Re-examining the Catholic Church's celibacy rule


(CBS News) Celibacy of the clergy has been a part of the Roman Catholic tradition for centuries. So what are the chances, if any, that the Pope about to be chosen will heed any of the voices calling for that tradition to change? Our Sunday Morning Cover Story is reported now by Barry Petersen:

With Pope Benedict retired, many Catholics are hoping a new Pope may be a chance to rethink old doctrines, including one of the oldest and, in today's church, now one of the most controversial: celibacy.

"It's that call -- leave everything and follow me -- and if you do that you're not just a functionary providing religious services, you're someone whose whole life is at stake," said Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, who is now in Rome for the conclave.

"If you're going to lead the people in Christ's name, celibacy isn't absolutely necessary, but it is a sign that someone has left everything for the sake of the Lord," said Cardinal George.

Father John Fitzgibbons, president of Denver's Jesuit Regis University, says the church teaches that celibacy means a priest or a nun doesn't have family worries, and can instead focus solely on their religious work.

He says it offers the clergy "the ability, the wherewithal, the time, to give your energies to the people of God in a more concentrated, more useful way -- not distracted by family, kids, "any economic well-being, to some degree."

Complete coverage: Change at the Vatican

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills once studied for the Catholic priesthood, but quit over the demand for celibacy. He has written extensively, and critically, about the church, including the argument that having a family diminishes the quality of one's work.

"If you really believed that, you would never go to a married doctor," said Wills. "You would never elect a married president, because you would say, 'Oh, he just cares about his family, he doesn't care about the country, he doesn't care about my health." That's such a phony argument.

"Celibacy as the church has set up is unhealthy," Wills said. "Instead of uniting it with communities, it divides them from communities . . . by setting them apart."

For Christianity's first thousand years, priests could marry and have families. In fact, St. Peter -- the first pope -- had a wife

Celibacy became widespread in the 11th century, not so much because of scripture as for simple economics: Widows of married priests were claiming inheritance rights to church lands. Celibacy ended that . . . but not for everyone.

Some parish priests, like Denver's Father Chrysostom Frank, are members of the Church's Eastern Rite branch. His is the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, which still reports to the Pope.