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Vatican denies conflict on handling of celibacy for Anglican clergy

November 02, 2009

The Vatican has denied reports that a delay in the appearance of the Pope's apostolic constitution setting up personal ordinariates for former Anglicans is due to a conflict over the handling of priestly celibacy.

Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the delayed appearance of the papal document was due to "technical" reasons, including the handling of footnotes and canonical references. Reacting to the report that a debate over celibacy was involved, the cardinal said: "There is no substance to such speculation. No one at the Vatican has mentioned any such issue to me."

The Vatican press office took the highly unusual step of citing an Italian reporter, Andrea Tornielli, by name as a source of the reports about a debate on celibacy. Tornielli, who writes for Il Giornale, has compiled an impressive record for accuracy in his accounts of new developments inside the Vatican. While the Holy See has already indicated a willingness to accept married Anglican priests into the Catholic priesthood, Tornielli had suggested that there was a disagreement on whether, in the future, married men could be accepted for priestly training in the personal ordinariates.

To counteract the stories about an internal disagreement, the Vatican released two paragraphs from Article VI of the forthcoming apostolic constitution. Those articles confirm that priestly celibacy will remain the norm for the Roman Catholic Church, although exceptions may be made to accommodate Anglican priests who are already married and seek admission to the Catholic priesthood.

However, the paragraphs cited in the Vatican statement do not entirely resolve the question of celibacy. The text says that once the personal ordinariate is established, the ordinary "may also petition the Roman Pontiff…for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case-by-case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See." These "objective criteria" are not yet specified, and thus the question of celibacy is not resolved.

After citing the passage from Article VI, #2 of the forthcoming document, the Vatican statement explained:

This article is to be understood as consistent with the current practice of the Church, in which married former Anglican ministers may be admitted to priestly ministry in the Catholic Church on a case by case basis. With regard to future seminarians, it was considered purely speculative whether there might be some cases in which a dispensation from the celibacy rule might be petitioned. For this reason, objective criteria about any such possibilities (e.g. married seminarians already in preparation) are to be developed jointly by the Personal Ordinariate and the Episcopal Conference, and submitted for approval of the Holy See."

Cardinal Levada said that the full text of the apostolic constitution should be completed this week.


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  • Posted by: - Nov. 03, 2009 7:31 AM ET USA

    What does celibacy in the Roman Rite accomplish except give closeted gays a place to hide? Let's change the rules already.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Nov. 02, 2009 5:45 PM ET USA

    Let's see if I have this right. Anglican priests who are married would be allowed to become married Catholic priests. Which more or less makes all of them priests in the same church, right? Which also means priests from either discipline could celebrate Mass in either church, right? So what's to keep a Catholic priest, equal to an Anglican priest in every way but, from marrying and simply moving over to the other discipline? A vow of celibacy? Hmmm. I think we're getting into sticky ground here.