Saturday, 23 February 2013
Well, what a lot of fuss. I suppose I was naïve to have thought that the reign of Pope Benedict would, besides having set the barque of Peter on a more steady course, have done more to quiet those who would see it return to a more 'liberal' point of view.
We have seen two prominent Catholics recently express their support for a married priesthood in the Church—one not to be surprised at, Catherine Pepinster, the Editrix of the Tablet, but the other nothing less than a prince of the Church, Cardinal O'Brien.
We're not talking doctrine here: wishing for a married priesthood is not heresy. Indeed, some of the most orthodox of clergy, such as Fr John Hunwicke, have argued in its favour, at least for the Ordinariate. So I wonder why there has been such a reaction. Perhaps it is simply a collective groan of 'oh for heaven's sake; I thought we were beyond all that now!', not a million miles from my own thoughts.
I can't lose much sleep about Ms Pepinster's and the Cardinal's comments, unlike some others on the net. But I do not agree with these critics of celibacy, and thought that I would look at some of their arguments in favour and see what they amount to.
1. They say that it was the ancient practice to have a married clergy.
Let us be clear from the beginning that what people like Ms Pepinster and the Cardinal are asking for is not just a married clergy, but a co-habiting clergy. That sounds like stating the bleeding obvious, but it isn't, really. For the major part of the first millennium, priests might well have been married, but the custom was for them, once ordained, to sleep apart from their wives, while continuing to be responsible for them and their children. To cut a long story short, men would marry relatively young in those days—by 16 or so—have some children and then seek major orders, upon which they would separate from their wives. In the East this developed into a fully cohabiting clerical body, while in the West it developed into full celibacy. Marriage after orders has never been practised in the Church.
2. They say that St Peter was married.
Yes; at some stage he certainly had had a wife (because he had a mother-in-law), but there is no evidence that she still lived at the time of his calling. Another very early source (St Papias) tells us that the Apostle St Philip lived in his old age in Hierapolis (modern Pammukale) with his daughters—in this case, too, there is no evidence of a living wife.
3. They say that it will solve the vocations deficit.
I suppose that it is possible that a married priesthood might go some way towards helping this problem. But it isn't as easy as that; there are too many other difficulties to solve, not least the question of money. I heard tell recently of a (married) Anglican priest desiring to convert. He approached his local Catholic bishop and was warmly welcomed, but told that parish ministry would not be possible, because all the parishes that could support a married man were already taken by others. He will have to find a chaplaincy of some sort. Any married man would need an assurance of sufficient income to support his family (and just think how expensive children are these days!). Unless his wife was a serious earner, this would be a very difficult problem to solve unless the whole perception of giving were given a serious overhaul in our parishes—parting people from their cash is not fun.
Sometimes what is called the 'viri probati' argument is advanced; these are worthy men from the parishes ordained to administer the sacraments. I suppose these are what the Church of England would call non-stipendiary ministers. Here one runs up against the problem of training—something that would also apply to full-time married priests. Seminaries these days have great difficulty squashing all the courses they are required to teach into five or six years. But could the church support a married man and his family for all those five or six years? Okay, so we shorten the course, or make it part-time. Then we will get priests who are theologically unformed. I know of a 3-year course for the preparation of permanent deacons who, because of shortage of time, only study one Gospel. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you; one Gospel only! And then people wonder why the homilies of some permanent deacons are not very good……! One might take the Greek system and ordain married men as, simply, sacrament dispensers; forbid them from hearing confessions or preaching. But does anyone think that this would be acceptable for long? The Church of England has begin ordaining non-stipendiary clergy on the basis of a two-year correspondence course; once ordained, many of these clergy may and do apply for stipendiary posts. It won't be long before they find out the problems of this one—the hard way.
4. Priests will more have more in common with their parishioners.
In an obvious way, of course that is true. But I'm not so sure that it is such a valuable point. After all there can be few who need sexual counselling these days, and I don't think that anyone would think of seeking that from a priest, either single or married. And as for family life; well, nearly all priests have been family members at some time or other. But it seems to me that what is needed these days is not more people having sex, but somebody who can stand aside from it and challenge the current world view that sex is the only non-negotiable right of all breathing beings; the most fundamental human right being to be free to have sex without responsibility. Celibacy challenges this, not least in the common assumption that priests must be getting it somewhere, surely, mustn't they?
No doubt there is more that could be said, (the argument from tradition, from the practice of our Lord, from the priest as Ikon of our Lord) and perhaps you might have some comments for the com box.
Posted by Pastor in Valle Emeritus at 16:18