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Reform Groups Welcome Australian Priest Council Call for Optional Celibacy


Sr. Christine Schenk (FutureChurch)
216-513-3647 (cell)
Linda Pieczynski (Call To Action)
630-399-6924 (cell)

Reform Groups Welcome Australian Priest Council Call for Optional Celibacy

Eucharist is primary, “decisive action” needed because of priest shortage.

FutureChurch and Call To Action, both national, non-profit Catholic groups working for church reform, welcome the courageous call for optional celibacy made by the National Council of Priests (NCP) of Australia to the October Bishops Synod on the Eucharist.

“This adds substantive international momentum to our Corpus Christi Campaign,” said Sr. Chris Schenk of FutureChurch. “So far in the U.S. we have collected nearly 20,000 letters, postcards and petitions to the Eucharist Synod from laity and clergy alike. This prophetic action by the Australian priests internationalizes the movement and will certainly energize our base.”

The Corpus Christi Campaign was launched over a year ago in response to calls for open discussion of mandatory celibacy from over 1000 U.S. priests. The petition asks to end mandatory celibacy, welcome back married priests and open the diaconate to the tens of thousands of women serving the Church right now. Organizers hope to deliver petition signatures to Rome next October.

The National Council of Priests of Australia represents half of Australia’s 1649 Catholic clergy and includes 42 bishops and three cardinals among its members. The group was responding to a preparatory document for the October Synod. It expressed concern that “there are no questions in the Lineamenta document about the serious shortage of priests in many place and the consequent impossibility for many communities to celebrate Eucharist frequently and regularly.” They asked "the synod fathers [to] examine honestly the appropriateness of insisting upon a priesthood that is, with very few exceptions, obliged to be celibate. Priesthood is a gift, celibacy is a gift: They are not the same gift."

A survey of more than 300 priests conducted by the Sydney Archdiocese released last spring found that 55% believed celibacy should be optional. Many observers believe this survey was one factor influencing the NCP statement.

“These findings echo a much larger survey we conducted last year,” said Call To Action spokesperson, Linda Pieczynski. “Catholic lay leaders from Call To Action and FutureChurch surveyed priests in 53 U.S. dioceses. Sixty seven percent of responding priests (2,589 of 3,846) said yes to the question: “Do you favor an open discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule for diocesan priests?”

“I am heartened to see the Australian priests introduce a sense of proportion in liturgical issues,” said Schenk. “While acknowledging they value liturgical discipline they said they were ‘scandalized when the gnat of [liturgical] abuse is so carefully strained out while the camel of dying communities is being swallowed.’ I’m scandalized too. Our leaders seem more intent on enforcing nit picky liturgical minutiae than facing up to the much larger reality of so many parishes closing over the next ten years.”

In Boston one out of five parishes is closing. Toledo is planning to close or cluster 33 parishes and Cleveland projects only 76 priests to serve 234 parishes in 2027. In the U.S. there are more priests over 90 than under 30 according to a 2000 study released by the U.S. Catholic bishops. Worldwide, according to Vatican statistics, the number of priests is essentially unchanged since 1975 when there were 404,783 priests compared to 405,058 in 2002. In the meantime, Catholics increased worldwide by 52% to 1.07 billion in 2003.

“We also need to talk about opening the diaconate to women,” said Pieczynski. “This is an immediately doable next step toward full priestly ministry. Presently women ministers are the “glue” helping to hold the Church together. Eighty two percent of an estimated 65,000 lay ministers in the U.S. are women. Worldwide, there are 783,000 nuns and over 1.5 million female lay ministers. When we recall that there are only 405,000 priests, it becomes obvious that opening the diaconate to women could give us a huge new pool of ministers to meet the growing sacramental needs of an expanding church.”

“God is a God of abundance, not of scarcity,” said Schenk, “God’s people need both celibate and married vocations, both male and female deacons and priests if we are to minister well. All priestly calls have great value. We need to move from an either/ or mentality to one where all of God’s gifts are welcomed and cherished.”

FutureChurch and Call To Action have promoted dialog about optional celibacy and the priest shortage for the past nine years through their Call for a National Dialogue on the Future of Priestly Ministry project. The resource contains education and advocacy materials about the history of celibacy, women in the church and the priest shortage. It has attracted over 6000 grassroots activists and sparked dialogue in over 100 U.S. dioceses about the need to open ordination if Catholicism is to continue as a sacramental Church in which members have regular access to the Mass.

FutureChurch,headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a national coalition of 5,000 parish centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch makes presentations throughout the country, distributes educational and informational packets and advocates widespread discussion of opening ordination to all Catholics who are called to priestly ministry by God and the people of God.

Call To Action is a national organization of 25,000 laity, religious and clergy with its national office in Chicago and 41 local chapters. It advocates for reforms in the Catholic Church such as the ordination of women, optional celibacy for priests, more focus on the church's social teaching, and consultation with the Catholic people on church decision-making.

About FutureChurch Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, FutureChurch seeks changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership. It is a national coalition of 3,500 parish centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch is a nonprofit organization that makes presentations throughout the country, distributes education, advocacy and prayer resources and recruits activists who work on behalf of its mission.