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Priest advocates married clergy

NCR Staff

At two Sunday Masses July 8, Fr. William H. Mullin told the congregation at St. John the Baptist Church in Quincy, Mass., that it is time for the Catholic church to discuss ordaining married men.

Mullin provided Cardinal Bernard Law’s mailing address and encouraged parishioners to share their thoughts with the cardinal about the issue.

“I think he has to get the feeling of what people think about this,” Mullin told NCR. “He’s a cardinal and an adviser to the pope, and I think if [Law] hears this, it will be influential.”

Mullin drew inspiration for the homily from the week’s gospel, Luke 10:2, which reads, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.”

He was also inspired, he said, by a recent article in America magazine in which priests describe the difficult working conditions brought on by the growing shortage of priests.

“Cardinal Law told us a year ago there would be no priestless Sundays in the Boston archdiocese. But already there have been some,” he said in a phone interview with NCR. “Two months ago, we had 9 priests retire. Some weren’t yet 75 but were too stressed out and burnt out to continue.”

The workload at St. John the Baptist, he said, “is getting more intense. While there are currently three priests at the church, Mullin said that one recently applied to become a pastor elsewhere and could soon leave.

“Here in our parish we had 197 funerals last year,” Mullin said in the interview. “I’m 62, diabetic and have had a kidney transplant. I am trying to do what I can, but my health is not great.

The response to Mullin’s homily was generally positive, he said. “A lot of people complimented me and thanked me for raising the issue. I’ve heard that there are some people who are upset, but I can’t document that,” he said.

Mullin is uncertain what response he will receive from the Boston bishops, who are on retreat through the end of the third week of July. Mullin received a call from Law’s secretary saying that Bishop William Murphy would contact him after the retreat.

“I’m not trying to be a trouble-maker,” Mullin said. “I’m just trying to raise an issue that must be discussed. To me it’s obvious that we should look at ordaining married men, because we had [married priests] for hundreds of years,” he said.

The director of the office for worship for the Boston archdiocese, Fr. Christopher J. Coyne, told The Boston Globe that Mullin’s homily “was not helpful.”

“It isn’t going to change the teaching of the church just because Cardinal Law gets phone calls or e-mails, and it’s not helpful to give [parishioners] that kind of misleading understanding of how things would evolve,” he said. “Even if Cardinal Law was considering something like that, which he’s not, he would never have the authority to make a change like that.”

Asked for a copy of the sermon, Mullin said that he hadn’t written out more than an outline for it. “It’s so deep in my heart, I didn’t have to write it.” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, July 27, 2001