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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. Colin

    What sort of male, in his early 20s, when his $ex drive is at its strongest, agrees never to touch a women and to live the rest of his life secluded away with other men who made a similar promise at the same age?

    September 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • ANN

      Gay men, It's a gay paradise .

      September 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nojabo

      "What sort of male, in his early 20s, when his $ex drive is at its strongest, agrees never to touch a women and to live the rest of his life secluded away with other men who made a similar promise at the same age?"-One who was never interested in women in the first place. That's part of the problem. When you make celibacy part of the price of admission to the priesthood you have limited your choices to a pool of applicants who are decidedly out of the mainstream. Why would a normal healthy man in his 20's agree to a life of celibacy? Very few well-adjusted males would make that commitment.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Dolores

      Those with deep religious convictions who feel called into Catholic ministry. It isn't a decision that they take lightly and many who initially feel called into the ministry end up backing out because of the celibacy issue. Keep in mind that the perverts are in the minority, most priests are decent upstanding ministers. They certainly don't do it for the money, because priests make very litte. I do think that requiring celibacy is wrong and is the very thing that is undoing the Catholic system.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  2. ANN

    Please allow them to marry so they can stop raping our children. weirdos.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  3. Soloman

    Who are they going to marry, 12 year old boys?

    September 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • ANN

      yes, the pack of perverts

      September 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  4. Pizzle

    Somehow "Catholic" and "Belfast" just don't seem to go together now do they? This man is sad.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Su

    At last. A priest who actually gets it. I know Dr. Daly is going to get shellacked by everyone, but at least he has the courage to say what needs to be said. Priests SHOULD have the option of either marrying or staying celibate. And while we're on this subject, I think that WOMEN should be able to become priests if they want to. I am so sick of the narrow-mindedness of the Catholoc church. Religion, as a whole, can be horribly narrow-minded.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Dolores

      Amen!

      September 13, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Prove ItFirst

    Priests should marry until such a time as their Vatican leader can *prove* beyond a reasonable doubt that priests do not have se-x-ual feelings, needs, and desires like any other normal human being.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • ajk68

      Pedophilia has little to do with normal human se-x-uality. So your argument is off-base.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  7. JamesGA

    Allow them to marry the altar boys?

    September 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • JonathanL

      No this would keep them from the alter boys.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  8. Richard

    Once again, EVERY denomination has these problems, unfortunately. The press and the non-Catholic members have continued to claim that this is somehow, only a Catholic problem. Here are some websites for everyone to educate themselves.

    http://www.reformation.com
    http://www.stopbaptistpredators.org

    September 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  9. Duce

    It's time to get rid of many of the archaic philosophies of religion and just stick to the good morales...

    September 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Henry

      Is Morales a good guy with good MORALS?

      September 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • JamesGA

      Agreed, duce.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  10. Mary Ann Williams

    Eastern Orthodox priest can marry as long as they do so before they are ordained. If a priest is a widower or is divorced, he can not remarry. Bishops are not allowed to marry. Does not mean that there is no abuse in the Orthodox Church by both married and unmarried priests. If a priest is going to lecture me on communications with my husband or how to raise my children, then he should have some experience if he expects me to take his advice.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Rick

      Of course, you would apply that to any judge who presides over a divorce. That judge should be married, and actually probably divorced, too, right? You would apply that same logic to a marriage counselor. He/she must be married, right? There's no way a single person could EVER counsel a married couple, right? Your logic is a bit flawed.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Balls McGee

      My priest was married before he became a priest. He had experience with marriage. Would you take advise from a therapist that focuses on married couples and they were not married?

      September 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  11. erich2112x

    The introduction of young alter boys came shortly after celibacy was enacted for only one reason, to service priests who could not remain celibate without the risk of pregnancy should they fall from grace with a woman. Disturbing but true.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  12. Margaret

    I think Martin Luther suggested that some time ago.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Go Steelers

      If you only really knew what Martin Luther and John Calvin really wrote and not the revisionism that has taken place since then.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  13. GoBucs

    I agree and disagree with the comments I have read. This has been an ongoing problem for many years now. But I look at it like this: A priest becomes a priest because he has a calling, chosen by the Lord himself. The man has to make a decision. If it is a true calling, do you choose to follow the Lord or do you choose to have a family? I feel like it's a tough decision for a human being to make.... but he must make that choice. Ultimately it comes down to the "future priest' to choose between the Lords will or his own.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Druthousand

      I feel a man of God can follow the word and the calling as well have a family. He can have a family that will help spread the word of God and raise kids with a strong christan backing. I don't see a negative or distraction if it was allowed for them to get married

      September 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Steven Bruening

      There is not biblical imperative or passage in the scripture that mandates celibacy for the Order of Priest. It has been argued that, most likely, even St. Paul and the other apostles were married and had family. It would have been highyl unusual for a Jewish male of Paul's age and standing as a Pharisee not to have taken a wife – that was nearly a social imperative at the time. I, for one, find it odd that many people confide in the parish priest and seek advise on familial and spousal matters when they have no real life experience, for the most part (some priest have been married, having enteref the calling after the loss of a spousal). To ignore family in a calling to serve God is completely contradictory. To me, the two go hand in hand. Blessings.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Pizzle

      Well said – and the Lord's will should always be their top priority.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • JenLaw

      Steven is right – there is nothing, I repeat, nothing in the word (Bible) about priests NOT getting married, or nuns or anyone else in authority in the Church.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Nojabo

      By the way, through history MANY Popes were married. The celibacy requirement is man-made requirement

