Cardinal Marc Ouellet Defends Priestly Celibacy Ahead of Pan-Amazon Synod

The prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, who wrote the new book, Friends of the Bridegroom: For a Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy, said celibacy will be understood if the priest has a better sense of his own priesthood.

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ROME — Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, presented a book Wednesday arguing that in the face of challenges, the Church should not grab at quick solutions, but seek to deepen its understanding of the uninterrupted tradition of priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite.

Friends of the Bridegroom: For a Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy, written by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, was released Oct. 2. The English translation of the book was published by EWTN Publishing.

Ouellet told journalists at a presentation in Rome Oct. 2 that he is “skeptical” of the idea to consider in the Amazon ordaining to the priesthood older, married men — so-called viri probati.

He also said “someone above me” is skeptical, but when pressed as to whether he meant Pope Francis, Cardinal Ouellet said he would not speak about the mind of the Pope, but that he knows there are some above him “in the Roman Curia” who are likewise skeptical.

“I am not against the fact that there is a debate, but I think at this time of history and of the Church there is a need of reflection …” he said. “And so, my intervention is to substantiate the debate, to give something substantial to aid discernment.”

“I remain skeptical out of convictions and knowledge of the Catholic tradition in the Latin Rite, so I think this has to be very much taken care of in the debate,” he continued, adding that he remains open to what will happen during the synod.

Cardinal Ouellet also noted he knows Pope Francis has mentioned having no intention to change Church practice on priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite, but that he has not excluded the possibility of an exception.

The 75-year-old cardinal said he gave Francis two copies of the book and the Pope is happy he is weighing in on the debate.

Cardinal Ouellet, who is from Quebec, Canada, is also president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He was appointed to that position and as head of the Congregation for Bishops in 2010. Before becoming a bishop, he spent years teaching in seminaries in Rome and in South America.

In an interview with EWTN News Nightly Oct. 1, Cardinal Ouellet explained that there are many reasons why he wrote the book, but one was his experience working with priests and in giving formation.

He said he thought it was a good time to contribute his years of “knowledge, wisdom and experience” to the Church’s discussion of priestly celibacy, and in the particular context of this month’s Amazon synod, to the debate on viri probati.

He said he was also inspired after Pope Francis’ Aug. 4 letter of encouragement to priests and wanted to add to what the Pope has said on the topic.

“I think that priestly celibacy, but also religious consecration, is a powerful witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ and to his call to follow him and to leave everything to be with him, and to do what he asks us to do,” Cardinal Ouellet stated. “So, for me, that is the very first significance of celibacy, and of priestly celibacy, is to be a witness of the divinity of Christ.”

What he tries to show in Friends of the Bridegroom, he said, is “the sacramentality of the Church as a sign of the Trinitarian communion, which is participated in by the faithful and believers.”

“I think you will renew the celibacy if the priest has a better sense of his own priesthood,” he explained. “The foundation of this very close link between celibacy and the priesthood is the fact that the priest is in charge of an eschatological ministry, that means, of proclaiming and giving the definitive and ultimate Word of God to the world.”

The cardinal said the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church “must be faithful to its own roots and its own style.”

“The link between celibacy and the priesthood in the Latin Church comes from the apostles and it has been kept through the centuries despite times of decadence, of difficulties, of refusal. ... It has been always difficult, but it remains an extraordinary witness to the divinity of Christ and to the presence of the Risen Lord among us so that we give him an answer, because he is there, calling us to communion.”

“Celibacy,” he continued, “is a very living reality. And obviously we are requested to be coherent with our commitments and to be faithful to our vows. I think with prayer, with fraternity, and with a sense of the Word of God we can achieve that.”

In the book, Cardinal Ouellet directly addresses this month’s Amazon synod and the “search of new ways in a missionary context.”

“New missionary strategies are emerging that could have a long-term impact on priestly ministry, either locally or more broadly, given the globalizing influence of a borderless media culture,” he writes.

“Some aspire to the rapid adoption of the pastoral solution of the viri probati — that is, married men, heads of stable families, who could be ordained priests in order to ensure the Eucharistic celebration for dispersed indigenous communities to whom the value of celibacy seems foreign.”

“These prospects may be attractive to some,” he adds, “and cause concern elsewhere, if one considers that elements of ideology and strategy are intertwined to achieve more ambitious and important results at the universal level.”

Cardinal Ouellet writes that some “liberal” or “protesting currents of thought are resurfacing to take advantage of the situation and propose reform programs that go beyond Pope Francis’ intentions and orientations.”

Instead, he explains, Pope Francis has put the Amazon synod under the movement of the Holy Spirit, in an atmosphere of prayer, dialogue and openness to newness. But this requires free discussion of divergent ideas, he explains. And not only ideas opposing each other are needed, but those “opposing interests and forces hostile to the influence of the Church.”

“That being said,” the cardinal continues, “new paths of the future will bear evangelical fruits if they are consistent with a complete proclamation of the Gospel, sine glosa, which does not sacrifice anything of the permanent values of the Christian tradition.”

He says in the book that “pastoral creativity” is needed in order to be attentive to cultural characteristics while addressing the lack of priests, “but we must first verify the quality of the witness of missionaries, who can effectively transmit the faith when it permeates their entire lives and unambiguously motivates their lifestyle and evangelizing activity.”