"Straight from the Heart"
In a March 10 interview on the Albany radio station Talk 1300, the cardinal suggested that the Catholic Church would sooner or later have to consider whether to allow priests to marry.Meanwhile, the head of India's Syro-Malybar church has made waves there for his finding, aired in a soon-to-release biography, that the country's women religious are oppressed and treated "almost like slaves."
“I think that it’s going to be discussed; it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion,” Cardinal Egan said, replying to a question from the host, Fredric U. Dicker, about whether the church’s severe shortage of priests might spur such a change. “I think it has to be looked at. And I am not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture not to make an across-the-board determination.”
At another point, he said: “Is it a closed issue? No. That’s not a dogmatic stand.”
For a millennium, the Vatican has signaled that it is, indeed, a closed issue. Despite inklings of a discussion in the 1960s, during the Second Vatican Council, each of the last three popes has quashed efforts to raise the matter at ecclesiastical synods.
In 2003, when 163 priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese petitioned the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to open discussions on celibacy in light of the shortage of priests, they were soundly rebuffed by their archbishop, Timothy M. Dolan — whom Pope Benedict XVI chose last month to succeed Cardinal Egan.
Cardinal Egan, through a spokesman, declined to elaborate on his radio remarks. Archbishop Dolan, through the same spokesman, also declined to comment.
But in the Catholic news media and among church scholars, the departing cardinal’s words have sparked a spirited debate over what he meant to say on an issue central to the identity of a dwindling priesthood: Were his words a parting gift to the reformers he had no truck with for nine years? A last-minute crack in the discipline of a leader who had remained determinedly under the radar for so long in the media capital of the world? Or just a matter-of-fact response by a canon lawyer — which the cardinal is — to a question about church law?
In interviews and blog comments, some conservatives dismissed what the cardinal said as the comments of a man speaking, as one said, “above his pay grade.” Many advocates of reform, who have long considered Cardinal Egan a conservative, said his remarks were surprisingly encouraging, albeit a little late in the day. The cardinal, 76, officially retires on April 15.
The Rev. Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, which is affiliated with the Conference of Catholic Bishops, said such words from a top American prelate, whatever his intent, would “put an issue on the table that a lot of people thought was off the table.”
A spokesman for the bishops’ conference would not comment on the cardinal’s remarks. But Father Vega, who emphasized that he was not speaking for the bishops but as a priest, added, “I think he breathed new life into the hopes of a lot of people.”...
But the Rev. Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of the conservative Catholic publishing house Ignatius Press, doubted that church leaders had any interest in change.
“There is no inevitability about it,” Father Fessio said. “To suggest that it is something that has to be looked at now — I do not see that happening. From time to time, perhaps there should be a discussion, but only so that reasonable people can see why things are the way they are — and why they should stay that way.”
Elevated to the papal "senate" in 2001, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil serves as president of the Indian bishops in addition to his main post as major archbishop of the 4 million Syro-Malybar Catholics worldwide.
The book titled Straight from the Heart... talks about how a section of the priests treat the nuns making them wash their clothes and cook food, all without any pay.That wasn't the 81 year-old cardinal's only bombshell -- in a line that's made the rounds of the national press, Vithayathil said that the Hindu nationalist BJP party were "a lesser evil" than the Communists, who could be kingmakers in the new government that'll take office following the general election which begins in early April.
The biographer who is also the spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Council says he has penned down exactly what the cardinal has told him.
“In many of the bishop conferences he has heard such complaints coming up and even though they are rare they are surely happening. That is what he has said in the book,” says Syro-malabar church spokesperson Paul Thellekat.
Last year, a study by the Catholic Church found that 25 per cent of the nuns in Kerala were unhappy with life inside the four walls of a convent. This book confirms the result of that study.
“I would say to a great extent our nuns are not emancipated women. They are often kept under submission by the fear of revenge by priests. That's how the priests get away with whatever humiliation they heap upon them,” says Vidayathil.
On a separate Indian note, the Pope has selected another of its prelates -- Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil SDB of Guwahati -- to compose this year's meditations for the Way of the Cross over which the pontiff himself will preside on Good Friday evening at Rome's Coliseum.
Following last year's text from Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB of Hong Kong, the 73 year-old is the second Asian Salesian in a row tapped to write the rite.