December 6, 2013
Celibacy up for discussion, says Vatican
Francis’ new secretary of state says that priestly chastity is not Church dogma
The Vatican’s new secretary of state has surprised many in the Catholic Church, after saying in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper that the issue of priests remaining celibate is up for discussion.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who was appointed to his position by Pope Francis just 13 days ago, told El Universal that celibacy was not “Church dogma,” but rather a “Church tradition” and therefore “can be discussed.”
He cautioned however, that a number of factors should be considered before a change takes place.
“The effort made by the Church to enact ecclesiastical celibacy should be considered. No one can say simply that it is in the past... we can talk, reflect, and deepen on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think of some modifications, but always with consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God,” he said.
The comments by the newly-appointed secretary of state, effectively the pope’s number two, has surprised both those inside and outside the Church, with some seeing the move as the latest development in a series of reforms since Francis became pontiff six months ago.
Parolin, who was previously the apostolic nuncio to Venezuela — essentially the Vatican’s representative in the country — said in the interview that his position as secretary of state meant he was effectively “the closest collaborator of the pope” and had “tremendous responsibility.”
The Italian archbishop, who said he had only met Pope Francis once before his appointment as secretary of state, admitted in the interview he has not spent a lot of time with the pontiff so far.
“The truth is I have not talked a lot with him... I can say, however, that I am very sympathetic to his understanding of the Church and especially to his style of simplicity and closeness to people,” he told the Venezuelan Caracas-based newspaper.
But the lack of communication between the Argentine-born pontiff and Parolin did not stop him from addressing the controversial issue of celibacy and suggesting that “modifications” were possible.
Parolin, 58, said that any changes to tradition would have to take into account a number of factors.
“You have to take into account when making decisions , these criteria (the will of God , Church history ) , as well as openness to the signs of the times.”
Any move to change the Church’s position on this matter would be highly significant as priests have been told to remain celibate for centuries. Exactly when the instruction was first issued is not clear but The Huffington Post reported yesterday, after some impressive research, that the first written mandate on the issue dates back to 304 AD, when “Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira stated that ‘all bishops, presbyters and deacons and all other clerics’ should ‘abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.’”
The Post added that a definitive ruling was issued in 1139 by the Second Lateran Council.
Reaction to the move differed, with many news websites yesterday highlighting the potentially momentous impact such a move would have.
However, the independent US newspaper, The National Catholic Reporter, played down Parolin’s comments, saying they represented “the standard moderate Catholic line,” highlighting that priestly celibacy is a “discipline” and “can therefore be revised.”
“Those points have been made many times by many different voices, and they don’t necessarily point to any specific policy decisions,” a blog by the newspaper said.
The Director of the Vatican’s Press Office Father Federico Lombardi agreed, saying the views expressed by Parolin were “in line with the teachings of the Church.”
UK-based Catholic weekly newspaper The Tablet added that the comments will “open up a fascinating argument.”
Pope Francis’ predecessors had generally declared the subject of celibacy off-limits.
Pope John Paul II stated in 1988 “the Church offers to the world a witness of singular importance to Christ’s love through the celibacy of her priests. Celibacy involves the total gift of self to the Lord for life-long service in his Church, with the renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”
But the current pontiff has himself expressed views on the matter when he was a cardinal in Buenos Aires.
In an interview in 2012 with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, later published in the book Sobre el Cielo y la Tie-rra, Francis spoke of his own struggles with chastity, saying “it is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.”
He added at the time however that he was “in favour of maintaining celibacy,” despite its “pros and cons.” The reason he gave was that the Church had gone through “ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures.”
Pope Francis has responded to the questions of a journalist who calls himself a “non-believer” in a 2,500- word letter published in the Rome-based daily La Repubblica.
In the essay, the pontiff responded a pair of letters from the daily’s founder and long-time editor Eugenio Scalfari, who posed a series of theological questions to the pope in the paper over the summer. The pope’s letter was published under the simple byline “Francesco,” the Italian version of his name.
To Scalfari’s question of whether someone without faith who commits a sin would be forgiven by the Christian God, Francis responded: “God forgives those who follow their conscience.”
In his letter, which started on the frontpage and continued over a further two, Francis said “it is time for an open dialogue on faith without any preconceived notions.”
The Argentine-born pontiff was also in the news yesterday for a rather more perculiar reason — he now has his own car. The newly-christened “mini popemobile” is very much in keeping with the pope’s low-profile and humble style.
Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Ciro Benedettini, revealed that the Pope had accepted a 1984 Renault 4, which was donated to him by a priest, 69-year-old Reverend Renzo Zocca in northern Italy.
The four-door car, appropriately in papal white, has over 300,000 kilometres on the clock and will be used by Francis for short commutes around the grounds of the Vatican. The Pope will drive the vehicle himself, despite the concerns of his security staff, and first tried it out on Saturday.