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Posted December 12, 2006

Discussion on the possibility of taking a closer look at celibacy in the priesthood

Triggered by recent statement from Rome
on celibacy’s place in the priesthood
For more reactions see NCR John Allen Reporting
From John Allen National Catholic Report

Whether you're for or against married clergy in the Latin rite (I see both sides and have no personal stake in the matter) it might be useful to envision scenarios about how things WOULD work best IF such a change were decided upon. Envisioning scenarios doesn't necessarily concede the argument either way about whether it should happen.

An example: A model I'd like people to consider open-mindedly comes from Hinduism, where married pundits seem to be the rule but there's a special class of clerics called acharya, who get special respect, (and who, I believe, have special roles reserved to them,) for a life-long commitment to celibacy, for spiritual reasons that seem to approximate part of the Latin rite's reasons. [Disclaimer: my description of Hindu practice may be simplistic, and may not apply everywhere in the world or to all Hindu communities -- just the ones I've had contact with. But in these matters, I believe Hinduism is, in some dimensions, closer to Catholicism than is Protestantism, and we should not overlook what we might learn from them.]

Should there be movement to allow married clergy, the issue of how we get from here to there is not trivial: how to honour the commitment of those who took vows and stuck with them -- and keep that option open for those who may want it in the future; whether to "welcome back" those who couldn't keep their commitment (with due consideration for those who did stick with it); whether we couldn't allow for new types of clergy while keeping some of the good parts of celibacy (the need it fills for some people and the gifts it brings to the church) by some kind of stratification, etc.

We need to look at all the functions that have to get done (including everything from what's now called "eucharistic ministers" to parish administration to theological speculation to pastoral guidance) and work out appropriate roles. Another issue, almost as important as celibacy, is the amount and type of formation and training required for each level and type of task. Maybe the diaconate (males and females?) -- or a "lower" level of married clergy -- could perform marriages, baptisms, and funerals, and we could reserve saying mass, or at least consecration of hosts (and perhaps the most significant kinds of pastoral guidance) the celibate ranks of clergy. We should get beyond existing definitions and think of the working system holistically, then re-describe it with the most serviceable and respectful words. By having different strata or roles, the Church in its wisdom can always re-adjust the boundaries of the responsibility of each and their relative importance, as practical requirements or local needs change. Yet at any given time, quite a bit of definition and clarity would be needed for each role/category to help avoid chaos and loss of understanding between the church in different parts of the world.

Some creative thinking here would also help resolve the even thornier issue of adequate roles for women. I have no one model in mind, though I have a healthy respect for what currently exists (and more or less works) in the Latin rite. I just think that theologically, there are few limits to what the Church could decide to do, and we ought to clear ourselves of cultural prejudices and get on with it.

I think you are right in

Submitted by here today on December 8, 2006 - 9:27pm.

I think you are right in addressing the question of IF this happens then how, something that was not done around Vatican II. I do think however we should start from exisiting models and definitions, and keep ideas as simple as possible.

I would suggest looking at the practice of Catholic Rites (and Eastern Orthodox, as they are virtually identical) that have married priests first and foremost, as their valid tradition would well inform any change in the Latin discipline. Ordination is universally considered an impediment to marriage, so for my considerations I would say it should be retained (yes, this does exclude those who left to get married, but having shown a lack of faithfulness to their vows once, it would not be prudent to readily accept them back, ie Bishop Milingo).

In the Eastern Churches, the monastic tradition (and there is only one, IIRC), retains celibacy, but not the diocesean. Again, given the purposes of monastic life it is obvious that this should be retained. Celibacy is required of bishops, hence more com from the monastic tradition than the diocesan, although unmarried or widowed diocesan clergy are also eligable. This I would consider a good idea to retain, if only for the ecumenical bond with the Eastern Churches.

As far as roles of pastoral guidance, there is deffinately room for (and they do serve in this role in some places) religious sisters to be spiritual directors (particularly for young women). Like wise they, and/or the layity can play greater administrative roles on both the parish and diocesan levels (even national or Vatican level posts). I think religious should be given prefernce over the layity in liturgical matters, ie extra-ordinary ministers (not eucharistic ministers), if only because a religious in habit is always dressed appropriately to assist visibly at the altar. Personally, I think theological speculation should be removed to cloistered orders who spend the majority of their day in prayer, as well as taking a vow of silence. ;-P

I think adding layers of clerical states will only exaserbate the problem of excessive clericalism that is as rampant on the progressive side (if not more so), as on the conservative side.

Many good thoughts expressed

Submitted by gmalanowski on December 8, 2006 - 12:27pm.

Many good thoughts expressed here. In the end the question is: Does the Latin rite wish to continue the disciplinary norm of celibacy? There is no theological or scriptural reason to oppose marriage and priesthood-married priests in the West and married clergy in the Orthodox tradition are a REALITY. One must ask then, why continue this mandatory celibacy for men born Catholic who want to be priests? Setting aside the availability argument (which is handled by non-Catholic clergy) and the charism argument (which is celebrated in religious orders) and the tradition argument (which does not go back to Christ and is indeed fraught with historical conditioning), what argument is there????? As far as welcoming resigned priests back, how could a Church that officially prevents a resigned priest from distributing communion, being a catechist, receiving the sacraments do such a turn-about and welcome such back to ministry. I t would take a remarkable conversion of attitude...

...what argument is

Submitted by Dennis on December 8, 2006 - 3:46pm.

...what argument is there???? The arguments are legion, not valid but legion: the societal link with female ordination; property; children's rights; marriage breakdown; "ugh" tradition; denials ad nausiam; factors of family priority; living wages; etc., etc.,etc and finally,your piece de resistance: "conversion of attitude".

I'd like to encourage a

Submitted by WanderingThomist on December 8, 2006 - 11:46am.

I'd like to encourage a discussion that looks frankly at the costs of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests. Certainly there are people who are called to celibacy. A sign of that call is the capacity to live a peaceful, prayerful and integrated life without a deep, mutual, committed intimate relationship with another person. To reach anything like emotional and psychosexual maturity while ruling out such a relationship is a rare gift, and not necessarily coincident with a call to pastoral ministry.

The costs of eschewing a priori the grace of deep committed relationship when one is not called to that life are profound. Many negotiate mandatory celibacy by forming numerous shallow friendships, in which intimacy is short-circuited by fear of the possibility of a sexual dimension in the relationship. Those men may never learn to enter into real trust with another human being, because they need always to maintain a "safe" distance. Others sink into workaholism, or, sadly, alcoholism as a distraction from the aching absence of the possibility of deep intimacy. Depression is common. Some of those men act out sexually, sometimes with crushing guilt as a result. Their relationships, even where they are age-appropriate and not a matter of violation of professional boundaries, tend to leave the women or men with whom they act out in a tenuous, tense, circumscribed relationship that is healthy and life-giving for neither. Donald Cozzens notes in his book "Freeing Celibacy" that unrecognized anger and obsessive-compulsive traits are commonly noted by therapists who work with celibate clergy.

As the National Review Board reported in its summary report, "There can be no doubt that while it is a gift for some, celibacy is a terrible burden for others, resulting in loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse, and improper sexual conduct...that demands further study."

Mandating celibacy as a condition for pastoral ministry may well amount to psychological and spiritual abuse of those powerfully called to ministry, but not called to celibacy. Let's pay attention to the human (as well as the ecclesial) costs of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests--wasn't that kind of human and humane concern exactly what Jesus modeled for us in his ministry?