Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The End of Celibacy? What next?!

Well, not really, and probably not much that you might be worried about.

If you've heard about the Vatican's creation of provisions for married Anglican/Episcopalian clergy leaving their denomination and becoming Catholic priests, you might be concerned that big things are changing unexpectedly. You need not be.

For that matter, the Eastern Catholic churches, in full union with Rome, believing everything we believe and sharing our sacraments, have always allowed men who are already married to enter the priesthood. In the Western/Latin/Roman church, we very early on started developing a preference for ordaining men who had already committed to celibacy. That celibacy has played a crucial role in the development of Western thinking and culture, and certainly so within the Latin (our) church. That practice grew by the middle of the first millennium into a requirement - that only celibate men should be ordained. St. Paul himself expresses this preference, and our Lord set the example Himself. As such, it is not to be lightly set aside.

That said, most of the apostles were married, and we cannot conceive that they put away their wives like chattel in order to serve God, as if that were compatible with Christian living. Somehow they must have made arrangements or balanced the two, or waited til their wives had deceased in order to embark on missionary work, etc. To some extent, then, priestly life is compatible, at least in essentials if not in fullness, with marriage. The Eastern churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) have recognized this right from the start by never having permitted ordained men to get married subsequent to their ordination. And for that matter, in the East, married men have never been ordained bishops, because bishops hold the fullness of priesthood and must be freest for service to the gospel, unobstructed by any natural concerns.

For a number of years, the Roman church has allowed married clergy from other denominations who become Catholic, and whose former denominations' understanding of ministry is close enough to ours, to be ordained in the Catholic Church after their conversion. These men are typically Episcopal or Lutheran, because those denominations are liturgical, as ours is, and because these ministers typically work in ministry full-time, and so have something of a sense of how to balance ministry and marriage, as Eastern priests must have.

In the West, where we have typically had fewer priests per person, we have had higher expectations for what they can provide. Our priests have typically ridden circuits over large areas, traveled to far mission fields, and left their parishes for service in the diocesan offices - that is, gone wherever their bishops have sent them. Married clergy from other denominations admitted to the priesthood have typically functioned a bit more like deacons - less likely to be transferred from one parish to another, and more likely to be permitted a more normal work schedule. But for something between 500 and 1700 years, such circumstances have been exceptional, and not the norm. Such will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

The key thing is that prior marriage is not inherently incompatible with ordained priesthood; as femaleness is. So the discussion of whether and when and to what extent the Church might ordain married men is not the same sort of question as whether and when and to what extent the Church might ordain women. To the first question, answers are varied and the discussion is open. To the second question, the answers are no, never, not at all, and the discussion is closed. That is because priesthood is essentially connected not to a skill set, but to fatherhood. It has always been conceived as a fatherhood, and an emulation of God's fatherhood. God is not a mere parent; He does not create mere parents any more than he creates mere neuters. Jellyfish are neuter, but humans are male and female. He creates men and women, intended by their complementarity for fruitful union that models the fullness of His nature. He Himself seeks to be in fruitful union with us, the Church, His Bride. Complementarity is not imaginary. It is built into creation, as is fatherhood, as is priesthood.

Maybe I'll begin researching and writing a metaphysical anthropology paper connecting fatherhood and priesthood, and discussing how we are all priests in a vague way by baptism, as we are all vaguely masculine by being human; but how only the more clearly masculine is suitable for the more crystallized priesthood of ordination. Hmmm... Well, best to find a full-time job first.

The media is great at soundbites but bad at nuance and distinctions. Because they are by-and-large enslaved to sex they hate celibacy, for celibates are much more likely to be free with regard to sex. The media perhaps see this as a first step toward all that they hold dear.

Or at the very least, they see it as an interesting conversation starter, which it certainly is.

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