The Sunday Mail
Following a document published by the Vatican in preparation for the Synod of the Amazon scheduled for later this year, conversations around whether or not Catholic priests should marry have taken centre stage at a time when the church is facing a deficit of priests mostly due to the Church’s celibacy clause.
The proposal looks at the possibility of ordaining “viri probati,” or mature married men, in exceptional situations.
‘Viri probati’ are people of proven faith who can already deliver the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the word.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference secretary general, Father Frederick Chiromba said the current debate needs to be understood in the context of the New Evangelisation and the celebration of the Sacraments.
“The issue is not even about remote areas but whether the people of God are being adequately provided for in terms of what they need for their eternal salvation, be they in the cities or the so called remote areas,” he said.
Celibacy of priests, which is regarded as a gift, is a prerogative of the Latin rite of the Catholic Church.
The debate of ordaining men of proven faith has been a mainstay in the Catholic Church for years though the late Pope John Paul II was seen as the one who closed the initial discussions with a strong stance on maintaining celibacy in the priesthood.
Quoted in the media on his address to the representative of the Amazonian people in Peru in 1985, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the lack of vocation but encouraged the community to open up “to the call of God that invited his sons to the full ecclesial service, to priestly service and consecrated life”.
To him, the solution of ordaining married men of proven faith was not an option. He suggested that the Church would rather look for other solutions to the ‘distressing pastoral program’.
However, the conversation has been reignited ahead of the Synod of the Amazon, which is scheduled for October.
Father Chiromba acknowledged that the debate has been brought to the forefront.
“The only difference now is that, whereas the debates in the past were behind closed doors, in the Seminaries, Houses of
formation, etc, the current debates are in the public domain. The debates need to be related to the reality of the Church, which is always the same and at the same time always reforming itself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“Equitable distribution of priests may also help with priests being sent from one region to another. The Church already does this and Zimbabwe is playing its part.
“However, eventually the faith has to take root in the cultures that are evangelised. If this does not happen it becomes a matter of ongoing study by the Church,” added Father Chiromba.
The celibacy debate has also come in the limelight as a probable scapegoat to a series of scandals that has rocked the Catholic Church over the years, with thousands of people thought to have been abused by priests.
Further to that, the Church has been accused of covering up the sexual crimes around the world. This has also seen resignation of high profile personnel in the Catholic Church.
Some sectors of society have blamed celibacy as one of the contributing factors to such sexual abuse scandals.
Others have gone on to suggest that celibacy has been a major hindrance for individuals interested in taking up the office of the priests, thereby leading to the obtaining shortage of priests.
“Viri probati are not running away from celibacy, just as celibates are not running away from marriage. Both are simply responding to a vocation to serve the people of God,” Father Chiromba concluded.