Pope Francis may move to end celibacy: Fr. Paddy O’Kane

Fr. Paddy O'Kane. (SI1710AQ01)
Fr. Paddy O'Kane. (SI1710AQ01)

A Derry priest has suggested Pope Francis may move to end clerical celibacy in order to address the crisis posed by the critical shortage of men entering the priesthood.

Father Paddy O’Kane declared there was growing support within the Catholic Church for such a move and that with just eight students entering the national seminary in Maynooth this year radical action was needed.

The Derry clergyman, parish priest at Holy Family in Ballymagroarty, cited another Catholic radical, the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who has commented: “The Brazilian bishops, especially the pope’s own personal friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priest in Brazil to return to pastoral ministry.

“I have recently heard that the pope wants to fulfil this request – as an experimental, preliminary phase for the moment confined to Brazil.”

Fr. O’Kane, however, idenfitied such a course of action as a potential solution to the crisis in Ireland.

Writing in his weekly blog on the Holy Family Parish Church website, he wrote: “Let’s face it , we have a crisis. This year the national seminary in Maynooth had only eight students entering to study for the priesthood. Half of these will probably leave during their training. When I went there in 1966 there was over 80.

“Priestless parishes are appearing all over Ireland and may be here in this diocese before long.”

The Ballymagroarty pastor also pointed to the fact that there are already married priests legitimately ministering within the Catholic Church

Three years ago Fr. O’Kane met one in Lourdes.

He explained: “In the bedroom next to mine there was a Roman Catholic priest and his wife. All above board. He had been an Anglican minister and became a convert, one of the many to leave their church in protest against the introduction of women priests and bishops.”

And he suggested there was now growing support within the priesthood for the ordination of married priests.

“After dinner one evening on a recent pilgrimage I passed this question around the room: ‘If you were Pope Francis for a day what changes would you make?’ I was surprised by how many who said, ‘the first thing I would do would be to would allow priests to marry,’.”

Fr. O’Kane said he believed change could be in the offing, once again citing the anaylsis of Boff, who resigned from the priesthood in 1992, following clashes with the church hierarchy over his radical left-wing politics.

“As far as the inner-church reforms were concerned, Boff said, ‘Only recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper who is close to the pope, said we could expect some big surprises shortly. So who knows? maybe we can also expect some women deacons soon?’ As Bob Dylan sings: ‘The times they are a changin’.”