Follow thru Pope Francis’ lead on celibacy, bishops urged
The Jan. 14 issue of the Inquirer reported the baptism of the children of two married Roman Catholic priests in Lambunao, Iloilo, by their own fathers. This was just two days before the visit of Pope Francis to our country. Canon Law allows any Catholic to validly baptize a person, especially in case of imminent death. Hence the outrage that followed this news in social media was not about this particular baptism, but about the fact of married priests publicly practicing their priestly profession in full violation of Canon Law.
But it seems Canon Law is not as sacrosanct as before. Pope Francis heralds “mercy and compassion” as the theme for his papal visit to our country. His profound wish is for the Church to become an inclusive home for everybody. He has proclaimed himself as not one to judge LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), and is loath to make pronouncements on gay marriage, contraceptives and divorce. He has displayed an openness and accommodation which have endeared him to all peoples of all climes. Will he be the pope to finally lift the rule of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests, and address adequately the severe lack of priests worldwide? Statistics show that there are only around 400,000 priests to care for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The question of lifting the celibacy rule for Catholic priests was highlighted when Bishop Erwin Krautler, whose diocese in Brazil has 700,000 Catholics with only 27 priests, raised this topic in an audience with Pope Francis in April 2014. The Pope explained that he could not take everything personally in hand from Rome. The local bishops who are better acquainted with the needs of the faithful should be courageous enough to make concrete suggestions and bring these matters up to Rome, through their national bishops’ conferences. He was quoted as saying that celibacy is a matter of Church law and tradition, and not of dogma, and therefore can be discussed and changed if need be.
The challenge therefore is laid squarely on the doorstep of the local bishops and the national bishops’ conferences.
In the Philippines, this challenge is before our 80-odd bishops and archbishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Why has debate and discussion not begun seriously on the matter? The Pope has opened a door, but the Catholic hierarchy seems loath to entering through it.
The Philippines has around 80 million Catholics and 9,000 priests, with many of them not full-time priests but working as administrators, finance officers, school officials, etc. For lack of priests and proper pastoral care, thousands of Catholics have joined evangelical and born-again communities. Of the roughly 80 million Catholics, 37 percent regularly hear Mass, 29 percent consider themselves religious, and about one of every 11 members sometimes think of leaving the Church. But for most Filipino Catholics, their religion is only skin-deep, and has little or no connection with everyday life. The best Catholic schools also produce the most corrupt politicians. It is estimated that fully one-third of the Philippine budget—or about P1 trillion—is lost to corruption every year. It is the consensus that this lack of moral values, which is the sphere of the Church, is the chief cause for the sad state of the Philippine economy, its stark poverty, and the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Will an increase in the number of priests by lifting the celibacy rule adequately address the issue stated above? The answer may be debatable, but it is high time for the local hierarchy and the CBCP to follow through Pope Francis’ lead, and start discussing the optional celibacy rule for its priests, who seem to be a disappearing breed in our country.
Samuel J. Yap is a member of the Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians.
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