23Feb ‘Priests should be allowed to marry’ – Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic has said he believes priests should be able to marry if they wish to do so. Cardinal Keith O’Brien said it was clear many priests struggled to cope with celibacy, and should be able to marry and have children.

The cardinal spoke of his surprise at the resignation of Benedict XVI, and said he was open to the new Pope coming from outside of Europe.

In an interview with BBC Scotland’s Glenn Campbell, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, said some issues – for example abortion and euthanasia – were “basic dogmatic beliefs” of “divine origin” which the Church could never accept. But Cardinal O’Brien, who is the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said it would be within the scope of the new Pope to consider whether the Roman Catholic Church should change its stance on other issues, which were not of divine origin.

“It’s been many centuries since the cardinals found a Pope from outside Europe – you have to go back to Constantine I who was born in Syria and elected in 708…or perhaps to Gregory III a few years later, who is described as being “of Syrian origin. For a Pope from Africa or Asia you have to go back to the Fifth Century when Gelasius was elected, and it’s entirely possible he was born to a Roman family anyway. That would make the election of a black African unprecedented. But these are days when precedent has been entirely broken. Pope Benedict’s resignation has changed the papacy forever. It has removed much of its mystique and aura and could mean that few if any Popes ever die in office in future. In this mood of freedom, the cardinals could easily break with another tradition and choose an African, Asian or Latin American Pope, and look as seriously as Cardinal O’Brien suggests, at candidates from the vibrant and growing churches of the developing world.”

He explained: “For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – in some branches of the Catholic church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again.”

Cardinal O’Brien said he had never personally thought about whether he wanted to get married as he had been “too busy” with his duties. But he added: “In my time there was no choice and you didn’t really consider it too much, it was part of being a priest. When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married. It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

Cardinal O’Brien said he believed it might be time for a younger pontiff from part of the developing world, where the Catholic faith is thriving: “Well I would be open to a Pope from anywhere if I thought it was the right man, whether it was Europe or Asia or Africa or wherever”, he added.”It is something which the cardinals have to think about seriously, having had Popes from Europe for such a long time now – hundreds of years – whether it isn’t time to think of the developing world as being a source of excellent men. And of course we do have excellent cardinals from other parts of the world as well – highly intelligent, well-trained, deeply spiritual men from other parts of the world.”

Benedict XVI was aged 78 when he was elected in 2005, making him one of the oldest new Popes in history. And Cardinal O’Brien said a younger successor who was able to serve for a longer period of time may be able to “get more things done, to steady us up a wee bit and to give us something of the courage of the earlier apostles again”. But he said he had not yet decided who should be elected as Pope during the conclave, which is expected to be held next month.

Cardinal O’Brien, 74, stood down from some frontline duties in the Catholic Church in Scotland last year due to his age. He has been an outspoken opponent of Scottish government plans to legalise same-sex marriage and was controversially named “bigot of the year” by a gay rights charity last November. Stonewall said he was given the title because he went “well beyond what any normal person would call a decent level of public discourse” in the debate. The Catholic Church criticised the charity’s award, saying it revealed “the depth of their intolerance” and a willingness to demean people who do not share their views.

23 Responses

  1. Rosaline

    This story reminds me of a line from a Leonard Cohen song:
    “There is a crack, a crack in everything.
    That’s how the light gets in.”
    Perhaps Cardinal O’Brien has begun to let in a small chink of light in “daring” to mention this topic publicly and taking it to discussions in Rome. Let’s hope that other cardinals will find their voices and open up this and other pressing issues in the church–ironically, issues for which Tony Flannery and others are currently silenced and suffering.

  2. Eddie Finnegan

    Good! Even @martinmcguinness has tweeted his approval of the Ballycastle man. But didn’t +Keith say something similar earlier this century/millennium before he got the red hat, then retracted it publicly after a call from Rome, then the red hat arrived in 2003 ? I can’t be imagining it, can I? Now in his 75th year and no longer president of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference, is this another example of ‘demob happiness’? “Ave atque vale, Caesar. Nos morituri duobus digitis te salutamus.”

