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So the American Roman Catholic Cardinals gather in Rome with the Pope. Roman Catholicism in America is threatened with bankruptcy as more and more file lawsuits for paedophilia.

Yet it all sounded such a good idea - 'a celibate priesthood can devote itself to God and His people much better than a married priesthood'. As a married priest with six children, I can assure you that I keep very busy. Yes, such a good intention, this celibacy idea. But, as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

The Orthodox Church does not deny a celibate priesthood, that is why priest-monks exist. Only in the Orthodox Church, which has faithfully guarded the Christian traditions of the First Millennium, celibacy is voluntary and never imposed. I just wonder what proportion of Catholic priests, offered the choice, would marry. An awful lot did after the Reformation in Protestant countries, almost overnight, it would seem. Or perhaps they were already 'married' before the Reformation, only unofficially...

A married priesthood was maintained in the Orthodox Church, East and West, on the insistence of a fouth-century Egyptian monk, St Paphnutius the Confessor (feast: 11 September), Bishop of Thais. He had suffered the gouging out of his right eye and other torments in the persecution of Maximinian in 311. A strict virgin himself, at the First Oecumenical Council in 325, he rose up against a proposal in favour of a celibate priesthood and supported the holiness of married life. He foresaw the difficulties and temptations compulsory celibacy would bring. He urged the Church to maintain Her traditional condition that, once ordained, clergy could not enter into marriage. On the other hand, he urged that the Church continue to ordain already married men. The support of marriage by a monk should not surprise - monastics know only too well the weaknesses of human nature.

Since the official and unilateral introduction of compulsory celibacy by Roman Catholicism some 900 years ago in the 1070's, contrary to the decisons of the First Oecumenical Council of 325, what, honestly, have the results been?

1 The alienation of women. Most married priests understand family problems far better than celibate priests. And priests' wives often provide invaluable help in parish life. Where priests are not married, there are no wives to give support. And the inevitable consequence is that some women ask to be ordained priestesses.

2 A great many priests throughout the Western Middle Ages continued to
be 'married'. In the south of Italy and villages in Portugal and Spain even
today this continues to be the case. (Enter any bar in Braga and you will see). Their bishops turn a blind eye, As for the people, they welcome it - would you let your daughter into a confessional alone with a hot-blooded young Mediterranean priest? Similarly, in Africa and South America today, virtually all the Catholic priests are 'married'.

3 In Northern Europe, for example in France and Austria, statistics show that at least 20 per cent of Roman Catholic priests have 'wives', i.e. mistresses or 'housekeepers' and children.

4 In Germany many Roman Catholic priests tend to overeat to compensate, in Ireland many drink. These are not stereotypes but realities I have seen time and time again in travelling around Europe.

5 In the USA, the seat of the current crisis, it has been estimated that some 50 per cent of Catholic priests are practising homosexuals. No doubt elsewhere the figures are also high.

6 Worse still the cases of paedophilia. The recent case of the Archbishop of
Vienna rocked Roman Catholicism in Austria. Now there is a case in Poland. Recently the Catholic Archbishop of Wales. Almost every week in Ireland and recently a suicide. Now in the USA, there are said to be over 2,000 cases in the pipeline and court cases could cost Roman Catholicism one billion dollars, though money can never make up for these foul crimes against children. According to the words of Our Saviour: 'it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Luke 18, 6).

7 As a result of compulsory celibacy, there is a chronic lack of Catholic
priests worldwide, especially in France, a country that I know well. the
average age of priests there is over 60. Some 7,000 Roman Catholic priests have married in recent years officially and can therefore no longer serve as priests. In the countryside it is not uncommon to find a seventy-year-old priest serving twenty-four parishes. Every Sunday, six masses in six villages - in that way twenty-four villages can have a mass once a month. Alternatively, married laypeople are given a packet of eucharistic wafers and told to distribute them to those who wish to take communion!

8. And finally the hypocrisy of it all. Kept hidden in the shadows are all the Catholic priests of the Eastern rite, married, but not allowed outside the Middle East or Eastern Europe. Similarly Anglican convert clergy are allowed to be married, but are kept hidden away as hospital chaplains and second-class citizens.

O, Cardinals of America, may you speak with wisdom in Rome, for the errors of nine hundred years are coming home to haunt you.

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