Saturday, 14 September 2013

Holy Celibacy

The secular media got all excited this week because the new Vatican Secretary of State told them that priestly celibacy was a discipline, not a dogma.  So in their usual spirit of creating realities by reporting them as fact, the secular media said that mandatory priestly celibacy may be on the chopping block.

Cue people, even people in Catholic media who should know better than to trust the secular media, to to get all excited. Married priests! Wow-wee! The solution to the priest shortage!

So far the media buzz around Francis' papacy is reminding me of what I've read of the buzz around the Second Vatican Council. "Everything's going to change," was the watchword then and now, and of course nobody bothers to read what was and is actually said.  You can search the Documents of the Second Vatican Council pretty thoroughly, and you will find absolutely nothing about ripping out old altars and shoving the statues in a broom closet. If you want to see what churches after Vatican II are supposed to look like, go to Poland. Bling, bling, bling, far as the eye can see.

As for the priest shortage, I think we all know who is not having a priest shortage. Tradition-minded dioceses, tradition-minded seminaries, tradition-minded orders.  Oh, and tradition-minded countries. My friend Berenike told me that Poland supplies Europe with a quarter of Europe's priests. (Or was it a third?)

There are so many Polish priests that apparently relatively few of them are gay. Personally I do not enjoy writing about how-many-priests-are-gay, but that is sort of an issue in Scotland right now. Not only has Edinburgh's former archbishop Keith Cardinal O'Brien all but confessed to making sexual advances to a seminarian and to priests, a 48 year old priest in Motherwell has alleged that his seminary was rife with gay bullies who went apoplectic if he shrank from their kisses. If two percent of priests had a homosexual orientation, well, that would be commensurate with the general population. But Wiki, at any rate, is saying that it's somewhere between 15 and 58% in the USA.

Many of my readers may be saying "So what? Maybe a homosexual orientation carries some good stuff with it, like a tendency towards compassion, solidarity with the oppressed, greater sympathy for women, better listening stills, and an appreciation of beauty." Maybe. But I wonder if, just as it seems that altar girls dissuade boys from serving at the altar, a disproportionate number of gay men in the priesthood dissuades ordinary boys from going into (or staying in) the seminary.

Is the solution to import men who are proven, by their relationships with wives, not to be gay?

In English-speaking countries, the entire notion of the celibate Catholic priesthood has been overshadowed by the tiny minority of twentieth-century priests who have sexually abused boys and, even more rarely, girls. Rather horribly, those who think married men should be priests have floated the idea that "celibacy is to blame." This is completely unscientific because sexual abuse of children and teenagers is usually committed by laymen, married or single, and not by vowed celibates. Families, schools, TV studios, backstage at rock concerts, group homes. Anywhere where adults have unfettered, unsupervised access to children and teens is a potential locus for abuse.

Meanwhile, the notion that marriage is a sort of sexual dumping ground where potentially abusive men relieve their sexual tensions is pretty disgusting. That's not what Saint Paul meant by "Better to marry than to burn."

The Eastern Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, have a place for married priests, it is true. These married priests can never become bishops, and they are supported and supplemented by monks. Unless I am mistaken, the monks are the, for lack of a better phrase, spiritual elite. And the Eastern Churches have developed a culture around married priests, one mysterious to me, but it works for them. As a matter of fact, though, I have met only unmarried Eastern Rite Catholic priests.

We in the Latin Rite Church don't have a model for married priests--unless we are in minority-Catholic countries where, of course, there are Anglican vicars. Personally, I would be interested to find out how many Anglican vicars are still ordinary married men with families unregulated by artificial birth control. When B.A. was a Scottish Episcopalian, he knew a zillion Anglican Communion "priests", and they had three children max. Sometimes they got divorced. And the "higher" (more trad-Catholic looking) he went, the fewer married Anglican Communion "priests" there were. Celibacy in the Anglican Communion was part of the rediscoveries of  the Oxford Movement.

The Oxford Movement found real richness and grace in traditional priestly celibacy, and indeed John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all rewritten on the importance of virginity and celibacy in the priesthood. If they sound at times defensive, that is probably because--in the climate of change for change's sake--it needs to be defended from people who just don't get it.

