NFTU

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) — Pope Benedict XVI today “re- affirmed” the celibacy requirement for priests, putting an end to the possibility his papacy would open up to married clergymen in a bid to offset a shortage of recruits.

The pontiff and the heads of the nine congregations and 11 pontifical councils that make up the administration of the Holy See met today in response to mounting calls for the Catholic Church to drop the celibacy obligation and examine the cases of priests who have married and sought readmission.

The participants of the meeting “re-affirmed the value of a priest choosing to be celibate in accordance to the Catholic tradition,” the Holy See said in a statement sent by e-mail.

Pope Benedict is facing a shortage of priests as the Catholic faith wanes in popularity in Europe and the U.S. amid debate about the Vatican’s stance on issues such as contraception, abortion, celibacy and the role of women in the church. The number of Catholic priests in Europe and North America dropped 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, between 1999 and 2004, the church’s statistical yearbook showed.

There are about 140,000 Catholic priests in Europe, and 46,000 in the U.S. Asia’s priesthood grew by 13 percent and Africa’s by 18 percent.

The world’s Catholic population is 1.1 billion, according to the 2006 edition of “Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae,” the Vatican’s official statistics book. Islam is the fastest-growing religion, with Muslims expected to number 2 billion by 2025, according to the United Nations Department of Statistics.

The celibacy debate was triggered by Emmanuel Milingo, a former archbishop of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, who was excommunicated by Pope Benedict two months ago for ordaining four married men as bishops.

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