The No. 2 at the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, appeared
Tuesday to ease the church's absolute position on celibacy for
Catholic priests. The issue continues to roil the church as it
confronts revelations of sexual abuse.
Vatican No. 2 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone made headlines Tuesday
when he appeared to ease the church's absolute position on celibacy,
telling Spanish radio the centuries-old rule is not an "untouchable"
one. The prelate's comment was part of a Vatican affirmation of
celibacy and a strong view that there is "no direct link between
celibacy and the deviant behavior of certain priests," as Cardinal
Bertone put it.
But even opening the door slightly on such a deeply cherished
practice is a concession to persistent questions tied to revelations
of child sexual abuse in the United States, Germany, Ireland,
Belgium, Kenya, and Austria that has put the church in crisis,
From the start of the Catholic priest child abuse scandal,
Vatican officials have pointedly sought to play down the role that
mandatory celibacy may or may not play in the abuse and cover up
surfacing this spring.
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Even Roman Catholic scholars and intellectuals favoring a reform
idea of "optional celibacy" for priests worry about stereotypes and
assumptions at a time of public anger that crudely equate vows of
chastity with pedophilia. A strong orthodox core at the Vatican has
treated the subject as closed - even as questioning celibacy has
become a coin-of-the-realm topic among ordinary Catholics.
"In Catholic opinion, in terms of surveys and studies about what
Catholics actually believe on the ground, ever greater numbers are
talking about optional celibacy and the ordination of women - that
toothpaste is not going back in the tube," says theologian Tom
Beaudoin of Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, echoing
numerous Catholic scholars and lay people interviewed for this
Mr. Bertone, known as a hard-liner who last month equated
homosexuality with pedophilia (something he later retracted),
nonetheless opened the celibacy question in a context that has been
a vexing conundrum for bishops and priests for years: that while
Catholic priests must be celibate, the church has slowly accepted
married priests from orthodox and Anglican traditions. As Bertone
put it, "There are married priests in the Catholic as well as
The subject continues to roil. Last week, an auxiliary Catholic
bishop in Australia, Pat Power, wrote in an opinion piece that the
closed nature of sexual identity and rules in the church needed
review in light of daily headlines on abuse and cover up: "The
reform needed by the Church today will involve much more than just
'tinkering around the edge,' Mr. Power stated. "Issues such as the
authoritarian nature of the Church, compulsory celibacy for the
clergy, the participation of women in the Church, the teaching on
sexuality in all aspects cannot be brushed aside."
At the epochal Second Vatican Council meeting in the early 1960s,
the issue of celibacy caused such mountainous disagreements that it
was not formally discussed.
Yet the subject remains so potent that one of the two remaining
senior Catholic figures from Vatican 2, theologian Hans Kung (the
other is Pope Benedict), stated this spring that "The rule that
Catholic priests must be celibate is responsible for the crisis in
the church," in the first line of a statement titled, "Why Celibacy
Should be Abolished."
In the view of many ordinary priests, and backed by the church's
Holy See or leading bishops in Rome, "Celibacy involves a commitment
to the church consistent with Jesus' call to 'leave all for Christ,'
to be entirely available for the church," said a French priest at a
chapel in Paris, who declined to give his name.
No distractions of family
Chastity, in the view of one lay German member, lets priests to
devote themselves fully to their flock, without family distractions. …