The Second Vatican Council inspired thousands of men, perhaps a hundred thousand men, to quit the priesthood. That thought should make any of us pause before we cross our fingers hoping for yet another drastic change to the Latin priesthood. And even if it were advisable to lift the discipline of mandatory celibacy, is this really the time to do it? I cannot think of a more difficult time for men to attend to their marriages, care for a large family--for surely our priests would not be availing themselves of contraceptives--and be entirely devoted to the Lord's service, e.g. pastoral care of us.

We live in the most outrageously sexual degenerate times the world has ever known. (The Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans would gag.) Priestly celibacy stands out in stark contrast against them, and so of course the times hate it.


Pearlmusic said...

A very important post.

Of course, it is not true there are no gay-priest-child-abuse scandals in Poland. There’ve been a few. But still, I don’t think refraining from mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church would be a cure for that. When a person is child-abusive or abusive in any other way towards anyone, this is a sign of a serious disorder and not only it makes that particular person incapable of priesthood/celibacy, but also it would mean being unable to live in a family.

And then? Should these gay priests marry women and have children, or what? Should we allow gay marriage in the Church next? Oh, nooo, please!!!

Julia said...

I have a tangentially-related question. I have an Orthodox (Ukrainian/Belarussian) friend who told me once that Orthodox priests can't be ordained unless they are married. I remember thinking that that surely couldn't be true. Does anyone know anything about this? Any Orthodox girls reading this?

Sheila said...

I've always felt the idea of married priests was unfair to women. The narrative is, "priests need to be married so they don't have to live without sex." But what does the woman get? A man who occasionally has sex with her and has very little else to give.

He can't talk to her much about his work, because so much of it is confidential. He can't spend Saturday afternoons, Sunday mornings, or really much time at all with his family. He's got to move them around all the time. He'll never have the money to allow them to live even above the poverty line -- unless the Church suddenly gets a lot more money than it currently has.

Marriage and fatherhood isn't a random extra to life. It's a serious vocation. Especially among Catholics, it's seen as much MORE important than what you do for work. Considering it as an add-on to an already demanding vocation, IMO, disrespects the vocation of marriage.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Julia, I'm not Orthodox but I think what she meant is that they can't marry once they're ordained, not that they have to be married to be ordained. That's been my understanding of it, and I know there are Orthodox (and Eastern Rite) priests who are not and haven't ever been married.

There was a good discussion about this on a priest friend of mine and my family's Facebook wall yesterday (from a link he shared clarifying what it was - the Jimmy Akin 'what really happened' post).

The main points were:

- A married priesthood is not a panacea to the priest shortage and probably wouldn't give the numbers that big of a bump

- Married priests would have additional obligations that could make it difficult for them to do everything that celibate priests do (the priest I know said when he's compared notes with Protestant ministers, they all agree he's got the most on his plate). This is a lot to expect of a family.

- We as the Church would have to support these men and their families. (Many non-Catholic ministers have additional jobs, in which case, that would take away from what the priest can do for his parish, such as emergency sacraments, or lay it all on the celibate priest in the parish.)

- My friend felt quite strongly that he wasn't unfamiliar with the difficulties people face or their family life, because he came from a family, has many siblings, etc. - being married wasn't necessary for him to have a clue. (For me personally, I'm more concerned about men raised in very sheltered environments who then are going to be hearing confessions and advising people whose life experiences are so outside their experience -- something that can be true of a celibate or married priest).

With the Anglican conversions of course we do have a number of wonderful married men serving as priests, and that's great. But it's not without its issues, either.


Seraphic said...

Yes, accepting and ordaining the married ex-Anglican ministers who had long sincerely held a Catholic faith in all but "submission to Rome" should not be seen as some kind of back door permission to married priests. If anything, it is merely mercy to these men (if perhaps not so much to their wives. although presumably the wives were asked to give their permission) and a recognition that the marriage tie, previously contracted, trumps everything else.

A married man cannot be made a Permanent Deacon without his wife's permission, and if she dies, he cannot marry again.* (And apparently now some Permanent Deacons are worried about whether the bed-sharing part of their marriage should be over--how very 3rd century.)

