This week’s comments on the subject of priestly celibacy by the soon-to-be Secretary of State of His Holiness, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, are neither as alarming nor surprising as some reports make out. From a brief glance the interview in question, the Archbishop simply restates that priestly celibacy is a matter of discipline, not doctrine (which we already know), that it is something that is therefore not beyond discussion (has it ever actually been?), and that any discussion needs to be within the historical/theological perspective and authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. In other words, celibacy has been an intrinsic part of the ministerial priesthood since at least the fourth century, and for good reason; let’s start from there with our suppositions, rather than from contemporary secular notions that wish to push for the middle ground.
Certainly the example of Protestant denominations in the West cannot inspire the hope that a relaxation of the discipline of clerical celibacy would reverse the decline in vocations to the priesthood. Numbers, age, and general suitability for ministry, are all factors for consideration. The average age in Anglican theological formation in England, for example, is around 40. We’re appointing seminary rectors and bishops almost that age.
But my concern here is not any attempt to reignite tired debates about celibacy (by the way, when was the last time a priest in his 20s or 30s was interviewed about what he thinks on the subject?). I am more concerned by the reactions to this and other debates in the religious press, and the authenticity and reliability of responses from Catholic sources of news.