(Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
A group of Italian women who are in love affairs with Roman Catholic Church priests have asked Pope Francis to make the celibacy mandate for clergy optional.
Twenty six women recently wrote to the Pontiff, their letter being published on the website of the Catholic publication the Vatican Insider. "With humility, we place at your feet our suffering so that something can change, not just for us but for the good of the whole Church," reads the letter in part.
The women also stated that the celibacy mandate for priests caused "devastating suffering" within the Church and that married priests would serve "with greater passion."
In the first centuries of its inception, the Catholic Church did not have a thoroughly implemented policy of clerical celibacy. Many clergy, including numerous popes, were married and had children.
Nevertheless, in Western Europe the Church made increasing efforts to bar clergy from getting married, with various edicts and rules being implemented through the Medieval era. At the Second Lateran Council in 1139, the Church made a definitive rule barring priests from marriage. The celibacy mandate was upheld at the Council of Trent in 1563.=
In recent years, the celibacy tradition has come under increased scrutiny, with some reformers arguing a link between the celibacy mandate and the wave of sex abuse caused by priests.
A March 2014 report released by the Pew Research Center found that over two-thirds of Catholics surveyed in the United States supported priests being allowed to marry. Compiled by Pew's Religion & Public Life Project, 72 percent of respondents expressed support for changing the rule on celibacy.
"Nearly eight-in-ten say the church should allow Catholics to use birth control, while roughly seven-in-ten say the church should allow priests to get married and allow women to become priests," reported Pew.
Despite the support, Church leadership has indicated that such a demand in change will not come in the foreseeable future.
In an interview with an African publication, Archbishop of Bulawayo Diocese Alex Thomas explained that the women's effort will not affect the celibacy rule. "The church was not founded yesterday. Priests are not allowed to marry and if one isn't happy, they're free to leave the church, they are free to join Pentecostal churches," said Thomas to Bulawayo News.
"Yes, it's a petition. We saw it and a petition is more of a request. There's nothing that is going to be changed by Pope Francis regarding the matter."