BY THOMAS G. LEDERER,
This thesis was written by Thomas G. Lederer in 1992. The paper was
part of an independent study project that he had worked on with the
guidance of a priest he had met while reporting a story about the Seminary
of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor, NY for the New York Times in
1985. At that time, the priest was also a scripture professor of note at
the Seminary and served weekend masses at a local parish. He has since
resigned the priesthood, is married, and is a practicing psychologist.
Lederer went on to earn a master of arts degree in theology from the
Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. Although the paper is imperfect in
many ways and is certainly somewhat dated--having been written a decade
prior to the 2002 furore over the alleged abuse of children by Catholic
priests-- it may have nonetheless provided a bit of insight into some of
the pathology within the Church infrastructure and a foreshadowing of what
was to come. While some may question the direct relevance of clerical
abstinence to the issue of sexual abuse, Lederer places a great deal of
faith in statistics which suggest that the celibacy requirement
dramatically limits the potential diversity of the priesthood and seems to
attract an overwhelming number of men who seem somewhat confused about
their sexuality. In Lederer's opinion, when discussing magisterial
dysfunction within the Catholic Church, "celibacy is the issue."
As parishioners poured out of the quaint brick-faced church nestled along the waterfront in Centerport, Long Island, Monsignor Emeritus Joseph Colligan warmly greeted worshipers with the style of a big city mayor, not a recently retired parish priest. During his twenty-plus years as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Father Joe would astound the multitudes as he flawlessly recalled the names of every one of his parishioners, as if imitating a memory whiz on a television talk show. What were particularly amazing were his ancillary reputation for and/or losing most everything else.
On that warm summer afternoon, he shook hands with a man, embraced the man's wife and chatted with them for a while. As he was excitedly describing to them his impending trip to Belgium where he was to study theology for an extended period of time, the women spotted a bright emerald green golf shirt under his black suit jacket. She pulled his coat away with a mischievous grin and the priest laughed heartily as he recounted another woman's astonishment when she spied his covert casual attire.
"I mean, what did she expect me to be wearing, a hair-shirt?" he asked rhetorically. Monsignor Colligan is right out of the old school of stereotypical pre-Vatican II Catholic priests. Tough, kind, devout, loving, open-minded as much his devout beliefs would allow.
In his 1973 book, The Priesthood, Karl Rahner discusses his interpretation of the awesome mission of the priest.
"In a sense, he (a priest) is always on duty," said Karl Rahner. "In the light of this sociological aspect of his life, the priest must clearly understand that he belongs body and soul, with all that he is, to this church, to her task, to her mission, her work, her destiny, and he can never disassociate himself from these things." (Rahner, page 101.)
In late 1990, A.W. Richard Sipe's book A Secret World--Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, caused a veritable flood of controversy. The author, psychotherapist stated that that at least half the U.S. Priests at any given time are involved in some pattern of sexual activity. While the main purpose of his book was to analyse the dynamics of celibacy and the psychosexual development to improve formation of seminarians and priests in celibacy, Sipe's book discusses how that image has changed over the years and some of the root causes of the change. (L.I. Catholic 10/3/90 page 8.)
According to Sipe, the priests of yesteryear were "generally viewed as public icons of strength, virility, honesty, and dedicated service." (page 18.)
In his chapter entitled "Celibacy and the Sexual Revolution," Sipe indicates that the following evolutionary factors have affected the priesthood over the last thirty years:
1-certain political and moral stances taken by the Pope, the Vatican leadership, and/or by what is generally referred to as the "magisterium," have cast Catholicism in such an unfavourable light that the role of the priest has been undermined if only through "guilt by association." Sipe's primary example is the 1968 "Humanae Vitae," edict which denounced birth control even in marriage. Sipe said that Rome put priests in an untenable position by having to defend an edict that the Western World reviled and ignored.
2-with revolutionary changes in sexual perceptions in much of the world since the 1960's, the public view of the priesthood's celibacy requirement was seen as archaic by Catholics, laity and clergy alike.
3-the movements espousing women's right and female equality cast aspersions on the patriarchal structure of the church, leading to questions about the ordination of women and questions about the celibacy requirement as having its roots in hostility toward women.
These factors and many others contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of men becoming priests and also played a role in a great number of men leaving the priesthood to marry and to raise a family. In recent years, movements have arisen in various parts of the world, but primarily in the United States, to make the celibacy requirement optional for priests, to modify the canonical laws affecting priests who resign to marry and subsequently lose their sacramental authority.
A number of movements have arisen over the past 15-20 years which seek to petition the Vatican to soften its rulings on celibacy, not simply for the convenience of the men that have been affected by the legal obstructions but for what it views as saving the future of the Catholic Church in the Western World if not on our entire planet. One such organization is CORPUS, a group of married non-clerical priests presently organized in some 26 countries around the world, representing some tens of thousands of resigned priests.
A recently formed group called C.I.T.I. ("Celibacy Is The Issue") is gaining momentum with its grass roots approach to pressuring American Bishops to in turn pressure Rome to change the vow of celibacy to something more appropriate for the realities of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Father Joseph Breen, pastor of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Nashville, Tennessee, recently circulated a letter to Catholic newspapers and magazines around the country, summing up what he feels is the condition of the Catholic Church in this country and imploring American Bishops to act in concert at their June convocation at Notre Dame. Excerpts of Father Breen's letter summarize the views of many of those presently battling what they see as stolid, stubborn blindness on the part of the magisterium:
June 2, 1992
Dear Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop:
We can recall the moving, terribly human Scriptural story of that first Pentecost. The Apostles were confused, scared, depressed, and without faith and courage. The Spirit descended upon them. They became a new creation. Filled with the Spirit, they ventured forth, proclaiming the Lord and His goodness. Later, out of love for the Lord and His people, they gathered at the Council of Jerusalem to look for the truth to help them to act as the much needed leaders of the early Church. Paul and Barnabas had such a love of the Church that they confronted Peter and others with prayer, discussion, and argument. As a result, they all came to deeper understandings.
Today, the Church needs a new Pentecost. John Paul II, as did Peter, desperately needs men like Paul and Barnabas who have great love of the Church to teach, to challenge, and assist him if he is to be a credible leader of a united Church. I am a priest fully dedicated to the ministry of the Lord. Ordained in Rome, I had the privilege to have the example of John XXIII for my four years of theological studies. I have been a priest since 1961 and a pastor for twenty-three years.
My day-to-day experience teaches me that the most discouraging condition of our Church today is that our bishops do not respond to the crisis caused by the severe shortage of priests. Our priests suffer from burn-out. Our priests are not only discouraged, but bitter because our bishops do not courageously face this systemic problem which weakens every part of the body of the Church. Lay people over and again voice their concern that their spiritual, indeed sacramental needs are not met because of the reduced size of the ordained ministry.
