US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Vatican No. 2 offers another opening on celibacy and the "democratic spirit" of the times

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Many were wondering whether a new bishop of Rome would be able to function in the shadow of a retired one, but Pope Francis and his administration seem to have no qualms about moving forward even with Pope Benedict in the Vatican's back garden. The new Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin again signalled a new, more open approach with comments on priestly celibacy, acknowledging the obvious that it is a matter of church discipline that can change. (NCR's John Allen referred to Parolin's remarks as "the standard moderate Catholic line" in his comments.) More tellingingly, Parolin noted that while the church is not a democracy, "there could be a more democratic spirit, in the sense of listening carefully" for the sake of a more "collegial" approach.

That's quite a departure from the old regime: Under Pope John Paul II, open discussion of much of anything was difficult at best; Pope Benedict's papacy was so marred by institutional failures that any hopes for change were frozen in place. Given that Pope Francis is likely to start making new moves of his own, including a meeting with all the Vatican department heads and an October meeting of his council of world cardinals, I suspect that his agenda will become clearer this fall.

As far as mandatory celibacy for priests is concerned, I foresee at least an initial experiment with change--perhaps the ordination of older, long-married men, the so-called "viri probati"--proven elders. The shortage of priests is only accelerating, no less in Papa Bergoglio's Latin America, and I suspect that, though he may wish to maintain mandatory celibacy, the pressure from the world's bishops will convince him it is time for a change.