VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict has called a meeting of Vatican advisers for a "reflection" on issues related to celibacy in the Church following a schism led by a renegade African archbishop who wants priests to be able to marry.
The meeting, to be held on Friday, was announced by the Vatican's press office yesterday in a short statement that a spokesman said did not imply a review of current rules that priests remain celibate.
The statement said the Pope and leaders of Vatican departments would hold a "reflection on requests for dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and on requests for readmission to the priestly ministry by priests who had married".
Chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting was not being called to consider major changes in the celibacy rule but to discuss the issue generally and certain individual cases.
The main purpose of the meeting is to discuss the ramifications of the crisis sparked when Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo ordained four married men as priests at a ceremony in Washington DC in September.
That prompted his automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.
Milingo rejects his excommunication, which forbids him to receive the sacraments or share in public acts of worship.
He is planning a convention for more than 1000 married priests - and their wives - in New York for December 8-10.
"The Holy Father has called on Thursday, November 16, a meeting ... to examine the situation created following [Milingo's] disobedience," the statement said.
The Roman Catholic Church insists that its priests remain celibate and has ruled out letting them marry, which advocates say would ease a worldwide shortage of priests.
Priests were permitted to wed during the first millennium, but marriage was condemned by the Church at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
Milingo tried marriage himself in 2001 at a mass ceremony held by the Rev Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.
The union was never recognised by the Vatican and Milingo later rejoined the Catholic Church.
A proposal discussed, and rejected at a synod of Catholic bishops last year, suggested that the Church ordain some "viri probati" - a Latin term referring to older, married men with families who are known to lead exemplary personal lives.