Many priests see the Papacy as dysfunctional and many of the bishops as co-dependent. This cannot be taken as a shocking or startling statement. The issues involved here have been covered extensively in national newspapers, magazines, and journals, both religious and secular. Despite what some people say and write, I must believe that many of the bishops truly care about the priests and the Church. If you do care, as you must, then you and others must stop talking about the Pope and start talking to him. Rome's attitudes and practices relating to women, sexuality, and authority are not in harmony with the mind of the universal Church. They have only the flimsiest historical and theological justifications, and they fly in the face of political, social, and economic realities. I plead, I pray, that bishops at their June meeting at Notre Dame approve the voluntary return of those married priests who are otherwise in good standing with the Church. the Church suffers not only from reduced numbers of priests, but also from a lowering in the quality of those who aspire to the priesthood. The experience of those priests who might return would be invaluable. If we love the Church, we are bound by that love to consider optional celibacy for those called to be priests.
Many Catholics are puzzled that Rome allows some sixty Episcopalian priests to function as married priests. Some see such a practice as vindictive against our own married priests. Vindictive or not, it is neither logical nor Christian. An Episcopalian priest who has left his church is to be treated more charitably than a Roman Catholic priest who has not?
There is no more fitting time than Pentecost to pray with and for each other that we will be open to God's guiding Spirit, which to be sure will lead us down the sometimes winding path of warming, healing unity, and not down the straight, but narrow road of chilling precedent.
While perhaps not the most eloquent letter ever written, the preceding words from a parish priest succinctly sum up some of the lingering concerns of those presently challenging the Vatican to change the celibacy requirement for priests and to welcome back into the Church married and/or resigned priests.
Although A.W. Richard Sipe suggests that there is no clear definition of celibacy, he does take a stab at defining what he has in mind when he talks about clerical continence:
"Celibacy is a freely chosen dynamic state, usually vowed, that involves an honest and sustained attempt to live without direct sexual gratification in order to serve others productively for a spiritual motive." (page 58.)
Sipe then proceeds to qualify each phrase within the context of his definition. In regard to "freely chosen dynamic state," he states that celibacy is a transitional journey that involves painful stages, which should ideally not result in sexual deviation or dependency, and inspired by a sense of vocation.
"Usually vowed" draws from an assumed association with a public declaration about something very private as a witness by those dedicated and concerned for humanity. "An honest and sustained attempt" requires integrity, balance, self-knowledge, consistency, and commitment devoid of self-deception and rationalization.
"To live without direct sexual gratification," suggests that a cleric fully realizes other joys in life than sex and does not rationalize celibacy as not simply not being chaste, ie, no marriage but sex is acceptable. When Sipe alludes to serving others productively, he is saying that sexual denial without social commitment is meaningless.
Sipe goes into considerable detail when discussing the spiritual motive. He states that celibacy is not proposed as a natural phenomenon and that it is a highly specialized gift that presume an awareness of existence beyond the ordinary as well as charism. He says that many are called to be priests but few are called to celibacy. He speaks of a dual calling, one to the priesthood, one to marriage, but he does not say that what be perceived as a practical duality is really what the priesthood is all about.
Sipe, himself a married non-clerical priest, strongly suggests that the new public perception of the priest in our society makes celibacy that much more of a nearly insurmountable challenge. He says that, decades ago, the privilege, the prestige, the educational advantage, the socio-politcal-spiritual power of the office, the exclusivity and secrecy of the sect "all conspired to protect and sublimate priestly sexual drives." (page 65) He believes that, without these external supports and without revised seminary education on the distinction between charism and discipline, celibacy is greatly strained.
Sipe concludes his complex definition by quoting Gandhi who declared that "only a love that can match or exceed what is possible with sexual love can sustain celibacy." (page 64)
THE HISTORY OF CELIBACY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
According to A.W. Richard Sipe, the concept that the offerers of a sacrifice should remain untainted by sexual encounters goes back to ancient civilizations. He provides such examples as the yellow-capped Lamas of Tibet, the ascetic hermits of Egypt, the virgin priestesses of Thebes, the Astorte cult of Syria, the primitive worshipers of Dodona, the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome, and the temple priests of the Aztecs. (page 35)
David Rice presents a comprehensive historical look at celibacy in his book about resigned priests entitled, Shattered Vows. Rice credits Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx in The Church with a Human Face with asserting that clerical celibacy originated in "a partly pagan notion of ritual purity," as Sipe indicates with the aforementioned examples. At the Council of Nicaea in 325, a proposal to require celibacy for all priests was defeated and at the Council of Trullo in 692, marriage rights for priests were reasserted. (Rice page 161.)
Schillebeeckx says that, first in the fourth century came a law that forbade a married priest from having sexual intercourse the night before celebrating the Eucharist. However, when the Western Church began celebrating a daily mass, abstinence became a permanent factor for married priests.
"At the origin of the law of abstinence, and later the law of celibacy," said Schillebeeckx, "we find an antiquated anthropology and ancient view of sexuality." (ibid) Rice follows with a quotation from St. Jerome which expressed the views of both pagans and Christians at the time that, "All sexual intercourse is impure." (ibid)
Because the resulting implication of a priest living with his wife like a brother led many priests into "deplorable situations," in 1139, the Second Lateran Council forbade the marriage of priests altogether and declared all existing marriages involving priests null and void. (ibid)
"One does not approach the altar and consecrated vessels with soiled hands," had been the pagan view and then became the cornerstone for compulsory Christian celibacy. (ibid) Other not-necessarily concurrent or chronological developments also contributed to the establishment of the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests. More bishops began to be chosen from the ranks of monks who had already taken monastic vows of chastity. Another factor was an economic development as the Church began acquiring its own property. According to Rice, there was a real danger that legitimate children of priests could inherit and deprive the Church of its land. At the time, common law prevented illegitimate children from inheriting property.
In reality, the 1139 law did not enact celibacy but merely changed marriage into concubinage. Rice quotes from a document on celibacy prepared by church historian Hubert Jedin for the Second Vatican Council:
"It would be a mistake to imagine that these permanent concubines, especially in the countryside, would have aroused a lot of scandal," said Jedin. "We know of many cases where these 'keepers of concubines' possessed the sympathies of their parishioners and were looked upon as good and virtuous pastors." (ibid page 162)
No finer mind than Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologia II-IIa, 88, 11) had provided stubborn opposition to those who saw celibacy rulings as part of divine law. Thomas contended that the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests was merely Church law that could be reversed at any time by papal or conciliar authority. (MacGregor pages 108-109)
When the Reformation indirectly brought forth the Council of Trent in the mid 1500's, the Roman Catholic Church reformed itself and remodelled the priesthood to its present form. Not only did the Council reiterate the Church's prohibition of a married clergy but also instituted reforms to try to insure the implementation of the decrees of the Church on this subject.
