Saturday, August 20, 2005

It's Your Call

Before all else, can anyone tell me who that bizarre-looking diocesan on EWTN wearing the plastic hat is? If I had my wits around me, I'd think it's the right fringe's new golden boy, James Mason -- he who wants all priests to be Mr. Man masculine and would add Mamma Mia to the resurrected Index... Best part: if it were Mason on EWTN, he'd be appearing with a bunch of boys with beards named Mary.

Oh, the irony!

It's funny -- in a rare moment of reality, even the Brothers Mary noted earlier today that they haven't had many laypeople on the last few days while they kept talking over the Pope. Last time I checked, the event in Cologne this weekend was not World Youth Priest Day.

Oh well, another opportunity to be tres grateful for the real Catholic coverage provided by CTV and Radio Vaticana.

Speaking of annoying talking heads, now it can be told: Comcast cable subscribers nationwide can find me on a TV screen near you this Monday night, the 22nd, at 9pm as a panelist on the It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle program. I'm a return guest -- my first appearance was on the evening of 19 April, when I defended the new Pope against vicious ax-grinding.

As announced before, the topic this time is clerical celibacy. But I'd really like to have a discussion about it in advance among us....

Keeping in mind that mandatory celibacy is a disciplinary requirement perfectly licit to be changed (and given the Pastoral Provision's dispensation of it), what are your thoughts on it? Should optional become the rule, or would it be too damaging to parish and ecclesial life? Would an optional policy justify the increased demands on a priest? Would an optional policy justify the expansion of the pool of men eligible to fill the ranks of the presbyterate, thus easing the vocations crisis? Would, as Andrew Greeley said, "'Optional celibacy' immediately mean 'mandatory marriage'"? Let's go all out on this.

Now, given this outlet's notably high DPT (Decibels Per Trad) Index, I'm sure there are some out there who'd like to have their own little Elvis-Robert Goulet moment and shoot the TV while I'm on it. The Vegas Hilton would keep 15 RCA console TV sets in stock for the King in case Goulet was on a media blitz....

Stock up for the next consistory.



Blogger Ian said...

Can anyone name one Christian denomination that has married clergy, apart from the Orthodox, that doesn't have a clergy shortage or isn't losing population? Married clergy won't fix the vocation problem.

On a practical note, does anyone think that stingy Catholics are going to suddenly start giving to pay for Father and his family? Parishes seem to mostly barely stay on top of their regular bills.

20/8/05 20:02  
Blogger Jacob said...

I don't know about the stinginess, but I agree with Ian. A wife and kids isn't likely to stimulate interest in the priesthood.

Just what the priesthood needs is /another/ redefinition of its collective identity.

20/8/05 20:25  
Blogger Ruth said...

The Lutheran Church (ELCA) now has a clergy shortage with married AND women clergy. Funny the press hasn't picked up on that yet.

20/8/05 20:34  
Blogger Jeff said...

Divorced clergy; separated clergy; clergy whose wives have affairs; clergy who themselves have affairs with married women; clergy whose children have affairs with parishioners, etc., etc., etc. On TOP of all the scandals and problems we have now. Imagine if Msgr. Clark were married too!

This is the apostolic tradition, which the Roman Church--unlike the Eastern ones--has never compromised on.

It IS a discipline, but it is not SIMPLY a discipline. Look at St. Paul--consecrated virginity is the NORM for Christians, marriage the exception, HOWEVER that plays out in numbers.

Virginity is a radical sign of the Kingdom of God, if the clergy can't live with that sign, who will? And we NEED it, it's vital for the health of the Church. Read Ratzinger on the subject; it exercises him far more than many doctrinal issues.

20/8/05 20:37  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

Sounds to me, then, from what I read above, that our Holy Roman Church has made a huge mistake in accepting those married defectors from the heathen prods into our priesthood. They have divided loyalties, will be too expensive to support, and will inevitable present our parishes with a plethora of family problems, situations totally unknown to our married parishioners. Any personnally gained marital advice that they might give in the reconciliation room will be totally bogus because, you know, it comes from non-celibate, second class priests.

And we all know that the non-Roman rites of the Church are abject failures with their married priesthood.

It's good to know that our Holy Roman Celibacy is the ultimate in truthful success. That's why we have seminaries overfloging with young men willing to become spiritual castriti.

20/8/05 21:17  
Blogger RCEsq said...