  3. ger gleeson

    Cardinal O Brien, you are talking the language of many within the ACP and their followers. Tony Hoey, you must be smiling from ear to ear, as you have been trying so hard to dispense with the rule of celibate priests only. The truly great thing about the good cardinal’s statement is that he has made it prior to retirement, and more importantly just before the conclave to elect a new pope. This may be just one small step for the priesthood, but one GIANT leap for our church. All we need now is for the Holy Spirit to intervene in the election of the new pope, and give us a pontiff, who like the good pope John, will open the windows of our church, and let love, compassion, and reality enter the hearts of all who profess to belong to the ONE TRUE CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH.

  4. Joe O'Leary

    Nothing at all radical about this. The question of celibacy has never been a doctrinal issue. Paul VI even proposed to the 1971 Synod that the Pope have the right to ordain married men.

    Recall this incident:

    “In September 2003, soon after it was announced that he was to be made a cardinal, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien, gave a series of media interviews in which he expressed open-minded views about celibacy in the priesthood, contraception and homosexuality. “What I would ask for in the Church at every level, including the cardinals and the pope,” he said, “is to be able to have full and open discussion about these issues and where we stand.” The response was swift. Within days, O’Brien was forced to make a humiliating public profession of obedience before the congregation in his own cathedral. He denied reports that he had been told by Rome if he did not do so he would not be made a cardinal.”

    The next pope could simply ordain worthy laymen (sic) for parttime service, thus solving at a stroke the personnel problem and bringing in a less clerical church. This was contemplated by Paul VI and the expansion of the diaconate has laid the ground for it. It should be totally uncontroversial. O’Brien has signalled his readiness to take this step if elected pope, perhaps with the idea that this makes him more papabile.

    The Cardinals should discuss some basic policy issues before voting and should secure commitments from the future pope to implement their desiderata. The ordination of viri probati should be at the top of the list.

  5. Eddie Finnegan

    “O’Brien has signalled his readiness to take this step if elected pope, perhaps with the idea that this makes him more papabile.”
    -Joe O’Leary (4 above)

    Suddenly even the remote prospect of an Ulster & Ballycastle Pope leaves this Ulsterman as enthusiastic as that other Ulster Pope Emeritus, Ian R.K.Paisley of Ballymena. Maybe Martin McGuinness should lobby for his old chuckle brother instead. ‘Paisley for Pope!’

  6. Chris McDonnell

    If you knock at the door long enough, somebody comes to open it, even if it is just a little crack for Cohen’s the light to get in. Maybe our long years of effort in the Movement for Married Clergy here in UK is finally showing signs of Spring. Lets hope others follow Cardinal O’Brien’s lead. This Conclave is beginning to get interesting all of a sudden.

  7. Mary O Vallely

    Well, that may well be true but a person is entitled to change his/her mind, Eddie(3). I welcome it as a small sign of hope. Cardinal Keith said he was “open to a Pope from anywhere”. Would that he and others could be open to thinking more outside the box. What about a non-cardinal and oh, even a NUN like Joan Chittester or our own Teresa Mee? :-) What about thinking of several joint leaders…. Well, we live in hope. Like Rosaline (1) I see the Scots-Irish Cardinal’s remarks as a small ‘chink of light’ and welcome it just as I did the headlines yesterday, ‘German Church allows pill in rape cases.’

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/world/europe/germany-morning-after-pill-allowed-for-the-victims-of-rape-bishops-say.html?_r=3

    We can be cynical about motives but we must remind ourselves that we are a people of hope and so all signs of hope are to be embraced and welcomed. Maybe Cardinal Keith will think again about being ‘open’ to reflecting on same sex relationships and words uttered in the past which could have been couched in more compassionate language. He is essentially a decent man so I wish him fruitful dialoguing with others less open to changing mindsets. Let the chink of light soon enlarge to become the open window long ago desired by John XXIII.