Since the Council of Trent, celibacy has remained Church law, specifically upheld by Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. Despite opposition from half of the bishops attending the Synod of 1971, requests from bishops in the United States, France, and Latin America in 1988, Pope John Paul II has not budged from his opposition to a married priesthood.
THE SCRIPTURAL SIDE OF THE ISSUE
According to several authors on the subject of priestly continence, there are basically two passages in the New Testament that are most often interpreted as endorsing the celibacy of church leadership. The first is Matthew 19:12 in which Jesus responds to questions from his disciples about marriage and divorce by saying, "...and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven." (New Jerusalem Bible page 46) In a comparable informational format in 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul includes in a complex presentation on "marriage and virginity," the statement, "I wish that all were, as I myself am, but each has his own special gift from God, one of a kind, one of another." (ibid page 297)
Those are the most often quoted passages extracted from the New Testament in defence of celibacy, but, by and large, they are viewed by some as taken out of a larger context. Although he admits he has "no direction from the Lord" on the subject of celibacy, St. Paul clearly indicates that being free from the bonds of matrimony is preferable to being married. However, there is a larger context from which Paul sees that, "time is growing short," and that "the world as we know it is passing away." It is from this timetable, the expectation that the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus was imminent that Paul recommended that his followers pray, prepare themselves, and give "undivided attention to the Lord. (ibid page 297.)
In her work Eunuchs from the Kingdom of Heaven, Uta Ranke-Heinemann also suggests that Paul speaks out against marriage in Corinthians to facilitate greater availability and for there to be "less interference in turning ones attention to the Lord."(page 37)
In Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov states that Paul felt that people should marry only if they are tempted to sin out of wedlock. Otherwise, they should prepare for "worldly matters coming to an end." (page 1107)
In the Jerome Biblical Commentary (page 263) states that Paul does not trivialize marriage as seen in Ephesians 5:22-33 where he sings the praises of marriage, comparing it to the relationship between Christ and the Church. However, the Jerome scholars interpret Paul's intent as pointing out that "marriage involves spouses in many worldly cares that can make it difficult for them to consecrate themselves perfectly and completely to the Lord's service." (page 336)
The quotation from Matthew is not always described as an answer to a question about divorce and it is often presented as a flat endorsement of celibate life by Jesus. According to A.W. Richard Sipe, St. John Chrysostom used Matthew's words to justify his misogyny and his oft-stated outrage against anyone who thought women to be worthy of anything more than servitude. It is difficult to understand how this man was ever canonized, although, granted, he did much of his stereotyping 1600 years ago. (page 30) Both Anthony Padavano in Reform and Renewal, (page 47) and Uta Ranke-Heinemann in Eunuchs in the Kingdom of Heaven, (page 37) agree that there is a clear connection between the discussion about divorce and marriage and the subsequent comments, although the disciples are playing straight men for Jesus when they say"...if that is the way it is between husband and wife it is not advisable to marry." The authors also discount any implied connection between celibacy and the discussion about those "eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." She claims that the translation is the result of a common but wrong interpretation of the Greek "eunuch" for "unmarried."
"The issue here is voluntary renunciation of remarriage (after a divorce) and the renouncement of adultery and has nothing to do with celibacy," said Ranke-Heinemann. "The whole institution of celibacy is based on the foolish objection of the disciples."(in the Scripture passage.) (page 37)
Jerome Biblical Commentary (page 96) suggests that it is indeed Jesus who shifts gears here and speaks in ways that might be applicable to celibacy. The scholastic commentary in Jerome indicates that Jesus is saying that celibacy can be preferable for some and may be a preferable way to welcome the reign of God.
The scholars say that, in a larger context, the statement on celibacy may be associated with Matthew 19:29 where further sacrifices such as leaving one's home and family behind may be necessary to properly worship God and not to serve more than one master.
"If the Christian vocation can divide families," says the Jerome Biblical Commentary, "it can also detach one from founding a family." (Ibid page 96) Some authors extract Scriptural references and use the words to beg the question of celibacy.
Sipe uses Luke 23:29 as a possible defence of celibacy. On his way the cross, Jesus tells the Daughters of Jerusalem, "Do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and your children. For the days will surely come when people will say, 'Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, and the breasts that have never suckled!" (New Jerusalem Bible page 247)
"Jesus was acknowledging the good fortune of those not burdened with a family," said Sipe. Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests that the encounter puts forth a warning that such a "terrible fate awaits those in Jerusalem for their sins and laments that she who ever had children will suffer so." (page 49)
In Living Religious Vows, Father Joseph Rayes indicates his belief that Matthew 5:8, the part of the Sermon on the Mount which says, "Happy are the pure in heart; they shall see God," alludes to the Franciscan philosophy of not having time for anything but loving God. Fr. Rayes' views on purity are found in a chapter on celibacy. (page 20) In Jerome's Biblical Reference purity is "manifested principally by speech which betrays one's thoughts and desires. The reward of purity of heart is to see God." (page 70)
Sipe quotes Schillebeeckx who quotes Mark 4:11 which states that, "The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you but those who are outside, everything comes in parables." As in Jesus' words about "eunuchs," there are some special, chosen people, not everyone, but those who, upon learning of the "hidden pearl," the Kingdom of God, become "actually incapable of marriage," because, according to Schillebeeckx, "their heart is where their treasure is." (page 36)
CATHOLIC THINKERS - IN THE CLEAR?
The Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy, edited by Geddes MacGregor indicates that the word "theology" originates from the Greek words theos and logos meaning literally, "God-discourse," or "God-talk." It is traditionally understood as the "science of divinely revealed truths." (page 609)
Medieval scholars contended that even without divine revelation, from the Scriptures or from other sources, people could still attain some knowledge of God through the use of reason and the natural powers of "discoursive thought." In the Middle Ages, theology was treated a branch of philosophy and fell under what we would probably refer to as "Letters, Arts, and Sciences."
In the 18th century, "reason" became the fashionable field of study among educated masses, and "natural theology" could be viewed as a respectable academic inquiry, since it did not rely on what many thought of as the superstitious side of religion, and was seen as being free of traditional beliefs based upon supposed revelation.
Down through the centuries, theology has evolved into several different branches. While the term "natural theology" is archaic, "philosophical theology," or the "philosophy of religion" presently represent the same concepts. "Dogmatic theology" considers the implications of the Bible and other revelatory documents. "Historical theology" uses an investigative approach similar to those delving into political, scientific, or art history. As previously implied, philosophical theology does not rely upon any revelatory documents.
To get a proper perspective of the first two thousand years of Catholic theology, various social, historical, political, scientific conditions should be taken into careful context. Over the years, members of the Catholic hierarchical magisterium have not always used that context when extracting various theological tenets for canonical incorporation.
