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 CNS Story:

VATICAN-MILINGO (UPDATED) Nov-16-2006 (470 words) xxxi

Pope calls Curia to discuss married priests, Archbishop Milingo

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI convened top Vatican officials to discuss the case of excommunicated Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and the status of married priests around the world.

The Vatican press office said the pope met for three hours Nov. 16 with the heads of major Roman Curia agencies. No details of the encounter were immediately disclosed, but a Vatican statement was expected later.

A Vatican statement Nov. 13 said the pope had called the meeting to examine the situation created by the "disobedience" of Archbishop Milingo, who recently ordained four married men as bishops without papal permission.

The Vatican statement said the meeting would reflect on requests made by married priests in recent years for dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and on requests for readmission to the priestly ministry.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said he did not expect the discussions to consider major changes in the priestly celibacy rule.

When ordained, Catholic priests in the Latin church make a promise of celibacy. In Eastern-rite Catholic churches, married men may become priests, but are not allowed to marry after ordination.

The Vatican encounter came less than two weeks after Archbishop Milingo wrote an open letter to the pope, calling for immediate steps to accept married priests in the Catholic Church in order to end what he said was the church's "dire straits because of the shortage of priests."

In his letter, Archbishop Milingo said there were an estimated 150,000 married priests worldwide "who are ready and willing to serve."

Archbishop Milingo, 76, married a South Korean woman in 2001 but left her at the request of Pope John Paul II and was reconciled with the Vatican. Last summer, however, the archbishop was reunited with his wife in the United States and founded a movement called Married Priests Now!

More than 20 heads of Vatican congregations and pontifical councils were expected to attend the Nov. 16 meeting. The Vatican said there were no additional agenda items.

The issue of priestly celibacy and the potential role of married priests came up at the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in late 2005. Several bishops at the synod asked for discussion of the possibility of ordaining married men to respond to priest shortages around the world.

But the synod ended up strongly affirming the value of priestly celibacy and made no recommendations for any change. The pope is expected to publish a document on the synod sometime soon.

Priests who request and obtain Vatican dispensation from priestly celibacy in order to marry are returned to the lay state. They are not allowed to administer the sacraments, except for granting absolution when there is danger of death, and are forbidden to assume some other functions in church life.

END


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