So far there really haven’t been any great political battles during this month’s Synod of Bishops on young people, but when another group of 300 bishops or so gathers in Rome next year for a summit on the Amazonian region, some forecasts call for tension around a long-standing flashpoint in Catholic debate: Married priests.
Priest shortages are often terribly acute in parts of the Amazon, and some bishops from the area have long favored the idea of ordaining the viri probati, meaning tested married men.
Meanwhile in the West, some voices have revived the idea of a married priesthood as a response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, arguing that marriage would provide priests the chance to express their sexuality in healthy and non-abusive ways.
Yet Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome that carry centuries of experience of married priests, has a basic message for his Western counterparts: “Not so fast!”“If we must give advice, I would say that to remove celibacy from the priesthood will not resolve the problem. My experience is that there are holy priests who are married … this holiness, this maturity, is a great treasure, but it’s not a direct consequence of the state of life,” Shevchuk said in an interview with Crux.
Asked what advice he would give, the Ukrainian prelate, formally referred to as “His Beatitude,” was succinct: “To be prudent!”
Moreover, Shevchuk said, married priests create entirely new challenges in formation and priestly life, ones which debates entirely focused on a “yes” or “no” response often overlook.
“Often, our bishops are worried not only about the seminarian but also his girlfriend, and we’ve created a program for these women too,” he said. “Sometimes after two or three encounters they realize that they don’t want to be the wives of a priest. This can also make things more complicated.”
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