Changing an Unchanging Church
Should the Catholic priesthood be restricted to single, celibate men? Do clergy restrictions based on gender, marital status or sexual orientation make sense these days?
On the one hand, I'm hesitant about giving advice to Catholic leaders because I find their advice to atheists so ludicrous. What business is it of mine what the Church tells its followers? If Catholics choose to be counseled about marital or sexual difficulties by celibate priests, why should I care? As the bumper sticker says, if you don't like abortions, don't have one.
On the other (more important) hand, I can't resist giving advice solicited by the question, if not the Church. As a humanist, I worry not only about a Church whose leadership requirements are more likely to lead to abuses of the innocent faithful. I also worry about a politically engaged Church trying to impose its religious prohibitions (contraception, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc.) on the rest of the world.
For early Christian thought about male celibacy, let the saints go marching in. Augustine believed that not-for-procreation sex was immoral, Paul urged followers to become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and Bonaventure felt that only men could receive the godlike office of priest because only men were made in the image of God. But even the Catholic Church occasionally feels the need to be a little politically correct, so it sometimes changes its reasons for not changing. It now says women can't be priests because the apostles were men. Of course the apostles also were married Jews like me and unlike today's priests. The Church changes when it becomes too ridiculous for its leaders to resist (think Galileo). Perhaps the requirement for celibate male priests will one day rise in the eyes of the church to the anachronistic level of a geocentric universe.
Celibacy didn't become Church law until the Second Lateran Council in 1139, when every priest's marriage was declared invalid and priests were ordered to separate from their wives. This was more about capitalism than spiritualism, since property that used to pass to the priest's heirs became windfall Church profits.
Then to seal the deal against priestly sexual outlets, the Church prohibited all male masturbation. Pope Pius XI condemned this so-called sin of "onanism" because he misunderstood the biblical story. Onan was supposed to follow the levirate tradition of having sex with his dead brother's wife to produce a child for his brother's line, but Onan was punished for premature withdrawal because he wanted to become heir to his brother's property. So Church law on both celibacy and masturbation involved the trading of sexual pleasure for real estate.
An "abstinence only" priestly requirement is by no means the Church's most misguided sexual policy. It later decided that Onan's sin covers all forms of reliable birth control. And if Church leaders can argue that putting yourself at risk for AIDS is more godly than using condoms, I can argue that the Catholic Church is helping to spread a virus that infects the entire world, not just its faithful sheep.
Posted by: Skowronek | May 20, 2009 2:19 PM
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Posted by: jcaroline | May 14, 2009 2:16 PM
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