Irish bishops divided on issue of married priests and women deacons
Irish bishops shelve married priests’ proposal
The country’s Catholic bishops have shelved a proposal to ask Pope Francis at a meeting in Rome next week to consider allowing priests who left ministry to get married to return to priestly work.
According to “The Irish Catholic” newspaper, the decision follows a failure by the hierarchy to reach a consensus on proposals by the Bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O’Reilly, which also included considering lifting the bans on ordaining married men and female deacons.
However, Bishop O’Reilly has told this week’s edition of the paper that the issues may come up when the bishops collectively meet the Pope tomorrow week.
He indicated that they may also feature during their planned ten-day series of mandatory ‘ad limina’ meetings with senior Vatican officials which begin early next week.
All three proposals emerged from an 18-month-long listening process in Kilmore – which includes almost all of Co Cavan and sections of neighbouring counties.
It led to a diocesan assembly and a new diocesan pastoral plan to tackle issues such as the declining number of priests.
The paper recalls that in June 2015, Dr O’Reilly said he was liaising with other Irish bishops about setting up a commission to discuss the possibilities of ordaining married men and appointing female deacons.
He also said that Pope Francis was encouraging individual bishops and national hierarchies to be creative in looking at ways of doing ministry in the future, and that Ireland must “consider all options”.
However, he tells today’s ‘The Irish Catholic’ that no decision was made when he raised the commission idea with his fellow bishops that same year.
He said there was an “inconclusive discussion” of it at the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the hierarchy’s quarterly meeting in Maynooth.
The Catholic Church’s rule of mandatory celibacy for priests was introduced more than a thousand years after the bible says Christ died and is matter of discipline rather than doctrine.
It would require changes to church law but would be likely to be resisted by conservative elements, including senior Cardinals, most notable, the American Archbishop Raymond Burke, who have been openly criticising Pope Francis’ reforming zeal especially during global bishops’ synods on the Family in Rome in 2015 and last year.
‘The Irish Catholic’ reports that it is rumoured that Pope Francis is willing to allow married former priests to return to ministry in Brazil on a phased and experimental basis.
Last August, the Pontiff established a commission of seven men and six women to study the issue of ordained female deacons, particularly their ministry in the early Church.
Its President is Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). All the Irish bishops travelling to Rome next week will meet officials from the CDF and other Vatican departments.
Currently, Catholic deacons must be male. They perform most of the duties of priests with the key exception of celebrating Mass.
Former president Mary McAleese has campaigned for over two decades for the ordination of women deacons in the Catholic Church, arguing it is “ungracious” of its all-male hierarchy to refuse the offers from women who wish to serve in that role.