The Vatican-anchored Catholic Church continues to be hit with scandals, including a growing number of charges about sexual abuse of both males and females by male priests.
All the while, even the most devoted and dedicated Catholic officials will, if only in private, admit that recruiting priests and nuns is getting more difficult by the day. The ranks of both callings are shrinking, and finding replacements in some instances appears hopeless.
The time may have arrived for the pope and the college of cardinals in Rome to allow women as well as men to be ordained as priests and also to approve marriage by priests. Granted, this is a tremendous deviation from the old-line philosophy of the church. But the evidence is strongly in favor of such moves, and there are many who think the very survival of the Catholic Church, as such, depends on such changes, to provide better balance than the leadership now seems to have.
One analyst said recently: ``The entire Catholic Church in America is suffering a shortage of priests, suffering a lack of female role models in episcopal leadership, suffering the derision of a larger society that sees the church's position as hypocritical in the light of its teachings that all people are created in the image of God. . . . The Vatican has made it clear that it wants no such discussion, and has underscored its hostility to the entire notion by stopping a dialogue with the Church of England because it is considering women's ordination. But the American bishops can't escape other voices. Polls . . . have found that nearly two-thirds of Catholic laity consider ordaining women a good idea.''
Apparently there have been no recent polls about marriage by priests in the Catholic Church, but it would not be surprising to see that issue receive a close vote. The prospect of a life of celibacy and often loneliness without a family of their own are listed by many potential priests and nuns as the major deterrents to the service of the church.
Such problems as pedophilia and sexual abuse are by no means peculiar to the Catholic Church and its priesthood. But the evidence is that such situations might be alleviated by changes in how the priesthood is operated.
In the light of the growing crisis of clerical leadership, the Vatican would do well to give more thought to women priests and marriage by priests than it apparently has done on the record, at least to date.