Former priest: Cancel celibacy vows to solve church's culture of secrecy
- Created: 07 March 2019 07 March 2019
Not the most accurate of reporting, but then I only gave the interview as background information. There are statements here which are not true and which I never said. Alex
Removing the requirement for Catholic priests to remain celibate would help to erode a culture of secrecy around offspring and relationships, according to one former priest.
Alex Walker, founder of the Advent group which helps priests thinking of leaving the church, said removing the celibacy vow would solve many of the issues around secret relationships within the church.
However, allowing priests to have sex, get married and have families would open a "Pandora's box" and force the church to address issues it doesn't necessarily condone, he said.
Mr Walker, who himself left the church in the 90s over the issue of celibacy and is now married, said: "The Catholic Church will not want to talk about numbers [of priests with children]. Even the number of priests who have resigned the ministry, or those who have requested dispensation for clerical celibacy, those numbers are not forthcoming from the Vatican.
"That would help with the conversation about whether celibacy is working for the majority of Catholic priests. Clearly we know it isn’t.
"Now that we have the gay debacle as well – there are a number of gay priests in the priesthood, and that needs to be acknowledged instead of covered up.
"All of this is about keeping the lid on Pandora’s box because once you allow priests to marry, then we get into the situation of priests’ marriages breaking down, wanting divorce, wanting to remarry. How can you keep the lid on that reality which the church doesn’t accept or condone? That is why this control of the celibacy rule for priests is key."
Mr Walker explained that another reason why many priests may want to keep the fact they have children a secret is because many are ill-equipped to deal with secular life.
He said: "When I left the ministry I had something like £50 in my bank account. You are in a situation where you are frozen by fear [at the thought of] leaving to start a new life in the secular world.
"Priests are worried about security. Nine times out of 10 they won’t have any money behind them unless they’ve been left a legacy from their parents, or perhaps parishioners. If they don’t have finances behind them then they will be reliant on the diocese renting them a property and perhaps giving them a stipend each month, which won’t be a great deal.
"Depending on their age they have to think about employment, what do they do for a job? How do they earn their keep?
"It also means that they lose their status, if there is still a status, for being a Roman Catholic priest. That all goes overnight as well and then they have to face up to their responsibilities which they have never really had to experience before.
"They have been completely sheltered in this cocoon - living in the presbytery, having their bills paid for, people treating them with deference. They would risk losing credibility amongst their own colleagues and companions too.
"At the end of the day, they still have fathered children and they should be the number one priority. The church should make it the number one priority for the priest also."
Catholic priests were not always required to be celibate, with several of the Apostles known to be married according to biblical accounts.
The very first Pope, Saint Peter, was married and there are various accounts of priests and popes throughout the ages discussing the issue of celibacy in letters and correspondence.
Clement of Alexandria, a prominent theologian who died in 214AD, wrote: "The church fully receives the husband of one wife whether he be priest or deacon or layman, supposing always that he uses his marriage blamelessly, and such a one shall be saved in the begetting of children.”
By 304AD, the first written requirement was made for those looking to join the priesthood to be celibate, and in 1075 AD, Pope Gregory VII ruled that married priests were not allowed to say mass or carry out functions.
In 1123, an ecumenical council for the Catholic church made celibacy mandatory for western clergy.
In 2017, Pope Francis said he would consider the possibility of allowing married men to join the priesthood, which is set to be discussed further this year.