Roman Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, reprimanded by the Vatican last year for his views on abortion, has suggested that married men be ordained in parishes facing shortages of priests.
Weakland apparently is the first U.S. bishop to support publicly ordination of married men, which is prohibited by the church. His comments on the subject were published yesterday in his archdiocese's official newspaper, the Catholic Herald.
In a 25-page pastoral, Weakland wrote that he may ask Pope John Paul II to ordain married men on a limited basis to ease the clergy shortage. The archbishop said he saw "no other way out of this difficult situation." In the Milwaukee archdiocese, the number of priests is projected to decline 26 percent by 2000.
Weakland said he would be willing to choose a married man to lead a church and ask the pope's permission to ordain him if the circumstances called for it.
The archbishop could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The celibacy requirement has been cited as one of several reasons for the decline in the number of priests throughout the church. As the worldwide shortage becomes more acute, calls for ordination of married men and of women have grown. Weakland's comments did not address the subject of priesthood for women.
The pope has said repeatedly that ordination of women and married men is a closed subject. In only a few cases, most of them involving Anglican ministers who converted to Roman Catholicism, has the Vatican approved married priests although other Catholic rites permit them.
The Vatican, however, recently acknowledged that two married men in Brazil were given permission to be ordained on condition that they remain celibate.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and author on Catholic leadership in the United States, said Weakland is the first American bishop to come forth so strongly on the issue of ordaining married men.
"The important question is whether this will start a precedent and whether other bishops will agree with him and want to do the same thing or whether he will simply be a lone voice in the hierarchy," Reese said.
In his pastoral, Weakland rejected several measures currently practiced in parishes where no priests are available. He opposed consolidation of parishes into "mega-parishes," requiring priests to "circuit-ride" over several parishes or having lay people conduct communion services on a regular basis.
Weakland, a former head of the Benedictine order who has been a monk for 42 years, is known for his outspokenness.
The Vatican barred the University of Fribourg in Switzerland from granting Weakland an honorary degree, after Rome asserted that his criticism of the tactics of the antiabortion movement had caused confusion among the faithful.