Vatican Reaffirms Celibacy for Priests
Church Emphasizes Religious Vocations
By Nicole Winfield
Associated Press, carried in Boston Globe
June 29, 2003
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican reaffirmed celibacy for priests yesterday, rejecting arguments that the Roman Catholic Church could resolve the "crisis" of decreasing numbers of clergy by opening the priesthood to married men.
Instead, the Vatican said, current priests should dedicate themselves to attracting more candidates by better explaining the priesthood to lay Catholics and encouraging families and children to consider religious vocations.
The reaffirmation was contained in a wide-ranging document issued yesterday as the final conclusions to a meeting, or synod, of European bishops held in 1999. Pope John Paul II held back on issuing the final document until now, because he wanted the timing to be right in Europe, Vatican officials said yesterday.
In fact, one of the major thrusts of the document is a reiteration of Christianity's heritage in Europe, and an exhortation by the pope that European leaders drafting the first EU constitution make reference to the role Christianity has played in shaping the continent.
Earlier this month, EU negotiators finalized a draft of the constitution that made no reference to God or Christianity, despite lobbying from the Vatican. Opponents said such a reference could undermine the secular nature of the bloc.
Italy, which takes over the EU presidency starting on Tuesday, has said it plans to reopen the debate over including the reference when governments begin a final review of the text in October.
"This is a constitution that does not yet exist," Cardinal Jan Schotte, head of the synod, said at a press conference launching the document. "For me, nothing is definite."
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, England, a secretary of the synod, said omitting a mention of Christianity was "unworthy" of the constitution's authors because "no presentation of Europe can be honest if it fails to recognize the part already played, and still played, by Christianity in the shaping of Europe."
The document touched on a host of other issues, including a call for Europe to be more welcoming to immigrants, for the Catholic Church in Europe to engage in a "profound and perceptive" dialogue with Islam and Judaism, and for the "full participation" of women in the life of the church.
Schotte said that didn't mean women could at present be heads of Vatican congregations, since that would require they be ordained. The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men.
The document acknowledged there were fewer and fewer men signing up for the priesthood, but said removing the celibacy requirement wasn't the answer.
"A revision of the present discipline in this regard would not help to resolve the crisis of vocations to the priesthood being felt in many parts of Europe," the document said. "A commitment to the service of the Gospel of hope also demands that the Church make every effort to propose celibacy in its full biblical, theological, and spiritual richness."
There has been a steep decline in the ratio of Catholics to priests worldwide over the past 20 years. In 1978, there were 1,797 Catholics for every priest. In 2001, the number was 2,619, according to Vatican statistics cited by Catholic News Service.
This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 6/29/2003.
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