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October 23, 2009

The Vatican’s ‘bold bid’

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/the_vaticans_bold_bid_20091022/

Why is it that every story concerning the Catholic Church has to deal with pedophilia, priesthood celibacy or both?

The latest example follows the Vatican’s announcement this week to invite unhappy Anglicans churches to join the Catholic fold. What would make this move rather unusual, and the source of all the attention and speculation, is that Pope Benedict XVI’s people said those Anglican churches (we call them Episcopal churches in the United States) could keep their current priests—even if they were married. From NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

We’re going to ask, next, about the implications of a big decision by the Catholic Church. The Vatican is welcoming Anglicans to return to Catholicism. The public invitation comes as the Anglican Church is divided over questions like the role of gays. If some Anglican congregations become Catholic now, they could bring their Anglican priests along. And the priests could become Catholic - even if they’re married. That calls attention to the Vatican’s longtime rule that priests must be celibate.

The interview with Allen did, not surprisingly, a great job of putting this move by the Vatican in perspective. Certainly, it is significant. But the Wall Street Journal recognized that it likely doesn’t signify the beginning of the end for celibacy as a priestly requirement.

Why? Well, in reality, the Catholic Church has had married priests for centuries—in its Eastern Rite churches—and has had them for a few decades in the United States.

In fact, I’ve written twice about married Episcopal priests converting and going to work for a Catholic church. Most recently, it was the Rev. Bill Lowe in Camarillo:

When Bill Lowe preaches his first sermon as a Catholic priest in May, he will be the only clergyman in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with his wife, children and grandchildren listening from the pews.

Lowe, 68, is about to become the first married priest in the history of the country’s largest Roman Catholic diocese.

“People are ready for this. They are ready for some married clergy,” said Lowe, who retired in 2001 after 29 years as an Episcopal priest and unexpectedly converted to Catholicism soon after.

Lowe does not represent a sea change for the centuries-old requirement that priests remain celibate. Instead, he is the benefactor of an obscure order that Pope John Paul II issued in 1980.

That Pastoral Provision has allowed about 80 married men, all former Episcopal priests, to continue utilizing their gift for pastoral ministry after Catholic conversion. (Married former Lutheran pastors also have been permitted through a different provision.)

“We see it as a gift, his coming to the Catholic Church,” said Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who leads the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region, which includes Ventura County. “He has a lot of experience. He’s ministered to a lot of people for a long time, and he’s bringing all of that to the Catholic Church.”

Read the rest of that here.

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