A major debate about the Catholic Church and enforced priestly celibacy will take place in Central London tonight (14 September), ahead of the Pope's visit to the UK.
Clerics, academics, a stand-up comedian and well-known public figures are among those taking part.
Film-writer and director John Deery is staging a discussion on the contentious and topical issue, following a screening of his feature film, Conspiracy of Silence, inspired by true stories from Catholic priests in the UK, Ireland and Italy.
The motion for the debate is that “Celibacy should no longer be a compulsory requirement for the Roman Catholic priesthood.”
Deery has strong views of his own on the issue: “In the past, if a priest broke his vow of celibacy by abusing a child all attempts were made to cover it up and he was allowed to stay. However, if he marries – even now – he has to leave the priesthood. The twisted logic of such decisions leaves many Catholics thinking what sort of church do we belong to?”
Another speaker for the motion, Professor Tina Beattie, a leading Catholic theologian, writer and broadcaster from Roehampton University. comments: “When celibacy is imposed rather than freely chosen, the struggle to conform to what may seem like an almost impossible demand creates a clerical culture which is obsessed with sex.”
“The Catholic Church is dysfunctional in terms of its understanding of human sexuality. It speaks out far too often on questions of sexuality and not nearly often enough on other questions of social justice,” says Professor Beattie.
Fr John McGowan, a Carmelite priest, and human rights lawyer and Helena Kennedy QC are also backing change.
Opposing reform are Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, stand-up comedian and broadcaster Frank Skinner, Jack Valero, Communications Director of Opus Dei UK and Coordinator of Catholic Voices, and Fr Stephen Wang, Dean of Studies at Allen Hall Seminary.
Chaired by Ernie Rea, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief programme, the debate will take place at the Odeon West End Cinema, 40 Leicester Square, London WC2H 7LP.
More information about the film Conspiracy of Silence can be found at: www.conspiracyofsilence.co.uk