Head of U.S. Episcopate Affirms Priestly Celibacy

Bishop Gregory Calls It a «Powerful Spiritual Means to Grow Closer to Christ»

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WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 4, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference issued a strong defense of priestly celibacy after receiving a letter from some Milwaukee clergy who urged optional celibacy for candidates to the diocesan priesthood.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the episcopate, declared that «the vitality of the Church in the United States today owes much to the tens of thousands of priests who in previous generations were and today are faithful to the commitment to chaste celibacy and who have found it to be a powerful spiritual means to draw closer to Christ.»

He made the statement in a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee after receiving a note from three priests there who had circulated a form letter in support of the optional celibacy for candidates to the clergy.

«In the letter which was circulated, I was pleased to read that our brother priests recognize and are ‘grateful for the blessing’ of celibacy,» Bishop Gregory wrote.

«I am also gratified by the expression of pastoral concern that has motivated the letter,» he added. «Indeed, all of us, without exception, want the sacramental life of the Church to flourish and I am sure that there are numerous efforts already in place in the Archdiocese directed toward that goal.»

Citing the vision for the Church enunciated by John Paul II in «Novo Millennio Ineunte,» Bishop Gregory said: «A local Church revitalized by that vision will, I believe, encourage women and men to follow Christ in a radical commitment of their lives which welcomes the charism of celibacy for the service to His people. From the ranks of men who will have accepted that charism the Church will continue to call candidates to the diocesan priesthood.»

He continued: «The reiteration of the perduring value of this long-standing tradition in the Western Church in recent times by Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, several Synods of Bishops and numerous episcopal conferences, including our own, recognizes the fruitfulness of this charism for priesthood and the Church, today as much as ever.»

Bishop Gregory said that he shared the three Milwaukee priests’ conviction that many of the faithful are eager for support and examples of fidelity that will encourage and assist those called to the vocation of marriage and family.

He observed: «Both marriage and celibacy are complementary in the witness to Christ that they offer the entire Church. Each is a grace that enriches the Church. Together with the marvelous witness of consecrated life, the requirement of celibacy for diocesan priesthood in the Western Church preserves that complementarity and grace for the universal Church.»

«What I hope,» he wrote, «is that the good will of the priests who sent me the letters, as evidenced by their appreciation of the great value that the charism of celibacy is and has been to the Church, will encourage them to reflect on the needs of the Church and their priesthood in a way that will foster the interior renewal of priestly life so longed for by Pope John Paul II and the Bishops of our country.»

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