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Bishop: Ordain married men

A U.S. Catholic bishop concerned about the priest shortage has strongly endorsed married priests in a column in his diocesan newspaper.

Given a serious and growing shortage of priests to celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions and anoint the sick, the celibacy requirement for priests is an obstruction “in the way of our fulfilling the law of God,” Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Minn., wrote in the October issue of the Prairie Catholic.

Although polls show that the opinion is far from unusual -- in fact, it is held by a solid majority of Catholics, including many members of the hierarchy -- it is unusual for a bishop to take such a public stand in opposition to church law. Pope John Paul II is a strong advocate of celibacy for priests.

“Many young people I talk to who would be excellent candidates for the priesthood tell me that they would love to be priests, but do not want to live alone for the rest of their lives” Lucker wrote. He noted that St. Peter, first bishop of Rome, was married, as were many apostles, bishops and priests in the early church.

“I bring up this issue because of my concern for the church, because of my love for the church, and because I believe that the Eucharist and the celebration of the sacraments are at the heart of what we are as a church,” he wrote.

“This is not a doctrinal issue, it is an issue of church rule that goes back to the 11th century. So it is changeable. It’s not like a dogma that is a revealed teaching,” Lucker said in a telephone interview.

He explained in his letter that the law was established mainly because of historical circumstances in the Middle Ages. Offering daily Mass had became the norm, and “there was the mistaken notion that somehow it would be unseemly to have sexual relations the evening before celebrating Mass.” Further, he said, “there was the concern that parish property would be handed on to priests’ sons.”

Before running the letter in the diocesan paper, Lucker sent it to all priests and pastoral administrators. He also discussed the matter during a regular diocesan pastoral council meeting. The council is made up of two representatives from each region of the diocese and from every diocesan committee. Most of the representatives are lay people. The council also includes priests, nuns and youth leaders.

Lucker, who is nearing the retirement age of 75, said he had “no illusion” that the law would change during his tenure as a bishop. “Nevertheless, I think we need to pray over the issue, discuss it and see if there wouldn’t be some way to begin to have the ordination of married men.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 16, 1998