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A priestly clash
SIR – The idea that the Pope and bishops should “stop hesitating” and allow Catholic priests to marry (Letter, July 10) is astounding. Men committing to the priesthood are not mere functionaries (like electricians, teachers or plumbers), but icons of Christ himself. Married non-Catholic clergy are well represented in literature and comedy regarding the near impossibility of combining the necessary “otherworldliness” of their vocation with the obligations of Christian marriage. All that bitterness, exclusion and sense of neglect has been depicted by many a spouse and child in Trollope and Dickens, through to Alan Bennett and beyond. The fact that the sacrament of marriage exhorts a man to “forsake all others” cannot sit alongside the vows taken during ordination to the priesthood – also, of course, a sacrament. It is a daily difficulty for the married layman to turn his mind and heart to God, and Catholic priests should continue to be spared that potential clash between the domestic and the divine by remaining unmarried. They are all our Fathers and I believe we shall not want. Our Heavenly Father will answer our daily prayer that He “send more labourers to the harvest”. Our ordinariate married priests deserve our understanding and prayers for help in balancing their home life with their spiritual calling.
Hillary Blake (Mrs)
SIR – I read with interest your coverage (Home news, July 17) of a very significant event: several of our bishops have declared their support for the ordination of married men and urge the bishops’ conference to respond to Pope Francis’s clear invitation, that proposals be made to Rome to this effect. The arguments for change have already been convincingly made; now we should think seriously about where married candidates for ordination might be found. Research suggests that there are considerable numbers of married laymen whose life and involvement in the Church show them to be viri probati (men of proven worth), who could be invited to become priests. It has also found that many of our married permanent deacons at some time considered the priesthood and might be prepared to take this next step. Finally, we know that among the many priests whom the celibacy law obliged to quit priestly service when they married, not a few have proved their continuing loyalty in lay involvement in their parishes. Some of these would dearly love to serve again as priests. It is sometimes suggested that proponents of married priests disapprove of celibacy. Absolutely not: as Joseph Seferta (Letter, July 10) says, there will always be those who know themselves to have received from God the spiritual gift to lead a mature celibate life and their prophetic witness remains precious. But they are few – as Jesus himself said (Mt 19:11-12) – and it is wrong to make such a charism a condition for ordination. The huge response to Bishop Hollis’s call shows that the time is right for married priests, and Catholics in this country are ready and willing to welcome them.
Mike Kerrigan Chairman, Movement for Married Clergy,
Blowing up bridges
SIR – The welcome but sad article on kidnapped priests in Syria (Cover story, July 17) could have drawn out some of the reasons that priests and bishops are abducted or killed – they are often leaders across divides, reconcilers offering God’s love. Fr Jacques Mourad was also known as “Sheikh Jacques” and was probably “taken out” in May because he was caring for all refugees fleeing in terror from Palmyra, which ISIS had just captured. Like so many of the priests and Sisters we know and have supported here at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr Jacques was not going to ask a refugee if he or she were a Muslim – God’s love is for all. Perhaps we have also lost the understanding in our Western society that the religious leader in the Middle East is respected and often seen as a leader for all. This used to be the case here, especially before the Reformation. Still today in parts of the world where there is little or no civil society, the Church plays a more major role, with bishops and priests respected by most people, even those from different religious backgrounds. I remember queuing to see an archbishop in Sidon, Lebanon, at his drop-in morning, alongside Sunni Muslims and Christians alike. The bishops and priests are bridge-builders and in any conflict the opposition forces will blow up and remove the bridges as they are the channels of communication. I was recently in northern Iraq and visited St Peter’s Seminary in Erbil, which ACN helps. The Rector, Fr Fadi, told me that there had been an increase in vocations in this seminary, where both Chaldeans and Syrian Catholics study; they had 10 new vocations last year. Yet he told me: “The students know that they will face suffering and live with suffering, threefold and more. Priesthood in Iraq does not just mean the sacramental life … it means giving your life. If you are in Baghdad or Kirkuk you could be killed any day … sometimes you see fear in these young men’s eyes. Please pray for us!”
Neville Kyrke-Smith National director, Aid to the Church in Need UK,
Spectre of Malthus hovers over welfare state
SIR – George Osborne’s recent Budget announcement that from April 2017, new recipients of tax or housing benefits will receive child benefit only for the first two children, has provoked little concern, even from his critics (Home news, July 10). The public are generally supportive of this measure to promote “behavioural change” – unsurprisingly, given the popularity of reality TV shows about so-called “fat, thick, lazy welfare cheats”. Thomas Malthus’s proposals to reduce the population living on outdoor relief led to the destitute poor and mentally and physically disabled being tidied away into workhouses, the sexes strictly segregated to prevent “proliferation”; little boys were separated from their mothers and sisters, as my own father remembered only too well. It was in one of these grim deterrents that one of my aunts died, aged four years old. Malthus proposed to legally punish the poor by denying their children public assistance, but abortion was illegal; now it has become public policy, heavily disguised as “a woman’s right to choose” for the progressive Left, while the retrogressive Right can rest assured that it will “deal with” the consequences of that other economy measure, the closure of public institutions, by curbing births. The poor, meanwhile, will have no choice but to sacrifice their children. We may yet face the prospect of euthanasia for the aged, and doubtless Rob Marris, the Labour MP behind the assisted dying Bill, will unite Left and Right. The radical William Cobbett railed against Malthus; where are the Cobbetts of today?
Ann Farmer (Mrs)
Woodford Green, Essex
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