A Catholic Church that is still dominated by old conventions could be on the way out, at least in the eyes of one local priest. While issues like female priests and optional celibacy have been contentious within the Church for centuries, there seems to be a glimmer of hope – or at least debate – for one of the island’s most important names.
One of Malta’s most prominent priests and the recent winner of the national Active Ageing Lifetime Achievement Award Father Hilary Tagliaferro has spoken out about how he foresees the future of the Catholic Church, both locally and abroad.
He said that he believed women would be allowed to enter the priesthood in time, as well as believing that priests should not be obliged to remain celibate, considering the option of starting a family as something that should be on the cards.
1. Women could very well be Catholic priests in the future
Fr Hilary said that changing times could very well bring a historic change within the Catholic Church: female priests.
“The priesthood was established when women didn’t have any status, didn’t have a voice or dignity, so the culture of the time wouldn’t allow women to become priests,” he said in an interview with TVM. “Today, the world has changed and I don’t exclude it – in some time though, not in my lifetime, because the Church takes time to change – but I believe there will be a time when women can enter the priesthood.”
2. And priests who start their own families may find new issues to contend with
“I’m not saying if I had the opportunity to get married that I wouldn’t have entered priesthood,” he says, “because I love family, I love children, and I wish I had my own family.”
“But on the other hand, if I was married, would I have been as dedicated to serving others as I have been? Or would I be more focused on my own family instead of other people’s family and their children? It’s not so easy and clear cut,” he said.
3. ‘Celibacy should be kept, but it should be through the priest’s free will that he enters into it’
As far as celibacy went, Fr Hilary had previously spoken about his opinion on it following a Papal declaration to start allowing married people into the priesthood.
“There is no decision for priests to marry, despite the Pope telling married people who were Anglicans they may form part of the Catholic Church. But until now, the Church has not yet given permission to any priest to marry,” he explained.
“I perceive that if there is a change in the current Church regulation of giving freedom to those wishing to join priesthood, I say this strengthens dignity not only to priesthood but even to the family; it brings them closer so that man through his freedom of conscience chooses if he wants to take this family road, or dedicated himself completed to God; or else dedicate himself completely to God but with his family”, he said.
4. He also explained how a priest can react when someone confesses to sexually abusing a minor
“If someone tells me that in confession, I cannot report the person to the police,” Fr Hilary said. “But to give him absolution, he needs to swear to me that he is going to go to the police, or give me permission to tell the police myself – if he is causing harm, he needs to be stopped from causing more harm.”