Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Picture: Tara Croser.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Picture: Tara Croser.

Top Catholic open to married priests

QUEENSLAND'S highest-ranking Catholic is open to married men taking the vow to become priests as part of a massive makeover of the Church in Australia in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.

Brisbane's Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the centuries-old tradition of celibacy among Catholic priests may soon be up for debate as the Church prepares for a national conference expected to spark a huge cultural change in Australian Catholicism.

A plenary council is planned for 2020, bringing together all Australian bishops, and may throw open to debate the idea of allowing Catholic priests to marry.

"I would not exclude that,'' Archbishop Coleridge said of the debate on the celibacy of priests.

"(A celibacy debate) is certainly possible - the ordination of tried and true married men, for instance.''

Archbishop Coleridge has predicted the plenary council, the first to be held in Australia since 1937, will spark cultural and structural changes in the Church.

He said those changes are crucial for renewal, following the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Church globally since the 1980s.

A plenary council is only second in importance to an ecumenical Council, the last of which was the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which was opened by Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Archbishop Coleridge, who is president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has played a leading role in the establishment of the plenary council, which is expected to kick off in Adelaide in October 2020.

He said he is open to a debate on priestly celibacy, 450 years after the Council of Trent last reaffirmed Church support of it in northern Italy between 1543 and 1563.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Picture: Tara Croser.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Picture: Tara Croser.

But Archbishop Coleridge stressed the council's agenda is not a matter for him to determine, and any lift on the ban on priests marrying would ultimately be the decision of Pope Francis.

Archbishop Coleridge's views appear to mirror a global trend, with Catholic bishops in Brazil late last year expressing some support for ending celibacy.

Last month the National Council of Priests in Australia also indicated it would send a submission to the 2020 plenary council arguing that priests who have left the Church to marry should be allowed to return as priests.

Already in Australia there are a handful of former Anglican priests who have converted to Catholicism and serve as Catholic priests, while still remaining married.

The origins of the celibacy tradition, which is not part of official church doctrine, go back to the New Testament.

Archbishop Coleridge, while supportive of the plenary council overseeing a root-and-branch review of the Church including matters related to governance and transparency, said he steadfastly refused to compromise on the seal of the confessional, however.

Four months after the Queensland Government released its response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, it is still considering whether or not to legislate to force Catholic priests to reveal the identity of paedophiles who confess their sins.

State Minister for Child Safety, Women and Youth Di Farmer has confirmed the Government is still examining the issue of "reporting of information and the protection of offenders".

Archbishop Coleridge said the entire spiritual dynamic of the confessional rested on the assurance that a penitent's sins were not revealed.

"We don't wish in any way to be arrogant - God knows we are in no position to be arrogant - but we have a fundamental tenet of the faith at stake here,'' he said. "We will have to hold our ground.''

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