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Bishops Question Mandatory Celibacy, FutureChurch Campaign Grows

Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be at the TableAn estimated 30 bishops around the world from France, Austria, Germany, Australia, Canada, Belgium, South America, England, Africa, India, Scotland, the Philippines, Poland and the US, have asked for open discussion of mandatory celibacy. The new Bishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, recently questioned celibacy for priests and called for an open discussion on the position of women in the Church. The bishop of Hasselt, Patrick Hoogmartens, and Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp have also said that married men should not automatically be excluded from the priesthood. Meanwhile the head of the German church, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said the Catholic Church must confront and discuss taboo topics such as sexual morality and the celibacy of priests. Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk recently said Orthodox believers would acclaim the cancellation of celibacy in the western church.

At press time, the Vatican announced that it has accepted Cardinal Claudio Hummes’ resignation as Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, since he has reached the age limit (75). The new prefect, Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, has worked at the Congregation for over 20 years and will likely be named a Cardinal very soon. Since Cardinal Hummes was the original recipient of FutureChurch’s optional celibacy electronic and paper postcards, the addressee is being updated accordingly.

FutureChurch’s So All Can Be At the Table initiative has completed the first year of a three-year campaign. It will culminate with the presentation of signatures to officials in Rome in October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. Thousands of paper and electronic postcards have already been sent asking for open discussion of restoring the tradition of both married and celibate priests in the Catholic Church and scores of organizing kits have been downloaded from the website.

International Campaign Gearing Up. Because of breaking news about clergy sex abuse in Europe, the international phase of the campaign has been postponed until now. The FutureChurch website has the capacity to send electronic and paper postcards in six languages. In the meantime our Optional Celibacy Advisory Committee and staff are seeking international support from bishops, priests, and local contacts.

NEW Priesthood Sunday prayer service. A new So All Can Be At the Table prayer service has been developed to celebrate the ministry of celibate priests exemplified by St. Paul and advocate for a return to permitting married priestly ministry exemplified by St. Peter, and women deacons exemplified by St. Phoebe. The first annual celebration will be held on or around Priesthood Sunday, which this year, is October 31, 2010. At press time over thirty services were planned, including four international celebrations.

Campaign Adds Women Deacons. Just before Christmas, Pope Benedict made changes in canon law to clarify the role of deacons. According to female diaconate expert, Dr. Phyllis Zagano, the changes “may have ended the controversy over whether women can be ordained deacons.” FutureChurch has added an electronic postcard asking to open the permanent diaconate to women to our international Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table initiative. The website is configured in six languages so Catholics can send an electronic postcard and download templates for paper postcards. Postcards are addressed to Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and automatically copies Pope Benedict and five other Vatican officials.

e-postcard

The postcard text reads:

Dear Cardinal Levada,
     We request that you to honor the constant teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church* by restoring the female diaconate. Women’s voices are silenced in our churches, creating significant pastoral challenges to evangelizing 21st century women and men accustomed to seeing women in professional, corporate and civil leadership roles. If we wish to reach the next generation, Catholic preaching must reflect the gender balance found in Jesus and St. Paul’s inclusive practice.
     Opening the permanent diaconate to women would allow women to preach and exercise other important ministries on behalf of the People of God, under the guidance of their bishops.
     I would very much appreciate your reply.

*In 1974, a member of the International Theological Commission Cipriano Vagaggini OSB, Cam. (1909-99) published detailed research demonstrating the Church’s tradition of women deacons, who were ordained within the sanctuary by the bishop, in the presence of the presbyterate, and by the imposition of hands.

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Focus on FutureChurch

Fall 2010

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