The magisterium cannot be completely faulted for this narrow approach because there is a very thin line between theological tenets which are sociologically inappropriate but are, at the same time, the product of that nebulously evasive term "revelation." It is difficult for a person with any degree of spiritual and religious awareness to totally discount a socially irrelevant canonical law when the justification is said to be "revelation." That facet can throw relevance out the window.
Many canonical laws from within the Catholic Church have, in recent years been interpreted as being out of step with present societal mores. The celibacy issue as it relates to Catholic priests is a prime example. Not only do modern critics see the law as currently helping to literally tear apart the very fabric of the Catholic priesthood, but there are also those who see the celibacy requirement as having originated in an atmosphere that lent credence to the view that both sex and women were to be avoided under any circumstances other than procreation; and sometimes even then...
The wall that is Catholic theology--whether it be metaphorically constructed of cinder-block or matchsticks--consists of contributions from a variety of men and women. Many of those contributions and their survival amongst the changes within the Catholic canon contributed in turn to some of present-day moralistic postures maintained by the Vatican. In the second century A.D., Tertullian was the first Catholic theologian to discuss legalistic concepts of debt and guilt. Later in that century, Origen took passages in Matthew's gospel too literally and castrated himself to remain pure.
In the fourth century, Augustine helped revive many of Plato's five-hundred year-old concepts on the unnatural union of the human body and the soul in efforts to down-play the importance of sensual pleasure. Augustine, who sowed some wild oats before he settled down to ordinary day-to-day sainthood, is credited with merging his Manichaeanistic good v. evil leanings with Plato's worldview to give the Christian world a negative attitude toward the human body specifically and sex in general.
Much of the guilt, repression, shame, and frustration sprouted in the Catholic perception of sex and bodily function can be traced back to Augustine, not to the Scriptures which tell us that the body is a gift from God. In the twelfth century, Peter Abelard of France was one of the most famous teachers of his time. His gift was conveying to his students the relationships between logic and dialectics and theological passages. Yet, Abelard is unfortunately most remembered for betraying his vows of celibacy, impregnating Heloise, a young student of his, and being castrated by hired thugs in the process. The painful romance between Abelard and Heloise is a monument to un-God-like persecution and hypocrisy that evolved out of the basic underlying tenet of Catholicism: that sex out of wedlock and without the intention of procreation was of the utmost evil.
When one looks at the formation of the Catholic theological canon, as so logically laid out in the book, Catholic Thinkers in the Clear, by William A. Herr, it is very interesting to note that no one principle or system of principles has really withstood the test of two-thousand years of time other than many of the precepts set down for us by Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Most of the works of "other" theologians fleetingly and ficklingly fell in and out of Rome's grace. However, when those views were the vogue, there was no question in the Vatican's collective mind that all good Catholics would embrace that particular philosophy or face excommunication, if not worse punishment.
A good example of this is the works of Aristotle. A fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher, his worldview made a rather unexpected comeback in the twelfth and thirteen centuries. In 1210, the teachings of Aristotle were banned by the Catholic hierarchy. In 1230, Aristotle's works were revised to the satisfaction of the magisterium. By 1255, Aristotle's worldviews were required in the Catholic university syllabus. However, in 1270, the Bishop of Paris condemned as heretical 18 propositions being taught by Aristotelian professors, and a student of that school of thought, Thomas Aquinas was condemned seven years later.
In 1624, French law stated that anything taught that contradicted Aristotle would be punished by death. The interesting aspect of this pattern of dogma is the complete lack of flexibility or dialogue involved in Catholic theology as it is/was viewed by the magisterium. There was no ability to step back and look and say: we've just overturned last year's dogma; is it possible that there may be more than one solution to our question? The answer was invariably "no," that the Catholic hierarchy knew best, that Catholic followers were indeed like sheep, innocent children incapable of doing anything other than following their dogmatic lead.
From Peter Abelard to Martin Luther to Hans Kung, there have been those will speak out against Catholic dogma but never does one see the Vatican ever acknowledge that these rebels may in some small way have their points. When and if the Vatican has modified its views, it is often credited to some mysterious revelation that causes a re-evaluation but not that their outspoken critics could ever have been right, that the one accepted given in their universal worldview is that there are few blacks and whites but a considerable amount of grey.
MISOGYNY AND THE FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
In 1990, German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann wrote her volatile book Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (subtitled, "Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church.") It would seem appropriate to label Dr. Ranke-Heinemann a feminist, but perhaps calling her a misanthrope might be a bit extreme. However, she may rank as one of the world's most devout Christians since Jesus Christ is indeed the only male she seems to have nothing but nice things to say about.
"Catholic moral theology is a folly that invokes God and pretends to be religion," she said. "It has warped the consciousness of many men and women. It has burdened them with hair-splitting nonsense and striven to train them as moral acrobats instead of making them more humane and kinder to their fellow human beings." (page 334)
The book jacket introduces the book as, "...the definitive study on the oppression of women in Western Society ... From the Apostle Paul to Pope John Paul II, the Church has designated sex, degraded women and championed a perverse ideal of celibacy."
Like A.W. Richard Sipe, Dr. Ranke-Heinemann contends that the historical Church view of sex as being unclear and the imposition of celibacy on the Catholic clergy virtually assured the need for the mistrust and hatred of women and the temptation they posed to men of God attempting to maintain their vows.
"It is hard to over-estimate the importance of anti-feminism in the formation of celibate consciousness and priestly development for over two centuries when the discipline of celibacy was being solidified, from 1486 and onward," said Sipe.(page 28)
In "Eunuchs," the author continually points to the so-called "Church Fathers" and castigates them for perpetrating the anti-sex, anti-female lies. She describes Augustine as, "...the man who fused Christianity with hatred of sex and pleasure into asystematic unity." She quotes St. John Chrysostom as being convinced that there was asexual reproduction in Paradise. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan is said to have espoused the need for priests to stop having sex with their wives in the fourth century. (page 187)
The author states that, "...no Church Father talked more contemptuously about marriage and sex than St. Jerome." (page187) She quotes Anselm in 1108 as declaring that the wives of priests had become property of the Bishops. (page 110)
Dr.Ranke-Heinemann quotes Aristotle that women are "a kind of flower pot for male's semen," (page 187) and she indicates that that idea has lasted for many centuries. She also provides documentation that Aristotle, Albert, and Thomas all viewed women as some species of "defective men." (page 187)
In 1980, Italian scholar Umberto Eco wrote his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in which he portrays life in a 14th century monastery in scathing terms. His work is filled with ugly, misshapen men, homosexuality, misogyny, superstition, and varied perversion and dysfunction among men supposedly devoted to a life filled only with love and with God. Disturbingly, the covert motivation for as many as seven deaths in the monastery turns out to be a sub-plot of censorship and fear of documents that might dilute the faith of the Christian world, the brand of paranoia that some claim exists today.
