My World of Religion, Politics, Entertainment and Social Issues

If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Some Thoughts on Priestly Celibacy

As the Catholic Church continues to face a major crisis in terms of a priest shortage, the issue of celibacy will be at the forefront of theological and ecclesial debates. In fact, so much has been taking place concerning the celibacy issue that I have updated this page on February 28, 2005, in order to bring forth stronger arguments than those previously presented. While my remarks will primarily concern married men, I am on record for supporting the ordination of women as well.

As I present this updated thesis on celibacy, we are in the midst of a pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. For the record, I try to distance the two issues. While I don't label celibacy as the cause of pedophilia, an all-male, celibate clergy does provide an attractive secretive environment in which potential pedophiles can easily hide. Nevertheless, the primary purpose of this web page is the issue of celibacy, whereby I draw upon historical, theological and ecclesiological dimensions of the priesthood.

I am sure I am in the company of multitudes of men who feel called to the priesthood. Yet, one obstacle stands in our way: we are married. A primary question for married men who have gone through the equivalent of a seminary education is simply this: Is it possible to be called to both ordination as a priest and the married state? I say it is entirely possible.

When one looks at the history of celibacy in the Catholic Church, it soon becomes apparent that this state of life became mandatory due to financial considerations, not because priests were supposed to emulate Christ by remaining single. When one focuses more specifically upon the medieval period, we can clearly see that church property was donated by kings and princes in exchange for faithful service. A controversy arose when married priests in turn left this property to their heirs. To make a long story short, celibacy soon followed as a requirement for ordination, so as to prevent such property transactions between heirs. (There was nothing theological in the celibacy directive.) As a side note to this history, it is interesting to note that the imposition of celibacy in 1139 was not the end of married priests. We now know that secret marriages took place after 1139, whereby married priests continued to serve. Unfortunately, the Council of Trent and the infamous Inquisition sought out such marriages, whereupon Trent served as a catalyst for several centuries of mandatory celibacy. (A sad commentary indeed!)

Since the diaconate is an ordained ministry open to married men, I spent several years in discernment over this possibility. However, I ultimately reached the conlusion that I am being called to the priesthood as a married person. I would urge other men going through similar discernment to consider the differences between the diaconate and priesthood. While the diaconate is primarily an ordained ministry of service, the priesthood is highly sacramental and pastoral in character. My suspicion is that many who apply to the diaconate are in reality being called to the priesthood and should therefore consider joining the crusade to end the requirement of mandatory celibacy.

There has been much discussion about the need for Vatican III. A primary agenda would need to be inclusive of the current crisis in ministry within the Catholic Church. There are many talented persons with advanced theological degrees who are being constantly reminded of what they "can't do" in the Church, as opposed to being affirmed for the gifts they bring. For example, I completed a field study as a hospice chaplain a few years ago, whereby I visited the dying on a regular basis. Since I am married, and therefore not eligible for ordination, I am not allowed to use the title 'chaplain' within the Catholic Church, but I nevertheless carried the title with the ecumenical organization for which I did my field work. Furthermore, I am not officially allowed to preach within the Catholic Church, especially as evidenced by the 2000 Revision of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, which states that "the homily may be given by the priest celebrant, by a concelebrating priest, or even by a deacon, but never by a lay person." Perhaps one of the ironies here lies in the fact that while I have more theological education than the average deacon, I am not allowed to preach in a Catholic Church, yet I can do so in an ecumenical capacity. (However, there are ways around the roadblocks.) Nevertheless, like many of my counterparts, I am facing the sad reality that as I am ending several years of hard work on my theological studies, there will be very little I can do in the way of ministry as a lay person in the Catholic Church.

My goal is to work 'within' the Catholic Church for a change in the celibacy requirement for the priesthood. I have been able to do a lot of this work in my capacity as national secretary of CORPUS (www.corpus.org), and will be continuing with work via my free-lance writing.

In addition to the wonderful information provided at the CORPUS website, you may also find some statistics at the website of CITI (Celibacy Is the Issue). (Their site is www.rentapriest.com.) Most relevant statistics to the arguments I am presenting here are as follows: 1.) Prior to the year 1139 when celibacy was made mandatory, popes, bishops and priests were allowed to marry; 2.) In the past 25 years, over 20,000 priests have left the priesthood to marry--an average of 400 per state--and 110,000 throughout the world; 3.) We can assume, based on the tradition during Jesus' time, that his disciples were mostly married men. For further historical facts and reflections, as well as insights from married priests, I highly recommend spending some time at www.rentapriest.com or www.corpus.org.

