Speaking to 239 Bishops of the General Synod meeting this morning at the Vatican, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney criticized recommendations to remove the discipline of mandatory celibacy for priests, saying that blaming the Church's current troubles on the practice would be a "serious error."
Throughout the course of the Synod, which began meeting last Monday, the Cardinal noted that many bishops "have spoken of the difficulties experienced by the Church throughout the world."
"Some of these are caused by our own mistakes," he admitted. "Vatican Council II brought great blessings and substantial gains, for example, continuing missionary expansion and the new movements and communities. But it was also followed by confusion, some decline, especially in the West, and pockets of collapse. Good intentions are not enough."
"My recommendations to the Synod on how to deal with these 'shadows'", he said, "presuppose the maintenance in the Latin Church of the ancient tradition and life-giving discipline of mandatory celibacy for the diocesan clergy as well as the religious orders."
"To loosen this tradition now", he stressed, "would be a serious error, which would provoke confusion in the mission areas and would not strengthen spiritual vitality in the First World. It would be a departure from the practice of the Lord Himself, bring significant practical disadvantages to the work of the Church, e.g. financial, and weaken the sign value of the priesthood; it would weaken, too, the witness to loving sacrifice, and to the reality of the Last Things, and the rewards of Heaven.
Many have blamed the practice of celibacy for the recent priestly sexual abuse scandal in the U.S.