Global church reform group backs US request for married priests dialogue

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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An international church reform group has backed a U.S.-based effort seeking bishops begin a discussion about the possibility of ordaining married men into the priesthood.

Catholic Church Reform International, a network of nearly 100 organizations from more than 15 countries, offered their support Thursday to the request for dialogue on the issue of married clergy made Tuesday by the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests.

The roughly thousand-member association sent letters to all U.S. bishops, asking that as a conference they lead a wide consultation on the topic, adding that married priests are needed “to serve the pastoral needs of the people.” They cited the declining number of active priests, the stresses they currently experience, closing parishes and the church’s openness to ordained married clergy from other denominations.

The international reform group CCRI applauded their request in light of “the problem of the shrinking priesthood,” but said the conversation can’t be limited to America alone.

“This dialogue cannot be occurring only in the U.S. but must be taking place in dioceses around the world. Research shows unequivocally that there is a shortage of priests worldwide; the average age of active priests is pushing retirement; and parishes are being forced to close or merge,” said CCRI, which was co-founded by author Robert Blair Kaiser and Rene Reid.  

Members of the group touted the possibility of married priests as a more viable alternative to the growing use of foreign-born priests. Virginia Saldanha, a CCRI member and leader in the Indian Women Theologians Forum, said that there is often a cultural misunderstanding between the local community and an international priest.

“They often don’t understand the local culture and impose their own cultural values and mores on their congregations. Also their attitudes towards women are often patronizing and women feel sidelined by priests who, [through] their culture, expect women to be subservient,” she said in the statement.

Like the U.S. priests’ association, CCRI also referenced Pope Francis’ apparent request that regional bishops’ conferences bring him suggestions on potential church reforms.  

“It is time that bishops bring the proposal to the pope to accept married clergy,” Reid said.  

The international reform group added that the church must also review its theology on the priesthood in a way that could also open ordination to both single and married women. 

The U.S. priests did not mention women’s ordination in their letter to their bishops.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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