Pope Francis’ recent statement saying that “the door is always open” to reconsider mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests has once again shaken the church at its core.
“This is an important step. The pope is opening room for discussion, and we cannot continue to hang on to structures that fail to respond to our present day’s needs,” said Juan Carlos Ruiz, a 44-year-old Mexican who left the priesthood after 10 years because he did not agree with some of the church’s rules, including celibacy.
Ruiz arrived in New Jersey when he was 15, and entered the 8-year seminary training right after high school. He was ordained in 1995, and went on to serve in several parishes within the Paterson Diocese. A decade later, he abandoned the priesthood. He joined the Lutheran Church three years ago, and now aspires to become an Episcopal pastor.
“I am still a Catholic at heart,” said Ruiz, who has been married now for two years. “But I realized that I was in disagreement with many of their practices, such as celibacy, the fact that homosexuals are not allowed to be ordained and that homosexual marriage is absolutely out of the question for them.”
Pope Francis recently recognized that celibacy among priests is not part of the Catholic Church’s theological tenets. “The door is always open, given that [celibacy] is not a dogma of faith,” said the pope in a press conference upon his return from a three-day tour of the Holy Land. He added, however, that this topic is not currently being debated at the church and that it is not among his priorities.
The pontiff, whose secular name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, also pointed out that priests are allowed to get married in the eastern sections of the Catholic faith, namely the Greek and Coptic Orthodox churches. “Celibacy… is a rule of life that I appreciate very much, and I think it is a gift for the church,” said the priest to reporters during his flight back to Rome.
The pope also announced that next month he will hold his first meeting with victims of pedophile priests in the Vatican.
According to theologian Daniel Álvarez, the pope’s statement indicates that he is willing and able to revoke the celibacy rule. “This is because the rule does not come from a revelation, which would turn it into dogma,” said the theology professor, who teaches at Florida International University.
Álvarez made clear that the rule could not be revoked immediately. “Pope Francis would have to assign a committee to analyze the topic.” He also said that these changes would have deep financial implications, as “the church would have to sustain a priest’s wife and children.”
Additionally, Álvarez mentioned that celibacy would still have to apply for those priests who aspire to become bishops.
“This will not sit well with the more radical faction in the church, as we have seen in the past,” said Álvarez, while he added that the majority of the Catholic community is likely to welcome the changes.
Celibacy was institutionalized in 1123 during the First Council of the Lateran. Before then, it was optional. According to Juan Carlos Ruiz, it should be optional again.
“Celibacy makes sense; I cannot speak ill of it because it has to do with vocation. However, we need a change because it is good for the church from a practical point of view,” he said. “Celibacy discourages many men who would otherwise be interested in becoming priests.”