priest makes a contract with Christ who cannot prove unfaithful.

"No Catholic would excuse an unfaithful husband on the grounds that at 24 or 25 he was too young to understand the nature of marriage.


"Desire to marry is almost invariably the motive for seeking release from priestly obligations. Once married, priests may find that the marriage bed is not a bed of roses. Marriage, too, calls for self-denial and self-giving.

"Giving up the priesthood of Christ for the love of a woman does not always bring lasting, satisfaction or peace of mind. Some former priests begin to

pine for their lost priesthood.

"The Church is compassionate and does everything possible to help these men to find a place in the ranks of the laity but will never allow them to resume the ministry they have rejected.

"The Pope is very clear on this point. He writes: 'The Church will continue in the future, as in the past, to entrust the divine ministry . . only to priests who remain faithful to their obligations. . . . We clearly affirm it our duty not to permit the priestly ministry to be exercised by those who have turned back having put their hand to the plough' (cf. Lc. 1X, 62).

"It remains for me to say that we priests who have remained faithful—and we are the vast majority—realise that it is only by God's grace that we are what we are. Our priesthood and our chastity are equally God's gifts.

"That is why the Council stressed that the celibacy of the clergy is the concern not only of the clergy but of the whole Church. Laity as well as priests must pray that the spirit of love and self-denial will grow in the hearts of those who have undertaken the sweet burden of the priesthood of Christ."

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