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Catholic priests and celibacy: a flashpoint in sexual abuse crisis

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Even Roman Catholic scholars and intellectuals favoring a reform idea of “optional celibacy” for priests worry about stereotypes and assumptions at a time of public anger that crudely equate vows of chastity with pedophilia. A strong orthodox core at the Vatican has treated the subject as closed – even as questioning celibacy has become a coin-of-the-realm topic among ordinary Catholics.

“In Catholic opinion, in terms of surveys and studies about what Catholics actually believe on the ground, ever greater numbers are talking about optional celibacy and the ordination of women – that toothpaste is not going back in the tube,” says theologian Tom Beaudoin of Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, echoing numerous Catholic scholars and lay people interviewed for this article.

Mr. Bertone, known as a hard-liner who last month equated homosexuality with pedophilia (something he later retracted), nonetheless opened the celibacy question in a context that has been a vexing conundrum for bishops and priests for years: that while Catholic priests must be celibate, the church has slowly accepted married priests from orthodox and Anglican traditions. As Bertone put it, “There are married priests in the Catholic as well as oriental church."

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