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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Should Celibacy Be Optional In Catholic Church?

Aired September 5, 2003 - 20:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The sex scandal that shook the very foundations of the U.S. Catholic Church caused a lot of soul searching among the faithful. One of the views coming to the fore in the wake of this very painful episode is the chronic growing shortage of priests. Many Catholics, lay and clergy alike, are suggesting celibacy become optional.
Allowing priests to marry might solve the shortage, but as far as the Vatican is concerned, the idea is off the table, but it's not off ours. In New York to discuss the options, Catholic League President William Donahue. And in Chicago, Linda Pazinsky a spokesman for The Call To Action, an association dedicated to church reform. Good to have you both with me.

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Linda, let's begin with you. Why do you think it is a good idea for priests to be married?

LINDA PAZINSKY, THE CALL TO ACTION: Well, I think the key thing is to make celibacy optional, because while many men are called to the priesthood, not all of them are called to a life of celibacy.

And we face a tremendous priest shortage. There is no doubt about it. We were down to one priest in my parish last year, a very large parrish with over 2,000 families. And it is a crisis that we need to address. The priests in Milwaukee who signed the letter, they know what's going on. They know that there's a crisis. They recognize that part of the reason is -- for the shortage in vocations, is that a number of priests would like to be able to marry or men entering the priest who would like to be able to have a family.

We already have married priests in the Roman Catholic Church but they used to be protestant and converted to Catholicism. So, we already have married priests and many men are saying why can't I be a priest and also be married? It would increase the pool of potential people, which would make for a healthier situation.

O'BRIEN: William, I've seen some numbers where it says there are 3,000 of the 19,000 parishes in the United States could do not have a resident pastor that doesn't even account for those that are drastically understaffed you can't argue the fact there is or is not a shortage. There is clearly a shortage. If you use a corporate analogy, the Catholic Church is not serving its customers very well right now. Clearly something needs to be done.

DONAHUE: Yes, I think something needs to be done. What doesn't need to be done is to make celibacy optional. After all, if that were the answer. Ad all we have to do is look at the protestant denominations. Their numbers should be booming. As a matter of fact, their numbers are declining.

You know there is a model out there. Take a look at Lincoln, Nebraska versus Saginaw, Michigan. Lincoln, Nebraska recruits some very devout men. It's fairly strict. They don't have a problem getting men into the seminaries. They do have a problem in Saginaw, Michigan, precisely because they have a much more elastic interpretation of what the teachers of the Church are. No, I would argue this...

O'BRIEN: What you to mean by this elastic interpretation? What are you talking about?

DONAHUE: Well, in other words, they take -- they're much more liberal in their approach in the seminary, which is precisely why nobody is going into the seminary.

O'BRIEN: You're suggesting the shortage is created by the fact that the Church is liberal?

DONAHUE: Oh, there's no question about it. If you look at most liberal diocese, Rockville Center under Bishop McGann, the late Bishop McGann, the worst record of any diocese per capita in the United States and a very, very liberal diocese.

The places like Arlington, Virginia, Lincoln, Nebraska, they look at this question like what do you mean? What kind of a problem? We don't have a problem.

91 percent of the priests in this country according to the "Los Angeles Times" are either satisfied or very satisfied being a priest, 6 percent are not. What you're hearing -- the other 3 percent didn't answer -- what you're hearing from Call To Action and the priests in Pittsburgh and New York, many of whom by the way are not priests, but belong to the organizations -- you're listening to people who are very unhappy. What would you expect?

O'BRIEN: All right, let's give Linda an opportunity to respond here. You put a lot out there. Essentially I think William is suggesting that priests are not signing up, if you will, because the Church has become too liberal. How do you respond to that one?

PAZINSKY: That's just ridiculous. That's a disservice to the over 60 percent of the priests in Milwaukee who signed that leter, who are basically saying, look, we have got a crisis coming, we're going to lose the ability for people to have access to sacraments as the priest shortage continues. And there is no doubt, you know, there is no reason not to change the rule.

Peter, first pope, was a married man. We had married priests for the first thousand years of Catholicism. And right now we say, well, the tradition, well, if the tradition interferes with the ability of people to have a priest there at their death bed in the hospital where many people can no longer have priests available because they aren't there, there is not enough of them go around. Most people that I speak with and I don't work for the Church, I exist in a suburban parish, you talk about priests being allowed to be married, majority of Catholics would rather have a married priest than no priest at all. And that's the crisis that we're facing.

O'BRIEN: This -- is this a tradition whose time has come to say good-bye to, given the fact that there are needs out here in the U.S. Catholic Church not being addressed?

DONAHUE: No. I believe most priests really want -- are happy being priests and the answer is not to lower the bar but to raise the bar, make it more difficult. I know this sounds counterintuitive.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it does. It does sound very counterintuitive.

DONAHUE: The more orthodox the diocese the less of a problem they have. We're talking about the same two people. By the way, those priests in Milwaukee are not a bunch of angels. They released that letter so much interest in dialogue, knowing that the archbishop was on vacation, they leaked it to the press before the head of the bishops, Bishop Wilton Gregory, was able to even read it.

I think people got an agenda here. Linda knows about that because she runs an organization which has a very left wing agenda in the Catholic Church.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to have to give Linda a quick response on that one. Since you let that bomb there.

PAZINSKY: We have a very mainstream position on issues in the Catholic Church. Every survey of every group of Catholics shows that the majority of Catholics believe that the celibacy should be an optional thing for priests. And we're facing a crisis no matter what your ideology is, no matter where you stand, people want to have a priest for baptisms, for funerals, visit the sick, to eucharist where eucharistic people were in danger of losing that ability to have our sacraments because of this rule.

O'BRIEN: All right, unfortunately, I gotta cut you off at this point. Obviously we're going talk long bere this one as well. Linda Pazinsky and William Donahue, thank you so much for being with us.

DONAHUE: Thank you.

PAZINSKY: You're welcome.

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