Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why clerical celibacy?

This post is a response to Ray Grosswirth's "40 Theses on Mandated Clerical Celibacy" from his Toward a Progressive Catholic Church blog. (Note: this blog is not something I regularly read, but it was brought to my attention today, and this post in particular caught my eye.)

The numbers preceding my comments relate to his individual theses.  I'm not repeating his theses, and I try to make my responses self-contained, but you may need to read his post for mine to make sense.

1. In Luke 18:29, Jesus says that some of them have left even their wives to follow Him.  So while He did not require them to do so, it seems clear that some of them did.  (This should not be interpreted to mean that married men should separate from their wives to seek ordination, but that the demands of discipleship sometimes require us to make great personal sacrifices.)

2. What "natural law" does mandated celibacy violate? See Matt. 19:8-12 and 1 Cor. 7:32-34.

3. The argument that clerical celibacy "celebrates a male hierarchy and diminishes the role of women" is baseless, because you have provided no evidence for it.  In addition, this argument would fail immediately if celibate women could be ordained:  no longer would male hierarchy be celebrated and the role of women be diminished.

4. Celibacy is a gift from God and requires co-operation with His grace.  It can lead to other graces and good things; it is meant to be a spiritual help. (cf. Catechism 915)  On the other hand, celibacy can have disastrous results if the person attempting it is not disposed to practice it.  But just because something (e.g. celibacy) can lead to a negative result (e.g. sexual frustration and even abuse) among other positive results, that does not mean the thing is negative or bad or evil in and of itself.  Take free will as a more general example.

5. I'm not sure what you mean by the "primary beneficiary of mandated celibacy" being the hierarchy.

6. Not everyone is called to the ordained priesthood (cf. Catechism 1599); put another way, there are more vocations than simply the ordained priesthood.  Although these vocations differ, and some vocations are "higher" than others, a layman does not have less dignity (spiritual or otherwise) than a priest simply because one is a priest and the other is not.  Indeed, some laymen have more dignity than priests.

7. Celibacy is a higher calling than the married life, it is true.  Vatican II said as much:  "[Seminary students] ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul." (Optatam Totius 10)  But what does it mean for marriage to have a "secondary status"?  Is there something wrong with marriage, then, because it is not the most excellent?

8. It is true that during the first millennium of the Church there were married priests; there were also married bishops.  But the whole Church eventually moved away from married bishops (seen in both the East and the West) and the Western Church eventually moved away from married priests as well.  I would not call this "obscur[ing]" the past.  Could it be that the Church is closer to attaining something now than it was in its first millennium?

9. The commandment to "love one another" does not take on a "love only thy self" dimension in the midst of celibacy; this is another baseless claim.  Can you only love a person to whom you are married?  Can you only love another person well if you are married?

10. It is true that with less priests, the Eucharist is offered less frequently (both to God as a sacrifice and to the people as Holy Communion), and this is a very sad thing. But the solution is not necessarily to increase the number of people who can be priests; perhaps we are not nurturing those whom God is calling to the priesthood.

11. How is clerical celibacy a "state of subjective pacifism" for priests? How is a life of celibacy opposed to "active participation"?

12. Mandated celibacy could, I suppose, create an unhealthy fear of women; I don't have the statistics. I bet it does create a healthy fear of sexual temptation, though.

13. What about the married-and-divorced-and-remarried Catholics who are "on the sidelines" because of their decisions? Should the "policy" on remarriage be changed to accommodate them?

14. Same as #13. It should be pointed out that the Church has, to my knowledge, never permitted men ALREADY ordained to then marry. Eastern Catholic (and Orthodox) priests were married before they were ordained. The men who enter the priesthood should have been informed of the life they were entering and its demands; if they were not, shame on those in charge of their formation.

15. What evidence can you supply to support your claim that the "leadership roles" of women in the first four centuries were "distort[ed]" by the 5th century Church Fathers, let alone for the purpose of allowing a future mandate of celibacy?

16. Luckily, celibate priests need not be the "primary source" for marriage counseling. We have other married couples (include permanent deacons and their wives) to turn to. But still, a celibate priest could have some wisdom to share with those who are married. St. Paul did. (cf. Eph. 5)

17. Whatever St. Thomas Aquinas (or any other Church theologian -- Father or Doctor or whatever!) said about women being "misbegotten males", or other such nonsense, patently ignores the fact that God made man male and female in the beginning before there was sin at all. While the discipline of celibacy may have led to this conclusion, it does not strictly follow from it.

18. I do not know how well the "Fishers of Men" campaign succeeded (or how badly it failed). If it was "a dismal failure", there could be any number of reasons. Again, just because celibacy is counter-cultural or hard (to fathom or to live!) does not mean it is bad and should be done away with as an obligation of the priesthood.

