The following personal open letter is being sent to Pope Benedict XVI in the name of the Roman Catholic Movement for Married Clergy (MMaC).
As its website explains, this movement is a pressure group which seeks to persuade Church authorities to abandon the mandatory celibacy law which applies to candidates
for the Roman Catholic priesthood and to allow married men to become priests. MMaC does this, conscious of the fact that the apostle Peter, like other apostles, was
married; that Jesus and church leaders through the first millennium did not require priests to be celibate; that the Church itself calls marriage 'a man's inalienable
right'; that modern popes who insist on upholding the law have nonetheless stated explicitly that it is 'not necessary', and that while insisting on the law for Roman
Catholic candidates they allow priests to be married in eastern churches, and in England welcome into the priesthood married convert clergy. MMaC supports the
celibate way of priestly life but holds that it must be individually, freely chosen, not imposed as an obligation.
This month's visit of pope Benedict to our shores offers MMaC a rare opportunity to make its case to the one man who can authorize the change, and members were invited
to submit texts representing the movement's spirit and objectives which might be sent to him in MMaC's name on the occasion of his visit. The following frank and
direct letter was selected for its transparent honesty and humility.
To Pope Benedict XVI
Holy Father, welcome to England. Your visit to the land of my birth follows closely upon the conclusion of the Year for Priests. The sacred priesthood is one of many
things we share, so welcome, dearest brother.
Clearly we are both members of the human race, and it is also true that both of us are imbued with a deep love for Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.
It goes without saying, flowing from our common humanity, that each of us has the same physical, intellectual, sexual and spiritual needs. You in your capacity as
Head of our universal Church cope with yours, I as a simple clodhopping (and now retired) secular priest cope with mine. But the needs are the same. We are both
members of a fallen human race, subjects of original sin, broken and wounded, limping our way to eternity. I suspect that your own need to avail constantly of
the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation is as great as mine. May I also presume that when, like me, you beat your breast and declare, 'Lord, I am not worthy to
receive you,' you are aware, as I am, that such unworthiness, our common need for Christ's healing and redeeming love, expresses a yearning for divine mercy which
justifies our reception of the Holy Eucharist?
Holy Father, I have spent the best years of my life labouring at the coalface of the Church we both love. On a daily basis I have ministered to the spiritual needs of
large numbers of men and women who often, merely because they are victims of a failed marriage, are deprived of the grace and consolation of the very sacraments we
both, in our common sinfulness, take for granted. Holy Father, our beloved Church is losing its credibility, becoming irrelevant, precisely because we do nothing to
lift such burdens from the shoulders of so many faithful Catholics.
During those 40 years, in spite of good intentions and notwithstanding the fact that, when I embraced priestly ordination my commitment was as sincere as yours, I
have often failed, and failed grievously, in the matter of priestly celibacy. It has also been my privilege (perhaps struggling priests are drawn to fallen priests)
to minister to many dedicated priests whose ministries have been greatly impaired because compulsory celibacy, far from setting them free, has diminished them, and in
some cases enslaved them.
You above all know how many fine men we have lost.
Here in England these same priests, striving and often failing to be faithful - not to Christ's calling as such, but to the non-essential, extra burden of celibacy -
have witnessed the phenomenon of great numbers of married, former Anglican priests, now firmly ensconced in parishes and enjoying not only the privileges of priestly
service but also the joys and consolations of married love and family life.
Holy Father, English Catholics urgently need the Vicar of Christ to show them clearly what Jesus would have done about such things.
For more information about the issues which concern MMaC please note that on Tuesday, September 14, two days before the pope arrives, there will be a public
debate on the motion "Celibacy should no longer be a compulsory requirement for the RC priesthood" at the Odeon, Leicester Square. The debate will be preceded by the
award-winning Irish film, 'Conspiracy of Silence'.
For more information about MMaC please visit the website: www.marriedclergy.co.uk or
after September 14, e-mail the secretary at email@example.com
(This e-mail is sent by MMaC Committee member Brendan Farrow)