Preisthood Sunday: The case for married priests
By William P. Daly
Do the church's reasons for requiring celibacy still apply?
If you know someone who left the Catholic priesthood to marry, you are not alone. Thousands have. Why does this exodus continue during these times of shortages of priests? Mandatory celibacy contributes to the problem. But the Catholic Church has not always required celibacy of its priests.
Many Catholics will observe the last Sunday in October as Priesthood Sunday. They will affirm hard working priests who have chosen to embrace the celibate charism in their ministry. And, at the same time this year, some of these faithful Catholics will pray for a return to the Church's earliest traditions which permitted both a celibate and married priesthood.
The celibacy requirement for priests in the western Church emerged gradually. Christian ministerial leadership was not viewed as a priestly function until the third and fourth centuries. With this development came Old Testament style cultic purity practices requiring sexual abstinence before celebrating Eucharist. The celebration of daily Eucharist, which began about the same time, led to the need for ongoing abstinence by priests. These developments set the stage for a millennium long struggle over sexual abstinence for Catholic priests. Attempts to impose abstinence as a law fueled strong resistance from clergy. It was not until 1139 that the Second Lateran Council imposed mandatory celibacy.
The vhurch no longer emphasizes the cultic purity rationale to support mandatory celibacy. Certainly, such a position would contradict Pope John Paul II's elevated view of sexuality and marriage as presented in his "Theology of the Body." As John Paul explains, the body is a source of fruitfulness in the natural order but also contains the spousal attribute -- the power to express love, precisely the love in which the human person becomes a gift and thus fulfills the most basic meaning of life and existence. Sexual relations, when practiced lovingly in marriage, are not a source of impurity, but rather of grace and symbolic of the love between Christ and his Church.
From an organizational perspective, earlier economic systems created problems partially solved by imposing celibacy. The benefice method of supporting pastors during feudal times raised inheritance and succession expectations within the families of pastors. Ownership of church property could be siphoned off by the inheritance rights of priests' children. Concerning succession, fathers often desired to pass on their ministry to a son. But the priest's son sometimes lacked qualifications or interest in a ministry role. Imposing celibacy placed the church in a better position in feudal economic systems to maintain its property and to control its ministerial operations.
In our day the church no longer uses such economic and organizational rationales to support mandatory celibacy. Current practices of corporate ownership of parish property and payment of priests have resolved past problems.
The Second Vatican Council found no essential obstacle blocking admission of married men to the Catholic priesthood. The document on priestly life and ministry observed that the priesthood by its nature does not require celibacy, since it was not practiced in the early Church, was initially only recommended to priests, and then later imposed by law.
With no essential obstacle barring a married priesthood and the historical reasons for imposing mandatory celibacy no longer applicable, when will the current celibacy requirement for Catholic aspirants to the priesthood be lifted? In light of the Church's current practice of ordaining married protestant ministers, justice for Catholics calls for such a change to begin soon.
One Catholic organization combines prayer and action in working to change celibacy rules. FutureChurch has organized special Priesthood Sunday celebrations in US cities as well as Australia, Canada, England and Malaysia. And FutureChurch isn't stopping with prayer to support both married and celibate priests. The FutureChurch website communicates in six languages so viewers worldwide can send electronic and paper postcards to Rome, asking for discussion of celibacy rules.
FutureChurch has powerful allies in its work. An estimated 30 Bishops around the world have openly called for discussion of mandatory celibacy. Their statements and Priesthood Sunday resources are available at www.futurechurch.org.
William P. Daly, a member of FutureChurch and former Surveys Director at a national association, lives with his wife, Darleen, in Texas hill country.
FutureChurch, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a U.S. coalition of 5,000 parish-centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church.
Posted by: blue_jaye_2007 | November 2, 2010 10:32 AM
Report Offensive Comment
Posted by: joe_allen_doty | November 1, 2010 4:16 PM
Report Offensive Comment
Posted by: eezmamata | October 31, 2010 7:10 PM
Report Offensive Comment