19. Through the "pastoral provision" of Pope John Paul II, some married ministers from Protestant denominations who, upon entering the Catholic Church, discern that their ministry in their prior community was a response to a true priestly vocation, may request ordination in the Catholic Church. Some, not all, who request this receive it. I do not consider this "hypocrisy" any more than the fact that the Eastern Churches have married priests "hypocrisy".

20. It is not merely by the pope's authority that clerical celibacy is an obligation for priests in the Western Church; centuries of tradition, Scriptural admonitions, and experience also come into play. I personally think that the avenue of allowing individual bishops to permit married men to the priesthood is a poor one; maybe allowing individual bishops' conferences is better, but still, I am wary of it.

21. Women's ordination is completely out of the question, and advocates of a change in the discipline of clerical celibacy would do well to detach themselves from advocacy of women's ordination.

22. Scripture seems to say that Jesus was dining with "the twelve disciples" (i.e. the Apostles), not with His whole retinue. (Matt. 26:20; cf. Mark 14:17,20; Luke 22:14,30) These men were (by virtue of His words) priests. Married priests can confect the Eucharist too.

23. The miracle of turning water into wine at Cana was interpreted by the Church Fathers as a "blessing" of marriage (as a sacrament) by Jesus. Apart from His disciples who were present, I do not think the wedding guests recognized it as "a witnessing event" to "go out and preach the good news as an inclusive discipleship." This event has absolutely nothing to do (as far as I can see) with celibacy or the priesthood.

24. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes has a Eucharistic character to it. Nevertheless, it itself was not the Eucharist. The feeding of the spiritually hungry is not solely the task of priests; celibacy is not a prerequisite for it.

25. The Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine when a validly ordained priest prays the epiclesis.

26. Again, women's ordination is out of the question.

27. Why did men stop feeling called to the priesthood? What caused the drop in vocations?

28. Some seminaries are experiencing growth. And men who are entering the seminary should be made aware early on (if they are not aware already) of the celibate life expected of a priest. (cf. Catechism 915)

29. Priests are not selected "on the sole basis of promised obedience to a bishop and a promise to live a celibate life." Seminary formation is far more comprehensive in breadth and depth than that.

30. No one says that mandated celibacy "give[s] a priest a special status" in God's Kingdom.

31. You can frame your desire for a policy of optional celibacy however you wish.

32. Not all priests are "victims of burn-out", and a married priest is not immune to burn-out either.

33. The Vatican's answer to the parish-closing situation is to challenge all of us to foster priestly vocations in our young men all the more fervently.

34. Clerical celibacy does have to do with theology, as any balanced reading on the topic would reveal. See Vatican II's documents for a start: Lumen Gentium 42; Optatam Totius 10; Perfectae Caritatis 12; Presbyterorum Ordinis 16.

35. Not being based on the Bible alone, the Catholic Church's tradition has taught us that Jesus was celibate; I would not expect He is a homosexual. But priestly celibacy is based not only on Jesus' example but on His teaching (see Matt. 19:8-12) and on that of St. Paul (see 1 Cor. 7:32-34).

36. I do not know how many priests are secretly living double lives of clandestine relationships, but they shall answer to God for it, whether or not their situation is revealed to the Church. Perhaps the question should be: why do some priests have such great difficulty with celibacy? Could there be some cultural or societal pressures or defects which cause or worsen this problem?

37. St. John the beloved Apostle was also at the foot of the cross. Jesus did not make St. Mary of Magdala, nor His Mother, a priest. Was Jesus committing acts of "injustice" thereby? Why is it necessarily injustice for the priesthood to be instituted for men only? Is it an injustice for motherhood to be instituted for women only, or fatherhood for men only?

38. Clerical celibacy is a discipline (or, as you put it, a "policy"), not a doctrine nor a dogma. Nevertheless, it is a discipline which demands our adherence to it. It is not forbidden to discuss the matter of celibacy, but that discussion cannot be carried out by/in disobedience. I agree that open and honest dialogue on this topic should be encouraged; but that dialogue requires honest education and catechesis.

39. "We want change, and we want it now!" is quite a revealing battle cry. It is certainly not one which sounds ready for "open and honest dialogue" which requires one to listen and learn. The Church could change its stance toward clerical celibacy, but it seems as though "those of [you] committed to reform" in the issues of clerical celibacy are completely unwilling to change your stance.

40. I do not believe that "mandatory celibacy is a hindrance" to the Gospel. I think that society (modern or not) is a hindrance far more than Church disciplines are or could be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you go to the Cleansing Fire blog, you will have a response to all of the issues raised by your article.