The Catholic Church should consider ending its centuries-old tradition of not allowing married men to become priests, Warrnambool priest Father John Fitzgerald says.
Father Fitzgerald, the parish priest at St Joseph’s in Warrnambool, welcomed the statement by Pope Francis, reported internationally, that the church should consider allowing married men to be ordained as priests in rural communities facing clergy shortages.
But Pope Francis said that men who were already priests would not be allowed to marry and would have to stay celibate.
The issue is sure to prompt debate in the south-west with its long history of Catholic faith.
Father Fitzgerald said the church needed to discuss the issue and face up to the challenge of addressing the shortage of priests.
He said he understood there were currently no seminarians being trained to work as priests in the Ballarat diocese.
While there might be no priests being trained for the Ballarat diocese, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne said there were currently about 60 men studying in the seminary to be priests.
Father Fitzgerald said many local people had told him they had no problems with married men becoming priests.
He said the practice of mass, and the sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), was at the heart of the Catholic faith.
“If you do not have priests, you do have have the Eucharist,” he said.
Father Fitzgerald said celibacy for Catholic priests had been a tradition for a long time but that did not mean it could not change.
Celibacy might have been instituted because it was cheaper for a parish to support a single man than a family, he said. It was also argued that celibacy allowed priests to commit themselves fully to God, Father Fitzgerald said.
However, Father Fitzgerald said he believed men could commit themselves fully to God even if they were married.