Portugal: Catholic priests quitting church 'to marry'

In Portugal, more and more priests are quitting their vocation - often without applying for official dispensation - apparently because they want to marry.

More than 400 men have recently left the priesthood to get married or simply to live as ordinary citizens, one former priest tells Portuguese TVI 24. Of particular concern is the rise in the number of priests who ignore the complex legal process of leaving the church and simply walk off the job, says Fernando Felix Pereira. He heads Fraternitas, a group advocating for the Church to let priests marry.

"Young priests - and some not so young, too - are just leaving, and refusing to go through the procedure of applying for a dispensation," Pereira says, recalling that the process took him 18 months in 2000. Though he was unable to give exact figures, Pereira says six priests recently abandoned their vocation in one day in the diocese of Santarem.

At present, the Catholic Church insists all priests should be unmarried men. But Pereira tells Publico newspaper a recent remark from Pope Francis that priestly celibacy is not an 'article of faith' has raised hopes among those who see no contradiction between their vocation and married life, and that much depends on the Family Synod that the Pope has called for October. "Each local church should find its own way," he says. "Each diocese should decide whether there can be married priests alongside the celibate. This is a sort of progressive process that will help people grow accustomed to the idea."