by our Rome correspondent
MORE than 60,000 north European Catholics will attempt to lodge a petition with Pope John Paul II this week appealing for the abolition of priestly celibacy.
The signatories to the biggestever petition calling for reform of celibacy laws are Swiss. German, Austrian and Dutch.
Their names were collated by the International Federation of Married Priests, whose representatives planned to make a public announcement near St Peter's Basilica outside the former Holy Office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The long list of names is accompanied by a letter "from the Catholic flock to its pastors". It cites a crisis in vocations as the principal reason for the initiati"e.
"Out of concern for the future of the Church, which is suffering a lack of priests in so many of its communities, and in the profound conviction that the call to priestly service comes from God, we would appeal to the Bishop of Rome, John Paul II and to all other bishops to abrogate the law on obligatory celibacy", the letter said.
It concluded by asking the Church to envisage both marriage and celibacy for priests. The Federation said it intended to attempt to hand over the package of names to the Pope personally.
It claimed that there was no Biblical foundation for obligatory celibacy and that "tens of thousands of priests" were abandoning the ministry to marry.
It is estimated in Rome that about 50,000 priests have left the priesthood since 1964 but that only between 30 per cent and 40 per cent did so to marry and raise a family. The principal reasons are believed to be of a "religious, ideological, disciplinary and pastoral nature", according to one religious review.