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One progressive theologian thinks it could happen.
Pope Francis may soon fulfill the Brazilian bishops’ special request to allow married priests to resume their priestly ministry, liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said in a Dec. 25 interview in the German daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. “The Brazilian bishops, especially the pope’s close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priests in Brazil to return to their pastoral ministry,” Boff said. “I have recently heard that the pope wants to fulfil this request — as an experimental, preliminary phase for the moment confined to Brazil.” With its 140 million Catholics, Brazil needs at least 100,000 priests but it only has 1,800, which is a “catastrophe,” Boff said. “No wonder the faithful are going over to the evangelical churches or to the Pentecostals in droves, as they are filling the personnel vacuum. If the many thousands of priests who have married are once again allowed to practice their ministry, that would be a first step to improving the situation but at the same time also an impulse for the church to free itself of the fetters of celibacy.” Asked if he, as a former Franciscan, would reassume his priestly ministry should the pope decide to acquiesce to the Brazilian bishops’ request, Boff replied, “I personally do not need such a decision. It would not change anything for me as I have continued to do what I have always done: I baptize, bury and when I come to a community that has no priest, I celebrate Mass with the faithful. Up to now, as far as I know, no bishop has ever objected, let alone forbidden me to do this. On the contrary, bishops often tell me to keep it up, as people have a right to the Eucharist.”
It’s worth remembering that the ancient teaching of the Church has always held that married men can be ordained—but those already ordained cannot get married. (To this day, that remains the discipline of the Eastern churches, the permanent diaconate, the Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Ordinariate.) This move would, in effect, disrupt 2,000 years of tradition. I can’t see it happening. If the Church in Brazil or elsewhere needs more priests, it will have to find another way.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NCR