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19 July 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 22-07-2015

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Lord is reported in the gospels of having once had pity on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

I suppose few of us would have heard of Mosul in Iraq before it was occupied by fighters carving out an Islamic state. The significant number of Christians in Mosul had to leave their homes and trek for safety into Kurdish territory.  Those Christians are Catholic, as we are, Chaldean Catholics, one of the oldest Christian communities, whose liturgical language is Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his apostles. It would seem that for centuries they have had married priests. 

The Greek and Russian Orthodox have their own Eastern rite, older than our Latin rite.  Many of the Orthodox are called Uniate, because they are in union with Rome. Their priests are Catholic priests - and many of them are married as is the custom in the Eastern Churches.  It has been estimated. therefore, that up to 20% of Catholic priests throughout the world are married men.

So why in the West do we restrict priesthood to unmarried men?  A priest by ordination shares the relationship of Jesus to his people. Our Lord, St Paul tells us, relates to his Church as bridegroom to his bride with total and exclusive devotion. The celibate or unmarried priest would seem to have a stronger sacrament reality. Even among the Orthodox, the bishop who possesses the fullness of priesthood must be unmarried.

However, it appears that in Europe and in some other parts of the Catholic world, priesthood is in crisis. Churches are closing simply because of a shortage of priests.  Sunday Mass is fundamental to the practice of our faith.  How are we to make provision? In last week’s Catholic weekly, The Tablet, three of our retired bishops wrote letters expressing the need in this country to ordain married men. One wrote: “Access to the Eucharist trumps the line in defence of a celibate priesthood.”  Pope Francis has indicated his willingness to consider requests from Bishops’ Conferences who consider they have a need to move towards the ordination of married men. In England we are already accustomed to the ordination of former Anglican clergy who were previously married. So -watch this space. 

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