Meanwhile, a Single pal of mine hopes to be admitted to one of the Anglican Ordinariate seminaries, and there's no question of him being BOTH married AND an Anglican Ordinariate priest. Uh-uh. That's one part of "Anglican Patrimony" that will die out.

Obviously there is not, and cannot, be any question of taking back those men who abandoned us and their increasingly overloaded brother priests.

(Let's call a spade a spade. Many of the religious orders are so nice to the men who abandoned them, that they welcome them back and don't even make rude remarks when the men try to claim extra authority in their subsequent teaching/theological careers by bragging that they belonged to the order for 15 years, etc. However, I'm just a parvula in the pews, and I am not so nice.

That said, I do feel a bit sorry for them. The ones that left soon after the Council either had the rug pulled out from under their feet or were told to expect even more radical changes and were disappointed. What a mess. And I once heard Paul VI couldn't bear to look at the huge stacks of laicization requests on his desk. In a way, I feel sorry for Paul VI, too.

*As Permanent Deacons are an innovation of Vatican II (or resurrected from well over a thousand years ago, depending on your point of view) it would fill me with mirth to find out how many have applied for laicization upon the death of their wives. I know of one Canadian so far. When it's laugh or cry, might as well laugh.

Seraphic said...

Ooooh! Found it for the USA. Have a gander at this:

Scroll down to "Changes to the Diaconate in the 2011 Calendar Year." The ones who fascinate me are the ones who remarry WITHOUT getting a dispensation. Way to set an example to us all, deacons!

Hannah Beach said...

Eastern Orthodox priests are supported by the parish they serve, they may or may not have another job. They can be married if they so choose but must get married before they are ordained. Once ordained they cannot get married. If they become a widower and want to re-marry they cannot remain a priest.

Maggie said...

I think your point about the (probably) contracepting married Anglican clergy brings up a good point which Shelia reiterated above.

In the US, the average secular priest earns a salary probably around $20,000-$30,000 per year (I'm guessing, but I suspect this is accurate, given the state of finances in most parishes). This salary is only able to support a priest because (in many cases) he receives free housing in the form of a rectory and doesn't have student debt if his seminary education was paid for by his diocese (he may, however, have student debt from any degree(s) he earned prior to seminary).

How in heaven's name is a priest supposed to support a wife and 5+ children on such a salary? Obviously, many young married couples start out with similar entry-level wages, but hopefully the husband has a reasonable assumption his earnings will increase over time. The priest does not have this assumption. If he marries young, he may have a larger family [assuming he and his wife follow Church teaching about openness to life and don't struggle with infertility, etc], and the average parish/diocese could not possibly support a priest's whole family. I doubt the wife of a priest would be able to work outside the home; with her husband constantly busy with ministry duties, she will become the primary caretaker. Will the priest's salary be able to finance the education of his children should they choose to attend university? What about health insurance? Insurance for a single man of reasonable health is affordable on his low salary; insurance for a wife of child-bearing age and several young children is not. Etc etc.

This is the practical side; the financial impossibility (or extraordinary difficulty) of married clergy.
Then there is the spiritual side, which Seraphic mentioned- there is a certain beautiful mystery about celibacy lived for the kingdom. Certainly married clergy exist (in the East, etc) but the lived example of celibacy flies in the face of prevailing conventional wisdom that a life without sex is a life full of woe. The joyful, fulfilling lives of celibate priests (and men/women religious) are a lovely counter-example to the West's obsession with sex.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how a lot of people think that living without a wife must be so hard for any man, or that living without a husband is difficult for a woman. My grandmother insists that lots of men leave the seminary specifically because they can't get married and be a priest too, and she thinks they would come back and be ordained if they were permitted to be married. Nothing anyone says can shake her from this belief. She has not been closely acquainted with any priest at any point in her life though, so she probably doesn't have much idea of what they do beyond Sunday mass and Confession.


Julia said...

Hannah and Nzie, thank you, that must be correct! To me, my friend seemed adamant that Orthodox priests couldn't be ordained unless they were married, but I'm not sure how well-informed she is about her faith.

"Personally, I would be interested to find out how many Anglican vicars are still ordinary married men with families unregulated by artificial birth control."

