Brisbane Archbishop backs married Australian Indigenous men to be allowed pathway to priesthood

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops' conference, gives the church's response to recommendations from the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse during a media conference in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 31, 2018. The results of the inquiry helped spur the Australian Catholic Church to hold a Plenary Council. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

CATHNEWS (Australia) – Married Indigenous men should be allowed to be ordained as Catholic priests and the centuries-old rule of compulsory celibacy will “very likely” ultimately be changed by the Vatican, says Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

According to an article in The Australian, Archbishop Coleridge has warned that the Church will need to “look quite different” to flourish, ahead of the October Synod on Synodality.

He has proposed an exemption for Australian Indigenous priests, and said it was necessary when there was “no way you’re going to recruit a celibate clergy in those cultures”.

West Australian Labor senator Patrick Dodson, a foundational figure in the Aboriginal reconciliation movement, is the only Australian Indigenous man ever to be admitted to the Catholic priesthood.

“And Pat Dodson ended up leaving after a relatively short time,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“I think it’s fairly bleak with regard to the Church generally now. So one of the things I have just floated is that: is there reason enough to say that within Indigenous communities we will ordain married men?

“We have married clergy. I mean, some of the clergy who are from other Churches are married men . . . so it’s not as if we don’t know married clergy.”

(Archbishop Coleridge is scheduled to speak at the National Clergy Assembly in Rotorua in October, NZ Catholic understands.)

The Australian article was headlined “End of celibacy nigh, says Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge.”

“The headline went quite a way beyond what I actually said, but the article was fair enough,” Archbishop Coleridge told The Catholic Leader, Brisbane’s Catholic newspaper, adding that his comments were made towards the end of a wide-ranging interview with The Australian about vocations and Brisbane’s three newly-ordained priests.

“I don’t think the end of celibacy is nigh, but I’m also convinced that the question won’t go away, especially for communities like our Indigenous peoples.”

“Clerical celibacy is an undoubted value, but it’s not an absolute value,” Archbishop Coleridge continued in The Catholic Leader article.

“I have been more or less happily celibate through my life, and the Church would be greatly impoverished if celibacy were wholly abandoned.

“But the question is whether it should be mandatory for all, and the context of the question is the changing profile of the priesthood and the current needs of the People of God.”

The CathNews (Australia) article added that the Pope appeared ready to test the water on celibacy after Vatican Synod in 2019 recommended it be suspended in the Amazon region of South America to address a chronic shortage of priests there – only to retreat, with Francis saying further “discernment” was required.

Backing Archbishop Coleridge’s call for the change to start with Indigenous men, Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci said: “With Aboriginal people, we need to be respectful of culture. Pope Francis has said that he is open in certain situations to ordaining married men; that is not off the agenda.

“The opportunity to have Indigenous priests ministering to their communities is one that we aspire to. I would be open to discussing this matter if it arose.”

Photo: Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane in 2018 (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

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Reader Interactions


  1. Tertia says

    So why is it that married non-indigenous men
    not been given opportunities to be ordained as
    priests ?

    Or is it that ONLY indigenous married men be
    given opportunities to be ordained?

    And WHY NOW?
    Why not during an LNP government?

  2. Gregory says

    But wait…gosh… I thought this was only for the Amazon. Ha, ha!
    Are we back to Acts where where there was division between Gentile Christian and Jewish Christians – i.e. those with the right background? “2-legs good, 4 legs better”.
    How about concentrating on producing vocations rather than expending time and treasure on cutting the very branch you sit on.