Cardinal Egan on celibacy: “A perfectly legitimate discussion.”

New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan a closet liberal? Who knew?! Well, he’s out now. In a 30-minute interview with a NY radio show–part of Egan’s valedictory tour as he prepares to leave office–His Eminence did indeed say that celibacy is “a perfectly legitimate discussion.”

“I think it’s going to be looked at, and I am not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture not to make an across-the-board determination,” Egan said on the Fred Dicker Show.

As the Our Sunday Visitor blog recounts it, Egan seemed to chalk his openness to optional celibacy up to the vocations crisis and his disappointment in not being able to reverse that trend during his tenure. And he noted–as so many have over so many years (decades? centuries?) that Eastern Catholic churches have had no problems with optional celibacy.


“Is it a closed issue? No, that’s not a dogmatic stand,” he said, when Dicker asked if he had “any hesitancy about priestly celibacy.” 

Listen to the whole show here. The celibacy remarks are near the end–sort of like Egan’s tenure as NY archbishop, which of course leads to the question of why he has waited until now to speak up on an issue that is anathema to the Vatican.

One reason may be that, as Rocco notes, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clery, Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes “was forced to retract similar comments made in the Brazilian press following his 2006 appointment.” Hummes stated that such a discussion on celibacy was “not on the table.”


Except that it is on the table. It’s just that no one wants to see the table. Except that we keep bumping into it.

Egan’s comments are surprising (and perhaps disappointing to those who would have liked to hear them years ago) but not altogether surprising. Egan did not possess the pastor’s touch as a bishop, to be sure. But I was struck by his pastoral sensitivity a few years ago during one of the (interminable) debates at bishops meetings over the coming liturgical changes to a more literal Latin-sounding English. Egan took the mike and forcefully, with exasperation even, denounced the proposed changes and said, almost verbatim, “For Heaven’s sake, we have to think of the people, and the pastoral priority here, of all these changes coming down all the time.” If only he’d translated that into action a bit more as archbishop. But there will be a new fellow soon, though I don’t expect Timothy Dolan will rock the celibacy boat.

PS: Egan’s idea of starting optional celibacy on a “local option” basis seems eminently sane and practical.


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Gerard Nadal

posted March 12, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Many Protestant Churches tithe to support the salary and benefits of their clergy. I doubt that Catholics will do so to support a married clergy. We can’t even support two celibates in a rectory with little salary and overhead.
A two-track Priesthood would make more sense, Celibacy for the full-time Priest, and the married Priests would have the same deal as the Permanent Deacon. They would need to work a 9-5 job, be financially self-sufficient and do their ministry part-time.

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Reaganite in NYC

posted March 12, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for the reportage. I disagree with you and Gerard Nadal on the celibacy issue … but thanks for bringing the Fred Dicker interview to our attention. Even as a NY-ker, I don’t hear about it.
What I also found interesting was your observation about the Cardinal’s remarks a couple of years ago at a bishop’s meeting regarding the re-translation of the Mass liturgy into something that represents a more literal translation from the Latin. I was not aware of that …and found your reporting and observation very interesting.

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posted March 13, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Why does this make the cardinal liberal? For centuries there existed married Catholic priests. Saint Peter himself was married. Eventually it was decided that a mandatory single and chaste lifestyle might be more beneficial, so that’s what we’ve had, but there is nothing unorthodox about a possible repeal of the rule.
Remember, an end to priestly celibacy would just mean marriage was again an option. It doesn’t mean fornication is suddenly acceptable. That would be the “liberal” option.

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posted March 14, 2009 at 12:36 am

Why does one assume that the church would necessarily have to support the married catholic priest’s family. Can’t anyone envision the priest’s wife as being a professional (ie. women lawyers, doctors, etc)who could actually support the family. In such cases, the priest’s meager salary could be donated back to the church.

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posted March 14, 2009 at 4:03 pm

It was very nice to finally hear at least one Catholic in the higher ranks of the RCC think that the end of celibacy wouldn’t be out of the question. There might even be more men (and someday women??) that would decide that they might want to be priests, AND be married also. Might help the decline in priests. Has anyone a return to married priests would be a bad thing? As Bob mentioned, they used to be married…then someone decided to change that.

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posted March 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm

While, I am posting relative to issues of New Orleans (url), this is an important issue that the cardinal has addressed. Many Permanent Deacons are married men and are considered members of the clergy. They are supported in their ministry by their wives. Why can we not begin the movement with the ordination of these men, who may wish, to to the priesthood. A beginning and perhaps a revitalization of the priesthood and the Catholic Faith. Men who have faced the problems of everyday life and the raising of a family may have a lot to offer to the Church in the priesthood.

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posted March 29, 2009 at 8:13 pm

First Pope’s were married. Priests are humans too with human needs and emotions. The Lord never asked them not to get married. The Bible says if you can choose that path is better if not better to be married than to commit sin.
We are all aware it is not a dogma and is only a discipline that was brought on by the Church for their own benefit. Doesn’t the Church realize they are paving a way to hell to this Priests with their rules. The hirachy is responsible and they will have to answer to God.
If marraige was allowed there wouldn’t be a shortage of Priests. They need someone to talk to at the end of the day rather than in an empty room. There will be less sickness, drinking, mental, emotional problems.
They do need a break to be human like the rest of us. It is the forbidden is like being on a diet and craving a delicious piece of chocolate cake., however, if you know it is not forbidden then the desire is not strong.
The Church would be doing this poor men a great favour by allowing them to get married. We all need love and tender loving care, a maternal touch,,and so do they

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posted April 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm

I think we’re forgetting something very important here, namely the countless holy priests throughout the centuries since the discipline of celibacy took hold. We’re fogetting the power of celibacy and it’s liberation of a man’s heart to be the spiritual father in imitation of Christ that he is called to be. Priestly celibacy is a gift and a blessing. Perhaps we should spend more of our energy thanking our priests and striving to be holier families ourselves, inspiring vocations in our sons as a response to the shortage.

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Mary El

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:16 am

People are just looking to the shortage of candidates or members of priesthood. But looking back to the true meaning of celibacy, it is not just for the priests or religious but this is for all humankind whatever state of life you are going to choose. Celibacy is a voluntary response to the call that you profess to be faithful to the vocation that you choose. Are we sure if there is optional celibacy there is an exact increase to the number of priests? are we not thinking that this might cause an increase to the issues of scandals? Priests cannot make their duty 100% that they don’t have their own family, how much if they have? Yes, there are deacons in the US that can serve better to the church with the help of their wives because they are also helped and facilitated by thier parish priest. But they are full time to work as priest, to be in the mission are we sure they can do it? I don’t think so. We need to preserve celibacy in the Catholic Church if will push optional celibacy are we sure that no more scandals anymore or it might be the cause of multiple scandals.

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