updated 11/14/2006 2:33:29 AM ET 2006-11-14T07:33:29

Pope Benedict XVI has called a meeting Thursday with top Vatican officials to discuss lifting the celibacy requirement for priests seeking to marry or who have already married.

Benedict called the summit to examine the implications of the “disobedience” of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the Zambian prelate excommunicated in September for installing four married American men as bishops, the Vatican said Monday.

The Vatican stressed the meeting would not open a general discussion of the celibacy requirement but would only examine requests for dispensation made by priests wishing to marry and requests for readmission made by clergy who had married in recent years.

Milingo first angered the Holy See in 2001, when he married a South Korean acupuncturist chosen for him by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. He renounced that union — at a group wedding in New York — on an appeal from Pope John Paul II a few months later.

Milingo disappeared from his residence outside Rome in June, resurfacing a month later in Washington, D.C., to announce he was back with his wife and was championing the cause of married priests through his new advocacy group “Married Priests Now.”

Milingo said the Catholic Church should embrace more than 150,000 married priests worldwide in part to ease the ongoing clergy shortage and to elevate the sanctity of marriage.

Milingo 'automatically excommunicated'
The Vatican said in September that Milingo and the four men he ordained as bishops were “automatically excommunicated” under church law. The Vatican added that it did not recognize the ordination of the four — the Rev. George Augustus Stallings Jr. of Washington; Peter Paul Brennan of New York; Patrick Trujillo of Newark, N.J.; and Joseph Gouthro of Las Vegas — and would not recognize any ordinations by those men in the future.

Under Vatican teaching, the authority to name bishops rests with the pope. The church also requires celibacy of its priests ordained under the Latin rite.

The Synod of Bishops in October 2005 rejected suggestions that the mandatory celibacy requirement for priests be dropped. But Milingo’s excommunication has brought the issue back into the spotlight.

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