(LifeSiteNews) – An Australian archbishop declared that it is “highly likely” Rome will end the requirement of celibacy for indigenous priests.
In an interview with The Australian published Saturday, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), declared that the requirement of celibate priests must be lifted for any hope of the ordination of indigenous priests.
Coleridge claimed there is “no way you’re going to recruit a celibate clergy in those cultures.”
While the archbishop said he wouldn’t describe an end to clerical celibacy for indigenous communities as “inevitable,” he said he believes that the development is “highly likely.”
“I don’t know quite when or how, but the … question is certainly not going away,” he told The Australian. “And I think there will come a point of maturation when it will look kind of the natural next step and not sort of an artificial or dramatic or untimely overturning of what’s been a very long tradition.”
Coleridge sees such a change as especially needed because he excludes the possibility of priests from “outsider” cultures ministering to indigenous communities as unviable.
“You can’t have the whitefella providing leadership; you’ve got to provide leadership from within the indigenous communities,” the archbishop was quoted as saying.
Coleridge noted he has been “calling loud and clear for some time” for a “new way to imagine and engage with the indigenous peoples,” and that the issue has been discussed informally among members of the country’s bishops’ conference.
Other bishops concede that recruiting priests from among indigenous peoples around the world remains a difficulty, but believe a different solution is needed.
For example, Peruvian Bishop Rafael Escudero told Amazonian Synod participants in 2019 that the people of the Amazon region need adequate evangelization rather than married priests.
Escudero called on his fellow bishops to work harder on training catechists and pastoral workers, saying, “From a people that has been evangelized and well formed, there will come charisms and from among these will come celibacy for the priesthood.”
“It would be important for evangelizers to live among them,” he said, “and therefore understand them in the midst of their culture and customs.”
During the same synod, Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino objected that the possibility of married indigenous priests is not only unhelpful but inappropriate.
“There are many serious questions regarding the ordination of these good elder married men,” Cardinal Urosa wrote in an article in Portuguese at ACI Digital, adding, “And this will not resolve the problems of the current situation. I don’t see it as being appropriate nor useful.”
At the time, the cardinal also questioned whether the requirement of priestly celibacy would be done away with only in the Amazonian region or impact the Church practice around the world.
The question of married, incelibate priests is now relevant as ever to Vatican officials, as shown by the Synod on Synodality Instrumentum Laboris (IL), or working document, issued on June 20. The IL explicitly posed the possibility of married priests, raising the question, “As some continents propose, could a reflection be opened concerning the discipline on access to the Priesthood for married men, at least in some areas?”
While proponents of married priests often hearken back to the early days of the Catholic Church — when married priests were permitted — to support their position, such advocates rarely mention that even during that period priests were expected to remain completely celibate while married, as Father Christian Cochini has pointed out in his book ‘The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy.”
Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder of Ignatius Press, explained the Roman Catholic perspective on clerical celibacy in an e-mail to LifeSiteNews:
“The frequently heard statement that priestly celibacy is “not doctrinal but only disciplinary” is not only misleading, it is false. False because there is no Cartesian bright line between doctrine and discipline,” Father Fessio wrote.
He noted that there is a “very variegated spectrum” between questions of pure “doctrine” and of pure “discipline,” and that “clerical celibacy is much closer to doctrine than to discipline on this spectrum.”
“The fundamental reason is Christological. A priest has expropriated himself to be united in a unique way to Christ the High Priest. The priesthood is not merely a function. It is a sacramental, ontological, mysterious union with Jesus Christ … Christ did not marry an individual woman because he is also the Bridegroom who is totally surrendered to his Bride the Church in a fruitful union that brings forth his Body the Church,” Fessio continued.
“And if I may douse with some very chill water on some of the overheated enthusiasms of those clamoring for a return to “primitive tradition,” I remind that all those “married priests” in the early Church had to have the agreement of their wives and make a vow of continence before they could be ordained.”