Bishop reiterates need for debate on celibacy


The Catholic Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, has once again raised the need for a debate on priestly celibacy in the context of the decline in vocations.

Speaking yesterday to RTE following the announcement of the closure of St Peter's seminary in Wexford, Dr Comiskey said the debate on celibacy would not go away. "The question will continue whether or not some people would like it to stop. You can't stop people asking questions - it is a normal intellectual exercise of rational, mature adult people."

Dr Comiskey said there were already married priests in the Catholic Church: converted Anglicans in the diocese of Westminster. He said he had been twice to Rome following similar comments three years ago, and his views on the subject were well known.

When he advocated a debate on celibacy in the context of falling vocations in June 1995, Bishop Comiskey was ordered by Cardinal Gantin, the head of the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops, to retract his views and to promise not to speak publicly on the matter again.

Dr Comiskey was understood to have rejected this ultimatum and was then summoned to Rome for an audience with Cardinal Gantin.

This was the start of controversial events which led to Dr Comiskey's departure to the US the following autumn to be treated for alcoholism, and his return six months later to account for himself before the media and the priests and people of his diocese.

Yesterday, the bishop admitted that vocations to the Irish church were in "freefall" but insisted there were untapped resources in the church which could yet meet its vocation needs.

He said widowers, other older men and some younger men might be interested in a religious vocation. He urged such people to take philosophy and theology courses and to then do shorter formation courses, rather than face the "intimidatory prospect" of full seminary courses along with 18- and 19-year-olds.

The eight remaining students for the priesthood at St Peter's are to move to other institutions. Bishop Comiskey said most would go to Maynooth but some would go to the Irish College in Rome.

Dr Comiskey agreed there was an element of inevitability about the seminary's closure. He said there had been consultations about the situation there in 1994 and it was agreed the numbers should not fall below 12.

However, he believed it was not yet necessary to look to Asia or Africa to meet Irish needs.

Dr Comiskey said schools were more resistant to priests coming in to talk about vocations. It was a "difficult message" to deliver to a class of 30-35 where only two or three boys might be interested.