On Thursday the study group (www.ofgraceandfaith.blogspot.com) began to look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about the sacrament of Holy Orders a.k.a. the priesthood. Unfortunately far too much time was diverted to the whole ‘married priests’ idea. So many people have got onto this bandwagon without having really thought the whole thing through, and it is time that we had a good long look at it in order to dispel the myths.
Argument 1 : We aren’t getting enough vocations. The whole celibacy thing is something that men tend to baulk at when considering the priesthood. So let’s take away the celibacy and we’ll get more priests.
Answer to Argument 1 : The Lord Jesus is the source of all vocations to the priesthood. He Himself told us what to do – to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into His harvest. If vocations are lacking then you and I are not praying enough for them. On the other hand, as a person determining what to do with your life it is far more attractive to give yourself to something noble and extremely challenging than to something lesser. There are reports aplenty about enclosed religious orders with strict rules having numerous vocations and those religious orders whose members don’t live very differently from a celibate single person having difficulty attracting and keeping vocations. Taking away the celibacy requirement will not result in more priestly vocations.
Argument 2 : We blame the requirement of celibacy for priests as a major cause of all the child sexual abuse cases and other perverted actions. So let’s get rid of celibacy for priests.
Answer to Argument 2: The most likely person to abuse a child sexually is a close male relative, and the majority of those male relatives are married. Because they are relatives most of those cases don’t get reported to the authorities, and very few cases go to court because there is no money in it for the lawyers. We hear about so many cases involving priests because there are big damages claims against the Church and because it gives people who hate the Church an opportunity to harm her reputation.
Argument 3 : We want our priests to be happy. Loneliness and lack of intimacy seems to be their lot. Being able to have a wife would fix all that and make them happy.
Answer to Argument 3: People who buy into this argument tend to have no first hand experience of what impact a man in pastoral ministry has on his wife and children. It might make the man happy, but it most assuredly does not make the wife and children happy. For that matter, it doesn’t make the man happy either. As a man in pastoral ministry your door has to be open to the troubled, the sick and the needy at all times. Major urgent pastoral problems tend to occur with great regularity on birthdays, wedding anniversaries, when the household is in turmoil and when, if you are trying to have children, ‘the time is right’. Then the man is torn in two between both vocations. That is not a recipe for happiness! For an eye-opener as to what it is like for the wife, viewing a couple of Episodes of ‘Rev‘, a British TV series, would be very instructive. While occasionally a man in pastoral ministry might have a wife saintly enough to cope, in general it seems that the more successful the man is in ministry the more bitter the wife becomes. And who can blame her? How often would her prayer be, ‘Lord, You gave me this man as my husband, so why does it seem that You are always taking him away from me, and that I always get the dregs of him that are left and never the best of him?’? For the children of a man in pastoral ministry, all too often they go through ‘absent father syndrome’. So recognised is this the case that in America they talk about PKs (Pastors’ Kids) as a set of young people with a regularly occurring set of problems. The other thing about this argument for happiness is that it equates happiness with sexual activity, and true joy only comes from God and generally has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time doing His Will for His good and kind purposes.
If a priest keeps up his prayer life, and doesn’t let it slip, and perseveres in it, then His relationship with God will sustain him more than a wife and family ever could.
Should you ever have read novels by Fr Andrew Greerly (now deceased, may God be merciful to him) in the Bishop Blackie series, you will recall how often he says that the majority of priests are really very happy. (Read his books with a little caution, because they do get a little iffy when compared to Church teaching every so often.)
If you think the child abuse scandals are bad, can you imagine the mess that divorces and separations between men in pastoral ministry and their wives would cause? Custody battles, property battles, all in the public arena, let alone the scandals if a man in pastoral ministry commits adultery.
Holy Mother Church knows a thing or two, and has almost 2000 years of pastoral experience to draw on. So let us trust her, and the good God working through her, when in the Roman Rite she doesn’t permit priests to marry.
Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, pray for us and please intercede for all priests.