The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a group of 20 "renegade" Catholic priests have left the RC Church because of celibacy requirements. The article states that the group consists of both of men who have married and those who want to be free to marry. What strikes me is the men's openness and willingness to leave because of this issue. In areas where celibacy is seen as a harmful counter-cultural value, the rate at which men take de facto wives and raise families is quite high. These guys could almost certainly have lived any way they wanted and gotten away with it. Perhaps instead of calling them "renegade," the report should call them "honest." Given the widely-reported adverse effects of imposed celibacy (see Cozzens, e.g.,) the rate at which celibacy is observed in the west (Sipe reports what, 50% the US?) the counter-witness of men keeping mistresses and fathering children but ducking legal responsibility for them, and of course the worsening shortage of priests (a problem which ending celibacy wouldn't solve, but would certainly alleviate,) can't we finally have a real conversation in the Church about making celibacy optional? Or will we continue to push people out of ministry, or, in the case of these men, out of the Church entirely, to uphold a discipline whose time, arguably, is past?I don't know anything else about this group of priests--perhaps there are other good reasons for them to leave. But if it's only celibacy--can't we talk?
Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).