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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