The Pitfalls Of Married Priesthood
And it came to pass we were once again informed, from a very high place, that the discussion about priest celibacy is a legitimate one. Which is, obviously, absolutely true, though priest celibacy has had a very special place in the Church for a very long time.
Let's discuss, then.
Think of the post of Father Ray Blake that caused the recent controversy, and the kind of situations he described then and in the following days. Drug addicted in your kitchen at two in the morning, vomiting around, desperate people of all kind; many of them, as always, thinking they are entitled to whatever they need at the moment.
This is Brighton in 2013, and is not without an element of danger. You would not let a desperate drug addicted at 2 am in your home – actually, not at any hour -; particularly not, if you had wife and children. If you had wife and children, your wife would be the first – and rightly so! – to tell you to avoid dangerous people in your children's home, or to put yourself in dangerous situations.
Many places on earth are more dangerous than Brighton in 2013; and many of those are evangelisation territory; many more that aren't could soon become, if priests for the job are to be found.
Crude as it may be to say so, the priest is celibate not only because he can be free to be entirely focused on his mission, but because his celibacy makes him more expendable. Wife and children make things more complicated, introduce a double loyalty – you can't avoid, if you are a father and husband, to be concerned about your children and wife: nature has appointed a father as the provider and protector of his wife and children – and makes difficult choices more difficult.
Then there is the economic factor, with a priest then required to have the money to maintain a family, and possibly a numerous one. The same difficulties would present themselves is said priest were to be moved, with much higher costs. And who would ask a priest with wife and children to move to, say, Iraq or Syria? Would the family be split, then? Or would they all be required to move to the danger zone?
Two priests are required to obey the Government and disobey Christ or go to jail, or to obey the government and betray their priesthood or be executed. For whom is it easier to stay with Christ?
For whom is it easier to deal with the junkie at 2 am? For whom is it easier to be transferred the other side of the planet at short notice? For whom is it easier to be despised, threatened, perhaps beaten with a stick, perhaps killed?
For whom is it easier not to be blackmailed with what would happened to his wife and children: the one who has them, or the one who hasn't?
I know what some think. Priesthood is not really like that. Priesthood is a job for a nice chap with an assured income for life, telling people to rejoice in their inevitable salvation and celebrate their own goodness.
This may apply to Anglicans wannabe vicars. It certainly does not apply to Catholic priests.
The priest is not his own. He belongs to Christ first, second, third and last. He is and must be – crude as it is to say that – expendable; and in order to be more easily expendable, it is best that he is always aware of the One to Whom he has already given his life; without distractions, and without other loyalties and obligations. Priesthood is a vocation, not a profession. It is a choice of self-sacrifice, not of quiet family living.
Certainly, the Church can – and did; and does; let's think of the Ordinariates – in particular occasions allow a married man to become a priest. But these are exceptions, and sub-optimal solutions, chosen after weighing very special circumstances in very special cases. Extreme circumstances make bad laws, and the tiny minority of married priests must not lead us into believing if it is allowed, then it must be the right things to do. It is allowed, but it's not the best thing to do. It may be the practical solution in some particular circumstances, but it is the less efficient one.
Priest celibacy served the Church so well for so long, it is astonishing the debate should take place in the first place. But you see, we live in V II times; that is, in times of confused Catholicism. Times that cause a crisis of vocations in the first place, and then suggest to further weaken the priesthood as a remedy to this crisis; a remedy which would cause a further crisis of vocations, as opposed to the application for a job.
Look at the Anglicans. They can marry. Half of their so-called ordinations are of women, and many of the men are – for their own admission – homosexual. It doesn't look like the ability to marry plays a big role among those who would be the only ones eligible for the (real) priesthood: heterosexual males.
No, the general ability to have married priest would cause great damage, rather than help, the Church. It would deprive her of the ability to have an army of soldiers who choose the priesthood as a very radical choice in their life, and the hinge of their entire existence and, if it must be, end of it. If you question the quality of vocations today, think what it would become if such a huge accommodation to the world was made.
And in fact, the entire concept of the “advantage” of married priesthood is contradictory. The idea that you have more vocations if you make the priesthood better adapted to the world outside is exactly the contrary of what priesthood should be. It is like saying “in order to have more priests, you must make them more similar to the world they are supposed to reform”; but the priest must not be of this world. His celibacy alone is a huge testimony of this.
The priest is celibate because God gave him the very special grace of a vocation to a celibate priesthood. To ignore this is to belittle, if not outright insult, the choice of celibacy made by the priest. a priest does not choose to become such notwithstanding the celibacy it imposed on him. A priest chooses celibacy as an integral part of his priesthood.
Priest celibacy worked so well for so long, and whilst the quality of the individual vocation varies greatly in the individual cases, on the whole it is clear it was this celibate priesthood that allowed the Church (and particularly the Roman Rite, with his strong accent on celibacy) to expand all over the planet.
Priestly celibacy is darn good. Instead of trying to sabotage the work of the Holy Ghost in inspiring vocations , we should promote a vision of the Church that promotes Them. Not a church of public servants concerned for their families, but a church of heroes ready to sacrifice everything, and showing this in front of the whole words by sacrificing, for the start, what would be the biggest obstacle to their “expendability”: a wife, and children.
Let us pray for our priests. Let us pray for more vocations. Let us appreciate them when they admit the junkie in their kitchen at 2 am, uncaring for their own safety; let us present them as an example of true manhood, and true faith, to our children. Let us recover the priest as a saver of souls, rather than a platitude spitting social worker. Let us recover proper liturgy and proper instruction; let us reconquer the sanctuary for male altar boys.
Then, you will see, vocations will not be a problem.