A few preliminary questions need to be answered before arriving at a conclusion about clerical celibacy yes or no. First, what is the reason for asking this question? In other words, what is the context? Historical, sociological, political, ecclesiastical? Next, what informational base is used to arrive at an answer? For instance, I've seen contradictory explanations about the origins of and rationales behind the tradition in Catholicism. Church historians seem not to be able to agree even on a century when celibate priesthood became the norm.

In connection with the modern institution of celibate priesthood and religious, are there reliable studies showing, for instance, that vocations would increase significantly if priests and nuns could marry? And what the "job satisfaction" is of married clergy in contrast to celibate clergy? Are there any studies showing how the faithful react to married priests? Any examination of how married clergy function in those denominations that have this feature? In other words, if the priest's child is in the hospital and a parishioner is at death's door, what happens? Any studies of how the spouses and children of the clergy function? What are the divorce rates for married clergy? Rates of scandal? Surely such information exists somewhere -- anecdotally Southern protestantism has many a "preacher's son." And if such studies do not exist, shouldn't they be done before arriving at aa conclusion about celibacy yea or nay? Important institutional decisions need to be based on more than a wing and a prayer, even in the Church (as the post-conciliar liturgical fiascos have shown).

My impression is that the question these days is being asked by those who believe healthy personalities must express relationships with others physically (and not necessarily exclusively with the opposite sex -- surely one cannot be so naive as to suppose that advocates of "married" priests won't move on to "same-sex married" priests). The reasoning seems to be that lacking physical expression, celibate lives become warped. In a culture that considers a 40-year old male virgin an object of ridicule (see latest hit movie), that may be so; however, one must ask if Kinsey, Hollywood and popular mass media accurately reflect human experience in general.

Another argument in favor of married clergy seems to be that unmarried persons cannot possibly understand and counsel the married faithful. This is absurd. We're surely not going to suggest that clergy should also commit crimes or suffer from life-threatening illnesses or experience the gamut of life's vicissitudes so that they can become better counselors of their flocks? It reminds me of Vladimir Nabokov's retort to the college that wouldn't hire him as a professor of English on the grounds that he was a Russian novelist. "Do they want an elephant to teach zoology?"

Finally and perhaps most controversially, the question must be asked whether the current clergy abuse scandal would really have been avoided if the priests who committed the crimes had been allowed to marry. Of course one cannot know for certain what happened in the hearts and minds of these men. However, the factual picture does suggest that the traditional male-female marriage model would not have made any difference. Only a small percentage of the reported cases involve interactions with girls or women. It's highly improbable that there weren't susceptible girls to prey on, even if they weren't readily available in the sacristy as altar servers.

The bottom line is: we don't know enough to be able to tell if non-celibate clergy is a 'solution' to the shortage of vocations and we know equally little about the long-term consequences of having non-celibate clergy. We do know, however, that celibacy sets a person apart in a special way, and that throughout the centuries celibacy has been regarded as a valuable attribute of those whom God chooses as His servants.

20/8/05 22:20  
Blogger Andrew said...

Seriously, though..
Why are you just consistantly yet unnecesarily... mean?

20/8/05 23:30  
Blogger Karen Marie said...

His name's Peter Mitchell, he's of the diocese of Lincoln NE --- but not born there, his accent's half-brit, half-cheesehead. Which, with his facial features, has me believing he's the son of Dr. Robin Mitchell, who was a professor of English Literature at Marquette back in the late 70's when I was a college student and this Fr. Peter would have been a toddler ......

21/8/05 00:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not open it up? If the church were to allow just the priests who left active ministry to get married, to return, they would put a good sized dent in the vocation shortage. I believe that CORPUS did a survey several years ago to this effect. Many of the priests were willing to return to ministry on a voluntary basis, thus keeping their secular jobs, and paying their own way. Yes, Saint Paul advocated celibacy, but he also advocated that clergy earn their own keep. So, should Father Chastity-Mary get a job at the burger world to help with expenses at the rectory? Probably not. Most of the priests I know are over worked and under appreciated as it is.

21/8/05 02:32  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

Without celibacy and the freedom for the Kingdom of God that it provides our clergy, how will the three priests at the Cathedral manage to spend two weeks each, each winter, in back to back rotations between New Year's and Ash Wednesday in the Carribean?

Without the freedom from family obligations that celibacy brings, how will Monsignor pay for the ski chalet in Vermont and the condo in Fort Lauderdale?

Without the gift of celibacy, how will who-knows-how-many Fathers be able to give themselves with undivided hearts to the continual expansion of their Waterford crystal [or fill-in-the-blank] collection?

And, needless to say, without celibacy it's good-bye dinner at Top of the Hub [fill in your favorite 5-star restaurant in your See city] at least once a week, and it's back to "I'll just have a glass of the house red, thanks."

