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Thursday, May 21, 2009

So, Fr., what are you doing Friday night?

I thought i'd tackle the issue of celibacy, since it appears to be in the news a lot lately. had two articles, one pro-celibacy, one con. This was the con article, written by Rev. Donald Cozzens. I am going to argue it Fr. Z style because i feel it is the most effective way to go point by point. Incidentally, i didn't care for the pro-article because i don't think the author was effective in making arguments that would persuade secular people or explain to your average "johnny catholic" the advantages of this discipline of the Church. Anyway, here is the article with my comments in brackets.

It's an issue that simply won't go away. In spite of signals from the Vatican discouraging even discussions of obligatory celibacy for Catholic priests, the almost 1,000-year-old rule is under the microscope. And it will be for decades to come. Here's why.

In the Catholic tradition, even though sex is cast as sinful unless expressed in the conjugal embrace of husband and wife, it is held as fundamentally good, a part of God's creation.

The church even holds that marriage (including spousal lovemaking) is a sacrament -- something sacred that contributes to the sanctity of husbands and wives. In light of this official teaching, it is dawning on many Catholics that mandatory celibacy for priests, a canonically imposed discipline of the church, is precisely that -- a discipline.

They are asking, "How is it that a discipline of the church has been allowed to trump a sacrament of the church?" [This statement is meant to evoke an emotional response, not make an actual argument. Celibacy isn't meant to "trump" marriage. It is a discipline mandated by the Church for its advantages in aiding priests to serve God more fully. This mandate doesn't mean that the Church thinks celibacy is better than marriage, it means she wisely and correctly thinks a priest with a family to serve will be less able to serve a flock.] In effect, the church is saying that should God call a man to the priesthood, God will not, at the same time, call that individual to the sacrament of marriage. It's right to ask, how does the church know this?

Public opinion surveys indicate that most Catholics, priests included, believe the discipline of celibacy needs a serious review.[This is irrelevant. The majority of Catholics also use contraception. Should that be reviewed?] Recently the retired archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, observed that obligatory celibacy is open for discussion. It is not, Egan noted, a matter of dogma.[True, but then one would have to make some compelling arguments showing the advantages of marriage over celibacy to persuade the hierarchy to change this discipline. I'm still waiting for that.]

For decades now, bishops from Asia, Europe and the Americas have asked Vatican officials to consider optional celibacy for priests. The church's official response is consistent and succinct: As a precious gift from God, the discipline of celibacy for priests will remain in place.

This, in spite of the inherent paradox lying just below the claim that the gift of celibacy is a precious gift of God to the priesthood and the church: How can a gift be legislated? [Marriage is also a precious gift. Why are there so many rules "legislating" it? Why does a priest have to oversee the wedding? Why is there marriage prep? Why can't i refuse the gift and divorce if the marriage goes south? All laws of the Church are themselves precious gifts and by submitting ourselves to them we become aligned with the will of God. Rev. Cozzens appears to have set up a straw man argument.] The church answers that if a man is called to the priesthood, God will grant him the gift of celibacy. Many priests today wonder how church leaders know this. Reading the mind of God in this matter -- in any matter of church discipline -- is risky business. [It's God's Church; if there is a discipline legislated by it, He will work with it. If he wants it changed, i'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit would make it known. He has His ways . . . I do not mean to be disrespectful to a priest, but Rev. Cozzens seems to be sowing seeds of mistrust in Church authority.]

More and more Catholics today are coming to understand that celibacy as a universal law for priests had its origins in the 12th century and that during the church's first millennium, priests and bishops -- and at least thirty-nine popes -- were married.

Still, most well-read cradle Catholics are surprised to learn that St. Anastasius, pope from 399 to 401, was succeeded by his son, Pope St. Innocent I, and that a century later Pope St. Hormisdas' son, St. Silverius, also was elected to the papacy.[Anyone who has studied advertising would recognize this as a bandwagon sales pitch. This is not an actual argument. St. Peter was also married. What is your point? Peter was not real attentive to his family's needs after he began service to the Lord. Were the above-listed saints also in advanced age with grown children before they began their service? Or did they somehow manage to effectively juggle family life with the demands of the flock? More information would be needed for this to be persuasive].

Even in our secular world, it's common to speak of church-based ministry as a calling, a vocation. Isn't it possible that God would call an individual to the priesthood and to the sacrament of marriage? God apparently did so for more than half the church's history. How do we know that God isn't doing so today? [How do we know that God IS doing so today? Do you trust that priests who want to marry are hearing the voice of God more clearly than the Pope? My first thought would be that they're hearing something else a little more clearly than God.]

For some years now I've been teaching in the religious studies department at John Carroll University in Cleveland.[Oh, great.] I've asked dozens of serious, healthy young students if they have given any thought to being a priest. They seem flattered by the question. With only one exception, each has answered, "Yes, I've thought about being a priest, but I want a family." [Obviously Rev. Cozzens has joined God in calling young men to holy orders. We are to assume that because these students are serious and healthy they are good candidates to the priesthood. Couldn't we also make the case that men who are willing to sacrifice the great good that is a family for the sake of the kingdom would be better priests than the serious and healthy young men who won't? I mean, am i to presume that the celibate priests serving God now did not want a family? I kinda hope that they don't have that sort of disdain for my calling. I have the immense respect for them that i do in part because they were given the gift of celibacy. If it isn't a sacrifice, they are somehow less cool].