  8. Stephen Edward

    Married men may become priests in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches (though bishops must be unmarried) and in the ordinariate and some rites of the Catholic Church BUT an unmarried/widowed priest may not marry in any of the above churches/rites and members of religious orders may not either. In saying that priests should be allowed to marry, the Cardinal shows an astonishing lack of knowledge of the rules operating in his own Church and elsewhere (worrying but not surprising in a man who had to take a special vow before getting the red hat because of some of his equivocal statements).

  9. Paul Nolan

    Oh dear!! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21563345

  10. Andrew

    Oh dear…. here we go again. Cardinal O’Brien ‘in the dock’. Is there no end?

  11. Ruairi

    From reading thus far, it seems that cardinal O’ Brien speaks out both sides of his mouth and cannot be trusted.

    Allegedly, he has abused his position and four people under his care while they were seminarians. Three of those remain active priests.

    If this is the case – will ACP demand the public naming of these three priests ?

    Now the lawyers are called in – communication will cease.

    There are different ways to deal with these kinds of situation.

    Just curious to know if ACP backs the public naming of the three who are still active in ministry as priests ? If their names are not already out there.

    I’d hope not. But you have demanded that all those making accusations be named.

    Where do you stand on this ?

    I don’t believe the cardinal should be publicly dragged over the coals either.

    This is clearly a house divided. Will it stand.

  12. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    OK, so if I understand this properly, we are calling for immediate action among the hierarchy to speak for a segmented group in the Catholic populace? Does this sound “reformative” to you all? This would be one step forward and two steps back. This is the bigger issue. This has less to do with celibacy, gender equality and homosexuality – it’s trying to institute a democratic action within the RCC that is necessary. If, by chance, the heads of institutions became insane (sorry but a better word escapes me), what mechanism is in place to ensure that the populace does not suffer under this rule. There is nothing. By instituting a worldwide vote among parishoners, this is a first step to instituting a democratic action that the world has not seen. Security is giving people the ability to make decisions on the things that affect them the most. First step is religious dictatorships; the next could be nuclear weapons and the environment. The “format” that this reformation employs is the most important step. People come together and request to be heard. The Vatican recognizes this voice and asks for feedback. Feedback is given in the form of vote. You can’t tell me that an institution who is responsible for collecting donations from around the world could not ask for feedback? This would be ridiculous to think. It’s disheartening to see that a group of obviously intelligent posters would take solace in the idea that a new Pope could walk in and flip a switch on a few items. It’s the flipping of the switch that has put us in this situation to begin with. These “equality” issues could have been addressed in the 40’s when human rights charters and certain conventions were drawn up. Obviously the Vatican State was exempted from this but it is never too late for us to decide if the Vatican should uphold the Charter on Human Rights, the Convention on Genocide and the adherence of Natural Law in the Canons. Does this make sense to anyone?

  13. MJT

    Rosaline, The same song goes on to invite us to “forget your perfect offering”, a line obviously intended to refer to the sacrifice of Chist on the cross and the corresponding words of the Mass, and which I hope you will agree is a bit more difficult to approve since it denies not only the idea of perfection in creation in general, but also and particularly the belief of Christians in the perfection of Christ.

  14. Eddie Finnegan

    Mary O (7), I agree that Keith O’Brien is probably an essentially decent man, probably like most of our bishops and most cardinals in the coming conclave. More is required. I’m glad to hear that, for once, Rome, the Nuncio here and Keith O’Brien himself have moved with commendable speed. He should get the same presumption of innocence as all priests who are stepped down. As he was a school teacher and chaplain in his younger days, I’m sure those schools and college will also be part of any investigation.
    As for “several joint leaders” for the Church, I’m waiting by my phone for a call from the Dean of the College of Cardinals to discuss my proposal for three patriarchal popes + a young spare fit for globetrotting (who might well be a woman). As you say, I live in hope – but since the said Dean is Sodano I’ll probably die in despair. :-)

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    MJT, good point – Cohen is right. If the law doesn’t conform to Natural Law, a law where every voice counts, then you are trying to seek approval from the lawless. They can pray until their voices strain but this won’t stop them from being the “killers” of freedom and security…”the holy dove, she will be caught again, bought and sold and bought again – the dove is never free.” Cohen’s song “Anthem” is just that – a timeless sign of the times.

