A priest prays in a Church (illustrative)

Belgian laypeople push Pope for married priests

Belgian laypeople are pushing the Pope to allow married priests, not only as a response to the plunge in vocations but also because it is a biblical and ecumenical practice.

Driving the news

The Belgian Interdiocesan Council of Laity (CIL), a group of hundreds of French-speaking Belgian Catholics, published a statement calling for an end to compulsory priestly celibacy.

“In the next few years, we will have practically no more priests serving our communities”, the CIL denounced.

Communities “will be deprived of the Eucharist that brings them together”, the organisation lamented.

The CIL said that one possible solution to the shortage of priests could be to ordain married men, while continuing in the Church to value celibacy “as an expression of self-giving if it can be freely chosen and lived”.

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Go deeper

The argument of the CIL is not only that the Protestant and Orthodox Churches have ordained married men for centuries.

It’s also that the practice that only celibate men can be ordained to the priesthood is mere Church tradition that doesn’t rest on any biblical foundation.

“In the Church’s origins, the first priests were married”, the CIL said.

“Jesus himself chose Simon Peter as the foundation of his Church, but he was married”, the Council added.

The CIL also recalled that the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, and the auxiliary bishop of the same see, Jean Kockerols, both came out in favour of married priests at the 2018 Synod for Young People.

“I am convinced that some young people, who have drawn from the baptismal vocation their call to wed, would gladly say ‘Here I am’ if the Church were to call them to the priestly ministry”, Kockerols said at the time.

The CIL added that, although a relaxation of celibacy wouldn’t completely solve the lack of priests, it would at least “allow for new priestly vocations”.

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With such a move, too, the Church would show too “that she is sensitive to the signs of the times in bearing witness to the Gospel and its joy in the heart of the world”, the CIL added.

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Why it matters

The possible relaxation of compulsory priestly celibacy, as well as the ordination of women, will be on the agenda at the Synod for the Amazon that starts this Sunday in Rome.

In January this year, Pope Francis came out cautiously in favour of ordaining married men to the priesthood, but only in places where there is a “pastoral necessity” for it.

“I believe that the issue must be open in this sense: where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests” said Francis in a press conference on his flight back to Rome from World Youth Day in Panama.

“I will not say that it must be done. Because I have not reflected, I have not prayed sufficiently over this. But the theologians must study”, the Pope explained.

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Novena exclusive:

Danail Hristov, author and researcher: “Celibacy: a godsend or a life-undermining practice?”

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.