Ordain married men or there'll be nobody to say Mass, priests warn
IRISH priests have warned that the Catholic Church must ordain married men or face a "Eucharistic famine", with parishes left without anyone to lead Mass.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said the ordination of married men could be part of the answer to the massive shortage of priests which is about to "afflict the church in Ireland".
The organisation, which represents more than a third of Irish priests, was responding to reports that the Pope was open to dialogue on the issue.
Pope Francis indicated in a private audience with a Brazilian bishop that the ordination of married men could be considered by the Catholic Church if bishops around the world recommended the change.
Currently, the Catholic Church only ordains celibate males as priests, although it ordains both celibate and married men to the diaconate. However, deacons cannot celebrate Mass. According to Bishop Erwin Krautler of Brazil, Pope Francis appeared open to the idea of changing the rules on mandatory celibacy for priests in view of the shortage of priests in many communities.
He said the Pontiff indicated that the bishops' conference could play a significant role – by bringing suggestions on the matter to Rome and indicated that change couldn't come from him. Bishop Krautler, who is based in Brazil's rainforest region, explained to Pope Francis that as the bishop of Brazil's largest diocese he was responsible for 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful, but he only has 27 priests. This, he said, meant parish communities could only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most.
In its statement, the Association of Catholic Priests warned that the crisis in vocations also demanded "strong leadership" from the bishops here in Ireland to ensure that priest numbers were adequate to meet the needs of the people.
They called on the Irish hierarchy to respond "with courage and conviction" to the possibility of ordaining married men.
The ACP, which represents more than 1,000 priests in Ireland, warned that within the next two decades priest numbers in Ireland would plummet, with a tiny, ageing cohort of clergy struggling to say Mass in multiple parishes.
"This narrow window of opportunity of ordaining married men, of proven faith, wisdom and quality of life needs to be grasped with vigour and imagination," the priests' group warned.
A spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office declined to comment on the report that Pope Francis was open to possible change in relation to the ordination of married men, describing the comments as "far from official and still speculative".