  16. Rosaline

    MJT (13) I don’t want to turn this thread into a lengthy discussion on Leonard Cohen. However, I disagree with your interpretation of the line, “Forget your perfect offering” which you say is “a line obviously intended to refer to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the corresponding words of the Mass…”
    That’s quite a leap! It is generally believed that it refers to our wish for perfectionism, attempting to say the right thing, do the perfect thing etc. Instead, he says, forget all that because we are all broken, we live in a broken world etc. so make the best of things by ringing the bells that we still can ring… So, to quote the whole refrain:

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in

    Perhaps, after all, Leonard DOES have a lesson here for us in our broken church today? Perhaps there ARE bells we still can ring?

  17. mark

    This man has just resigned because four priests called him a hypocrite. Does this mean his views on celibacy are wrong? Or is it that every word he speaks is false? Roll on the death of celibacy, and the church’s stance against women priests, and the hatred of gays, (Cardinal O’Brien might have difficulty with that one), and the very weird condemnation of condoms.

  18. wiliam o'b

    How interesting that the most forward looking cardinals i.e. Mahoney and O’Brien have been excluded from the conclave. One wonders why these allegation have come so close to the resignation and the election. I am not usually one to think in terms of conspiracies, but the power brokers in the vatican certainly come to mind. Opus Dei and the Legionaries have always protected their own, are they now causing the downfall of the so called “liberals” before the election? Now more than ever we need to pray for the Holy to be present and guiding the electors. Perhaps they should be looking outside their small group for a successor.

  19. Darlene Starrs

    William, that certainly is a ghastly thought, that there is such conspiracies to oust “liberal” thinking cardinals before the election. Unfortunately, it might well be true, that once again, we are confronted with the on-going sexual abuse scandal, again, with Cardinal O’Brien. I have read all the comments on the site for today, and the common thread is the “all pervasive corruption” of the CDF and the Vatican! The comments focus on the Institutional corruption and well it should, as more and more Catholics, ought to be aware, of what is happening. I know, that there is more and more corruption yet to be uncovered, and I’m sure, it is not all in Rome, either. We are totally at the Mercy of our Lord to lead the way for cleaning up the corruption, at the Vatican, and everywhere else………..not to mention, in the hearts, of all of us, who make up the Church. That phrase, the Church is full of saints and sinners, might well be true, but I for one, could do with a lot more “saints and saintly activity”, than more of the “sinners and sinning activity”. Hopefully, the future, brings a “true disciple of Christ” for a Pope, who can assist the Church, rather than defame it. Hopefully, we are looking at a future of transformation and transfiguration, so that, the Church, truly is, the Glory and Joy of Jesus Christ.

