Clergy facing a revolt on priests' celibacy

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The Independent Online


The Irish Catholic clergy is now facing an open revolt on the issue of priestly celibacy with one of its most senior bishops insisting that the Church should re-examine its traditional opposition to priests marrying.

In an article in the Irish Times yesterday, one of the Irish Catholic hierarchy's most senior spokesmen, the Right Rev. Brendan Comiskey, Bishop of Ferns, insisted comments he made in a recent interview on the subject were made with his full authority as a bishop.

This followed an attempt last weekend by Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, to quell growing calls from both clergy and laity for an end to the celibacy rule, saying opinions expressed by dissidents conflicted with the Papal line

Yesterday Bishop Comiskey said priests were distressed and demoralised by a series of sexual scandals involving the clergy. Compulsory priestly celibacy was undergoing enormous strain and the Church's policy needed careful continuous study. Earlier he had argued that having accepted married Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church as priests, the hierarchy could no longer hold the line on celibacy.

Another dissident, Bishop Wilie Walsh of Killaloe, maintained the sharp decline in "vocations", or recruitment into the clergy, in recent years could be attributed in part to the heavy burden of celibacy felt by some priests.Public support for a change has been overwhelming since the issue was brought into the open by the Bishop Casey sex scandal in 1992, which took place amid increasing questioning of the status of celibacy for priests, which many maintain is merely a tradition, and not integral to the faith.

Opinion polls suggest a large majority among both clergy and Catholic laity support change. A poll in March, for Irish television, of 100 Irish Catholic priests found 56 per cent saying they should be allowed to marry if they wished. The poll said this view was shared by 71 per cent of Catholic adults. A telephone poll, for a newspaper, of a more limited sample of Irish adults this month found 76.5 per cent supported allowing priests to marry.