The following soliloquy is found within the plot as protagonist Brother William of Baskerville takes his young novice Adso to task for having made passionate, extemporaneous love to a young peasant girl.
"Adso, you have sinned that is certain, against the commandment that bids you not to fornicate, and also against your duties as a novice. In your defence there is the fact that you found yourself in one of those situations in which even a father in the desert would have damned himself. And of woman as a source of temptation the Scriptures have already said enough. Ecclesiastes says of woman that her conversation is like burning fire, and Proverbs say that she takes possession of man's precious soul and the strongest men are ruined by her. And Ecclesiastes further says: 'And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, her hands as bands. And others have said that she is the vessel of the Devil. Having affirmed this, dear Adso, I cannot convince myself that God chose to introduce such a foul being into creation without also endowing it with some virtues." (page 356)
A quotation also from The Name of the Rose stated that, "The step between ecstatic vision and sinful frenzy is all too brief." (ibid)
Although Vatican II in the 1960's made some inroads into women's right, equality for all, and the acceptance of a male marriage to a female as being a divine calling along with religious callings, down through the centuries, woman's equality was consistently viewed as a threat by the celibate male Catholic hierarchy. The closest thing to an equal rights amendment was from those who liberally interpreted St. Paul's Galatians 3:28 as declaring all equal in the eyes of God.
According to Sipe, however, most other "Church Fathers" were hold-outs for the old order of male superiority. For example, that old male chauvinist St. John Chrysostom was outraged by the idea of women being anything but servants. (page 30)
Said that not-so-saintly John Chrysotom, "What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours." (Sipe page 31)
According to Cicero, Seneca, St. Jerome, and St. John, nearly all the overthrown kingdoms in the world resulted from treacherous women. In 1486, Pope Innocent VIII sanctioned "Witches Humanea," and consequently ingrained the subconscious of most celibates with negatives about women, such as the "fact" that women should not be ordained because they cannot keep secrets and are prone to jealousy. As the unfortunate title suggests, women were accused of being witches as a matter of course. (Sipe page 45)
Although there are numerous male movements today, such as the attempts by the American Bishops to write a pastoral on women without interference from Rome, the "olde world" misogynous attitudes towards women prevail in too many locations on this planet.
In terms of female movements today, there is not one so-called "feminist" effort that can stereo-type the opposition to oppression of women in the world. There are numerous movements of females who categorically refuse to fall into the role of subservience that the Catholic Church would prefer for them. The discussion here is not whether women should be priests; more to the point, we are talking about women being treated the way Christ would treat them: as equals, with love and respect. And that means the establishment of a concerted effort to teach the value of a celibate life for religious without any reflection upon the nature of the female species.
In October 1992, Irish rock singer Sinead O'Connor shocked the world by ripping up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on live television, on the infamous "Saturday Night Live." The subsequent outrage was almost, especially noting that New York tabloid made it front-page news over a tragic jetliner crash in Amsterdam that took hundreds of lives.
The symbolism in Ms. O'Connor's symbolic act, and her declaring the Pontiff "The Enemy," relates to her opposition to the Church's social stances on women, most specifically its anti-abortion.
That Sinead O'Connor is a graduate of a Dominican-run reform-school, that she has had two abortions in the past two years resulting from affairs with married men, that she is known for exhibiting behaviour that ranges somewhere between bizarre and downright anti-social, should not necessarily be the criteria used to assess where she is coming from.
She ripped up a photograph. The photo was a picture representing a person, the Pope; that person who represents Peter who represented Christ's Church two thousand years ago, and the Church was a representation of Christ's love for humanity. Ms. O'Connor's actions were symbolic, perhaps suggesting that the Pope, like Peter, is not God, is not Christ and is indeed very human, and must, under no circumstances be treated with the reverence reserved for Christ or His Father.
For women who feel oppressed by society and by a Church dominated by male celibates, Christ would understand where the rage of women is coming from these days and why the rage is symbolically transferred to the Pontiff. Women religious are expressing the same kind of rage with their own written words about the male-dominated Church in the dozens of such books published each year.
While their sentiments were similar, Sinead O'Connor had a different medium and a somewhat different message than Sister Elizabeth Johnson who last year told three-hundred people at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor that Catholic [sic] the oppressive policies of the Church toward women will cause female Catholics "to start protesting with their feet," in order words predicting that women will continue to leave Catholicism for beliefs that treat women as equals.
There may be some method to the perceived madness of the moralizers in the Vatican. The powers that be in the Catholic Church do not in any way shape or form want to endorse any social policy that might be interpreted as encouraging young people or adults, males or females, to take lightly the responsibilities that go along with sexual and/or conjugal intimacy.
That means standing firm against birth control which indirectly condones casual sex, which we now fear more for its contagion that for it sinfulness. That means standing firm against divorce which can indeed encourage partners not to take their marriage vows seriously and perpetuate the current epidemic of frivolous matrimony.
That means standing firm against abortion which contributes to a global malaise that suggests that even the most serious mistakes can be corrected with as big an eraser as you can afford to pay.
The inimitable Father Michael Himes, formerly dean of the Lloyd Harbor seminary, presently a professor on sabbatical from Notre Dame, once said, "Because you disagree with a certain way of thinking, do not believe that those who espouse that view are necessarily wicked or stupid. However, don't entirely discount that possibility either."
There certainly is a tradition of two-thousand years of insensitivity toward women that the Catholic Church will not live down in our lifetimes. However, that insensitivity is not necessarily wickedly, stupidly, or conspiratorially targeted to discriminate against women. We are more likely talking about the stolid miscalculations of some unenlightened human beings who have unsuccessfully misinterpreted the teachings of the Founder of their Church. And, to a certain extent, we may be talking about men who feel obliged to stand by policies they know are totally out of tune with today's world, but out of concern for tomorrow's world, cannot go back on centuries of Church revelatory teachings.
Critics of the 25-year old Sinead O'Connor were not quick to qualify her protests in terms of her Irish heritage, not a small contributory factor in her sociological make-up. By many standards, she is very young, and may even be appropriately considered as one of "Joshua's Children," in reference to Joseph Giazone's book on the damage the Irish Civil War has reeked upon that nation's young people.
In his book Ireland: a Terrible Beauty which he wrote with his wife Jill, noted author Leon Uris presented a magnificent over-view of Ireland, it history, and its demographics. In a chapter entitled "The Catholic Hierarchy - Questions Replace Blind Obedience," Uris discusses how the propensity of the Irish to turn out priests is not an accidental occurrence.
"The horn of plenty stems from the unparalleled devotion of the people which has made priesthood the highest human calling," said Uris. "Irish sexual appetites are generally low," he continued, "and the women are notoriously unfulfilled. Such women, who have found little or nothing from sex, see no wrong in urging their sons into a life of celibacy." (page 27)
Although he wrote his book when Sinead O'Connor was only seven years old, Uris seemed to zero in on what may be at the heart of Sinead O'Connor's protestations.
