Pope Benedict has called a meeting for Thursday of the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman curia. This unusual gathering has as its ostensible purpose the discussion of the difficult case of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and the more general question of priests who abandon their vows of celibacy and those who seek to return to ministry.
The Thursday meeting appears to be a response to Archbishop Milingo’s repeated public calls for a change in the Church’s discipline requiring priestly celibacy. Although the Vatican announced the excommunication of the African archbishop after he presided at the unauthorized episcopal ordination of four married men, Pope Benedict may be anxious to forestall any possibility that Archbishop Milingo could provoke a major schism. This will be the second such meeting of Curial leaders since the start of the current pontificate. Pope Benedict called together the dicastery leaders for a similar session on February 13.
The schism worry is based on the fact that Milingo has gained the sympathy and support of several of the “Rent-a-Priest” groups out there of men who left the ministry to marry, but still act as priests in violation of canon law.
To be sure, there are many men who left the priesthood to marry who remained faithful to the requirements of their dispensation and are Catholics in good standing today, but there are enough of these others to create a big mess. Imagine for a moment if a few of these guys showed up at some of the churches where folks in Boston are still holding sit-ins at closed parishes.
As you read about this in the mainstream media, it is important to note that celibacy is not on the table. The Pope is not considering lifting the discipline. This is just about how to deal with those who break that vow.