Overworked Priests Seek End to Celibacy Rule

Inspiring young Catholic men to join the priesthood has become a problem in the United States, where there are now more than 3,000 parishes without priests.

Even in parishes that do have priests, the priests often say they are overwhelmed with work.

"There's many days where I start at about 7:00 in the morning, and I go right through 'til about 11:00 at night. And that's not very good when you're 70 years old," said Monsignor John Powlis, who has been conducting mass at a church in Brooklyn for 44 years.

The shortage is one reason priests in Milwaukee sent a letter to church leaders recently supporting the idea of married clergy. Priests in several other cities may soon do the same.

Powlis and other American priests believe they would get the help they need if the church would accept married priests.

"If a person wants to be married and wants to be a priest, I see no problem with that at all," Powlis said.

"You'd return to a situation of many more priests available for parish life. The shortage would be over," said Dean Hoge, a professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

But Vatican opposition to the concept remains strong and the church is standing fast. Its leaders believe that by being celibate, a priest can be more fully devoted to the church and his community.

"It is a discipline. It is a way of life that has a great value in the church," said Bishop Joseph Galanta of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Finding Another Way

Even though the church has said no to married priests, some Catholics have a different answer.

Phil Cerrato was a priest for 11 years before he left his order to marry. Now Cerrato is part of Rent-a-Priest, an Internet service that sends out married ex-priests to do religious rites. Last year they performed 300 funerals, 250 baptisms and 2,500 weddings.

"Spiritually, psychologically, and ministerially we're better people because we're married priests," Cerrato said.

But the church doesn't sanction many of the rites the group's members perform.

"For them to continue to function, I believe does a disservice to people," said Galanta.

To many Catholics increasingly in need, that doesn't seem to matter.