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September 13th, 2011
09:44 AM ET

Top Irish Catholic cleric calls for church to end celibacy for priests

By Peter Taggart, CNN

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) - A respected former Catholic bishop in Ireland is calling for an end to clerical celibacy in the wake of the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church worldwide, and says he finds it "heartbreaking" that some prospective priests turn away from the calling because of the celibacy rule.

In his recently published book, "A Troubled See, Memoirs of a Derry Bishop," Dr. Edward Daly said that allowing clergymen to marry would ease many of the church's problems.

There needs to be a place in the modern Catholic church for a married priesthood, said Daly, a prominent figure in the Catholic church in Ireland and the most senior Irish cleric to question the Vatican's celibacy rule.

Daly, 77, reiterated his views in local radio interviews in Northern Ireland Tuesday.

"There will always be a place in the church for a celibate priesthood, but there should also be a place for a married priesthood in the church. I think priests should have the freedom to marry if they wish," the former bishop said.

"It may create a whole new set of problems but I think it's something that should be considered.

The retired bishop said he was worried about the decreasing number of priests and the number of older priests. The issue "needs to be addressed and addressed urgently," Daly said, adding that he finds it "heartbreaking" that priests were forced to resign or prospective priests were unable to join the priesthood because of the celibacy rule.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNN Tuesday: "The position on celibacy is clear."

Daly said he accepted he might be out of step with current Vatican thinking, but he was "not engaged in a popularity contest."

His comments are expected to ignite fresh debate within the church as the number of priests continues to fall amid the international controversy over child sex abuse and a number of damning reports on pedophile priests in Ireland.

The retired bishop also addresses the issue of abuse in his book, saying he is "heartbroken and appalled that fellow clergy could engage in such horrible criminal acts against the most vulnerable." He said he was deeply ashamed and profoundly shocked there were so many instances of child sex abuse by clergy in Ireland and throughout the world.

Daly was Bishop of Derry from 1974 until 1993, during the height of the Northern Ireland conflict. As a priest, he was photographed waving a white handkerchief as he led a group carrying a dying victim of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972.

The picture became an iconic image of "the Troubles" - a term used to describe the 30 years of violence between pro-British and pro-Irish forces in Northern Ireland. Much of his memoir is devoted to that violence, but he called the issue of celibacy "the other conflict."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Ireland • Sex

soundoff (784 Responses)
  1. Paula

    When a priest makes the decision to become a priest they do it knowing marriage is not in the picture. While I'm not against priest marrying, it will not solve the problem with pedophile. People don't molest because they're priest or gay or whatever, they molest because they are sick. Get a clue!!!!

    September 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • BDM

      This isn't being proposed and an excuse for past occurances as much as an effort to engage would- be priests that ultimately walk away because of the celibacy rule.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  2. CeeVee

    Two relatives from my family served as Catholic priests in Ireland for their entire adult lives. Both of them were very upstanding priests, and respected in their communities. Both of these men followed their vow of celibacy and would have died before molesting a child. Sadly, they were both very lonely men. Yes, they had their churches to think about, but they never had a spouse or family of their own. Personally, I think that requiring priests and sisters to remain celibate is criminal and inhumane. Yes, these people have choices in the matter but people should not have to make that kind of choice. I know of two men and one woman who have left their careers as priests and sisters because they fell in love with someone and couldn't imagine a life without that person. The Catholic church lost three very quality people, in this case...very sad.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  3. adriana

    It's important for a man to be a man. There's nothing wrong with them marrying. There are a lot of men out there, whom want to be priests, but can't. There are a great deal of people out there, ready to devote their lives to the church. If GOD has acknowledge those few, why can't the Church? There needs to be a say, for those who are more than willing, mind you, WANT to take the oath of loyalty to GOD.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  4. tor

    I think my church should do EVERYTHING it possibly can to prevent further abuse. We can have these philosophical debates about the celibacy rule, but I can’t believe the rule as is is helping the situation. Is the Episcopal church having this crisis? We need to get serious and make some bold changes.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  5. The Bible is a Fairy Tale

    Let all religious affiliates marry. There is no divine need to deny companionship of an intimate nature to someone who chooses a calling and devotion. To do so is criminal. And the bible is a made up fairy tale by a 2000+ year old people – men – NOT some invisible bearded guy in the sky.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Phillip

      That is a very ignorant statement that you made. You might as well say that Jesus never existed! (which is definitely not true) Get some real facts instead of this pseudo-factual nonsense.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  6. GERALD

    Married men molest children more than priests.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Dave

      However, the point is that priests are not supposed to do it at all...and they are.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jew-C

      Because there are more of them. Simple math, my friend.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Bernard

      There are more married men than priests.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  7. dave meccariello

    i agree. let priests marry (let them lead by example in terms of church family values)... they can always leave higher teirs such as bishops or higher to be celibate and take that vow. plus, in a practical sense, the catholic chuch would get much more high quality priests .

    September 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • demetri

      Much more high quality priest? What are you talking about? To get high quality individuals the church needs to evaluate and screen candidates more rigorously and not just let anyone in. Right now they are playing a numbers gain, by allowing more and more men from impoverished third world countries into the priesthood. They need to get their heads out of the sand and start living in the present. Derry is right there is room for both married and un-married clergy. The same should be for the "Orders" and the Nuns.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  8. justin

    not gay marriage, though, right?!?!? that would be sooooo grossss!! ewwww!!!! peen on peen is icky

    September 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  9. Dave

    Give it up. The Catholic Church is doomed. It's over. It just does not yet realize it is dead. After slapping the chicken, they cut it's head off, and it (the church) is even now, running around with blood spurting out the top. Finally, the downfall of major religion is begun!

