The pope insisted Saturday that celibacy is central to the priesthood, amid increasing calls for clergy to be allowed to marry and claims that abstention may have contributed to sex abuse scandals.
“The shining light of pastoral charity and a unified heart is sacerdotal celibacy and enshrined virginity,” Pope Benedict XVI told hundreds of clergy members in Milan Cathedral during the 7th World Meeting of Families.
“Without a doubt, Jesus’ love is for all Christians but takes on particular significance for the celibate priest and for those who take up the vocation of a life of devotion,” he said on the second day of his visit to Milan.
It is not the first time the pope has insisted on celibacy. In April he issued a rare condemnation of disobedient priests, saying those who questioned the Church over celibacy and the ordination of women were being self-serving.
Some senior Catholic clergymen have called for a new discussion on the issue of priest celibacy in the wake of the sex scandal which has rocked the Church.
But the pope made no reference to the scandal, or the moral and spiritual crises which often isolated and fragile priests face daily in their vocation.
On his arrival at the Cathedral, the pope was welcomed by Milan’s Archbishop Angelo Scola, tipped by some as a possible future pope, as well as Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who was among the favourites to succeed John Paul II.
The pope has left behind a scandal-hit Vatican to address pilgrims and families from 154 countries around the world on the importance of traditional family values in securing the Church’s future in the West.
On Friday, he was greeted in front of Milan’s multi-spired Gothic cathedral by thousands of cheering faithful, and was presented with yellow daisies by children as he passed through the crowd in his pope mobile.
Later Saturday he will meet thousands of young pilgrims in the San Siro football stadium, before presiding over a celebration with 300,000 faithful in the evening.
The trip will wind up on Sunday with an open-air mass at Bresso airport near Milan, Italy’s economic capital.