Pope Paul was fully within his rights in notifying the ecumenical council that he has decided to preserve the practice of celibacy in the Western Church, it was agreed by speakers at the U.S. bishops’ press panel.
The Pope, in a letter sent to Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the chief council president, announced in effect that celibacy is not to be a matter for council discussion.
Later that day, speakers at the press panel told newsmen that the Pope’s decision was in line with the thinking of the majority of the bishops.
Father John J. King, O.M.I., superior of the Oblate house of studies in Rome, said the decision was easily justified because the Pope is not just a member of the council but the council’s decisions are subject to his ratification, and its acts are promulgated by his authority as Pope.
Since Pope Paul has indicated he intends to preserve celibacy for clergy in the Latin Church, Father King said, it would be “futile and a waste of time” to discuss the subject in the council.
Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, said that from his experience from travels throughout the U.S. he has yet to encounter a priest who is concerned over the celibacy problem. Certainly there are some who are, he said, but among the hundreds he meets yearly he hasn’t found the subject to be one of great concern. Rather, he said, it has been laymen and Catholic papers, such as the National Catholic Reporter, which have raised the question as to whether a change in this norm might not benefit the Church.
Father King noted that the Pope has obviously studied the problem and is well aware of the various aspects. Father King said the Pope has not closed his mind to the subject but has come to his conclusion after studying the matter.
The burst of applause following the reading of the letter is a good indication of the bishops’ attitude on the subject, Father King said, since they manifested very obvious agreement with the Pope’s decision.
Explaining why it was decided that it would be best not to debate the matter in council, Father King and Msgr. Mark J. Hurley of San Francisco noted that it is not a question of causing confusion or embarrassment among the council Fathers. Rather it is due to the possibility of creating confusion among the faithful at large, since what is said by individuals on the council floor may not represent the views of the majority of bishops.
Msgr. George W. Shea, rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J., rose to point out that at the same council session in which the Pope’s letter was read, the Fathers had been asked to vote on one portion of the schema on seminaries in which the place of celibacy in seminary training was touched on. The council voted 1,971 for maintaining traditional norms against 16 negative votes. This, he indicated, showed that the bishops are in agreement with the Pope’s decision.
Before the panel opened, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald McDevitt of Philadelphia and Auxiliary Bishop James Malone of Youngstown were introduced as the new moderators of the panel.
They are replacing Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, who has been appointed to the New Orleans See.