I noted that women who have had sexual relationships with priests have asked for a relaxation of mandatory clerical celibacy. The communication vehicle: an open but mostly anonymous letter to the pope.
To begin with, I think anyone has the right and perhaps the responsibility to speak their minds. Or write. It’s an ironclad certainty the pope or the Vatican will take this seriously. I think Rome ponder far more when a cardinal suggests clerical celibacy should be on the discussion table.
Personally, I think the Church does better to insist on maturity in its clergy. In part, I think that’s why we’ve seen a drop in clerical sex abuse over the past thirty years–the insistence on maturity, despite claims that we’re saying good-bye to good (conservative) men.
I would hold to the traditional principle that in whatever state of life a candidate is ordained, that should hold for life. However, I think a local bishop might be well-placed to discern with a priest or deacon if, after ordination (long after ordination) that a later marriage might be possible.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the hierarchy possesses the adequate maturity to grapple with this issue at this time. I don’t think open letters, no matter how heartfelt, are going to contribute to enlightenment.
As for clergy who have had sexual relationships after ordination, I’m not sure what’s to say. I had a friend who fell in love with an ordained priest many, many years ago. The report I heard was that the man’s brother priests thought highly of their friend, and didn’t want to lose him to the secular world. So their “solution” was to keep my friend as a mistress. They didn’t count on the maturity of my friend. The Church’s tradition wouldn’t have saved this person’s priestly ministry. But at least he had the maturity to leave active ministry to marry my friend.
I disagree with Cardinal Schönborn that optional celibacy would cut down on child abuse. It’s a naive view (immature, if you will) that suggests that sex and commitment will make a man of an abuser. But he is right, that for other reasons, optional celibacy should be on the table. Rome has a strong stubborn streak though. I don’t expect it anytime soon. The best we can expect is a more mature clergy.