"The root of the woman's problem can generally be found in the moral dictatorship imposed from childhood which stifles, condemns, and riddles with guilt every natural sexual impulse," said Uris. "The Church has lately realized that it has to modify its suppression of normal human behavior, but this revelation came too late to salvage the wreckage it made in Ireland."(page 27)
THE MARRIAGE OF SPIRITUALITY
Much as we must put legalisms, pronouncements, essays, and traditions in context with the times and places of origin, we too must look at our own prejudices in similar light. Apart from many of the jaundiced views from past centuries toward women and sex, our generation has great difficulty objectively envisioning why something as arcane as celibacy could possibly enhance spirituality and one's service to God.
The narcissist "Me Generation," the sexual revolution; the vicarious sex portrayed in the media, the arts, advertising, and fashion all have contributed to the Western World being sexually polarized and preoccupied. It is difficult for most people to envision the intentional restraint from sexual contact for something so nebulous as spirituality.
Speaking of nebulous, The Cloud of Unknowing was a mystical treatise written in the 14th century by an anonymous young monk. The love and devotion in that work seeps from each lovingly sculpted phrase. It is indeed a love story, a beautiful tale woven about the romantic relationship between men and their God, and a mystical method of intensifying that affair using contemplative meditation. The Imitation of Christ, believed to be written by Thomas a Kempis in 1418, outlines a way of life in pursuit of an ultimate intimacy with Christ and God by "imitating" the life style of Jesus while on he was on earth. To either of the authors of these spiritual masterpieces, continence in the name of God most certainly would seem as natural as a setting sun.
In theory, the goal of Christian celibacy is the enhancement of love, a way of focusing one's spiritual beliefs without the distraction that comes with an heterosexual relationship and the subsequent implications. According to A.W. Richard Sipe, the celibate removed from sexual activity and involvement is forced to grapple with the transcendental nature of love for God and for humanity. The transcendent reality of love has to be "translated or activated into projects or services that transform the man making him a 'man for others'--a man of service to humanity." (page 62)
As previously stated (an important point that cannot be overstated) Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged that abstinence can be a difficult spiritual path to follow and stated that only a love that can match or exceed what is possible with sexual love can sustain celibacy for spiritual reasons and for the validation of beliefs. (Sipe page 64)
There are some other more pragmatic reasons that are presented as arguments against married priests. Marriage and a family can present numerous burdens that the single life does not. When the word "celibacy" is properly used, rarely does it simply refer to abstinence from sex. Celibacy is a way of life, allowing a religious to focus on one's calling without the economic, political, and social encumbrances of a conjugal partnership. It is hard to argue the logic that a priest's life is much more flexible without having to attend parent-teacher conferences, to take children to soccer practice, or to worry about earning enough money to send any number of offspring off to the college of their choice.
During the first 25 years of his life, Thomas Merton experienced more than his share of tragedy, pain, and disappointment. Whether or not these unfortunate events led him to a life as a contemplative monk is open for debate. Merton, who died an accidental death at a relatively young age in the 1960's, speaks of his celibate existence as a monk with great reverence in various of his writings, most notably in his biography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Yet, there were some variables in his life that prevent him from being the perfect model of a religious celibate.
Prior to his ordination, Merton fathered a child out of wedlock. My studies have suggested that this is not an uncommon event prior to the modern advances in birth control, and it appears that it was not uncommon for children to be fathered out of wedlock by men who had already been ordained. Merton's pre-ordination life seems similar in comparison to that of St. Augustine, in which the saint asked of God, "Make me holy, Lord, but not yet."
There are also numerous reports of Merton's affair with a student nurse. And Merton's activism and lecture tours later in his life were not what one might expect of a member of a hermited order. Incidentally, a film about the life of Merton shows film clips of the Gethsemane, the Kentucky monastery where he lived for most of his adult life. A sign just outside the perimeter of the compound states, "Women Who Enter Will Be Excommunicated."
The varying stages of Merton's life inspire questions as to whether or not it is truly spiritual and truly productive for any man or woman to devote his or her complete existence to prayer and ecclesiastic matters. If Merton had not died prematurely, the continuing evolution of his work may ultimately not have served as the model that it is today for those considering a contemplative monastic order. Merton's considerable experiences outside the monastery undoubtedly contributed to his greatness, although his love of Christ and his love for God are indisputable.
CELIBACY AS A PROCESS
Andrew Greeley--priest, novelist, college professor, and sociologist, has compiled a number of different surveys over the years to analyse the relationship between celibacy and the Catholic clergy. In 1972, Greeley took note of the growing post-Vatican II evolutionary problems within the priesthood and stated that American priests were ordinary men faced with extraordinary ideals and demands. (Sipe page 69)
He followed up with a study in 1983 that suggested that priests content with their vocations, were as likely to remain faithful to their vows of celibacy as happily married heterosexual husbands and wives are more inclined to stay faithful to each other. Greeley also amended that statement by adding that there is greater effort involved with a priest breaking his vows of celibacy than a spouse to break marriage vows because of the major affect on lifestyle that is involved. (Sipe page 70)
"Priests keep their celibacy although not necessarily all the time," said Greeley in words that, on the surface do not seem particularly profound. However, beneath the surface, the exceptions to "not necessarily all the time" are the keys to adjustment problems, aberrations in the moral conduct of celibates, and, very likely to the future of the celibate priesthood as well as Catholicism in general. (Sipe page 70)
According to A.W. Richard Sipe, a study in 1984 suggested that the modern-day candidate for the priesthood has significantly different personality traits than the type of priesthood described in the introduction, as typified by Monsignor Colligan and his peers. (page 71) The study cited by Sipe says that seminarians are inclined to have dependency problems, low libido, low athletic and/or mechanical interest, and have experienced "mother dominance." Not necessarily a cause and effect factor, Sipe also indicates a subliminal suggestion of homosexuality in seminaries and in other institutions of the Church is not being acknowledged and/or addressed and is therefore posing some important problems. (page 112)
Training a seminarian to understand his celibacy is as important as anything else being taught to candidates for the priesthood, according to A.W. Richard Sipe. He suggests that seminarians are not allowed to really face the issues surrounding celibacy head-on, and there is no discussion, no open dialogue about specific problems, feelings, or realistic ways of approaching a life of celibacy. (page 237)
Sipe says that it is not so much that a course is needed as much as the open dialogue helping men deal with their sexual urges, beyond the traditional cliches of 1) pray about it; 2) play some rigorous sport; or 3) accept it, it's only natural. (page 53)
In 1983, the Bishops Committee on Priestly Life stated that to be a human person is to be a sexual person and that, "it is clear that confidence in being able to live out a life of celibacy is based on God alone. The Bishops also said that "seminarians with a sensitive appreciation of women and their natural attraction to them will have their determination to lead a celibate life on their love for Christ." (page 54)
It is a fair question, perhaps rhetorical, perhaps irrelevant, to ask where celibate priests such as Richard Rohr and Andrew Greeley get their information for writing and lecturing about sex. In his 1973 book Sexual Intimacy, Greeley offers a frank, though somewhat Freudian assessment of the importance of sexuality in lives of men and women.
