The new Vatican Secretary of State has affirmed that priestly celibacy is a tradition, not church dogma, and is a matter that can be open for discussion.
According to John Allen, Jr., writing at National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Pietro Parolin’s comments to Venezuelan newspaper El Universal “represent what might be termed the standard moderate Catholic line – priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and can therefore be revised, but it nonetheless has value, and the church is not a democracy but it can and should be more collegial.”
In his column, Allen provides a translation of the El Universal interview, during which Parolin said, “The Church can never change to the point of completely adapting to the world. If it did so, it would get lost in [the world] and would not accomplish its mission of being salt and light.”
Emphasizing the theme of continuity, and articulating a feverish sense in the media, perhaps, that “Pope Francis is going to revolutionize everything, he is going to change everything,” Parolin said, “We expect him to help the church to be the church of Jesus and to fulfill its mission. That’s what all popes must do.”
Regarding the issue of married priests, Parolin said celibacy “is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition.”
The work the church did to institute ecclesiastical celibacy must be considered. We cannot simply say that it is part of the past. It is a great challenge for the pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking of the unity of the church and not to divide it. Therefore we can talk, reflect, and deepen on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think of some modifications, but always with consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God. It is not about what I would like but what God wants for His church.
The mainstream media, however, appear to have once again taken a statement by the Vatican and fashioned it to have popular appeal.
The Daily Mail‘s headline for its story on the topic, for example, is “Pope’s right hand man says priests may be allowed to marry and celibacy is ‘tradition, rather than law.'”
Supporting its story, the Daily Mail boasts that, as Secretary of State, Parolin is considered to be “the most powerful official in the Vatican and his comments carry significant weight.”
In addition, the news outlet reports that Parolin has “called for ‘discussion’ on the issue of celibacy within the Catholic Church.”
Observing the media’s inclination to get “the wrong end of the stick” when it comes to the statements of Vatican officials is Rev. Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest who became a Catholic priest through the Anglican Ordinariate. Longenecker is married, with children, and a blogger with Patheos.
He writes that the problem with the mainstream media’s reporting on this issue is that Parolin’s statements “are being framed as some sort of new declaration from Rome.”
Using himself as an example, Longenecker writes:
In fact celibacy for priests has always been acknowledged as a discipline not a dogma, and therefore open to revision and change. The fact that I, and several hundred other married former Anglicans are Catholic priests (not to mention priests of the Eastern Rite churches) is evidence that this discipline can be changed and exceptions to the rule can be made.
However, Longenecker states that a move to allow priests to marry “is very unlikely to be a completely open door.” He believes that eventually older men who are already married or current married deacons may at some time be allowed to become priests, but that men who are already ordained priests will still likely be required to remain celibate.