All radical signs of the Kingdom of God indeed!

21/8/05 14:03  
Blogger thomas tucker said...

The lack of vocations says more about our society and its values than it does about the disicpline of celibacy. In the not too distant past, seminaries were overflowing and the rule of celibacy was still in force. I think changing the discipline now would send a message, the wrong message, to our sex-saturated culture.

21/8/05 14:16  
Blogger Ian said...

Gyrovagus - anything can be abused, even celibacy. The abuse of something is a lousy argument to do away with it.

22/8/05 08:11  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

Ian: and wishful thinking is the wrong reason to keep hoping that something that isn't working any more might have a comeback.

Celibacy can indeed by a valuable charism IF it is chosen as a response to God's grace. If it is imposed for some "disciplinary" reason, then it is doomed to continue being abused and misused as it has over the centuries.

To think that our current problems are particular to this secular time and place is hopelessly naive.

22/8/05 11:24  
Blogger Matthew Lickona said...

Jimmy Mac,

But some things about our current problems are particular, at least to some extent, aren't they? The priest shortage we keep hearing about has not always been there, has it? The post VII priestly exodus - whatever its causes - was not a regular event, I don't think.

As for the "it isn't working any more" notion - the Church has gone through horribly rough patches in the past. Periods of deep clerical corruption (even deeper than today...). Aren't there particular saints who are noted for their efforts to reform the clergy? St. Catherine of Siena, maybe?

On the practical side of the question - it seems to me that if you were to change the discipline, you'd need to make a case for a compelling change in the culture, or the understanding of the priesthood, or the understanding of sexuality, or something - that necessitated such a change. If it worked once - and I'm supposing here that it did - why has it stopped working? And what is the character of that reason why it no longer works?

Of course, there are those who say that things are improving already - that the "Generation John Paul II priests," whatever you might think of them, are willing to embrace celibacy, and that their numbers are increasing. But I have no evidence for that other than anecdotal.

On the theological side (and I'm not pretending to be any kind of serious theologian), I had always thought celibacy to be part of the particular way the priest was an "other Christ" - that is, he participated in the action off Christ in the marriage of Christ and the Church. The Church was the bride which the priest sanctified (through Christ's action, naturally). This seemed to fit with the priest's sacramental activities - baptism, the Eucharist, confession - which are integral to the sanctification of the Church. (And the reasoning here has everything to do with fittingness and nothing to do with necessity.) The Church is his bride, and he is Father to his people.

So much for what comes off the top of my head.

22/8/05 13:58  
Blogger Gene O'Grady said...

A couple of points (for they're worth) off the top of my head.

(1) I'm probably more "liberal" -- certainly not a word I would find meaningful, but it gives some perspective -- than most people on this weblog, but I never had strong feelings about clerical celibacy until about two years ago. Since then I've generally been of the persuasion that it needs to go. Not because of any of the silly arguments about sexual necessity, but because it seems not to have worked. Maybe, just maybe, the younger priests, most of whom I've respected, will make it work.

It strikes me as possible that "celibacy" means something quite different in our culture than in most other cultures where the church has employed here. Here it seems to be perceived fundamentally as abstention from sex; elsewhere it has historically meant setting the priest outside of a nexus of family ties.

I'm unimpressed by the argument that churches with married clergy are losing members -- I've been exposed to a couple of the Orange County megachurches, and membership numbers are not criterion. And I believe Benedict XVI would certainly endorse that sentiment.

As for churches with married clergy gaining members, try the LDS (more often called Mormons). Frankly the two guys who started my personal path toward a more active relationship with God were a Mormon (their bishops are basically what we call priests, this guy was basically what we'd call a bishop) and a rabbi, both of whom were quite married and got quite a lot to give from marriage and fatherhood.

But it can't be denied that for various reasons Catholics (at least in the US) have historically been quite cheap with the staff (read retired nuns, although in my experience they never do) and with the present lack of trust over financial matters now may not be the best time to experiment. On the other, fortune favors the bold, and there's always prayer....

22/8/05 18:15  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...


I'm not arguing for the abolition of mandatory celibacy, I'm just saying that some of the argumentation of "freedom for undivided service for the Kingdom of God" wears a little thin given the reality that many people see.

Am I the ONLY one who knows of MANY priests who winter-vacation in the tropics and summer-vacation at the shore and dine in places most working parishioners can't at a frequency few married folks wouldn't dream of?

And the crazy "collections" of things like Waterford crystal are legendary around here.

22/8/05 19:24  

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