Leaving for love: Portuguese priests quit ministry in favour of marriage

Following the news that 26 women, each of whom declared herself in love with a Catholic priest, signed a letter to Pope Francis begging him to relax rules on celibacy, it transpires that Portuguese clergy are taking matters into their own hands.

(AP)
Pope Francis has said celibacy is "not a dogma of faith" and the "door is always open" to changing celibacy laws in the future. Will the swarms of Portuguese clergy leaving the Church for love be an impetus?

According to the BBC more than 400 practising priests in Portugal have recently left their vocation in the Church, many because they want to get married, which is currently against Catholic teaching.

Fernando Felix Ferreira, a former priest, told Portuguese TVI 24 that "the number of priests requesting exemption has been increasing".

Ferreira himself applied for dispensation from the Church in 2000; a lengthy process that took a year and a half to complete. Many priests, "some young, and some not-so-young" according to Ferreira, however, are now refusing to adhere to this formality and are instead choosing to "simply abandon the ministry".

Ferreira also shared that in a single day, six priests quit their jobs in the diocese of Santarém in Lisbon.

Despite these figures, Pope Francis has said he is "in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures," though he has raised hopes that this could change in the future.

"If, for the sake of argument, western Catholicism reviewed the celibacy question I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option...It is a question of discipline, not faith. It can be changed," he said in a 2012 interview.

The Pope also admitted that though he "never considered marrying," he was "dazzled" by a girl he met at a wedding in his youth.

A Family Synod focussing on "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation" will be held in October this year, during which priestly celibacy is expected to be discussed. The Pope is said to be "open-minded" about finding a solution to the shortage of clergy, after declaring that celibacy is not "a dogma of faith".

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