Letter: Married priests in the Catholic Church

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From Mrs Jackie Hawkins

Sir: With reference to your article "Vatican faces revolt among Austrian flock" (5 July), it is not just in Austria that the formal authorities of the Catholic Church are being challenged. It is happening everywhere, including in this country, but the stranglehold the hierarchy has on "official statements" blocks widespread public awareness of the situation.

In the same issue, Bishop Hugh Lindsay's "The value of celibacy" amply sums up the situation. The Catholic laity has had no say in the reception of the married ex-Anglicans into our ordained ministry, so to state that the indications are that "most Catholics would welcome the ministry of former Anglicans as married priests" is highly deceptive. There has not been any dialogue about it.

Where is the mention of the parishes who have declined to take on some of the former Anglicans? We may decide to welcome them as precursors of optional celibacy for our own priests, but there are plenty of other reservations many of us have about them. What is their attitude to women in spiritual terms, and why have they taken precedence over our own married men, both ordained and with a vocation to ordination? Do they understand how seriously authority (the grounds on which they claim to have moved to the Roman Catholicism) is being challenged by many Catholics, lay and ordained?

Survey after survey all over Europe confirms that most Catholics are convinced that compulsory celibacy has no justification in the light of modern understanding of sexuality, and that compulsion actually diminishes the witness of those priests for whom it is a genuine gift. The constant repetition of the old arguments about celibacy diminishes the authority of those who feel bound to churn them out.

The believers who constitute the Catholic Church are not so much human blotting paper, waiting to mop up whatever spills out of the hierarchical inkpot. We are mature, responsible disciples of Christ, himself a model of protest against legalistic and authoritarian religious leaders.

Yours sincerely,

Jackie Hawkins

Ruislip Manor, Middlesex