Married priests as an accommodation

Married priests as an accommodation

We’ve been having a long discussion in the comments below (80-some-odd comments and counting) on mandatory celibacy in the Latin rite. I think it would be helpful to clarify some things.

First, I recognize the priestly celibacy in the Latin rite is not a matter of dogma, but is a discipline, one which can change. However, just because it is possible to change something does not mean it is prudent or wise to do so. There may be good reasons to keep a discipline permanently in place, and not let it change with fashion or the whim of the times.

To address the main point of the blog entry, Fr. McBrien suggests that mandatory celibacy is part of the reason for the Scandal. I say it is not, but rather that failure to act to remove priests who fail to live up to their vow of celibacy is the real reason. Allowing a large sexually active subculture to exist in the priesthood and failing to provide formation and oversight are more reasons.

Second, just because the Eastern rites allow married priests doesn’t mean that it is normative or even healthy. With all due respect to our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters, married priests were allowed as an accommodation for those Eastern Christian Churches returning to communion with Rome. Just because it was allowed did not mean that the celibate ideal of the West was no longer an ideal. All the reasons for maintaining a celibate priesthood remained in force.

Finally, I am not opposed to discussing the reasons why the Church asks Latin-rite priests to maintain the discipline of celibacy. It is pointless to agitate to change the discipline because it’s not going to happen. It is pointless to speculate how married priests could solve the vocation shortage. Married clergy in other denominations has done nothing to solve clergy shortages there. And we have seen fine examples in this country of dioceses and religious orders bursting at the seams with new seminarians, eager to follow the examples of role-model priests of their acquaintance into the celibate life.

  • Peace, Dom.

    As someone else put it in another thread, this discussion isn’t occurring in a vacuum, and that’s why your first point is not only well-taken but needs expanding.

    Yes, celibacy is only a discipline and can change. But in *this time and place,* its abandonment would be seen and understood (and not wholly wrongly, given the agendas of the people most pushing its abandonment) as a repudiation of the church teaching on sexuality. It would be seen and understood as the Church admitting there’s something unnatural or bizarre about not having sex. The Church admitting that having sex is such an essential part of humanness that men cannot live without it. The Church acknowledging that trying to control sexual appetite is unreasonable. The Church choosing the worldliness of the body over the otherworldliness of pious devotion.

    The damage the widespread acceptance of these canards would do to Church teaching on, just to name two subjects, marriage and dealing with homosexuality … it’d be simply unspeakable.

  • War, Todd.

    “let’s not keep the discipline unchanged because a few will misinterpret it.”

    A few … good gravy marie (as Brett Somers would say). *Come on* … what world are you living in, bud? We know perfectly well what the subheadlines and sidebars will say and what the New York Times think-pieces by Richard McBrien are gonna say. This doesn’t even require clairvoyance. Even in the world that exists, open dissidents from the Church teachings on contraception, homosexuality, abortion, divorce and remarriage, the all-male priesthood and priestly celibacy—in short, anything having to do with sex in some sense—are basically the same people. Is that pure coincidence? Yes, the issues can, in principle, be disentangled or ticket-splitted. But *in the real world* people line up in predictable and pretty uniform ways.

    In any event that a change in discipline will be misinterpreted (and therefore be destructive of receptivity to more-bedrock Church teachings such as the two I cited) is, if true, as good a reason as any other prudential argument for keeping a discipline.

  • If saying married priests isn’t the norm is a Western bias, then why do even the Eastern churches not permit a married priest to become bishop? Are they not saying by that prohibition that there is something inherently more desirable about a celibate bishop? If that applies to the bishop, who has the fullness of priestly orders, why does it not apply to priests?

    It has nothing to do with Western or Eastern bias. I could not care less about West versus East or some such and I get very tired of the defensiveness of some Eastern Christians who think every comment is the greatest slight against their great traditions.

    The Church, that is the pope and the bishops in communion with him, decided long ago that the normative circumstance for priests was celibacy. But as some of the churches who separated with the Great Schism began to return to unity, a problem was created. What to do with the married priests? Thus it was allowed as an accommodation. Does that make them bad priests? No. Does it invalidate their priesthood? Again, No.

    Look at St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 7. He says it is better not to marry, but if you can’t control yourself, then marry. Who is he talking to? 

    Or Matthew 19:12, where Jesus talks of those who forsake marriage for the kingdom of God. Is celibacy necessary for the priesthood? No. Is it a higher ideal and calling? Yes.

  • Jack,

    If people want to read my words differently, that’s their problem not mine. I can’t force people to read my words the way I intend them.

    And I am NOT ignorant of the Eastern rites. In fact, I know quite a bit about them. So I base my statements on that knowledge.

  • Courage Man,

    I’m not going to state at this point whether I believe chaste men with SSA should enter seminary. But I want to propose a different situation. Consider another kind of involuntary affliction: alcoholism.

    Would a seminary be justified in denying admission to an alcoholic man who has been sober for several years on the basis that his condition combined with the difficult life of a parish priest could lead to a relapse? If so, could that apply to a man with SSA?

    Also, a seminary might consider that placing men with SSA in close living quarters with other men to be an undue temptation, kind of like having co-ed dorms.

    While it’s not saying that men with SSA are sinful even if they live chastely, perhaps there could still be prudential reasons to exclude them from seminary and ordination.

    What do you think?

  • Michigan Catholic,

    I think you are not understanding what Courage Man and David Morrison are talking about.

    You says: “…it is a serious impediment of character when one engages in sexual behavior outside marriage, no matter what kind of sexual behavior it is. It is a very serious impediment when the person cannot refrain from acting out sexually outside marriage.”

    But as David and CM say, the hypothetical seminarian with SSA is not acting out, does not condone homosexual behavior, but simply finds himself attracted to other men. Perhaps he has never acted on that impulse, has never had a boyfriend, has never had any kind of sexual experience. That’s a lot more difficult circumstance than the one you propose, which I think we all agree is clearly outside the bounds of the Church’s teachings.

    John: I would hesitate to bring up the image argument. Jesus wasn’t a sinner, yet sinners are able to be “in persona Christi.” The same could be said of anyone any kind of habit of sin, whatever it is.

  • John,

    A distinction needs to be made between homosexuals, i.e. those who believe that they have a particular sexual orientation disctinct from heterosexual male and live accordingly, and men with SSA, who for whatever reason, are sexually attracted to other men, even though they fight against it and want to live according to the Church’s teachings.

    Maybe Courage Man and David Morrisson would disagree with me, but to my mind SSA is just another mental health issue. Other mental health problems don’t prevent a man from being “imago Christi,” why should this one?

    In fact, by saying that SSA is such an impediment, you are implicitly saying it is a third kind of orientation, in addition to male and female. I don’t think it is.