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Pontifications

America magazine, the Jesuit weekly that has taken serious heat from Rome (and in particular Joseph Ratzinger) in recent years, this weeks shows again that in the year of its centennial, it remains a rare venue for serious discussion of sensitive topics.

This week’s editorial, “A Modest Proposal,” uses the impending opening of the Year of the Priest (June 19) as an occasion to call for an “open discussion” on addressing the vocations crisis, including the possibility of ordaining married men:

Married priests already minister in the Catholic Church, both East and West. Addressing the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Second Vatican Council exhorted “all those who have received the priesthood in the married state to persevere in their holy vocation and continue to devote their lives fully and generously to the flock entrusted to their care” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” No. 16). That exhortation now applies to the more than 100 former Anglican priests and Lutheran ministers who have entered the Catholic Church, been ordained and now serve in the Latin rite. As we face the challenges of the priest shortage, some of the more than 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, many of them married, who experience a call to priestly ministry might be called to ordination with a similarly adapted discipline. In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard.

Our plea is modest. The bishops of the United States should take greater leadership in openly discussing the priest shortage and its possible remedies. These should not be conversations in which we face a problem only to find every new avenue of solution closed. Rather, they should be exchanges fully open to the possibilities offered by the Spirit.

The editorial notes that Cardinal Edward Egan, in a farewell interview, was the latest ranking prelate to say the possibility was a “pefectly legitimate” point of discussion, and that is the consensus everywhere–laity to hierarchy–expect in the one place that matters, the papal apartments.

The problem is not one of “liberalizing” the church–it’s not about sex or doctrine. It is, as the America editorial notes, about the Eucharist:

“Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests” the editors write. “All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?”

Good question. Will this editorial help spur some real discussion? The entire editorial is as good and succinct an argument as you’ll find. Read it all here…

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