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Pascal Wintzer, Archbishop of Poitiers. KTOTV / Youtube screen grab
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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French archbishop calls for ordination of married men

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

March 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The Archbishop of Poitiers – a French diocese founded in the third century by St. Hilary, doctor of the Church – has expressed his support for the ordination of married men repeatedly over the last week, a first in the French Catholic hierarchy. Mgr Pascal Wintzer, 59, explained that such a move “would change the sacred perception of the priest.”

“The priest is not a sacred man, neither is the Bishop. I think that in the same way they do in the Oriental Churches, married men could be called. It would change the sacred conception of what a priest is,” he said on Friday on a Catholic radio station, RCF.

His open call for the ordination of married men led to further interviews, in which the Archbishop doubled down on his remarks. On Sunday, March 10, the regional tax-payer-funded local television, France 3, asked him whether he is really the only French bishop to suggest such a change. Wintzer replied:

I don't think so. A number of my brother bishops are thinking about this reality. I may have spoken about it, but I also think it is possible to express an opinion and to submit it for reflection, that of the faithful in particular. It is very good that people should be able to express themselves about this, together with the reflection of my peers and also other theologians, because this reality has already existed in the Catholic Church. It still exists today in the Catholic Oriental rites and I don't see any reason not to think about it for our Church here in Europe.

“So you talk about it together?,” the journalist asked. 

“Yes, yes, yes… that's right,” the Archbishop confirmed.

The dialogue proceeded with a question: “You adopted this position at a moment when the scandals of sexual abuse and rape are in the news. What could the non-celibacy of priests change about that?”

Mgr Wintzer answered:

In my opinion, a certain ‘sacred’ perception of what the priest is. There is sometimes a way of seeing a priest as a man who would not be a man, and that's what celibacy is consonant with, as if sexuality did not exist, as if the whole human being was not shaped by sexuality. It's true that you can be celibate and live out that reality, as well as the lack that that represents, without being pushed towards actions that are bad for others or for yourself. But at the same time, having priests who are married would also allow people to see priests as people like everyone else. Some would be celibate – but this is also true of the rest of society, it's not only priests who are celibate – others would be married. Today, I think one of the reasons of the crimes that exist regarding children or women comes from this sacral or sacred conception of the priest: the end of the law of celibacy for all will also be a way to bring us back to ordinary humanity.

This is of course a throwback to Pope Francis’ claim that the sexual abuse crisis is the result of “clericalism.”

The journalist remarked: “Pope Francis declared at the end of January that celibacy could not become optional.”

Wintzer agreed: “That's right. When we commit ourselves it's for our whole life. (…) This is true in my own case. Those who trained me helped me to discern and reflect about my liberties and about the commitment I made (…) 32 years ago: I have no wish to go back on that. On the other hand, it is before choosing, before being ordained that we have to choose, to adopt a position: do we want to get married, do we want to remain celibate?”

On Monday, Wintzer would clarify that he was only speaking about the ordination of married men, not of marriage for priests.

To the question: “So is the Church ready or not for this change?”, Wintzer answered:

She is ready: I think it will be by constraint. Real changes may be desired through reflection, through liberty, but constraint imposes change. Today’s constraint is that of the small number of priests. I cannot resign myself to the idea that many Catholics are today deprived of the nourishment of the Eucharist. There are also the scandals linked to the abuse of power, and to the sacred, the falsely sacred image of what priests are.

It is true that the Oriental Catholic Churches traditionally allow for the ordination of married men. But priests, once ordained, may not marry. Married priests cannot become bishops nor can they rise in the hierarchy of the Church. And if they are widowed, they may not remarry.

Despite this discipline that differs from that of the Latin Church, a married priest in the Catholic Eastern rites is very much seen as sacred, and his wife is also considered as someone apart. Often ordination only takes place when they have reached a mature age. They are also subject to a certain amount of requirements which the future priest’s wife must accept for him to be ordained. For instance, she must dress in black. The couple must also observe restrictions regarding sexual relations at certain times.

In Wintzer’s view, priests ordained after marriage would give a bit of their time, leaving their ordinary occupations now and then in order to “lead prayers and preside mass.”

But if a priest is not sacred, how can he be a priest? His very function, his capacity to say the sacred words of the consecration in the person of Christ, to absolve sin, set him apart from the ordinary faithful. Bishops themselves are “consecrated” – during the ceremony of the “sacre” as it is called in France. As was Wintzer himself, in 2007. Saying the contrary questions the whole edifice of belief and doctrine that clearly make the distinction between the sacred and the profane.

Pope Francis has set a step towards the easing of the situation concerning priests ordained after their marriage. Until recently, apart from a few individual exceptions, married oriental priests who for any reason were in Latin-rite countries were not allowed to celebrate Mass publicly there, even in their own Oriental rite, because of the “scandal” that could ensue among Latin Catholics. Since 2014, this restriction has been lifted.

The Catholic Church also allows Anglican ex-priests who convert to Catholicism and who were already married to remain in that state.

But this is not the same as deliberately ordaining married Catholic men for a sort of second-class priesthood.

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