Clerical celibacy is the discipline by which, in some Churches, only unmarried men are ordained to the priesthood. Chief of the Catholic Churches that follow this discipline is the Latin Church or Roman Catholic Church. This rule applies to the Eastern Catholic Churches also.
In this context, “celibacy” retains its original meaning of remaining unmarried. Abstaining from sexual intercourse, the obligation to be celibate is seen as a consequence of the obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Throughout the Catholic Church, East as well as West, a priest doesn’t marry. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, without exception, rule out ordination of married men to the episcopate.
The law of clerical celibacy is considered to be not a doctrine, but a discipline. Exceptions are sometimes made, especially in the case of Protestant clergymen who convert to the Catholic Church, and the discipline could in theory be changed for all ordinations to the priesthood.
Dr Daly, who was a bishop for almost 20 years, said there needed to be a place in the modern Catholic church for a married priesthood. The former Bishop worked in Derry at the height of the troubles. He also said that many young men who considered joining the priesthood turned away because of the rule.
Dr Daly, 77, addressed the controversial issue in a new book about his life in the church, A Troubled See. A photograph, showing the then priest waving a white handkerchief on Bloody Sunday, has become one of the most enduring images of the troubles.
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Bishop Daly said allowing clergymen to marry would ease the church’s problems.
“There will always be a place in the church for a celibate priesthood, but there should also be a place for a married priesthood in the church,” he said.
“I think priests should have the freedom to marry if they wish. It may create a whole new set of problems but I think it’s something that should be considered.”
Dr Daly said he found it “heartbreaking” during his term as Bishop when priests, or prospective priests, were forced to resign or unable to join the priesthood because of the celibacy rule. “I’m worried about the decreasing number of priests and the number of older priests. I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed and addressed urgently,” he said.
While Dr Daly accepted he might be out of step with current Vatican thinking he said he was “not engaged in a popularity contest”.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said he did not wish to comment on Bishop Daly’s remarks. “Bishop Daly was speaking in a personal capacity,” he added.