Seraphic, wasn't that what the Lambeth Conference of 1930 was about? I'd be surprised if there were any married Anglican clergy who didn't use artificial birth control.

The whole idea of allowing priests to be married in order to increase the number of priests reminds me of the argument that "women's ordination" would solve the "vocations crisis". I mean, come on. I doubt that an increase in "ordinations" has happened in denominations that allow priestesses. Sure, maybe there was a brief increase when all those activists decided to get "ordained", but I bet that's dropped off swiftly. To me, it's just ridiculous to assume that allowing priests to get married will result in more ordinations - there would have to be a significant number of women willing to marry priests. For the reasons listed by other commenters, I think we can assume that the number of women willing to marry priests would breathtakingly low.

On a slightly related note, as of the 7th, a former seminarian is the PM of Australia (his name is Abbott, his deputy's is Bishop!) Abbott is not a perfect Catholic, but he is a public Catholic, which is not easy in a country that's as secular in Australia. The left-wing secular media dubbed him "The Mad Monk".

Lisa said...

Regarding your thoughts, Seraphic, about homosexuals in the seminaries discouraging vocations: I know a man who attended seminary at least three different times in three different dioceses in the US, and left each time due to the homosexual behavior/influences in the dorms. This is one case, so no scientific study by any means, but it certainly gives credence to your theory.

Athanasius lover said...

I love having celibate priests, so this is in no way intended to argue against priestly celibacy, but I do want to add my thoughts about the idea that good Catholic parents who don't use birth control will likely have a family with 5+ kids. I know wonderful couples who use NFP and have only one or two children. Granted, I am young and these couples are young, so most of them have plenty of time to end up with 4 or 5 total children, or even more. But they could also prayerfully discern to postpone or avoid pregnancy using NFP and end up with a relatively small family. NFP does work at avoiding pregnancy in most cases if the partners are motivated, so it's not like every couple using NFP will automatically end up with that many children.

Granted, there is always a danger of using NFP with a contraceptive mindset, but I see nothing less Catholic or less faithful about a family making $20,000-$30,000 a year deciding to keep their family small due to economic constraints, so long as they used licit means to avoid or postpone pregnancy. There's no requirement for every couple that follows the Church's teaching to have 5+ children.

"With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (Pope Paul VI--Humanae Vitae 10).

Anonymous said...

Regarding married priests with 3 children....

My father is a Catholic priest. My parents converted from the Anglican Church when I was a child.
I have two sisters only. My mother is a NFP instructor.
I certainly hope nobody looks at my family and assumes "contracepting". How very uncharitable.

Aussie girl in New Zealand

TRS said...

I agree with Sheila's ponits, mainly, what are gay men to do? Marry straight women? Please no no no! Tis one of my great fears, right behind growing old alone!

Additionally, there is no way most parishes could support a priest with a family, of any size!
And if priests could marry, then what? Is the wife supposed to work to support their children's expenses?
Certainly, a priest devoting the time necessary to support a parish ( or two or three, as is the case where I grew up and much of my family still lives ) cannot devote suitable emotional resources to his marriage and subsequent family.

It always amazes me how the secular public doesn't think these things through before spouting off.
Mostly they are so in fear of someone being denied sex that they can't see straight.
I've been celibate myself for quite some time now and I'm not going mad. (Close but not yet!)

Seraphic said...

Aussie Girl in New Zealand, I have no children at all and I am certainly not contracepting. The point is that, NFP or no, there is always a possibility that a Catholic couple not on artificial contraception is going to have many children. I know an NFP-using couple with eight. But I also know a woman who managed, with NFP, to delay having any children for 8 years, so really I think its effects change from woman to woman. And nobody knows how it will work for her until she's married and using it.

Meanwhile, your dad used to be an Anglican--which I point out solely to enlighten the confusion of other readers. The point I was making is that Catholics in English-speaking countries who want to get rid of mandatory celibacy are most likely to point to Anglican (and Protestant) ministers and their spouses and say, "They do okay."

I feel a bit queasy at the idea of the priesthood of the husband being added to the extenuating circumstances in which NFP is permitted. "We've decided to limit our family because of Patrick's priesthood which makes us too poor and busy for many kids" just doesn't sit well with me.