  20. Eddie Finnegan

    “How interesting that the most forward looking cardinals, i.e. Mahoney (sic) and O’Brien, have been excluded from the conclave.”(18)
    .
    Well no, Wiliam, they haven’t. Keith O’Brien has thought over his situation and excluded himself. Roger Mahony has packed his bags and is ready to fly to Rome tomorrow, or rather later today, once he has dealt with making his deposition – though 10,000 online petitioners say he must not. He has the full backing of the former CDF Prefect, Cardinal Levada – no raving liberal.
    Yes, Roger Mahony is a nice fellow and, as it happens, a good friend to Ireland,Maynooth and Ara Coeli from way back. But, by all accounts, he left a right mess in Los Angeles for his successor to clear up. So his successor bawled him out and withdrew him from all public functions in the diocese. Of course his successor happens to be an Opus Dei man and therefore, we liberals must believe, the Devil Incarnate.
    .
    If this was Bernard Law in Boston leaving a right mess behind for that cuddly Franciscan or Capuchin, Seán Patrick, we’d know how to damn him in his Roman sinecure and exclude him from any conclave.
    Or if it was Desmond Connell leaving a helluva mess to that forward sweeping new broom, Diarmuid Martin, then claiming privilege over messy files he’d probably inherited from his own predecessors – Kevin McNamara, Dermot Ryan, John Charles McQ – we wouldn’t have to conjure up some Opus Dei or Legionaries of Christ inspired conspiracy to explain his downfall.
    .
    So-called liberals, or quasi-liberals, who screw up, however, really set us a problem. And Roger Mahony doesn’t do himself any favours by suggesting he’ll go to Rome in the role of “scapegoat”. No cardinal should claim that honourable title for himself – just as no cardinal should pose as a self-styled “wounded healer”. The conferring of these titles are in the gift of others. Donal Dorr wrote a very thoughtful reflection on “The Scapegoat” just over three years ago (Furrow, Feb 2010), in the wake of the Murphy Report and subsequent accusations, some unfounded, against Dublin’s auxiliary bishops. Assuming the scapegoat role, Donal concludes, “(i)f it is done correctly it is a supreme act of faith and a putting on of the mind of Christ. And, by the grace of God, it may help people to move on from a disastrous situation to one where there is healing and new life.”
    But really there’s no earthly or heavenly reason why Roger Mahony shouldn’t go to Rome and vote for a pope – and even mix with the 30 Italian cardinals of the Curia and the Italian Bishops’ Conference who still have never thought it necessary to put any Child Protection measures in place or in print.

  21. Darlene Starrs

    Mandatory celibacy is simply a disciplinary rule that was enforced.
    Clearly, not really an issue, that can’t be readdressed and changed.
    After all, the Anglican priests are returning to the Catholic church with their wives and families!

    How’s that for making sure the priesthood stays celibate. Do you think anyone was sold a bill of goods?

  22. Kevin

    It’s interesting the Cardinal put a case for married priests. Now he has come clean about the past and not allowed lawyers to seek to close it all down and compound earlier pains and suffering for the others.

    I hope in time he might use the experience and the time to reflect on Church teachings on sexuality. That had he had a far healthier outlook on his own sexuality these things likely might not have happened. He could use the suffering in this, the learning he will gain through it, to bring light to others – much good. I hope and pray he does.

    I felt good reading this this morning – going to Mass. I feel it was done ‘right’ this time. I have no wish to see any of those men suffer – the priests or the cardinal, as human beings.

    Kudos to the priests – their courage for coming forward. Well done !

    Would love there was something in the Church where we might all connect – link up for support.

  23. Mícheál

    I am not opposed to married clergy. I see great advantages in many ways including increase in numbers, greater empathy with people living their lives as Catholics struggling with all sorts of issues. On a practical note, however, I would like someone to explain a number of issues including:

    How do we support, financially, a married priest and his family?

    Does the congregation finance sending the priest’s children to university when many are unable to send their own children there?

    What are the feelings of parishioners about subsidising their priest’s children to get involved in activities that they can’t afford for their own children?

    How do we cope with a situation where the priest’s marriage breaks down?

    How do we cope with transfers where the priest’s family, wife and children have to leave a parish where they have made friends, have become involved in the community?

    What do we do when the priest is expected to be present for mass but his wife or a child is seriously ill?

    How do we manage in a situation when one of the priest’s children becomes a scandal, e.g. is involved in some publicly inappropriate behaviour?

    How do we protect the children of the priest when they are subjected to ridicule for being the son or daughter of a Holy Joe?

    These are only some of the practicalites that may arise.

    Nowhere have I seen a discussion of the practical problems which would arise. Please don’t suggest that “We would find a way”.

    I repeat, I am not against married clergy in principle. I remember having my ears and eyes opened while at Glenstal many years ago listening to one of the readings at the otherwise silent lunch where the lector recounted the customs of Lent that in the old Irish Church during Lent, as Sundays were not counted, clergy were allowed to have their wives brought back into the abbey precincts on the Sunday until dusk.

    I am a simple Catholic who is baffled by so many revelations and do not want to get into erudite discussions. This is a painful time for many Catholics. It would be even more painful for so many who are unaware that these discussions are happening.