Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley extolled priestly celibacy Tuesday as he addressed priests gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the annual Chrism Mass.
O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and a close adviser to Pope Francis, did not mention the pontiff’s remarks to a German newspaper last month indicating some openness to the possibility of married priests in regions suffering from a severe shortage of priests.
While Francis said allowing priests to marry isn’t the answer to the priest shortage, his statements still sparked debate about the Roman Catholic Church’s celibacy requirement for priests.
At the Chrism Mass, in which priests renew their ordination vows and receive vials of consecrated oil to be used in sacraments throughout the year, O’Malley did not mention the pope’s remarks, but he said celibacy is “a special identification with Christ . . . who is celibate, who is a virgin.”
“There is a strong missionary dimension to celibacy,” O’Malley said. “It’s difficult to imagine the face of the church today if we had not had a host of men and women throughout the ages who renounced home, spouse, and children for the sake of the children of heaven.”
He reminded priests they are spiritual fathers, “feeding our family the word of God and the sacraments, helping people to live lives of discipleship with a sense of purpose with a mission that Christ has entrusted to us.”
The Archdiocese of Boston has about 600 priests available for parish ministry today compared with about 1,500 in the 1960s, though the archdiocese has fewer parishes. St. John’s Seminary, however, is at capacity now, an archdiocesan spokesman said, because of the emphasis O’Malley has placed on attracting more priests.
O’Malley urged clergy to spend time with one another, to put aside their differences — “remember, we don’t have to be twins to be brothers” — and to work hard to ensure the church’s future.
“Never miss an opportunity to invite a young man — or a not-so-young man — to consider a priestly calling,” he said.
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.