Sometimes our priests in the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans have had others assume that because they are married Catholic priests they also hold an array of progressive positions. Usually along with a push for married priests is a push for women in the diaconate, and eventually the priesthood—in other words a flattening of any hierarchical order in the Church and an unraveling of Holy Orders and of sacramental theology itself.
I can’t tell you how much most of us want to distance ourselves from that point of view. We do not want to be used as a wedge to change the Western Church’s discipline of celibacy, which is the norm for us in the Personal Ordinariates, with married men being considered for priesthood on a case by case basis.
Thus, even though some of us may hold that a married priesthood and the charism of a family at the heart of a parish is part of our Patrimony, we assent to the Church’s position on celibacy, and pray for vocations among our young men to embrace this call. Yet we love and respect our married priests and their wives and thank God for them.
So then, what to make of reports coming out of Rome that Pope Francis has called a synod to look at whether married men of proven character can be ordained priests in parts of Brazil where there is a massive priest shortage?
The Catholic Herald has this report by Ed Condon entitled Married Priests are the Wrong Answer to the Amazon’s Problems:
Of course, there are some people who would like clerical celibacy to become optional everywhere. These tend, especially in the United States, to be the remnant of a 1970s generation of liberals who expected the post-Vatican II Church to reform itself into a socially progressive, and sexually permissive, form of Catholicism which was in tune with the wider trends of their time. They were left disappointed, and many of their number left the priesthood to marry and become social workers or psychotherapists. Those who remained still consider clerical celibacy as the icon of their frustrations, and the pointy end of a disciplined Church which drove their old friends away. Their arguments for a total end to celibacy often creep in to discussions, like the request by some of the Brazilian Church, which treat specific situations and muddy the waters terribly.
The current examples of married priests don’t settle the issue: in the Eastern Churches, they have existed for two millennia and institutions have organically developed to support them. As for former Anglicans, they were admitted on a case by case basis following considerable scrutiny. These small exceptions cannot make a case for the kind of disruption to the very fabric of the Latin Church which an end to clerical celibacy would bring.
As for the Amazon, is undeniable that there are far too few priests to meet the needs of some communities. (Some estimates have put it at the ratio of one priest for every ten thousand Catholics in the more remote areas.) But I am totally unconvinced that ordaining married men is the answer.
Condon calls for a recovery and cultivation of the vocation of missionary priests.
Interestingly though, in today’s environment, when universalism and indifferentism has crept into the belief of many Catholics, there is not the kind of urgency to launch out and suffer for the sake of the salvation of souls. Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI had this to say last year in a rare interview reported on by CNA:
Benedict noted, “there is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma” and that since the 1950s “the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized … has been fully affirmed.”
He noted that the great missionaries of the 1500s were compelled by their belief in the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, and that the changing understanding of this necessity led to “a deep double crisis”: a loss of motivation for missionary work, and a loss of motivation for the faith itself.
The emeritus Pope addressed both the theory of the ‘anonymous Christian’ and indifferentism as inadequate solutions to the crises, and offered instead the idea that Christ’s loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model.