Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the grass-roots Catholic group that sprang up after the sexual abuse scandal, has always focused its mission on “structural change” and largely avoided hot-button doctrinal disputes. But VOTF is now raising the issue of priestly celibacy. In a letter to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, VOTF calls for a “serious ecclesial review of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests.”
The letter cites the 60 percent drop in vocations to the priesthood during the past 40 years and notes that for many young men “the requirement of celibacy is a major obstacle preventing them from responding to a call to the priesthood.” It adds, “Recruiting non-native priests from poor countries, substituting communion services for Mass, lowering standards for admission to seminaries,” and an increase in parish closings and the use of one priest to serve as pastor for multiple parishes fail to address the root of the problem.
Is VOTF going outside its mandate? Not necessarily. Many bishops and church leaders have called for a similar review, and priestly celibacy is, as Pope Benedict XVI himself has noted, a church law that can be changed. Promoting optional celibacy–certainly retaining the beautiful and longstanding option of a celibate vocation–could be seen as a constructive structural change for the church.
The priest is central to the eucharist, and the eucharist is the “summit and source” of the church’s sacramental life. Cannot such policy change bolster a spiritual renewal?