The Pope and the Papacy: Questions and Answers

In the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's death, Beliefnet responds to readers' questions about the leader of the Catholic Church.

Continued from page 2

Given the enormous problems within the Roman Catholic Church, wouldn't the church do well to move into the 21st century by eliminating celibacy requirements?

Your question assumes, of course, that it was easier to remain celibate during, say, the twelfth century than it is now. Be that as it may, the Catholic Church's requirement of a celibate priesthood is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. Our sister churches among the Eastern Orthodox (and indeed the Eastern-rite branches of Catholicism) allow a married priesthood, although the priest must marry before he is ordained, and no married man may become a bishop. Married Anglican priests who enter the Church of Rome may keep their wives on re-ordination as Catholic priests. Yet even in the Eastern churches, celibacy for clerics is held in high esteem--because Christ himself never married and praised virginity.

The Western Church has a strong and ancient tradition, dating back to the Council of Elvira in the early fourth century, of celibacy as the norm for its priesthood. Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085) made celibacy mandatory as part of his effort to wrest the church from lay control, and the Second Lateran Council of 1139 confirmed this rule of mandatory celibacy. The church remains free to change this mandate should circumstances warrant, although it is highly unlikely to do so in the near future. The practical problem of supporting not only priests but their families is a serious one. Furthermore, in a culture that embraces easy divorce, even for members of the clergy, not to mention other forms of nonmarital sex, easing the requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests at this time would probably create as many problems as it would solve.

Is it true that Pope John Paul had a son? If so, who is he? Who was his mother?

Although I've heard that young Karol Wojtyla, who was handsome and athletic, had a girlfriend, the Polish actress Halina Krolikiewicz, with whom he, a fellow actor, was very close friends before he entered the priesthood, I've never heard anything about a son. So I just can't verify this rumor.

What is the ranking order of the church hierarchy below the pope?

Below the pope come bishops, then priests. Bishops of large, major cities are known as archbishops, but they have no authority over other bishops or priests, except for the assistant bishops and priests in their own dioceses. Cardinals are usually bishops, but, like archbishops, they have no power over other bishops. They do have certain powers not available to ordinary bishops, such as electing the next pope.

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