US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Priest to pope: Can we please just forget about that whole celibacy thing?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint |
blog Your Faith

Pope Francis has not shied away from discussing the topic of celibacy in the priesthood, making it clear in the past that he is in favor of maintaining the current requirement (or at least "for the moment," as Francis himself put it). Some have speculated that Francis will eventually move for a change on celibacy, but one priest isn't interested in waiting around. 

German priest Father Stefan Hartmann has sent an urgent request to Francis to grant him a dispensation from his vow of celibacy and to open the door for discussion on changing the celibacy requirement. In his letter (posted, in German, on his Facebook page) Hartmann claims that he made a mistake when as a young man in the seminary he took the vow of celibacy, and admits that he failed to keep that vow, as eight years later he fathered a child. Hartmann says he tried once again to be celibate, but since 2007 he has realized it is a vow he is "probably not capable" of maintaining.

Hartmann is far from the first priest to fail to keep his vow of celibacy. There have been both high profile cases (such as that of former Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Gabino Zavala, who fathered two children while in the priesthood) and instances quietly handled in private of of men exiting the priesthood over uncovered promiscuity. Hartmann acknowledges that fact, yet he believes he is a good priest and pastor and asks for Francis' mercy in letting him keep his job. 

What will Francis do? He gave a fairly good indication in comments he made in 2012, shortly before he was elected pope:

"If one of [my priests] comes and tells me that he got a woman pregnant, I listen. I try to help him have peace and little by little I try to help him realize that the natural law takes priority over his priesthood. So, he has to leave the ministry and should take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry that woman. For just as that child has the right to have a mother, he has a right to the face of a father. I commit myself to arranging all the paperwork for him in Rome, but he has to leave everything. Now, if a priest tells me he got excited and that he had a fall, I help him to get on track again. There are priests who get on track again and others who do not."

In other words, Francis may be forgiving of those who fail to keep their vows, but he doesn't think you can be both Father and father. That doesn't sound like good news for Hartmann, even though his daughter would by now be an adult. Francis clearly understands the struggles with celibacy, and he's obviously heard stories of priests who fail to keep their commitment, so this kind of situation won't surprise him. As pope he may be willing to engage in conversation about the topic of celibacy, but his past comments don't make it sound like it priests should expect to become eligible bachelors any time soon.

What do you think? Should priests remain celibate, or should the church consider a change in the vows of the priesthood? Leave your opinion in the comments section below (but please do so in accordance with our comment policy).