      September 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Dolores

      Although the church will deny this, I think most of it comes down to finances. The Catholic Church doesn't pay priests enought money to support a family. My mother's priest is very well educated and has served the church faithfully for over 20 years and he only get $500 per month. He is furnished with a house and a car allowance, but even at that, $500/month won't begin to pay for a family.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  14. eatpraylove

    Why are good or at the very least valid suggestions turned into such ridiculousness in these internet type forums? This priest raises a relevant issue which should provoke thoughtful conversation. If the church is to sustain it is going to have to recognize the need for some change, some flexibility. I don't expect them to dismantle the religion or disavow the ten commandments but I would like to see the process to priesthood reviewed. If they can do it, sensibly, just perhaps it make younger folks take a second look. It's hard for young folks to accept the church when it seems so out of whack with current society. The church can keep the fundamentals but ease the rules on what they can. Compromise seems like something Jesus would root for...no?

    September 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  15. No longer Catholic

    True it will not elimate pedopilla but it may stop being a hiding place for them!! Plus more men & women would be more involved with the church! The church is a joke now and no one takes them seriously anyways. I Know I don't!!

    September 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  16. pinku

    No where in the bible does it say that a priest cannot get married – this is a man made law of the Catholic Church. The tradition of single priests is Canon law, not a dogma, which means it is not set in stone, and could change. The married priesthood is not unbiblical per se (i.e., Peter was married).

    September 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • DrGMG

      Actually it was started by a Pope (forget his name) who came from a sect of the Catholic Church that practiced celibacy, he then wanted all priests to go through the bliss of not being married...

      September 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Tom

      who do you think wrote the bible?

      September 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  17. rick perrytwit... slack jawed bible thumper

    These priests need to watch more nascar.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Walker

      You should have a brain installed at your earliest possible convenience.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • trigtwit palin... America's favorite tard baby

      *** poot ***

      September 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  18. JIM

    The Catholic Church does allow for married priests. It is only the Latin Rite which is about 95% of the church forbids it. Rome allows for married priests in the Eastern Rites such as the Byzintine, Marrionite, Sryan , Melkite ,Armeninain ann the rest of the Eastern Catholic Churches that are in union with the Pope of Rome.. The must be married prior to being ordaned to the pristhood and can not me made bishops. This follows the same rule as the Eastern & Oriental Orthodox churches not in communion with Rome

    September 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • neoritter

      That would make a lot of sense for that one.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  19. Ben

    As a young man who wants to enter seminary, I can tell you that I am glad for the Churches teaching on celibacy. Not only is it a good practice to keep priest strong in their faith and fully committed to the Church and their parish, but it is completely biblical. Look at Matthew 19:12,

    “"For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He, who is able to accept this, let him accept it."

    Celibacy is a gift from God, and not all are meant to have this as their vocation, which is why marriage exists. However those that do have this gift are told to accept it.

    We also see St. Paul describing what is good for complete devotion to the Lord. Look at 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

    32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but [a]to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

    Here St. Paul does not say that marriage is evil, or that all must be unmarried. He does state though, that it is better for a man, or a woman, to be unmarried so that they may devote themselves entirely to God, rather then to separate their attention and interest between a husband or a wife and God.

    As for myself, I look forward to giving my full attention to God and to his Church.
    God bless you all

    September 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Marco Budgyk

      O please. Get half a clue.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Thomas

      So you intend on turning yourself into a eunuch if you are accepted in the seminary?

      September 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Bill C

      Ben: While I admire and respect your belief, I disagree with your translation. Using the mandate to interpet scripture in light of all scripture, I think Paul is saying that if you are single, don't rush to get married just for the sake of being married. If God has you in that position, be satisfied in it so that you will not stray. But if you are married, God gives us a whole list of requirements in other books of the Bible. While I think it is perfectly permissible for a pastor or priest to be unmarried, I see nothing in scripture that requires it. But that is only one person's view. Best of luck in seminar.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • GeorgeBos95

      Another good example of how religion is used to control the minds of the mindless.

      A human made the claims you quote from the Bible. Prove it was from "God".

      Oh, but you can't prove that, can you.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Tom

      Having trouble viewing the whole "denying yourself of certain things" as a gift from God. Can't ever have children? Gift from God! Can't be in a committed relationship? Gift from God!

      Pulllleeeaaase.....

      September 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Pizzle

      Very well said. Amen!

      September 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Nicolas Beaubien

      ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 11:11.)

      September 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      Just to clarify, you do realise that eunuchs have had their testicles removed? Self mutilation in the name of god? I think that's just stupid.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • geobrandi

      I agree with Ben on this one. How can you give yourself to completely to god if you have a wife/husband and kids? That alone is hard work and a full time job at times! You wouldnt want you child to get married before they go to college because of the distractions....so why would you want preist to marry? Also,I don't feel that it would stop the pedofiles anyway...look at how many married men and women violate children every day! It just goes to show that there are sick individuals in every walk of life.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Jen

      There is nothing wrong with being a priest. But I think that the love between a husband and wife is just as sacred. A marriage is not a distraction. I think it is a union between 2 people who love each other and also are presenting their love towards God.

      September 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  20. CeeVee

    The worst part about this vow of celibacy is that it all comes down to the greedy Vatican that doesn't want to deal with the financial responsibilities that would come about if a priest had a family to support. Priests USED to be able to marry and men who are ordained through other denominations, who want to become Catholic priests, can become an ordained Catholic priest and remain married. Somehow Lutheran ministers can be married, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc. There is no reason that Catholic priests shouldn't be allowed to marry, if they want to.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:12 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.