Cardinal Egan’s Surprisingly Encouraging Remark

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 26, 2009 | Categories: Bishops, Dissent

In a March 10, 2009 interview on the Albany radio station Talk 1300, Edward Cardinal Egan, head of the Archdiocese of New York, suggested the Catholic Church would sooner or later have to consider whether to allow priests to marry.

“I think that it’s going to be discussed; it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion,” Cardinal Egan said, replying to a question from the host, Frederic Dicker, about whether the church’s shortage of priests might spur such a change. “I think it has to be looked at. And I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture to make an across-the-board determination.” At another point he said: “Is it a closed issue? No. That’s not a dogmatic stand.”

Egan noted that priests in the Maronite and Melchite churches are allowed to be married with “no problem at all.”

Catholic news media, and conversative pundits especially, were in a spin over the cardinal’s remarks.   What did he mean?

Were his words a parting gift to reformers? A matter-of-fact response by a canon lawyer–which the cardinal is–to a question involving church law? Or was it aimed at his successor – Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan –  who in 2003 soundly rebuffed a discussion by priests in his diocese on the question of celibacy.

Some conservatives dismissed what the cardinal had to say as the comments of a man speaking, as one put it, “above his pay grade.”   But many advocates of church  reform, who have long considered Cardinal Egan a conservative, said his remarks were surprisingly encouraging, albeit a little late in the day. The cardinal, 76, officially retires on April 15th.

The Rev. Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils. which is affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said such words from a top American prelate, whatever his intent, would “put an issue on the table that a lot of people thought was off the table.” He added: “I think he breathed new life into the hopes of a lot of people.”

One of those people is Sr. Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, a group promoting the ordination of women and an end to the celibacy rule. “It would have been nice if he had said this five years ago,” she said. “But coming from Egan, I  think it is a sign  that the conversation is ripening. He’s not the poster child for progressivism. I think it shows we are much closer to having this issue addressed by the Vatican than most people  realize.” egan.jpg

Many church experts said Cardinal Egan’s comments were surprising not so much in their content, but in his willingness to say them in publicly.

“In a sense, what he said was obvious,” said Rev. Thomas J. Reese, Jeusit author and former editor of the moderately liberal Catholic magazine America. “But not many cardinals do that. It was kind of brave of him to say what everybody’s been thinking. It’s interesting that he said it as he was leaving.”

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4 Responses to “Cardinal Egan’s Surprisingly Encouraging Remark”

  1. Póló Says:

    There is no reason not to have women priests.

    Unfortunately, the Vatican will wait until the church runs out of men and then grudgingly admit women.

    That’s leadership for you.

  2. GregK Says:

    There is an important distinction between the rule against male priests and the rule against female priests.

    The rule against male priests is simply a disciplinary matter that the church could (and should) change at any time. The rule against female priests is a doctrinal matter that the church cannot change. (Or, rather, if it did change this rule, it would have a whole heck of a lot of explaining to do!)

    This doesn’t have much to do with whether you think an all-male priesthood is fair or just or wise. It’s just the “facts on the ground” in Roman Catholicism.

  3. Christine, NY Says:

    To Greg:
    “The facts on the ground”. Where do they come from? How long have they been on the ground? It is now historically proven that there were women priests in the Church in the beginning centuries, when the Church was still persecuted and so, underground. With Constantine the Church espoused the dominant culture at 100% and so new ground rules were set. Those are the “facts on the ground”.
    Facts on the ground for a long time were that men of Jewish birth could not be priests…too bad for Jesus! Nu eunuchs either.
    Facts on the ground are not always good. The grounds do change; it would be nice if the Church did too.

  4. Thomas Thompson Says:

    “The grounds do change; it would be nice if the Church did too.” How right this sounds! But, on this issue at least, it is my opinion that, unless one day we have another Pope John XXIII (unlikely in the extreme, given the increasingly conservative tilt of the College of Cardinals), no such change is possible. There is an extraordinary fear among our present leaders that any significant doctrinal or dogmatic change would destroy the belief of the faithful, for if the Church can err in one point, it can err in all. This is precisely why Pope Paul VI overruled his own commission on the question whether to allow birth control. But precisely because no such change is possible on such issues, the Church is going to find itself preaching to people who no longer listen, who live their own lives, governed by their own lights, and simply ignore that which, in today’s world seems patently silly. As a famous jurist once said, “it is outrageous that there is no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.”

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