One of the statistics not mentioned by CITI, yet vital to my arguments, is the fact that there is only one priest per 2,500 Catholics in most dioceses in the U.S. In conjunction with this, there is a correspondingly high death rate amongst priests. This can be attributed to the pressures on our celibate clergy, many of whom are dying at relatively young ages. To highlight this point, we are facing a major crisis in Rochester, New York, in that we currently have 140 active priests serving 350,000 Catholics. The ordination of married men will be an important step toward alleviating the pressure corresponding to premature deaths. We can not expect our celibate priests to carry the burdens of their ministries alone. At the very least, part-time married priests need to be affirmed by the Universal Church so the faithful can be assured of weekly eucharistic celebrations. Perhaps more dramatically, how many terminally ill patients are facing deaths without the prospect of anointing, simply because there are not enough priests to administer the sacrament? LET MARRIED MEN FILL THE VOID!

My projection is that unless Vatican III rescinds the mandatory celibacy directive, we will see sporadic ordinations of married men by maverick bishops with a broader vision than cardinals behind the Vatican walls. Such bold initiatives would obviously cause Vatican officials to excommunicate the maverick bishops and thus declare the ordinations to be invalid. However, the excommunications in turn would cause an uproar amongst the faithful, whereby the Vatican would have no choice but to restore the bishops and wisely revisit the celibacy issue carefully. (Wouldn't such a scenario make a wonderful Hollywood movie? Any enterprising screenwriters need not pay me a royalty for the script idea.)

I have received inquiries about a theory that has been circulating concerning the possibility that Jesus was married. Until recently, I would have dismissed such a theory as being either heretical or outlandish. However, a recent documentary has given me cause to discern this issue more carefully. To briefly elaborate, a documentary was aired on the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) cable network on December 19, 1999. As part of its "Biography" series, a two-hour program was presented on Jesus. Some notable scholars presented their argument for Jesus being married. While current materials, Biblical or otherwise, don't allow for a concrete answer one way or the other, the argument presented is nevertheless interesting. If one carefully considers the rabbinical laws of antiquity, marriage was expected of males by the age of twenty. For those carrying the title of 'rabbi', or 'teacher', marriage was an absolute requirement. At least in Orthodox Judaism, this requirement is still valid today. If one considers that Jesus is referred to as 'rabbi' throughout the Gospel tradition, the possibility of his marriage cannot be discounted. Another possibility presented in the A&E documentary is the theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, since she appears at pivotal points in the Gospels, and we now know through scholarly research that Mary was not the sinner she was portrayed to be for many centuries. (However, I found the arguments concerning Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene to be weak.) Nevertheless, if scholars promoting these arguments can further substantiate their research, the celibacy issue will certainly be given more credibility.

If you are convinced by the arguments I have presented, I would urge you to write to your respective bishops in support of an end to mandatory celibacy. My comments are in no way designed to negate the wonderful work being done by our celibate priests. I do believe that celibacy is a charism; correspondingly, I believe that 'some' are called to this way of life. However, I recall disagreeing with those overseeing my discernment when I was considering the priesthood prior to my years as a married person. When I made a decision to enter into marriage, I was repeatedly told that if I was not called to a life of celibacy, I was not being called to the priesthood. Well, after many years of careful discernment, I can tell you that I am indeed called to ordained priesthood, just as I was called to the married state.

I am sure that skeptics wonder why I spend so much time on the celibacy issue. Those who know me well are aware that I have been working vigorously toward the implementation of a married priesthood for approximately ten years. I believe that my passions are being appropriately placed. If I articulate a certain degree of frustration in the context of my remarks, it is due to the fact that as a lay minister, I believe I am trying to be a disciple of Christ, while at the same time, the Vatican has placed handcuffs on me. By this, I simply mean that I am often in an awkward position of performing a 'charade' as a priest. While I certainly don't misrepresent myself as being an ordained person, there have been countless occasions when persons I have ministered to have referred to me as 'father.' This has been especially apparent when I conduct communion services in a nursing home. (While I feel I am performing a useful function as a lay minister, I would certainly be more effective as an ordained priest.)

On several occasions, some of my wonderful Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopalian friends have tried to entice me toward pursuing the ordination tract in their respective churches. While I have been flattered that they have recognized my speaking and pastoral skills, I believe my true calling is in the context of the Roman Catholic Church. Ironically, there have been isolated cases throughout the world where ordained married clergy from the Episcopalian Church have been accepted as priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, when a Roman Catholic priest decides to marry, he is ostracized by the powers-that-be. (This is injustice on a grand scale!)

My prayer is that the Vatican will visit the issue of celibacy as soon as possible. Catholics cherish weekly consecration of the eucharist. This can only continue with sufficient priests in every parish. There are many married men and women who feel called to fill this very need. If you'll excuse the sarcasm, if Vatican III should continue to enforce mandatory celibacy, I will be convinced that the only purpose will be to reinforce the VSMC (Vatican Single Mens' Club). Let us pray that common sense will prevail at the next council.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home