Father Michael Garanzini, the chancellor of Loyola University and newly-named board member for the Chicago Board of Education, says it’s time Catholic priests be allowed to marry. “I think it would be healthy. I used to say ‘well, it will change but probably not in my lifetime.’ And then Pope Francis came along, and what I see him doing is opening the avenues for discussion,” he told me. Prior to our conversation, Garanzini spoke to some 40 members from Chicago’s business and social communities during a private gathering. Broadcaster Bill Kurtis moderated the Q&A event. Garanzini says the issue is likely to come up during an October bishops’ conference in Rome. “There’s been talk in various places in the church—especially in England, where there are several bishops who have said they intend to raise the question,” he said, referring to Catholic leaders in England, which has seen married Anglican priests cross over to serve in the Catholic Church. “It’s spurring the obvious point that one priest with a wife operates just as effectively or perhaps more effectively than the priest down the block,” Garanzini told me. He says the idea isn’t something he would have expected to be presented to previous popes. “But I think a pope like Francis will say, ‘Let’s discuss it.’” Garanzini adds, “There will always be a role for celibate clergy and there will probably be an opening of ministry positions to a non-celibate or married clergy.” He pointed to the Eastern Orthodox faith, whose priests are allowed to marry before they are ordained as priests. “I don’t think it’s a huge hurdle, but I think it will take some open thinking,” said Garanzini. He says the discussion of priests marrying has come as a result, in part, of “the fallout of the priest sexual abuse problem.” “Some good things” have evolved since then, he says, “and one is this question of openness to a priest’s physical and psychological health. The second is that the hierarchy, the leadership, that we have needs to be more open and transparent and admit problems and faults as they happen and that we’re not above the law. Those two things are a direct result of the scandal.”
There is, of course, a difference between married men becoming priests, and men who are priests getting married. The church has a long tradition of the former, and has never allowed the latter. Garanzini knows that. It would have been helpful if that had been made clear.