The Catholic Herald has an interesting piece on married priests today that says in the UK anyway supporters for this change of discipline also come from the orthodox, not just the progressive, side. And, of course, the Ordinariate gets mentioned.
But is the Church of Rome now ready to abandon that apostolic doctrine? That’s the question Pope Francis will put to our prelates at the Amazon synod in 2019. This sprawling, isolated region of Brazil has been hit hard by the vocations crisis: there’s just one priest for every 10,000 laymen. Charismatic pastors are moving into the void, and the country’s Protestant population has more than trebled since 1960. Animism is also enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the world’s largest Catholic nation.
The Holy Father thinks young men are willing to become ministers and shamans, but not priests, largely because of the celibacy requirement. He has suggested that viri probati, or married men of extraordinary faith, be ordained to the priesthood. “We must consider if viri probati is a possibility,” he told Die Zeit in March. “Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities.” That’s what the synod will be asked to decide.
In England, the ordinariate has made a once-extraordinary phenomenon – licitly married Catholic priests – almost commonplace. As refugees from the increasingly liberal CofE, virtually all of them are solidly orthodox. Some surprising people are now asking: what if we’re pushing away powerful priestly evangelists? Why can’t a man serve on the altar and the PTA?
The retired Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe is no one’s idea of a liberation theologian. But she supports married priests. “In this country, hundreds of Anglican priests have crossed over to Rome and stayed married, whereas a Catholic priest must choose between marrying and his vocation,” she told me. “But I don’t think we should lift the celibacy rule wholesale. That would cause a lot of division. What the Pope should do, rather, is leave it to the archbishops and let it be decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Damian Thompson, editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, agrees. “A vocation to celibacy isn’t the same thing as a vocation to the priesthood,” he observes. “We already recognise that by ordaining married men who belong to Eastern Rite churches or were previously Anglican clergy.”
He hopes that married priests would solve more problems than just the vocations crisis.
“This is a delicate point,” Thompson says, “but I think the ban on marriage lies behind the dramatic over-representation of gay priests in parts of the West. Although most of these men lead faithful celibate lives, and I’m horrified by attempts to exclude gay men from seminaries, shouldn’t we address this imbalance?”
I think much has to be done to revive a proper understanding of what a call to celibate priesthood means—and that ideally, those who accept the call should be those who would have made excellent husbands and fathers of a natural family.
I remember a bishop saying a priest should feel this offering up of the goods of marriage and family as a wound—maybe not his exact words—but as something that is put on the altar as a sacrifice and something that drives one to prayer and closer union with Christ.
And that those who do not feel this as a wound—maybe they are not truly cut out for the priesthood. I think he meant this also as a corrective to this idea that there is some kind of “gift of celibacy” out there that suddenly makes one into someone asexual and totally above natural physical desires.
One offers up the goods of marriage and family to Christ to become a priest, not offering up something they have no interest in or offering up sinful desires they should not be cultivating anyway.
Chastity is not the murder of eros and passion in a man, making him kind of pasty and unmuscular and non-entity-ish. Chastity is the proper channeling of eros into the love of God, and conquering one’s lower nature by acquiring virtue, not by having nothing to conquer.
The priesthood should not be a refuge for men who have no sexuality or sexuality directed towards ends other than marriage and family.
A married priesthood is not a solution for finding the right kind of men to be priests.
Rorate-Caeli had another article on this subject yesterday, that rejects the idea of married priests. Father Cipolla writes in Warning against married priests—by a married priest:
Those who are advocating this change have little experience in living a typical and normal life as husband and father. They are part of a clerical system that lives in an unreal world, where celibacy is lived as being “unmarried” and gives one freedom to do what one wants to do when wants to do it and have too many long dinners on the Borgo Pio. That behavior is impossible in a marriage. There is no doubt that this call for married priests is a result, at least partially, of the deliberate misunderstanding of what “priest” means.
Interesting! This reminds me of what a priest based in Rome told me about what observing fathers dealing with their small children taught him about the priesthood. He remarked that being a priest can be an enjoyable life but that seeing a father having to sacrifice what he wanted to do in the moment to attend to the needs of children made him realize that he needed to be more attentive to the needs of people around him who might not be as enjoyable as the dinner companion on the Borgo Pio to borrow a phrase from Fr. Cipolla.
Back to his article. He is a traditionalist who is concerned about a progressivist packaging around changing the discipline. Thankfully, our Divine Worship and the theology of our priests, married and non, is all about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.