Do recent remarks by Pope Francis’s new secretary of state mean that the Church is about to eliminate celibacy? – by Jimmy Akin
The mainstream media is all atwitter made by Pope Francis’s incoming secretary of state about the possibility of eliminating clerical celibacy.
Is this a sign of things to come?
Is this yet another indication of Pope Francis “breaking with tradition”?
Is this an indication the mind of Pope Francis himself?
Is it a major new development?
Or is it just the press hyperventilating because they have no idea what they’re talking about?
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) Who made the remarks?
That would be Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who is set to replace Cardinal Tarciscio Berone as the head of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
He currently lives in Caracas, Venezuela, where he has been serving as papal nuncio (ambassador) to Venezuela.
More info on him here.
2) Where did he make his remarks?
He make his comments in an interview with the Venezuelan paper El Universal.
Apparently, it was an interview in anticipation of his leaving his role as the apostolic nuncio and going back to Rome to become Secretary of State.
Here’s a link to the full interview on video, in Spanish.
3) What did he actually say?
Apparently, in his discussion with the interviewer, the following exchange occurred:
Aren’t there two types of dogmas? Aren’t there unmovable dogmas that were instituted by Jesus and then there are those that came afterwards, during the course of the church’s history, created by men and therefore susceptible to change?
Certainly. There are dogmas that are defined and untouchable.
Celibacy is not —
It is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition.
That’s what set the secular media off into paroxysms—the statement that the discipline “can be discussed.”
4) Did he say anything else on the question?
Yes. The following exchange followed:
That [celibacy] goes back to what period?
To the early centuries. After its implementation, it was applied during the first millennium and after the Council of Trent, the church enforced it.
It is a tradition, and the concept lives on within the church because during the course of all these years things have happened that have contributed to develop God’s revelation. This was completed with the death of the last apostle, Saint John.
What happened afterwards was an increase in the comprehension and the living out of the revelation.
Speaking of celibacy —
The work the church did to institute ecclesiastical celibacy must be considered.
We cannot simply say that it is part of the past.
It is a great challenge for the pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking of the unity of the church and not to divide it.
Therefore we can talk, reflect, and deepen on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think of some modifications, but always with consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God.
It is not about what I would like but what God wants for His church.
5) What significance does this actually have?
There is, actually, nothing new here. The archbishop is correct in stating that clerical celibacy is not a dogma.
It is a matter of discipline and—although I have yet to see a mainstream media story point this out—there are, in fact, married priests today, even in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, where most priests are required to be celibate (that is, unmarried).
But beyond the non-newness of this, there is also the forum in which the exchange occurred: It was a concluding interview with the local nunicio in a local newspaper.
This is not the place that the Church uses to make dramatic, official statements.
In fact, this was not an official statement at all. It was a personal interview.
6) So this wasn’t a trial balloon sent out by Vatican orders to start preparing the public for married priests?
No. It was a simple answer to a question that the archbishop was asked in an interview.
Notice also that, while trying to state the Church’s position accurately, Archbishop Parolin goes out of his way to immediately downplay any expectations of a change in discipline.
“We cannot simply say that it [celibacy] is part of the past,” he says. Instead, he speaks of the ability to talk and reflect on the subject but that we must ultimately seek not what we want but what God wants on the matter.
He devoted far more words to trying to moderate or downplay expectations for a change than he spent in the initial, one-sentence statement that it’s not a dogma and can be discussed.
7) So this doesn’t really tell us anything about Pope Francis’s mind on the subject?
8) Do we know anything about what Pope Francis thinks about celibacy?
Actually, yes. In the book Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio (an interview book done before he was pope), Cardinal Bergoglio said:
Let’s see . . . I’ll begin with the last question: whether or not the Church is ever going to change its position with regard to celibacy.
First, let me say I don’t like to play mind-reader. But assuming that the Church did change its position, I don’t believe it would be because of a lack of priests. Nor do I think celibacy would be a requirement for all who wanted to embrace priesthood.
If it did, hypothetically, do so, it would be for cultural reasons, as is the case in the East, where married men can be ordained. There, at a particular time and in that particular culture, it was so, and it continues to be so today.
I can’t stress enough that if the Church were to change its position at some point, it would be to confront a cultural problem in a particular place; it would not be a global issue or an issue of personal choice. That is my belief. . . .
Right now I stand by Benedict XVI, who said that celibacy should be maintained.
Now, what kind of effect will this have on the number of those called to the priesthood? I am not convinced that eliminating celibacy would cause such an increase in those called to the priesthood as to make up for the shortage.
9) Are the recent remarks another case of Pope Francis “breaking with tradition”?
No. First, because Pope Francis didn’t do anything. They weren’t his remarks. They were those of Archbishop Parolin when a reporter sprang the question of celibacy on him in an interview.
Pope Francis can hardly be breaking with tradition when he wasn’t even involved.
Second, this isn’t any different in substance than the way Pope Benedict handled the issue.
In fact, in the very first Synod of Bishops that Pope Benedict presided over (the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist), he allowed the subject to be brought up for discussion.
Ultimately, the synod fathers decided not to recommend a further exploration the idea of married priests in the Latin rite, but Pope Benedict let it be brought up for discussion.
You can read about that here.
So this also doesn’t fit the “Good Francis vs. Bad Benedict” paradigm that the media keeps trying to shove stories into.