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. yes to married priests

    It should just happen and ASAP. St. Peter was married and the rule was not even made til centuries later. The bible directly refers to married heads of congregations. This not only will reduce priest shortages but now they won't have to be so desperate to take and keep people who shouldn't have been priests. And yes finally there are married catholic priests already.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Frankly Speaking..

      The dilemma of christianity is nothing new..What do you think is the reason for so many denominations ?

      September 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  2. EnergyBeing3

    L M A O .... wow, total confession of pedophilia running rampant in the Catholic churches. But he has it wrong if he thinks the low numbers of new members is just from the outing of pedophiles within the church. The real reason the numbers are down for new priests is because THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS ALL MADE UP AND A TOTAL SCAM AND LIE and people aren't falling for the outlandish and totally preposterous stories that our new modern age of SCIENCE, PSYCHOLOGY AND BASIC REASON has spread the light of TRUTH about the total ridiculous rules of the Bible. Which NO CHRISTIAN, not even the Pope can live by all the Bible rules. It's just a grossly outdated religion and it's deteriorating from within. People aren't falling for the parental 'Reward or Punishment' system brainwashing that the priests use to control people. The Christian faith will one day become a dead religion just like Latin is a dead language. Read through a few Atheist web sites to understand why this change is happening so dramatically. One of my favorite sites is TheThinkingAtheist .

    September 13, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. Jessica, NJ

    While allowing priests to marry will increase the number of them, until they weed out the child molesters they will still have that problem. Actually they need to stop going after the gay priests and go after the molesters.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  4. Patti

    Hundreds of years ago priest could marry. The issue was priests were leaving all their worldly goods to their families. Hmmmm... how could the Catholic Church nip that in the bud...

    September 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  5. joe

    jusus was jewish and based allot of his religion on judiasm so i dodnt think he would discourage priests from getting married

    September 13, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  6. Bobby Chacko


    1 Timothy 4:2-3
    King James Version (KJV)

    2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
    3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Cat

      Yeah...let's take a look at it in whole: 1 Timothy 1-5 (ESV)

      1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later time some will dpart from the faith by devothing themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons
      2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared
      3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
      4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving
      5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer

      September 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  7. joe


    September 13, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  8. hello

    About time an establishment figure from the church called for allowing priests to marry. Fact is: married priests already exist in the Catholic church, "Pope allows married Anglicans to become Catholic priests in bid to tempt them to defect" (Daily mail). So what is the issue then? If it is ok to accept converts to Catholicism, why not the rest? Stupid stand by the See.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • ABC

      The Eastern Catholic Rite also allows for married priests.

      September 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • hello

      that is true, Eastern Catholic church has had priests who have a family for centuries.
      The Western Catholic church's stand is well known to be based not su much on the teachings of Christ as the teachings of the real estate magnates in the church. It was all about money and wealth of the power brokers, the popes and archbishops.
      Have you seen the Archbishop Sully's castle in Paris? Fit for a king, not a pauper or servant of God. Bloody royalty.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Commenter

    Keep them celibate. Who wants them out there breeding?

    September 13, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • rick perrytwit... slack jawed bible thumper

      *** LIKE ***

      September 13, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Commenter

      Yep, 400,000 priests worldwide X 6 kids each = 2,400,000 new Catholics!

      We could use some celibacy in other denominations and in Islam too, by the way...

      September 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  10. firebrand

    1nd3p3nd3nt – you are funny. It's like you think in black and white. Not being able to cast out the demons, if you recall, stemmed from the apostles lack of faith (as clarified further in the passage you cite). The point was not their lack of authority. Furthermore, their authority comes from God, so to be able to use it well and properly they have to be united to God, hence Christ's suggestion that this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.

    As to the quotes not having any context with each other, you again seem to make the presumption that spatial context in the text is the only context. If God says listen to Jesus, then we should listen to what he says, period. And Jesus said that Peter is the rock of His Church. How would the context of these verses possibly contradict the logical conclusion?

    September 13, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  11. Carlton

    What the Bible say that you Catholics claim to believe in? Oh I forgot, like all other religions, the spirit of that religion which is not from God is in charge, and not the Holy Spirit, which is God!!!

    September 13, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  12. Barry G.

    Dear Bishop Daly:

    I commend you for the courage and wisdom you have shown, in taking this position to allow clergy to marry.

    Did not Jesus himself say that not everyone could accept celibacy?

    Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this (teaching about celibacy), but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (The Gospel of Matthew 19:11-13)

    Well done.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Barry Gaynor, M.Div., M.S.W.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • owen

      Except, brother, that He was not referring to being a celibate servant in this scripture, He was referring to those who are in a marriage and how ones hardened heart or infidelity are either woes of the relationship or ground for divorce, not to discard the gift of binding with a spouse to serve the church. Read the chapters and verses that lead up to this to better understand the full meaning. One might be led to say that Jesus was a crybaby because John 11:35 says "Jesus wept" But, WHY did He weep? Ask this of ALL biblical quotes and the eyes of the reader will be opened

      September 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  13. johnny popper

    talk about your no brainers! The same for nuns. Talk about a cruel rule and one that is preventing people of the people from being in positions of influence. I would not mind breaking from Italy too if we are putting together a wish list. will we still have celibant leaders, all reporting to Italy 200 years from now because "that's just the way things were last year"?

    September 13, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  14. Ken

    I don't understand why Catholic Priests can't marry. Has it always been about greed on the part of the Church? It has never made sense to me. Why is the Vatican's position on celibacy so clear?

    September 13, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • QueenSupreme

      Because if priests were allowed to marry, their wives and family get to keep all their wealth.
      If they aren't allowed to marry, the church keeps their wealth.
      it's all about the money.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  15. Code

    What a great idea! Then you can abuse your own children, and not just those of your "flock."

    September 13, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  16. rick perrytwit... slack jawed bible thumper

    Here in Texas we believe that Christine O'Donnell was really on to something when she proposed outlawing masturbation in Delaware. So what if she's a witch.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  17. TODAY

    you want open minded religion...become Orthodox (not Jewish!!!)...priestes are getting married, have kids, everybody happy

    September 13, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Symera

      I second that – we smartened up back in the 1500's and never looked back!!

      September 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • TODAY

      you never did

      September 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  18. TODAY

    God Bless him!

    September 13, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Gameplayer

      God doesn't bless the devil.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  19. Will Duffield

    I agree with Smuz and I'll take it to the next level, they should be taxed.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Dennis

      Why does taxing matter? They hardly even make enough money to live.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  20. jennyy

    Great idea! maybe this will keep the "on the fence" priest from molesting young boys,but you will have to let the ho mo priest marry as well.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:34 am |
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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.