October 3, 2005

Ordination of married men is raised at Vatican synod

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church may
someday have to consider ordaining married men in order to deal
with the desperate shortage of priests, according to some
participants at a Vatican synod that began its work on Monday.

While the possibility is still far off, the fact that it
even surfaced on the synod's first working day was significant
because the 1.1 billion member Church is grappling with ways of
stemming the shortage in many areas of the world.

In the past few decades, some theologians have proposed the
ordination of "viri probati," which is Latin for "tested men."

That term is Church shorthand for older, married men with
families who are known to lead exemplary personal lives in
their communities and have a solid background in Church

The topic of ordaining "viri probati" was raised with a
question mark over it in a speech by Cardinal Angelo Scola of
Venice, whose role at the synod is to coordinate and summarize
proposals for discussion by the more than 250 members.

"To confront the issue of the shortage of priests, some ...
have put forward the request to ordain married faithful of
proven faith and virtue, the so-called 'viri probati,"' he

Scola, who read his speech in Latin in the presence of Pope
Benedict, did not say which bishops from which countries had
suggested discussing the ordination of older married men.

He said the possibility of older married men becoming
priests in the future would not detract from the validity of
rule of celibacy for those entering the priesthood in the
traditional manner at a much younger age.

But Scola indicated to reporters at a news conference
afterwards that he was personally opposed to the idea.


Asked about his personal position, he felt the shortage of
priests might be confronted by seeking "ways to redistribute
the forces (of priests) among the different local churches."

The synod's official theme is the Eucharist, the sacrament
in which Catholics believe a priest turns bread and wine into
Christ's body and blood. Only priests can do this.

But their numbers are falling in western countries -- the
United States went from 58,909 in 1975 to 42,528 while the
total number of U.S. Catholics rose from 48.7 million to 64.8

In that same period, the number of permanent deacons --
laymen trained to help out in the liturgy but not allowed to
consecrate hosts or perform other duties reserved for priests
-- has risen from 898 to 14,574 as the Church sought to ease
the burden on its remaining priests.

"I think that anything that is connected to the mystery of
the Eucharist will be discussed," Scola told reporters.

The shortage of priests in many parts of the world means
some faithful cannot attend a Mass but often take part in a
"prayer service" led by a deacon or a senior member of the

At such prayer services, communion hosts that have been
consecrated by a priest are distributed to the faithful.

At a news conference, Bishop Luis Tagle of the Philippines
said the situation in some parts of his country was dire.

"We should face squarely the issue of the shortage of
priests," he said. "We rejoice in the gift of the priesthood
but we still cannot cope."

Tagle did not say what his position was on the eventual
ordination of married men to serve as priests.