Standing before more than 10,000 Roman Catholic priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday strongly reaffirmed the Vatican’s commitment to priestly vows of celibacy, cutting off speculation that he might reconsider the issue in light of the church’s sexual abuse scandal.
At an outdoor vigil in St. Peter’s Square that veered between moments of deep reverence and outbursts of enthusiasm more characteristic of a soccer game, the pope told the gathering of priests, believed to be the largest in history, that celibacy “is made possible by the grace of God … who asks us to transcend ourselves.” Celibacy would be a “scandal,” he said, only in “a world in which God is not there.”
Some critics have suggested that the vow of celibacy may at least be partly responsible for the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, either because it is so difficult to uphold, or because it may discourage men with normal sex drives from becoming priests. In recent months, as the abuse scandal has widened in Europe, an Austrian bishop urged the Vatican to drop celibacy, which he said should be voluntary.
Benedict’s remarks came in response to a question posed by a Slovakian priest, and he made it clear that he supported continuing the practice of celibacy under his pontificate. He compared it to heterosexual marriage, which he called “the foundation of the Christian culture.”
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