Following news that the Roman Catholic church may accept more married ex-Anglican priests into its ranks, the grassroots network FutureChurch has called for the option of a married priesthood in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church too.
Sister Christine Schenk, the director of FutureChurch, said: "Parishes in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom are closing, while thousands of Catholics in the developing world have virtually no access to Mass and the sacraments because of too few celibate priests."
Up to 80 per cent of all Sunday celebrations in Brazil are led by lay leaders because there are no priests, she added.
"I think this may be painful news for married Catholic priests who are not permitted to serve the Church", said FutureChurch board member Bill Wisniewski, himself a married Catholic priest.
He added: "It's past time for Rome to welcome back the nearly 110,000 priests around the world who left the active ministry to marry. We must also work to enfranchise the tens of thousands of women ministering in the Church."
"I'm just wondering how it's going to work to have Catholic seminarians who cannot marry, study next to Anglican seminarians who will presumably be able to marry," declared Mary Lou Hartman, another FutureChurch board member from Princeton, New Jersey, USA. "I'm guessing more than a few Catholic seminarians may just decide to join the Anglican branch."
Hartman was referring to a statement by Cardinal Levada issued on 20 October 2009 in which he said: 'The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony."
Four years ago, FutureChurch lobbied the Vatican's International Synod on The Eucharist, asking for open discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons. Four of the synod's twelve working groups wanted to study married priests.
"At the synod there was much talk of allowing 'viri probati' (tested men) to perform priestly functions," said Schenk. "So perhaps that conversation helped prepare the way for yesterday¹s announcement that Rome will make special adaptations for married Anglican priests and bishops to join the Church."
In June 2008, FutureChurch launched a new initiative in the USA called 'Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table.' The international electronic and paper postcard campaign asks Cardinal Hummes at the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome to begin "discussion at the highest levels of the Church about the need to return to our earliest tradition of permitting both a married and celibate clergy."
An international campaign will begin in November 2009 with electronic postcards in German, French and Spanish.
Because of the shortage of priests, US dioceses will be forced to reconfigure parishes for the foreseeable future. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate which is affiliated to Georgetown University in Washington DC, 75 per cent of the 18,000 active diocesan priests in the US are over 55 years old, but the US is only ordaining about 350 new diocesan priests each year.
The research suggests that in 20 years, assuming ordinations remain constant, the US could have as few as 11,500 active diocesan priests for its 19,000 parishes. At the same time, numbers of deacons and paid lay ministers have increased significantly to 14,000 and 30,000 respectively. Presently 'parish life coordinators' are pastoring an estimated 600 US parishes.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the world's Catholic population increased by 57 percent from 709.6 million to 1.115 billion between 1975 and 2005, but the number of priests increased by only four-tenths of one percent (0.4%).
In June 2009, the president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, who is a former bishop, said the church should rethink its stance on celibacy. Lugo created a sensation when he admitted to fathering a child after he resigned as a bishop but before being laicized.
His remarks prompted archbishop Eustaquio Cuquejo Verga of Asuncion to say the Catholic Church has no reason to reconsider celibacy for Latin-rite priests, despite a February 2008 petition from some 18,000 South American priests asking to change celibacy rules.