My recommendations to the Synod on how to deal with these 'shadows' presuppose the maintenance in the Latin Church of the ancient tradition and life-giving discipline of mandatory celibacy for the diocesan clergy as well as the religious orders. To loosen this tradition now would be a serious error, which would provoke confusion in the mission areas and would not strengthen spiritual vitality in the First World. It would be a departure from the practice of the Lord Himself, bring significant practical disadvantages to the work of the Church, e.g. financial, and weaken the sign value of the priesthood; it would weaken, too, the witness to loving sacrifice, and to the reality of the Last Things, and the rewards of Heaven. ... Cardinal George Pell: Fifteenth General Congregation*
To me, as a former seminarian, the charism of celibacy is a very important aspect of the diocesan and religious community priesthood. It is very important to give witness to a world that has lost perspective on the value of the human person of the love and sacrifice that is celibacy.
The priest receives an indelible mark on his soul when he receives Holy Orders. He is Jesus Christ, in persona Christi. It is Jesus who sits with me in the confessional and pours the healing salve of His Blood into the wounds created by my sin. It is Jesus who heals in the Anointing of the Sick. It is Jesus who acts to bring the whole congregation to the Father, and feed us with His Body and Blood during the celebration of the Eucharist. With the exception of marriage where the couples confer the Sacrament upon each other, it is Jesus Christ who acts in the Sacraments.
The priest holds the awesome power of heaven in his hands! He can bring Jesus Christ to us in the Eucharist at any time of the day or night. He holds the power of sharing the riches of our redemption in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I do not believe that a married clergy would solve the so called vocation "crisis" in the Church today. I do believe that there are three very important aspects to increasing vocations though.
One is in the bishops. And, I do believe that our local Archbishop has taken a step in the right direction by opening a diocesan Perpetual Adoration Chapel. That is one place that young men and women will be able to take the time to listen and subsequently "hear" the call to a vocation in the priesthood or religious life. There, they will form a deep and lasting relationship with the Lord. The Archbishop speaks regularly to the young about discernment and being open to a vocation. He is a very holy man and we are blessed by his presence in our Archdiocese.
The second is in the priests themselves. I have been blessed to have met some very happy and holy priests. And therein lies a key witness to the gift of priesthood. Men who live their vocation deeply in love with Jesus Christ, who love to give witness to the Gospel, and who love sharing the Sacraments with all of us. A powerful and positive witness to just how great the life of the priest and religious can go a long way to inspiring the young to consider that vocation.
And the third and last element is here at home. We the laity are very much responsible for the dearth in vocations too. Again our archbishop has encouraged us to give witness to our children, to, "live our faith deeply and longingly for the Lord". We must live a culture of vocation in our homes. Do we talk to our children about priestly and religious life as a viable option? Or do we avoid it at all costs? Do we demonstrate to our children by our words and actions the sacredness of the priesthood? Do we encourage our parish priest to feel welcome and visit with us? We must bring our children before the Lord and encourage them to listen to Him. Through Mass and especially in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Scriptures, writings of the Saints, and our relationship with the Lord our children will learn to hear His voice.
One of the fruits that I have seen as a result of my stay in the seminary is that quality of the men discerning their vocation. These are men considering the life as a diocesan priest. Men who have lived their lives chastely and understand the charism of celibacy and the gift that it is for the Church. They are men formed by the theology of Pope John Paul II. They are the men who will go on to inspire many other young men to really give the vocation of priesthood a serious thought. I believe it is because they have begun to truly understand the indelible mark they will receive in Holy Orders and that they also have begun to understand the meaning of in persona Christi. They understand that it is Jesus Christ who works in them!
*Cardinal George Pell Quote here. Fifth paragraph.