"Because our sexual hunger is so powerful and so pervasive, it becomes involved with every strange and bizarre trait in our personalities," said Greeley. "There is not one single neurotic defence mechanism that we've developed that is not at least partially sexual in origin and partially sexual in its manifestations. Our defence mechanisms exist to protect our own fears of sexual inadequacy; and we impose neurotic behaviour on others as a form of sexual aggression, which substitutes, though barely for more obvious and more explicit sexuality.
"Even the most mature of us," Greeley continued. "has severe problems preventing sexual hunger from disrupting his life and destroying his values. Any approach to understanding and living with sexuality that does not take into account the immense and undifferentiated power of sexual passion is naive and self-defeating." (Greeley page 27)
Assuming that Father Greeley is the correct source for such an unbiased statement on the power of sexuality, it can subsequently be surmised that the improper channelling of that kind of sexual energy can result in problems for any human being, and priests most certainly fall into that category.
Let us refer back to another quote from Andrew Greeley, that being, "Priests keep their celibacy although not necessarily all the time." (Sipe page 70) As stated previously, it is the "not necessarily all the time" that must be looked into to get a balanced view of what life is really like for the celibate priest.
Some complex surveys indicate that only 2% of all priests are completely true to their vows of celibacy during their lives as priests. (And, as the joke goes, that two percent probably did not understand the question.) Some of the polled priests contended that their was a difference between being unmarried and celibate. Others drew distinctions between being on-duty priests and off-duty priests.
A.W. Richard Sipe points to something he calls "splitting" which he views as being more harmful that the acts that actually constitute breaking the vows of celibacy. The duality, the secrecy, the associated fear and paranoia of living two lives can be detrimental to the emotional stability of a priest.
Rationalizing infidelity to one's vows can also cause some major problems. (page 73) Some common forms of rationalization are:
1) sex is good, clean; not evil, dirty;
2) sex makes me a better priest;
3) no one is being harmed;
4) helps me to understand and love others better. (page 73)
Those priests who break their vows fall into a number of categories. A good number of them, perhaps as many as twenty percent of them have heterosexual relationships with single women. Others have relationships with housekeepers, married friends of friends of the family, or with female religious. Socially, some priests go off on vacation posing as laymen either individually or in groups. There is also what is referred as third-way pairings that are, on the surface, platonic relationships but are not in actuality. (page 74)
There are some emotionally healthy relationships between priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy and with women. Hugs, kisses, meal sharing, intellectual and emotional intimacy can sometimes fulfil the needs for interaction with women without it having to be overtly sexual.
On the other hand, there are priests who refrain from sexual relations with women but, because of improper adjustment to the celibate life or due to some undetected problematic emotional baggage brought into the seminary, but instead engage in various deviate behavior. Priests are all too often exposed as molesters, whether the victims be children, women, or men. While many outside the Church champion homosexuality as a harmless variation in behavior, the official Church attitude as well as that of many psychologists is that homosexuality is a pathological affliction that needs counselling.
The supporters of a married priesthood contend that there is no way for a mature adult male (or female) to overcome the unnatural act of continence in a healthy way. The way Andrew Greeley described the unbridled power of the human sex drive inspires awe in those who believe it can be tamed with prayer. And, yet there are some who succeed in loving God, loving Christ, loving their Church enough to make giving up heterosexual relations a relatively trivial pursuit.
Summing up, Gandhi said a celibate life was possible as long as the calling compensated as much love as a heterosexual relationship would in that particular individual. Greeley said taming the enormous sexual drive of human nature was very difficult and that has been supported evidentially by survey and statistics that show only two percent of priests have been absolutely faithful to their vows of celibacy. Adjustment problems abound as demonstrated by repeated reports of priests abandoning their callings, fathering children, being charged with child molestation.
Prior to a discussion of the issue of a married priesthood with a married resigned priest, it might be interesting to look at celibacy from a woman's point of view. (Note: while the celibacy issue most certainly affects women who choose to become nuns, that would indeed be the subject of another paper.)
Julia Duin is a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, and has won numerous awards from the National Federation of Press Women and the Religion Newswriters' Association. In 1988, Ms. Duin wrote a book entitled Purity Makes the Heart Grow Stronger--Sexuality and the Single Christian, in which she espouses the spiritual, psychological, and moral advantages of single Christians refraining from pre-marital or non-marital sex.
She draws a line of distinction between celibacy that accompanies the vows of a religious order and chastity which she feels should be preserved until marriage.
Camille Paglia, the "anti-feminist feminist," discusses celibacy in her book, Sex, Art, and American Culture.
"There's a lot to be said for celibacy, for the concentration of your mental and physical energy," she said.
"Balzac has written very feelingly about the concentration of energy that you get through celibacy. And Balzac himself, in the great period when he was writing his major novels was celibate." (page 291)
She goes on to cite other artists, authors, actresses who chose celibacy over the complexity of married life in order to maximize their success and achievement in their chosen fields. It is a further argument for a celibate life for the priest who is then better able to concentrate on his service to the human population at large rather than diluting his effectiveness as he tended to the day-to-day needs of his spouse and off-spring.
George S. came from a family rich in Catholic tradition and grew up during a time when becoming a priest was an undertaking for a son that any Catholic parent would be proud.
The priests that he admired during his childhood served as role models in his determined quest to become a priest. He attended Cathedral College in Brooklyn and the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor, being ordained in 1960.
That George S. resigned form the priesthood in 1969 to marry a woman who likewise chose to put aside her religious vows, is not the important part of his story. That he harbours bitter feelings toward the Catholic Church as an institution, that he looks upon his years as a seminarian as a theft of invaluable time, that today he seriously questions the entire concept of priestly office is the focus of George S's continual struggle with the faith of his family.
Tales of loneliness, depression, isolation, and resentment cloud memories of his days as a seminarian. Intellectual, spiritual, academic, and interpersonal repression filled his days as a parochial school teacher and as a parish priest. After having left the priesthood for marriage, his anger toward the Catholic Church was heightened when a dispute over the timing of his laicised dispensation left him and his bride excommunicated by an irate canonical supervisor.
Today, George S. is a member of C.O.R.P.U.S., and professes deep doubts about the relevance of the priesthood as a form of socio-religious nobility and is even giving some consideration to leaving the Church that has turned its back on the great resource it has in its resigned priests. He finds the diminishing viability of the Catholic Church in the world due to the priest shortage ironic when juxtaposed to magisterium's attitude toward resigned priests. Like so many issues today and down through the centuries, the Church's stance regrettably involves a dialectic rather than a dialogue.