There are, of course, other factors, urgent and pressing, that will keep the celibacy issue alive. The Catholic priesthood is aging. The average age of active priests hovers at 60, and if retired priests are factored in, it is considerably higher. Moreover, Catholic seminaries are lucky to be half full.

Parish staffing challenges alone will press for a review of the celibacy rule. Catholic bishops simply do not have enough priests to meet the pastoral and sacramental needs of the Catholic faithful. Closing and merging parishes may offer some temporary relief for overworked priests, but the shortfall of priests will continue to challenge the vitality of Catholic parishes and the health of Catholic clergy for decades to come. [Protestant denominations that allow married pastors and female pastors also suffer clergy shortages; this problem we Christians face requires fixing the underlying issues, not letting anyone who wants become a priest.]

But the most human, existential factor that should keep the celibacy issue on the table is the spiritual and emotional health of priests. Celibacy really isn't the issue -- mandatory or obligatory celibacy is. [If celibacy is really a gift of God, would it be spiritually and emotionally unhealthy? It seems either it is a gift or it is unhealthy].

There are many priests who do possess the gift of celibacy -- it is their "truth" so to speak -- and their humanity, warmth and pastoral effectiveness give abundant evidence of their authentic celibate lives. But there remain other priests who believe deep down they are called to the priesthood but not to celibacy. And for these men, the burden of mandated celibacy threatens their spiritual and emotional well-being. The priesthood may be their "truth," but mandated celibacy wraps them in a cloak of loneliness and struggle.[If they know that celibacy is mandated when they take the job, why should we be sympathetic to them over the Church when they change their minds? This is no different than a man who struggles with the "burden" that a family places on him. It can be just as lonely when you are going through a difficult period with your spouse. You are still expected to remain faithful and work out the problems even though the sympathetic woman at work may also feel like your calling. You made your vows - keep them!]

I don't know Father Alberto Cutie. He appears to have touched the lives of many and preached the gospel with power and conviction. I suspect he feels called by God to be a priest, but not a celibate priest [Fr. Alberto was photographed with his hand down a woman's bathing suit to fondle her rear end. I suspect he has issues with chastity that would make him a crappy husband the same way he's a crappy priest. But i guess Rev. Cozzens' suspicions probably outweigh mine].

Surely he knows that Eastern Rite Catholic priests are allowed to marry [correct me if i'm wrong, but i think they are allowed to become priests if they are already married, not allowed to frolic on the beach if they are already priests] and that the church welcomes into the priesthood married convert ministers from other Christian denominations [One such priest currently serves faithfully in our parish, but he and his wife are beyond child-bearing years, so i don't know how they would have handled family life divided by parish demands]. Surely he knows that in many parts of the Catholic world, clerical celibacy is openly flouted, and church authorities choose not to notice.[People are also having abortions and robbing banks; do we need to rethink that as well. Still waiting for an actual argument that's not a sales pitch].

I wonder if church officials understand the burden they place on the shoulders of a man who believes he is called to priestly ministry but not to celibacy.[Uh, considering that burden is also theirs, i'm pretty sure they have an inkling. They're not sadistic legislating eunuchs, they are flesh and blood men who share the same struggles and obligations to the law]. Certainly, a married priesthood will have burdens of its own and, sadly, scandals of its own -- infidelity and abuse among others. But it should be left to the individual priest and seminarian to determine whether or not he is blessed with the gift of celibacy. [Why is the individual more qualified to decide Church discipline than the Church? Rev. Cozzens has failed to give compelling evidence that men can effectively wear both hats. Are there no examples of Eastern rite men who have done both well?]

A mandated "gift," after all, is really no gift at all. [So the bike i bought my son is no gift if i won't let him take in on the highway. Got it.]

Rev. Cozzens could have made a more powerful argument by citing facts like that the Eastern rite has no shortage of priests (but they probably do) or addressing problems like the fact that priests make their living solely from the Church so how will it not be a burden for the parishioners to have to pay for him and his wife and their eight children? How is it fair for a child to be asked to make the sacrifice of daddy not being there for soccer games and other important things (that increase in number with the number of children Fr. Father has) because the parishioners needs must be met? How happy is the wife going to be when her husband is transferred to some country with no clean running water and she's 5 months pregnant? Celibacy is a gift with many advantages. We can send single men to horrible parts of the world and make them live on crusts of bread and not feel so bad about it. There are sacrifices these men can make that a family man cannot reasonably be expected to do. This discipline is a gift and i think a priest struggling with loneliness may simply be struggling with the sacrifice and trick himself into thinking he has a second calling. I do not believe it is a second calling, but rather a man trying to justify wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. If a man says he feels called to have a family when he is already father to a parish, can we really believe he is thinking of the sacrifices he can make for a wife and children in addition to the hard work he is already doing for the Church? You must at least suspect he is thinking of himself and his loneliness and the desire for his own comfort. While we must truly reach out to our priests in ways that can help them feel friendship and mitigate the loneliness that does come from celibacy, priests who have romantic feelings for parishioners must also honestly realize that they could never give a family their undivided attention and still be doing their job as well. If the discipline were to change, it would probably only open up the priesthood to men who are already married, not let Fr. Cutie continue his romps on South Beach. So let's strive to embrace this discipline as we have it, always being willing to embrace its change should Holy Mother Church decide there is wisdom in that path.