Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pope Richard

Nixon, that is--and I mean that in the nicest way possible!

I don't mean to compare B16 to the Watergate Nixon, of course. Think "only Nixon can go to China." In this case, "only B16 could call off celibacy."

That's right, God's Rottweiler may be on the verge of relaxing the discipline of celibacy in the Western church, and he's called together a study group in Rome, presumably because of Emmanuel Milingo, an African bishop who got married in a Moonie ceremony and is now making mandatory celibacy a big deal. To wit, he's gathering 1,000 married priests in December.

Now, to be honest, the discipline has been slowly eroding especially since the Church of England began ordaining women in the 1990s. At the time a good number of married Anglican priests came over to Rome--and brought their wives along with them. Here in the U.S., a small number of married Episcopal and Lutheran clergy have also come over; they number about 600 now, I think. So, allowing priests to marry, perhaps before ordination as in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, isn't a big theological step, though psychologically it could be huge.

For one, this would mean a dramatic reduction in the number of celibate clergy--which I think would be good for celibacy, since those that choose it would really be choosing it. It might also mean some hard feelings for those long-timers who never got the chance to marry. And it will certainly have practical ramifications: For starters, parishes especially are going to have to start paying salaries that can support a married priest and his family.

We may be jumping the gun, of course, but consider these statistics from Latin America: Right now, about 500,000 Brazilian Roman Catholics a year are becoming evangelicals, primarily because their congregations are smaller and they have plenty of ministers. In Mexico, the Catholic priest to layperson ratio is something like 1 to 7,500; for evangelicals it's 1 to 232. The average age of a Mexican priest is 65; evangelical ministers' average age is 32. You do the math.

What is perhaps most surprising, at least as Reuters reports it, is that the group meeting in Rome on this issue are considering not only permitting married clergy but even the dispensation of current clergy to marry despite already being ordained, and, a bigger deal, allowing those who left to marry to return to active ministry. Good bye clergy shortage. (Wish I was running a "theological update" program for the guys coming back!)

Of course, some parishes will refuse married clergy, but my guess is that their number will be small. And, to quote the Bush administration's favorite expression, "make no mistake, " when and if this change comes, it will be a very big deal with lots (and I mean lots) of unintended and unanticipated consequences.

I say bring it on. If there's one thing our church needs right now, it's a great big shake-up.


At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what if the priest and his wife have marital troubles, and gossip spreads through the church? what if the priest's daughter gets pregnant? this could open up a whole can of worms.

from a theological perspective, yes, it can be done. would I accept it, yes. but I do not believe ending the celibacy requirement would be the be all end all of the priest shortage. protestant ministers can marry yet there is still a minister shortage. And if you talk to most minister's wives and their families, they will tell you that the life is very stressful. (one of the teachers I work with was a minister's daughter and she said she felt like she was living in a fish bowl. Also what about families needs vs. parish needs? What if you have a sick child AND a sick call?

I'm not saying this should definitively not be done, but it must be discerned very carefully. I don't believe the celibacy requirement is at the root problem of the priestly shortage. After all, when one is really called by Christ, his call his hard to resist. Sacrafice, dying to self, commitment, and tenacity of will is a requirement for all vocations.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger CtotheL said...

I think you're right on two counts: Married priests won't "solve" the clergy problem--there's bigger issues involved--and adding families to the mix will definitely make a difference. What happens if a priest's marriage collapses? What if there's an affair? But other Christian churches have weathered these issues, and they seem successful. But it will mean major changes in how we view priests and what we expect of them--and their families.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But other Christian churches have weathered these issues, and they seem successful."

I'm not sure if we should look up toe the Protestant Churches in this regard. Usually, their method of "weathering the storm" is breaking off with the parent demonination and creating another Church. There are 40,000 plus Protestant demoninations, which is another reason why a central authority is necessary. Thank God, for the papacy!

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

For one, this would mean a dramatic reduction in the number of celibate clergy--which I think would be good for celibacy, since those that choose it would really be choosing it.

How are they not choosing it now? As of right now to choose to become a priest means you will be choosing to be celibate. Call it a package deal.
As a side note: The Byzantine and other Eastern rite Catholic priests can marry. However, a married priest can not become a bishop or higher. Same is true for any converts.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger CtotheL said...

It's a forced choice that many would not make if given the freedom.

True, only monks are able to become bishops in the Catholic and Orthodox East, though there were certainly married bishops for the first several centuries of Christianity.

The point is simply that celibacy for diocesan clergy is merely a legal discipline, though a long-standing one. Between the discipline of celibacy and Jesus' command to celebrate Eucharist in his memory, I think the latter is the one we should keep our eyes on.

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

priests are more than "sacrament dispensing machines." Perhaps I am being to idealistic, but I would like to think that a man becomes a priest because he wants to follow the radical call of the Lord, and not just becaue "he can marry now."

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may help the Church to have married priests. The could see how the other half lives and tries to make ends meet financially. My father use to say that the religious don't understand life outside because everything is paid for them.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger CtotheL said...

Who says being married isn't part of following the "radical call of the Lord"?

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what I meant was that if a man really wants to serve Christ in the preisthood, he will do it regardless of wheather or not he can marry. He will put Christ and give up all to serve him. But granted, I may be to idealistic here.


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