Future of Priestly Ministry
Optional Celibacy

Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table

Meet with your Bishop to encourage him to promote discussion returning to the practice of both a married and celibate priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Sign Up to be a local organizer and add your name to our Open Letter to US Bishops.

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Video: FutureChurch's Action for Optional Celibacy

Podcast: Fr. Donald Cozzens on 'The Future of Priestly Celibacy' FutureChurch teleconference, November 20, 2013.

Video: Deterred from Priesthood by Mandatory Celibacy


FutureChurch is pleased you are interested in our: Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table Project. This effort builds on our earlier work at the International Synod on the Eucharist in 2005 where the priest shortage dominated the agenda and four of twelve bishop small groups asked for further study of married priests. We have sustained an international electronic and paper postcard campaign asking Cardinal Benamino Stella at the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome to open discussion of optional celibacy at the highest levels of the Church. We are also approaching our national bishops conference (USCCB), priest organizations (AUSCP) and international reform groups for support in requesting discussion of changing celibacy rules to include both a married and celibate priesthood in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church.

Rapidly Expanding Calls for Changing Celibacy Rules

Our new project could not be more timely since calls for changing celibacy rules are rapidly expanding, especially in the face of widespread parish closings. Consider the following:

  • In 2014 Pope Francis stated that celibacy "is not a dogma, the door is always open."  In a conversation about the priest shortage and the possibility of a married priesthood with Brazilian Bishop Erwin Krautler, Pope Francis called on local bishops to "be corajudos, that is courageous in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions."(Huffington Post 5/27/2014)

  • Bishop Erwin Krautler stated that in Brazil, "most likely a commission will be founded which will take up the ball and discuss, how can we help the pope? He called for proposals from us, this is his desire." (PrayTellBlog 5/17/2014)

  • The Bishop of Bruges Jozef De Kesel has 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.
    (Reuters 9/22/10)

  • The May 4,2009 issue of the Jesuit weekly America openly called for the “recruitment and training of married men” as priests, ordaining permanent deacons to the priesthood, and welcoming back married priests.

  • In March, 2009 New York’s Cardinal Egan said he believed optional celibacy would be coming up for discussion by the church's hierarchy: “I think it is a perfectly legitimate discussion” (Catholic News Service)

  • In Brazil and Austria, groups representing 18,300 priests are lobbying for changes in celibacy rules.

  • A recent Irish poll found that two thirds of Irish Catholics believe priests should be allowed to marry, and thousands of British Catholics presented a statement asking for married priests and discussion of women priests to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Widespread Parish Closings Due to Priest Shortage

In just the past three years, over 400 parishes across the United States have closed, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. In March 2009 the Bishop of Cleveland announced the closing of 52 parishes, many against the recommendations of his own staff, parishioners and/or the Diocesan Priests’ Council. Easily half of these are energetic congregations with important ministries in urban areas.

Sadly, this scenario is being repeated in dioceses from New Orleans to Nova Scotia as well as the United Kingdom and Europe as the irreversibility of the priest shortage hits home. Likewise thousands of Catholics in the developing world have minimal access to Mass and the sacraments because of too few celibate priests.

FutureChurch has worked for nearly twenty years to raise awareness about the need to change celibacy rules if parishes are to stay open and the Eucharist is to remain the center of Catholic worship. Our Save our Parish Community project has helped parishioners hold their bishops accountable by appealing mistaken decisions to close their vital, solvent parishes because of the priest shortage. As of April 2009 at least 35 U.S. parishes from eight dioceses are appealing to the Vatican. On April 7, 2009 Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes hand delivered a petition to the Vatican’s Secretary of State asking for mediation with 31 parishioner groups from eight US dioceses to avert parish closings.

While we are saddened to see so many Catholics suffer from the failure of church leaders to address the priest shortage, we do not lose heart. This is because ever increasing numbers of Catholics choose to resist unjust parish closings, and calls for changing celibacy rules are rapidly expanding.

Essential elements of this project include:

  • Launching an international electronic and paper postcard campaign asking Cardinal Piacenza at the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome to open discussion of optional celibacy at the highest levels of the Church. (The unprecedented success of our postcard campaign to the 2008 Synod on the Word testifies to the effectiveness of this strategy.)

  • Networking with national and international priest and church reform organizations to elicit support for expanding the optional celibacy postcard effort, lobbying national Bishops’ Conferences, and brainstorming other strategies encouraging priests and others to speak up.

  • Configuring the FutureChurch website so that electronic postcards can simultaneously be sent to local bishops and other church decision makers and making available downloadable templates for paper postcards and other resources in English, German, French. Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

  • Reaching out to the thousands of parishioners impacted by parish closings with resources to support their discerned responses and to elicit their activism in working to change celibacy rules.

  • Developing and distributing downloadable education/advocacy resources geared to mandatory celibacy, the priest shortage and expanding women’s roles in the church, beginning with the diaconate.

Please consider taking the following actions:

More Background to The Project

In 2008, FutureChurch conducted a survey to help us discover next steps in our work for optional celibacy. Initial feedback indicated highest support for the following strategies:

  • education and advocacy about the priest shortage, the history of married priests and mandatory celibacy

  • international national and local networking for petitioning church leaders to discuss mandatory celibacy and women’s roles in the church.

  • encouraging priests themselves to speak up about the need

Read final survey response here.