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.