British Catholic legislators ask pope to relax priestly celibacy rule


MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — Twenty-one Catholic members of Parliament have written to Pope Francis to ask him to relax the rule on priestly celibacy for Latin-rite priests.

Pope Francis gives the homily during the Holy Thursday chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis gives the homily during the Holy Thursday chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords said in a March 25 letter to the pope that the rule should be changed to allow married men to be ordained priests where pastoral needs required it.

They suggested that it was unfair to allow married former Anglican ministers to be ordained as Catholic priests in England, Wales and Scotland while the church insisted on the celibacy rule for Catholic candidates in those countries.

The letter did not suggest that serving priests should be given permission to marry, and the legislators proposed that the celibacy rule be retained for bishops, as in the Eastern Catholic Churches, which allow married men to be ordained.

They said retaining celibacy for bishops “would signal the continuing high regard we have for those who are able to live a genuinely celibate life.”

“Your two predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, guided we are sure by the Holy Spirit, generously permitted the ordination of married Anglican clergy as Roman Catholic priests,” said the letter, released to the media March 27. “These men and their families have proved to be a great blessing to our parishes.

“Based on that very positive experience we would request that, in the same spirit, you permit the ordination of married Catholic men to the priesthood in Great Britain,” said the letter by members of the Catholic Legislators’ Network UK.

It continued: “In recent years we have been saddened by the loss of far too many good priests. If the celibacy rule were relaxed, there would be many others who would seek ordination, bringing great gifts to the priesthood.”

The letter was signed by such senior Catholic peers as Lord (David) Alton of Liverpool, an internationally respected human rights and pro-life activist, and Baroness (Patricia) Scotland, the attorney general for England and Wales under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

It was also signed by Paul Murphy, a Labor Party member of Parliament who served in former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet as secretary of state for Northern Ireland, then as secretary of state for Wales.

The letter said: “We recognize that the church is serious about the new evangelization and the need to renew the Christian faith in our secular societies.

“As such, one of our priorities must be to ensure that parishes have priests to administer the sacraments; therefore, we believe that allowing married priests is desirable and imperative,” it added.

The letter concluded: “In the first instance, based on the Anglican precedent and the desirability of subsidiarity, it would be logical and greatly welcomed by the faithful if you were to consider permitting our bishops in England and Wales and in Scotland to ordain married men where they believe it would meet the pastoral needs of the local church.”

Priestly celibacy is a tradition that developed in the church in the first millennium before it was codified in the Lateran councils of the 12th century. It is a discipline of the Latin church, not a doctrine.

By Simon Caldwell Catholic News Service 


  1. This is totally and completely laughable! The gall of these politicians to think that they are so worthy to have their opinion heard on the matter–any more so than any other Catholic laymen–is appalling and head shake-inducing. How dare they speak for the rest of Catholics and say that the move would be “logical and greatly welcomed by the faithful”!? It would not be logical (celibacy is a great gift from God to the Church, encouraged and modeled by St. Paul himself), nor would the faithful welcome it. The fact that Father has experience with having children is not so nearly as important as the fact that he models Christly love….and just ask our liberalizing Protestant brethren whether making the priesthood “more attractive” in this way has produced more vocations; it has not and it will not.

    My seminarian buddy once remarked to me that celibacy is a perk! think about it…once a guy goes to seminary, not only do his parents stop hounding him to get married (it’s the opposite in Eastern Rites, who feel compelled to get married when they get into seminary, since they can’t marry *as* priests), but he can focus on the vocation that Christ has laid before him. He doesn’t have to worry about pleasing his wife, just as St. Paul insightfully points out. As a former seminarian myself, Every. Single. Seminarian I knew was on board with the discipline of celibacy. Perhaps these nosy-Nancy knuckleheads should ask the seminarians (who are the ones who will actually enter this life) what they think instead of foisting their own bright ideas on the rest of the Church. sigh…have mercy. Happy Easter, though: He is Risen!

  2. Who da’ heck are the “House of Commons and the House of Lords”? Who is “Lord (David) Alton of Liverpool”? or “Baroness (Patricia) Scotland”? In their spare time they can polish my dirty cowboy boots. 😀 Nobody puts a gun to the head of a man to become a priest. Why did CNS even publish this article? Was it a slow news day? WOW! I can’t stop laughing. Peace amigos………………….JO

  3. Two points here:

    This is just one more example of this “Catholic News” service showcasing all of the liberal forces in the world that do not like the Catholic Church and want to neutralize the Church’s effect on a secular society. The agenda of this “news” service becomes more clear every day. I would suggest to the Editor of the Catholic Sun that there are some real Catholic news services out there that will be good sources for stories.

    The Catholic Church does not have a cadre of thugs who force unbelievers to stay in the Church. Isn’t it amazing that so many proponents of evil and destruction hate the Church’s stance for good, but continue to call themselves “Catholic?” Is it because it’s a good label to use to euphemize and rationalize their own sinful decadence? It certainly seems to work, as we can so painfully observe here in our country. In the UK, entire parishes are fleeing the state Anglican “church” to join the Catholic Church in search of morality, guidance and salvation. Of course that will make the Catholic Church a target, as it does here. To give these destructive humanists the appearance of credibility and legitimacy by showcasing them and their filth is deceitful to real Catholics.

  4. That the British Catholic legislators felt that there would be a useful purpose in writing this letter speaks volumes of good about Pope Francis, regardless of how he responds. I believe the request should have gone farther: if former Anglicans can serve as priests while married, and if ordination were opened to married men, why not simply allow all priests to marry, if they feel that God is gifting them with an appropriate spouse? Calling back former priests who left the priesthood to marry would also be a wise move, in terms of increasing the number of quality clergy to be deployed in rebuilding God’s church.


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