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Catholic MPs urge Pope Francis to allow ordination of married men

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church were the subject of an Intelligence Squared debate

Catholic peers and MPs have written to Pope Francis asking him to consider permitting bishops in the United Kingdom to ordain married men as priests.

The parliamentarians, led by Rob Flello MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool argue in their letter that it is anomalous that married Anglican priests can be received into the Catholic Church and ordained as Catholic priests but married Catholic men cannot do the same.

The 21 parliamentarians from all political parties suggest that “if the celibacy rule were relaxed, there would be many others who would seek ordination bringing great gifts to the priesthood.”

The signatories also reiterate that celibacy should be retained for bishops in order to indicate the “continuing high regard we have for those who are able to live a genuinely celibate life.”

But in a 2012 interview, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) said that he favoured maintaining priestly celibacy. He said: “In Western Catholicism, some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue. For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm. Some say,with a certain pragmatism, that we are losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.

“For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures. What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity. Catholic ministers chose celibacy little by little. Up until 1100, some chose it and some did not. After, the East followed the tradition of non-celibacy as personal choice, while the West went the opposite way. It is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change. Personally, it never crossed my mind to marry. But there are cases. Look at the case of the Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. He’s a brilliant guy. But as a bishop, he had a fall and resigned from the diocese. This decision was honest. Sometimes we see priests fall into this.”

The full text of the letter signed by parliamentarians is printed below:

Your Holiness, We write to you as Catholic members of both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament.

First, we would like to warmly congratulate you on your election and assure you of our prayers and of our support as you work for the deep renewal of the Church. We would also like to place one specific request before you.

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. 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.

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.

If celibacy were retained for bishops, as in the Eastern rites, this would signal the continuing high regard we have for those who are able to live a genuinely celibate life.

We recognise that the Church is serious about the New Evangelisation 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.

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.

We very much hope this proposal finds favour with you. Please keep our country and its people in your prayers. Thank you. We remain, Yours sincerely,

Rob Flello MP
Prof Lord Alton of Liverpool KCSG KCMCO
Dr John Pugh MP
Prof Baroness Hollins
Stephen Pound MP
Baroness Goudie
William Cash MP
Lord Hylton
Thomas Docherty MP
Rt Hon Lord McAvoy
Michael Dugher MP
Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC
Tom Blenkinsop MP
Rt Hon Lord Touhig KSS
Chris Ruane MP
Patricia Glass MP
Ronnie Campbell MP
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP
Meg Hillier MP
Jonathan Evans MP
Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP KSG KCMCO