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Pro-gay Catholic
leader challenges celibacy stance

Pro-gay Catholic
leader challenges celibacy stance

The former seminary president who sparked a national debate on the impact of gays entering the Roman Catholic priesthood is now tackling another sensitive issue, adding his voice to those advocating an end to mandatory celibacy. ''Celibacy used to go with priesthood as fish went with Fridays,'' said the Reverend Donald Cozzens. ''Over the past 40 to 50 years, I would argue that more and more Catholics are questioning the need to link celibacy with priesthood.''

In his book Freeing Celibacy, Cozzens suggests there may be a way through the problem by allowing celibacy as an option but dropping it as a requirement.

Although he is taking on an institution that measures change over centuries, Cozzens--a celibate priest himself--thinks the time is right for a rethinking of celibacy. He points to the brief stir Brazilian cardinal Claudio Hummes created last year by saying the Vatican should reconsider its ban on allowing priests to marry, and the crusade to change the policy by excommunicated--and married--former archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Zambia.

''There are a number of factors that are coming together that really beg for this question to be discussed or urge us to review mandatory celibacy,'' said Cozzens, interviewed in his office at John Carroll University in the Cleveland suburb of University Heights.

There were about 42,000 active priests nationwide in 2005, a 29% decline from 1965, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. About 3,200 parishes were without a resident priest in 2005, compared with 549 in 1965. ''Many, if not most, of the inactive priests would be serving in our parishes if it were not for the law of celibacy,'' Cozzens writes.

The church discounts celibacy's responsibility for the shortage, saying the increasingly materialistic culture plays a far bigger role. Pope John Paul II was adamant that the church would not change its celibacy requirement. As recently as November, a Vatican summit led by Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed mandatory celibacy for priests as a nonnegotiable job requirement for showing devotion to God and the people they serve.

Cozzens has been down this road before, having written four other books on issues and problems of the priesthood. In his 2000 book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, later translated into six languages, he used interviews and studies to contend that the Roman Catholic Church had a disproportionately high percentage of gay priests--nearly half of all seminarians and priests.

His previous writings made a valuable contribution to the debate over homosexuality by raising the issue at a time when many priests and bishops were pretending it didn't exist, said the Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative journal First Things, who upholds the Catholic teaching that same-sex attraction is disordered. ''It was that climate of 'Let's pretend that we don't know about it' that Cozzens blew the whistle on in a constructive way,'' Neuhaus said. (AP)

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