In my explorations around the Austrian bishops' discussions of celibacy, I stumbled on a snippet from March 2009 that adds an interesting new dimension. In the diocese of Linz, the news agency Kath.net reported that a parish priest and dean, Father Josef Friedl, acknowledged in a public forum that he was living openly with a mistress, and that his congregation "had no objection". The newspaper Der Welt was said to have reported that Fr Friedl was only one of "several" deans in the Linz diocese that were living openly with women.
Corroborating the claim in Der Welt, after publication of the report on Fr Friedl, the Austrian group "Wir Sing Kirche" published a statement from a priests' support group, claiming that in their estimates, about a third of Catholic priests in the German speaking countries were in the same position. It is likely that they may have overestimated the numbers, but whatever the true exact figure, it is clearly not negligible.
"(...) As those who are in the same situation, we network in self-help groups in Austria and other adjoining German-speaking dioceses. According to our insight, the reality is that there are about one third of the Catholic priests in the same situation. We ask the church leadership to seek a path which liberates this priestly form of life in the Church. We are all aware of the service of the priest as vocation and fulfilment in life. Our partners are our gift from heaven and valuable assistance in our lives and service. (...)"
This suggests to me, that the primary reason for the bishops' current discussion on the need to do away with compulsory celibacy, is just a healthy dose of reality: in practice, in the real world, priestly celibacy as a norm simply does not exist. I have known for some time that in Africa, it is widely accepted that many priests and even some bishops have open relationships with women, even raising children and families in church houses, but this is the first suggestion that I have seen that similar open flouting of the rules occurs elsewhere.
Clerical Celibacy is a Myth.
"Rent a Priest" blog describes itself as a "conversation about the married Catholic priesthood and church reform". The archives are packed with many tantalizing headlines, which I wish I could explore properly right now - but its far too late to do it tonight. The associated website, which I've written about before, reminds us of the well-established rule, "Once a priest, always a priest", and promotes priest who are no longer work within formal church structures, continuing to offer less formal ministry, for example as marriage officers and other freelance services.