Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why I might be with Pope Francis on this married priest thing

I first read an article on this topic last year that mentioned a possible topic for the next synod being married priests.  After the ongoing disaster in the wake of the previous synod, I read up figuring I needed to steel myself for another potential uproar

Married men being ordained priests is not the topic of the next synod as the synod steering committee voted it down.  The next topic will be on youth and young adults.

Pope Francis made comments this week, though, that signaled he's open to talking about the issue and exploring it.

A couple of things to know:

1) There are already married men who are priests.  In the Eastern Catholic Church, married men are allowed to be ordained.  Click here to read the story

2) Pope Benedict, in allowing entire parishes of Anglicans to become Catholic, has permitted all Anglican priests who jump ship to become Catholic priests.

3) John Paul II set up a way where any married protestant minister who converts to Catholicism can be, at the bishop's discretion, a Catholic priest

So we ALREADY have married priests.  Celibacy is not a doctrine, it is a discipline, meaning something that the Church has done not because God required it in law, but because it is viewed to be helpful and beneficial.  When something is a discipline, it doesn't have to be that way.

Other important notes:

1) What is being discussed is not priests getting married.  It will always be the case that once a man is ordained, he will not be allowed to GET married after ordination

2) Women will not ever be priests.  Here's a helpful and compassionate explanation from Jason Evert:

3) What is being discussed is whether men who are of good reputation in the parish/diocese might be brought forward to be ordained as a priest

4) Priests serve only in the place of the bishop and at the bishop's request.  If we had an Archbishop right now, he could call me tomorrow and tell me that I am not allowed to say Mass.  Or he could call me and say that I can say Mass but not preach.  He could take away my ability to hear confessions.  I would still be and always will be a priest, but the Bishop has full control over what types of ways I can put my priesthood to use.

In fact, it was the case in times past in the US that when you were first ordained you might only be given the ability to say Mass, and then, after a time if you were found worthy of preaching, the bishop would grant you that faculty, and then he might or might not also grant you the faculty to hear confessions.  

SIDE NOTE: I wish we would go back to that ASAP.  Some of the preaching we unleash on the people of God is scandalous, and most people would be better off in those circumstances NOT having a homily or having the horrible preacher read a sermon of the week from the bishop or a Church father or saint.  

After spending 3 years now over two parishes, a prison, and a university, this idea of possibly ordaining men priests and letting them utilize SOME of the faculties of the priesthood makes sense.  

1) Celibacy is SUPER important, and I think because it is the norm, there is a great deal of respect in our larger culture for priests even AFTER the horrible abuse crisis.  I just experience it on a day in and day out basis.  People think of Catholic priests differently and look at priests differently, and almost always in a good way. 

Fr. Guy Mansini, one of my profs in the seminary, drove home the point that I agree with wholeheartedly: "Men, the number one reason for celibacy is that it is a CONSECRATION, a marking and a setting apart for service"

Celibacy is NOT done so that priest labor is cheaper, it is not done so that a priest can work longer is done first of all as a consecration, and again, I see that people (Catholic and non-Catholic) look at priests as set apart for a particular mission, and that even most non-Catholics, in certain situations, are happy to have a priest around and even approach him in times of need.

In the Eastern Catholic Church, married men can be priests, but bishops can only come from the celibate clergy.  Whatever steps are taken, it is important to ensure that celibacy is still treasured and kept

2) I think ordaining guys FROM a parish to serve at the same parish is a bad idea, particularly if these men are given the faculty to preach.  A prophet is not welcome in his native land.  One of the LAST places I'd ever want to be assigned is my home parish, and I love the people there.  

It also takes a LOT of preparation and formation to be a good preacher.  You could teach a person to pray the Mass in a few months (mechanically speaking...hold your hands hear...move here...raise the host at this time...) but preaching is a whole other thing.  I would submit that a lot of the seminary academic work over 6-8 years has, as a primary goal, preparing men to preach well, or to at least not preach heresy. 

Some will surely say here that there are horrendous celibate priest preachers, and I agree.  I've been a victim of bad preaching as much as anyone else.  I am sure, as well, that some people in the parish ARE formed enough in theology, through their own study, and are good enough communicators to preach the Truth of Christ very well, even exceptionally.

I still think, though, that if married men were ordained, their ability to preach should be severely limited, and they should somehow have to prove their readiness in a much more rigorous way than is currently being done with our priests and permanent deacons.

3) I also think "ad orientem" Mass would be SUPER important if the priest were a local married man.  The point of Mass where the priest is not facing the people but instead all the people are facing, in expectation, liturgical East, is not so that the priest can have his own private devotion of Mass and exclude people, it is so that the people don't have to look at the priest.  The facial expressions of the priest shouldn't matter.  The identity of the priest, particularly a local man from the parish, would need to veiled so that people can focus on the Eucharist itself.  

Concluding thoughts:

1) It seems that perhaps, in the US at least, celibate priests would continue to be pastors overseeing the parishes, so that the local married man who would be ordained to help would serve in sacramental assistance but not have to worry about also "pastoring" (meetings, budget, marriage prep, finance council) etc.  

In my particular situation, I feel like I could probably be the pastor of several parishes if there was just sacramental help - i.e. other people who could celebrate Mass for me.  Five Masses on the weekend at two parishes 30 minutes apart is just not sustainable.  

I used to think that what should happen as the number of celibate clergy continue to decline is that parishes then should only have Mass every other week or once a month like the rest of the world.  

But is keeping intact a discipline of the Church worth people not having access to the Eucharist weekly?  Is keeping a discipline of the Church worth denying a lot of African Catholics Mass but a few times a year because there are so few celibate priests there (as with South America/China/India...and more and more the US)?

I don't think it is worth keeping intact a discipline that is already not followed in every case anyways.  

If you would have told me I would ever write that sentence five years ago, I wouldn't have believed you

We'll see where the Spirit leads the Church on this issue.


1) People aren't properly understanding what is being proposed in this realm of married priesthood.  What IS generally being proposed is that an older man in the parish would be ordained to say Mass and help with other sacraments while likely working in the world still (It might be possible for such a "Masser" to also get a job at the parish as, say, a director of religious education)

If you are 18 and considering the priesthood, you are still going to choose the standard path of celibate priesthood because the ONLY other option under what's being discussed is for that 18 year old to say "Instead I am going to get married, have children, wait until they are grown, and when I'm in my late 50's or 60's HOPE that the bishop might consider me becoming a priest who has limited faculties"

2) As the ALWAYS insightful canonist Ed Peters points out, Canon 277.1 still has to be reckoned with, which says "Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence"

What is "perfect and perpetual continence"? A cleric is to not have sex any more with his wife.  This goes for permanent deacons and married priests.  I haven't heard anything discussed about this with regard to this topic.

From what I've read on celibacy, this WAS happening in the early Church amidst married men being ordained priests.  It was apparently fairly common for wives of men coming forward to be priests to join a convent.

So while there have been married priests and married deacons going back to the beginning, Canon 277.1 has been in play as well.  I'm not sure if that is being lived out among married priests, nor do I assume that is being lived out among our permanent deacons either.  

The question I have here is not how would a move like married priests CHANGE Canon 277.1 but rather how have the steps that have already been taken in the East and West with married priests, and in the West with permanent deacons been done WITHOUT addressing, as far as I'm aware, Canon 277.1

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