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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.

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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.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

CRITIQUE OF MANDATORY CELIBACY

Having spent a great deal of time in front of my television set in recent weeks, I have found there is a great deal of interest amongst the media concerning our current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. While pedophilia continues to dominate the headlines, the overriding concern amongst journalists seems to be the veil of secrecy that shrouds the hierarchy. It is no coincidence that that topic of celibacy has come into play in conjunction with the current crisis, whereby the media is asking a very basic question: Why does the Roman Catholic Church continue to enforce mandatory celibacy for priests? I have been asking this question for many years, and have not received a satisfactory answer from the Church hierarchy.

I thought I would take this opportunity to examine statements routinely given by our Magisterium in their attempt to silence the celibacy debate. Each statement will be followed by my own commentary.

1.) The Vatican has stated that Christ was celibate. My response is in the form of a question: Do we know this as fact? In reality, we know very little about Christ's sexuality. What we do know is that he traveled and shared meals with male and female companions. In addition, he lived in a Jewish environment that required marriage of males by the age of 20, especially amongst those who aspired toward the title of 'rabbi.' (Jesus is referred to as 'rabbi' quite frequently in the Gospel tradition. Therefore, we can't discount the possibility of his being married.)

2.) The Vatican has stated that Paul encouraged celibacy. My response is that the Church tends to take Scripture out of its proper context in defense of mandatory celibacy. Careful study of Paul's Letters reveals to us that during the time of his writing, believers were in anticipation of the Second Coming during their lifetimes. Therefore, Paul was simply instructing the faithful not to concern themselves with concerns of this world (including marriage), for it was more important to prepare themselves spiritually for the world to come. Paul was certainly not setting a blueprint for a celibate priesthood, for in actuality, the priesthood in its formal sense was not to come about during his lifetime. Initially, the hierarchy consisted of bishops, deacons and deaconesses. (The priesthood would come later.)

3.) The Vatican repeatedly tells us that celibacy is a gift to the Church. My response is simply that celibacy is indeed a gift for those who are called to this way of life. Yet, not all who are called to the priesthood are called to a life of celibacy. In this regard, the Magisterium needs to draw distinctions between celibacy and the priesthood. One does not need to be called to both as pre-conditions for ordination. Yet, our hierarchy would like for us to believe a call to the priesthood and a life of celibacy are one in the same.

4.) The Vatican insists that only men can be priests, utilizing the defense the Christ was male. The Church also continues to teach that all of Christ's disciples were male. My response is that Christ never dictated that only men could be his disciples. We need to keep in mind that during the period the Gospels were written, it would have been unfashionable to mention women disciples. However, we do get a sense that women shared a very special place in the life of Jesus. In addition, from what little information we have concerning the earliest house churches, women were very instrumental in offering not only hospitality, but preparing and offering eucharistic meals as well. Contemporary scholarship has also given us new insights concerning the life and role of Mary Magdalene. While the medieval Church tried to cover up her importance by labeling her as a sinner, we now have sufficient evidence that she was indeed the 'disciple to the disciples.' After all, Jesus commissioned her to share the good news of the Resurrection with the male disciples.

5.) The Vatican would like for us to believe that only celibate priests have the time that is necessary to service the needs of the faithful. My response is that celibate priests are being stretched to the limit. By inviting women and married men to the ranks of the priesthood, there would be a sufficient number of ordained persons to assume sacramental responsibilities, whereby there would be safeguards against burnout scenarios.

6.) At the practical level, concerns have been raised over the cost factor, whereby many feel the Church could not support married priests and their families. My recommendation is simply to introduce married priests gradually. Just as Paul worked as a tent-maker to support his ministry, many married priests or those like myself who feel called to ordination, have other sources of income. Therefore, perhaps the hierarchy would consider using 'Mass Priests' in a similar way they were used during World War II. By allowing married priests to celebrate weekend Masses, thus relieving celibate priests of the responsiblity of multiple liturgies, parish communities would gradually become accustomed to seeing married clergy presiding at the Eucharistic table. As the acceptance level grows, the implementation of full-time married priests could become a possibility. Concerning the cost factor, Protestant churches are able to support priests and their families; so, why can't Catholic communities?

I offer the above challenges to the Vatican, for thus far, our hierarchy has not offered credible reasons for sustaining mandatory celibacy. We deserve a better reponse from our pontiff than his telling us that celibacy is a "closed issue.

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