    September 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Dave, you have no idea whats coming...in fact, the RCC is and will continue to strengthen...enormously.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  10. h57heiny

    Marriage is ordained by God. It's a good thing. 🙂

    September 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Joanne

      Amen to that h57heiny. How can my Priest give me sound advice on marriage problems; when he does not have a clue about being married? Priest should be married for many reasons; one of which you said, “Sanctified by God.”

      September 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • MD

      True, marriage is a good thing. Which means giving it up is giving up something very good, not something bad.

      Priests can and do give excellent advice about marriage. Mine certainly has. John Paul II understood marriage very well, and wrote about it.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  11. huxley

    Allowing priests to marry would undermine the Church's basic teaching of a male dominated theocracy. Can't have that.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  12. Tea Party Express

    As long as none of this raises my taxes, I don't care who they violate.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • rick perrytwit... slack jawed bible thumper

      YEEEEEEHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWW !!!

      September 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  13. hongrn

    If you watch "To Catch a Predator" on NBC, most pedophiles caught in the sting are married with children. Marriage does not cure pedophelia.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • airforce1990

      hongrn: Marriage may not cure pedophelia, but the electric chair does.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Anon

      Actually, the argument has nothing to do with pedophilia. If non-celibates were allowed to lead congregations, the church could fill open positions from a much bigger pool of applicants. The number of celibate Catholics willing to remain so is dwindling.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • .

      maybe if they let married people in it will dilute the number of weirdos in the clergy, assuming there's a higher percentage of pedophilia there than in the general married population. do other churches which allow marriage have this problem...

      September 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  14. Chris

    As a practicing Catholic, I'd just like to suggest to Bishop Daly that, in places around the world where priests are standing behind the teachings of the Church and are acting like the holy men they're called to be, then there are plenty of young men in the seminary studying to be priests. Opening the vocation up to those who are married will lead to having priests who are half-ass committed to it and who end up needing to split their time between their home and parish lives. Both vocations are exhausting enough as it is and a married man who is a priest would end up inadequately serving in both realms.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      So you'd rather have, in many places, a shortage of priests and have one priest try to serve multiple parishes? I know many priests who have to do this – they're stretched far too thin.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • BecauseWhyNot

      So, the other sects who allow their leadership to marry also can't do their jobs?

      September 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • huxley

      If that were true, married employees would be less productive than single employees, so employers should hold out and only hire single employees. I don't believe theres any evidence of that over the long term. Marriage may even make some people happier.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Dan

      chris, why are you SO sure? Have you looked into the Orthodox priests daily life? Have you been with a Protestant pastor? Have you been with a Rabbi or an Imam? ALL of them (including the Oriental Rites priests in the catholic church) marry and form their families. Why not the romans? Your sight is indeed VERY short. And for the record, I am not christian.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Chris

      That is such BS. Being a priest is no more demanding than any other specialized job. Are you saying any man with a demanding job can't be a successful husband as well?

      September 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • MD

      Chris is right on.

      The bishops can change this policy, but there hasn't been a groundswell of interest in doing so. It's not as if B16 and the Curia is resisting this. It's a non-issue among the vast majority of priests and bishops. Next subject, please.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • .

      MD, maybe it's a non-issue with current priests is because anyone who has an issue with the marriage policy probably won't become a Catholic priest...

      September 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Joanne

      My Priest runs 4 Churches by himself in the San Joaquin Valley in Colorado. He is burned out, and always sick. Yeah, that’s how a Holy intuition should be run; just kill them right; over work them; because they cannot marry? Priest should be married, and more men will become Priest; seminaries would be full again. Moses was married right?

      September 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Canadian Friend

      100% correct...well said.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • maine liberal

      The Church did not always have celibate orders.
      Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men

      September 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • demetri

      As a Catholic and ex-semanarian Chris, your argument is not logical nor sound. It is also a slap in the face to other christian churches whose clergy are allowed to marry.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • maine liberal

      @Chris "Both vocations are exhausting enough as it is and a married man who is a priest would end up inadequately serving in both realms."
      Only Roman Catholic priests cant marry. other catholic priests ( anglican, episcopal and orthodox ) can marry. are you saying that these denominations are inadequate to their congregations and also all protestant ministers.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Anon

      Sure, because all of the married protestant and nondenominational pastors are clearly doing a sub-par job...

      September 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  15. hippypoet

    allowing them to marry doesn't stop anything... pedophilia is not a choice, its the person's brain and the chemicals in the brain...how do you think we invented a pill that stops the production of this chemical... and therefore no amount of wifey tang is going to cease the child – touchin pervs.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  16. bear1hug

    To all "May the first person that has never sinned pick up a stone and throw it".

    September 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Chris

      Can't sin because sin doesn't exist, soooo..... *hefts stone, aims*

      September 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  17. Ida

    Maybe then the priests will be able to understand marriage and be of more help to couples whose marriages are in trouble.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  18. OhYeah

    c'mon you know you can't marry the alter boys.

    September 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Learnfromlife

      Grow up.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  19. mangus

    The Church originally made priests celibate so they had no one to give their money to, all went back to the church, just a power grab by a corrupt, controlling false religion. Guess they didn't see the whole pedophilia thing coming as a result

    September 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  20. OhYeahBrother

    marriage is the number one cause that leads to divorce, and how will you be blaming yourselves for that mate?

    September 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      LOL, thats funny.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.