40 Theses on Mandated Clerical Celibacy
Dear Blog Visitors:
Several years ago, prior to my ordination as a married priest, I wrote my '95 Theses.' After much contemplation, I have decided that it is time for another group of theses. This time, I have chosen one topic, as did Martin Luther. While the topic of Luther was indulgences, I feel it is important to make 40 points on the issue of mandated clerical celibacy. (The number ‘40’ is significant in a biblical sense.)
Before listing my 40 theses for your consideration, it is important to state that I fully realize that at least some priests are called to a life of celibacy. St. Paul realized as far back as the first century that some persons are called to a celibate life, whereas others are called to marriage. In our contemporary society, relationships have come to encompass many definitions, and I want to celebrate the coming together of all committed partnerships, just as I recognize and respect those who have been called to a life of celibacy. However, when celibacy is mandated as a condition for ordination to priestly life, questions must be raised, and I raise them here.
What follows are my ’40 Theses on Mandated Clerical Celibacy.’
1.)When Jesus invited his disciples to follow him, he did not instruct them to leave their spouses behind.
2.)Mandated celibacy violates natural law.
3.)Mandated celibacy celebrates a male hierarchy and diminishes the role of women.
4.)Mandated celibacy can lead to sexual frustration; sexual frustration can lead to sexual abuse.
5.)The primary beneficiary of mandated celibacy is the hierarchy.
6.)The call to priesthood is diminished by mandated celibacy.
7.)Mandated celibacy gives marriage a secondary status.
8.)Mandated celibacy obscures the first 11 centuries of a married priesthood.
9.)The commandment of Jesus to “love one another” takes on the dimension of “love only thy self” with mandated celibacy.
10.)Availability of the Eucharist is jeopardized with the policy of mandated celibacy.
11.)Our liturgy documents call us to active participation. Mandated celibacy calls our priests to a state of subjective pacifism.
12.)Mandated celibacy can create an unhealthy fear of women.
13.)25,000 priests in the United States entered into marriage. The policy of mandated celibacy keeps them on the sidelines.
14.)120,000 priests worldwide entered into marriage. As in the case of U.S. priests, they are sidelined by the policy of mandated celibacy.
15.)The ‘fathers’ of our 5th century church were guilty of distorting the leadership roles played by women of the first four centuries, in an attempt to set the stage toward eventual implementation of mandated celibacy in the 12th century.
16.)A celibate priest should not be a primary source of marriage counseling.
17.)Mandated celibacy can lead to faulty theology, such as Thomas Aquinas referring to women as “misbegotten males.”
18.)It should be no surprise that the “Fishers of Men” campaign, launched by the U.S. bishops to recruit potential seminarians, was a dismal failure. A counter-campaign needs to be launched, such as “Mandatory Celibacy Does Not Work.”
19.)Our bishops are guilty of hypocrisy: While rejecting optional celibacy, they nevertheless welcome married Protestant ministers who wish to convert to Catholicism and serve as Roman Catholic priests.
20.)The pope should not have absolute authority on the issue of mandated celibacy. The road to optional celibacy can be paved when individual bishops are allowed to use married priests on an as-needed basis.
21.)Bishops are afraid that optional celibacy will lead to further discussion on the ordination of women. The policy of mandatory celibacy will not silence this debate. Women must become equal partners at the altar.
22.)Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples (men & women). He did not say, “let celibate men alone do this in memory of me.”
23.)When Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, it was not for the sole purpose of enhancing the party. It was rather a witnessing event for the men and women present, so they together could go out and preach the good news as an inclusive discipleship. There was no mandated celibacy at this gathering.
24.)When Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves, it was an example all men and women of faith were to follow, whereby they were expected to feed the hungry and nourish their spirituality as well. There was no place for mandated celibacy at the scene of this commissioning.
25.)When a priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts to make them holy, the Holy Spirit does not come because it is a celibate priest extending the invitation. The Holy Spirit rather comes on behalf of an inclusive community, whereby artificial barriers between the celibate and non-celibate are erased.
26.)The image of a celibate male as the highest form of piety is a sacrilege, especially when the Vatican instructs Anglicans that the consecration of women bishops will be a barrier to ecumenical talks.
27.)The so-called ‘priesthood shortage’ is of the Vatican’s own making. Mandated celibacy is no longer a noble pursuit – not that it ever was.
28.)Seminaries, once a staple of the American landscape, are quickly fading into the sunset. The reason is simply the expected adherence to mandatory celibacy as one completes the formation process.
29.)A healthy formation program would ideally be one in which a prospective priest is not chosen on the sole basis of promised obedience to a bishop and a promise to live a celibate life. A forced lifestyle, for the sake of the priesthood, can lead to multiple dysfunctions.
30.)Early councils of the church argued over the nature of Jesus, until such time it was agreed that He was fully human and fully divine. His human nature was to be with us, minus any distinctions between married, single, male or female persons. He promised the Kingdom to all the faithful. Mandated celibacy does not give a priest a special status or front-row seatin the Kingdom.
31.)The desire for a policy of optional celibacy should be equated with a desire for inclusivity, as opposed to disobedience to a bishop.
32.)As long as the mandated celibacy policy continues, our priests will continue to be victims of burn-out, considering our current ratio of one celibate priest per 3,500 Catholics in the United States.
33.)Although statistics indicate the number of Catholics in the United States is steadily increasing, parish closings are increasing as well. The blame for this can be at least partially placed on our pontiff’s insistence that the mandated celibacy policy for priests remains intact. The Vatican’s solution is to ‘warehouse’ Catholics into mega-churches. Let married priests come to the rescue!
34.)The imposition of mandatory celibacy had nothing to do with theology; it was rather an economic decision.
35.)Simplistic theology used by our hierarchy suggests that since Jesus was celibate, priests should live likewise. In the first place, we don’t know for sure that Jesus was celibate. (Neither his sexuality nor his marital status were discussed by the Gospel writers.) Anyone who could prove that Jesus was celibate would be hard-pressed to make the case that He expected his followers to be celibate.
36.)During the past decade, a few writers have substantiated claims that many so-called celibate priests have been involved in clandestine relationships. Keeping these relationships secret allows them to maintain their canonical priesthood. However, a validated relationship, such as a marriage, results in dismissal from the canonical state. This begs the question: How many priests are truly living according to a mandated celibate state?
37.)Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus, remained at the foot of the Cross, while the male disciples ran, due to fear. The injustice, in terms of our priesthood, is that celibate men can be ordained and faithful women cannot. This needs to change!
38.)We have been taught to believe that to be in union with Rome, one must subscribe to all of the church’s core teachings, including the teaching on clerical celibacy. Although technically a policy, as opposed to a core belief, priests are nevertheless prohibited from questioning their bishops on the topic of celibacy. Bishops, in turn, are consistently told they are to refrain from talking about celibacy, since this is an issue reserved exclusively for the pontiff. It is time to allow open and honest dialogue!
39.)Those of us committed to reform will not be silent on the issue of mandated clerical celibacy. Furthermore, we will not be silent on the issue of sexist ordination policies. We want change, and we want it now!
40.)Jesus invited all who were thirsty to come to the water. Multitudes of Roman Catholics around the world have come to the water, and are seeking nourishment that can only be provided with a sufficient number of priests to tend to their sacramental needs. Mandatory celibacy is a hindrance, as opposed to an instrument of faith. Those of called to active ministry will be agents of the Gospel, with or without the blessings of Rome.