.- Speaking to the 11th General Synod Fathers, gathered for their eighth meeting this morning at the Vatican, Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, who is Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites in Lebanon--a Catholic rite which allows for married priests--addressed the issue, which has been brought up by many, particularly in light of the U.S. sex abuse scandal, of commonly permitting married priests in the Roman rite.
The Cardinal defended the practice of the celibate priesthood and discussed the beauty of the tradition, calling it the "most precious jewel in the treasury of the Catholic Church."
While pointing out that "the Maronite Church admits married priests" and that "half of our diocesan priests are married", the Cardinal Patriarch said that "it must be recognized that if admitting married men resolves one problem, it creates others just as serious."
"A married priest", he said, "has the duty to look after his wife and family, ensuring his children receive a good education and overseeing their entry into society. ... Another difficulty facing a married priest arises if he does not enjoy a good relationship with his parishioners; his bishop cannot transfer him because of the difficulty of transferring his whole family.
He noted that "married priests have perpetuated the faith among people whose difficult lives they shared, and without them this faith would no longer exist."
"On the other hand," he said, "celibacy is the most precious jewel in the treasury of the Catholic Church,"
Lamenting a culture which is all but outright opposed to purity, the Cardinal asked: "How can [celibacy] be conserved in an atmosphere laden with eroticism? Newspapers, Internet, billboards, shows, everything appears shameless and constantly offends the virtue of chastity."
Suggesting that their are no easy solutions to the problem of priest shortages in the Church--an oft brought up point during the Synod--he noted that, "Of course a priest, once ordained, can no longer get married. Sending priests to countries where they are lacking, taking them from a country that has many, is not the ideal solution if one bears in mind the question of tradition, customs and mentality. The problem remains."