George S. was asked about the theories espoused by some that there is a true calling spiritual to the priesthood and those who leave to marry apparently did not receive such a calling. Although he shares the concerns of some about the type of men who are called today to be priests, he acknowledges the value of someone such as 36 year old parish priest Father Tom having been named spiritual advisor in charge of seminarian formation at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor. Father Tom has earned the respect of lay-people and clergy with his compassionate, spiritual approach to his faith in this modern world.
Dateline: Vatican City,
October 28, 1990, the Los Angeles Times: "A month long international synod of Roman Catholic bishops ended yesterday on an assertive, traditional note, effectively closing the door to any prospect of liberalization of the celibate male priesthood during the papacy of John Paul II.
"The synod's officially secret conclusions reaffirmed the tight rein on the church that has become the hallmark of John Paul's rule. In a month of speeches and in their conclusions, the 237 bishops echoed papal conservatism on issues of doctrine.
"The bishop-delegates said the synod had forwarded 41 propositions to the Pope. Their theme, the bishops made plain, was not how to change the priesthood but how to fortify the institution in its current form.
"We have to be honest and to remove any doubt about celibacy of priests. We must not give any false impression among candidates for the priesthood, and among priests themselves," said U.S. delegate Bishop John P. Foley.
"The Vatican rejects even debating the idea. Yesterday, the 70-year old Pontiff, whose own support for celibacy is unflinching, thanked delegates for their support. "The synod has unequivocally confirmed the choice of priestly celibacy," said the Pope."
In the November 9, 1990 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, Vatican Affairs writer Peter Hebblethwaite wrote that the papal view on celibacy, endorsed by the bishops, was based on the perception that the Church had weathered the vocations crisis. Hebblethwaite went on to indicate that the stabilization in the number of candidates for the priesthood was illusory because there was a marked increase in Eastern European and African priests but the numbers showed no improvement in North America and Europe.
Some of the quotes about celibacy Hebblethwaite extracted from the bishop's propositions included: "a way of loving," "an enhancement of the priest's witness and service," a "total gift," et. al. He also put forth his interpretation of Rome's view that marriage is a sign of the realized kingdom, while celibacy is seen as a sign of the kingdom to come. (page 6)
In that same issue of NCR, Father Richard McBrien took issue with one of the bishops' defence of celibacy as he criticized the assertion that Catholicism should be "countercultural," and that celibacy is countercultural.
"The Catholic Church can be countercultural if it takes an authoritarian, repressive and conformist turn, "said Father McBrien, head of the theology department at Notre Dame University. "But is that what the church should be doing, just for the sake of being countercultural? There are good arguments for celibacy but none for obligatory celibacy, certainly not the countercultural argument offered last month in Rome." (page 14)
In the January 18, 1991 issue of NCR, an article by Pat Windsor discussed the astonishing proposal from Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland that, "under certain circumstances, he would be willing to ask the pope to ordain a married man."
According to Windsor, it was the "first archbishop in recent memory to publicly propose the possibility of a married priesthood." (page 3.)
The 6,000 word document, addressed to priests, was the result of a year-long discussion among archdiocesan parishes about the future in light of a projected 26 percent decline in the number of priests by the year 2000. According to Windsor, Weakland rejected lay-led communion services and liturgies of the word without communion in parishes without resident priests as solutions to the priest shortage.
"Both of these solutions, especially over many years and perhaps for the life of a whole generation, frighten me," Weakland wrote. "They are simply not adequate nor spiritually healthy. They could lead to a new kind of church that is not rooted in the one we know and that has come to us from the apostles. We could not be a Eucharistic community in the fullest sense of that term." Weakland also rejected suggestions to close smaller parishes and to form "mega-parishes" to compensate for clerical shortages.
Anthony Padavano, resigned priest and President of CORPUS and the author of a number of books on Church reform, supported Weakland's proposals and called the archbishop's pastoral "courageous."
"Weakland bases his argument on the most theologically solid foundation possible," said Padovano. "Everyone, including the pope, has to say that the community is more important than celibacy."
Windsor's article goes on to say that church observers indicated that Weakland's pastoral on a married priesthood, "represents a significant opening toward discussion of a topic that has been for the most part--publicly at least--off limits during Pope John Paul II's papacy.
In summarizing, there is no need to rehash the many sources, the many points that have been made, or to re-emphasise just how crucial an effect the issue of celibacy will have on the future of the Catholic Church. The most important focus on this and other important issues involving the Church is dialogue, or, to use the word chosen by Michael Himes, "conversation."
All those who espouse various views on the clerical celibacy have their rights to their opinions and I will take the liberty to suggest that there are no right or wrong answers. However, the Church hierarchy, the magisterium, the Vatican, or whatever word we want to use for Church authority must step away from its self-righteous dogmatic methods for what they consider the protection of the Church. To paraphrase a Vietnam era cliche, they are destroying their religion in order to save it.
The contrasts are clearly delineated: dialogue vs. dialectic; open systems vs. closed systems; discussion vs. dogma. It is no longer productive for the Church to treat its followers much as naive children who, for their own sake, must be spared any misinformation that might sway them away from the "truth" of their faith, a "truth" that inspires fear and devotion.
The Church can ill afford to continue to punish its resigned priests because they supposedly have broken a sacred vow on the premise that to forgive might encourage others not to take their own vows seriously. Depriving the Church of the gifts that resigned priests can offer to this foundering institution is socially and spiritually counterproductive and the defence of that stance insults the intelligence of Catholics who want stay Catholics because of the loving heritage and the direct heritable link between Jesus Christ and those who follow His words and deeds some two thousand years after His death.
It was at once satirical as well as sad to hear the Pope's recent pronouncement that the Church had erred in the 17th century by condemning the astronomer Galileo after he maintained that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Pope John Paul II acted after the completion of the Vatican's thirteen-year study on the Galileo case.
It is unfair to look at this issue only from the Associated Press' interpretation. There must have been more to the matter than meets the eye. But there is the temptation to ask how it could possibly have taken the Church thirteen years to confirm the fact that the Earth does indeed revolve around the Sun. One might also ask what motivated the Church to make such a production of an announcement that must have embarrassed the majority of Catholics in the world for the acknowledgement that the Church had to wait 350 years before letting go of its fallacious view of the universe.
As stated previously in this paper, the Church has continuously shown the pattern that today's heresy is tomorrow's dogma. The magisterium must now accept one of Jesus' primary tenets, that of humility; it must stop its all-too convincing imitation of the Pharisees; and it must look at vital issues such as the celibacy requirement with intelligence, openness, and courage to save Christ's legacy from an unnecessarily premature demise.