Married Priests Convening Near Papal Retreat

United Press International

Roman Catholic priests who have married in defiance of church celibacy requirements gathered Saturday for a meeting near Rome to rally support for their attempt to have the ban on marriage lifted.

The meeting, officially designated the second session of the General Synod of Married Catholic Priests and their Wives, formally opens today at Ariccia, a village in the Alban hills 15 miles southeast of Rome near Castel Gandolfo, where Pope John Paul II is spending the summer.

Married priests from 15 nations are taking part in the sessions sponsored by the Vocatio Association, which says it represents an estimated 70,000 priests who have married in defiance of the church's celibacy standard.

Current Cases First

At a news conference, spokesman Gianni Gennari said the group's first aim will be to formulate a request to the Vatican to grant prompt dispensation to 5,800 priests who have marriage requests pending before church authorities.

It is also trying to obtain a change in canon law that would make priestly celibacy optional, giving every Catholic cleric the choice either to remain celibate or marry. Current rules force a priest who marries to renounce his ministry.

Dutch priest Lambert van Gelder said that an analysis of the 7,000 Italian priests who are married showed that 20% abandoned the church, 30% sought some form of lay service, and 50% would like to continue to be priests.

He said the readmission to the church of married priests would help increase the number of Catholic clerics, who are currently relatively scarce.

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