Julia said...

Aussie Girl in New Zealand, sorry if that was me who offended you there, because no offence was meant. I wasn't trying to be snarky. I just meant to say that since (as far as I know) artificial contraception is permitted by the Anglican Church, I would think that married Anglican clergy would use it.

Pearlmusic said...

While reading this discussion and pondering the importance of celibacy in the sex-obsessed Western culture, I suddenly thought to myself that there must be something about growing number of singles, including Christian singles these days. This was already recognized as signum temporis in a certain article I’ve read. The world today, as never before, needs a testimony of good life in celibacy. Not just priests, but also lay people, ordinary people, who for some reason has not entered into marriage, even unwillingly. (because when we think of Godly Singleness, this means celibacy). Christian Singles can show others that unfulfilled sexual desires need not become an excuse for bitterness, anger, indulging in the evil propensities and all the deadly sins, that they, as Christians, try to fight. Yes, Single people have desires – but indulging them is not a conditio sine qua non of their existence and well-being. But it is even more universal. Single people keep telling the world that the quality of our life does not have to depend on whether we have everything we want, everything we think we want, or everything the world tells us we want. In this sense, Christian Singles, whatever searching or serious, can become a powerful sign of God in the world, if we accept our life as it is.

Magdalena said...

Pearlmusic, what you say about our task as (searching) singles is just what I think. Everybody can give testimony for a good christian life, even without a familiy with 5+ children or without being in a religious order. Knowing this helped me a lot in bad times.

Leah said...

I totally agree with Shelia here! I follow a money saving blog written by a very nice Protestant mother, and several of her blog-posts have been on the huge difficulty of raising a family on a minster's salary with a minister's busy schedule. The amount of comments on the posts telling of readers' personal experiences with this totally blew me away. Although I entirely respect the fact that they feel called to serve God and are trying to do so to the best that they can, it really made me sad to see how many Protestant minister's wives are struggling to raise their families on tiny salaries with their husbands practically never around. And yet they can't understand why Roman Catholic priests are celibate!

Seraphic said...

I'm suddenly reminded of the CBC researcher who was asking me a few preliminary questions before I appeared on a radio show about the 2005 conclave. In a hushed voice she solemnly asked me if I wished I could be a priest. I said, "No, I'd rather get married and have children." She was very taken aback. Obviously she had forgotten about the who lifelong celibacy angle--rather like any number of so-called Womynpriests.

Just another example of people just not thinking things through.

Anonymous said...

To add a slightly different perspective, my husband thinks that married priests would be a sign that the Church is thriving (as they could support a family, etc).

As the salaries for men working for the Church in other capacities often aren't a family wage, perhaps we should start there.

That being said, I wouldn't want to be married to a priest, even if we had a nice middle class income. I'd rather my husband's role as father be able to be primary in our home; I'd rather be able to discuss his work (however boring or trivial) with him. And if the not-married after ordination rule was true, as it is for deacons and Orthodox priests, all the more reason not to marry a priest- if I died with young children, I would hope the good Lord would provide them with a mother on earth and my husband with a good second wife.

(My husband may actually have a vocation to the diaconate, but we are not discerning this until much, much later in life, in large part for this reason).


Maggie said...

Anamaria, that is a very legitatimate concern (about a priest or deacon's wife dying and him not being able to remarry). This happened to a deacon I know in our area- his children weren't "young," ie, they were in middle school and high school, not diapers, but it's still difficult.

And your point about the Church paying the laymen it her employ a living wage is a good start. The laymen I know who work for the Church have the most frugal, non-materialistic wives I've ever met.

katy said...

Yes so sad. In the late 90s I had a friend/colleague who had just left Catholic University of America's seminary. He was a farmboy from Iowa who had come out bright-eyed to become a priest and was sweet and faithful as could be. He said he got so disgusted by his fellow students and teachers hitting on him and having open relationships with each other that he gave up. He was about 25. 10 years later or so, he was married, so who knows what his true vocation is/was, but I was horrified by it, and SO relieved when Pope Benedict went on a concerted campaign to clean up the American seminaries. CUA still has plenty of problems, but that one is improved I hear.