A letter from more than 160 clergy in Milwaukee asking the Catholic Church to allow married priests has not yet reached the hands of Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But Gregory, in St. Paul on Thursday for an educators’ conference, said he understands the source of the request.
“No one can deny Catholic priests in the United States have felt tremendous pressure,” Gregory said in an interview after a speech to the Minnesota Catholic Education Association.
In their letter sent to Gregory on Tuesday, the Milwaukee priests cited the shortage of priests as a central reason to make celibacy optional.
Recent tensions in the church have “given some focus to questions simmering for a long time about church life,” said Gregory, bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.
“We are in the long haul for a lot of honest, open, heart-to-heart conversation,” he said. “The church is a family of faith, and every family has moments when it talks very seriously among itself about issues.”
Gregory called such conversations healthy, but he said Catholics can’t forget their unique identity or the authority of the church. “We do not proclaim doctrine by polling the faithful,” he said.