The Advent Group, an organisation of married Roman Catholic priests which claims 400 members, has written an open letter to the Cardinal in response to his pastoral letter, read out in churches last Sunday, which welcomed married former Anglicans as Catholic priests.
"We feel betrayed by the tone and assumption of these pastorals," the group says. "Church leaders must be aware that many of us are unable to regularise our positions because of a vindictive legal process which demands that we prove we never should have been ordained in the first place ... [We] are treated as second-class citizens within our own community."
Priests who have married found themselves frequently without housing, without work, and with no pension contributions, it claims. The group claims that more than 100,000 priests around the world have left the ministry to marry. Yet the church authorities refuse to use this "vast pool of talent" while making special arrangements for married opponents of women priests from the Anglican Communion.
"The church suffers because of a man-made law of compulsory celibacy. Celibacy as part of a compulsory package deal for entry into the ministry has simply corrupted the celibate witness. Press reports on the active sexual lives of supposedly celibate priests make the point and covering this up is not the answer.
"The pastoral letters call for generosity to the Anglican clergy in their journey of faith. This, we are told, is at the instigation of Pope John Paul II. Surely Catholic married priests are entitled to the same generosity," the letter concludes. Similar concerns have surfaced in letters from lay people to the Catholic press.
The Catholic Media Office said the Cardinal's letter had urged Catholics to look kindly on priests who had married and had acknowledged the special arrangements for Anglicans would reopen old wounds. This was the part of the pastoral letter described the Advent Groups as "sheer hypocrisy".
But it added that there was no chance of the rules on celibacy been changed in the near future.
There is a growing resistance to compulsory celibacy for the clergy across the Catholic Church in Europe and north America as the church anticipates the end of the present papacy. Last week a petition calling for an end to compulsory celibacy, the ordination of women and a greater degree of church democracy was signed by 500,000 people in Austria.
Opponents of the rule point out that it has never been a matter of doctrine, only of discipline, and that the Vatican happily accepts married priests among the Eastern-rite Catholic churches of the Ukraine.Reuse content