Thursday, May 03, 2012

Priests Cannot Marry...Except for Those Who Can

Over at Greg Kandra's Deacon's Bench blog, I found an interesting story of an Australian priest who has been secretly married for a year.  I don't find much admirable in the priest's behavior, though I do understand how a human being could fall in love and consider following through on a new relationship, especially if he has faced years (perhaps decades) of loneliness.  (For the record:  I don't want to assume that every priest lives a life of loneliness or that he pines for a romantic relationship.  Priests, like the rest of the human race, are an incredibly diverse lot.  And there's no reason to pity them as a group.  I've known many healthy, happy priests over the course of the last thirty or forty years.)

Nevertheless, the deception that Fr. Kevin Lee practiced — marrying on the sly, ignoring (or setting aside) the vow of celibacy he took at ordination, is indeed disturbing. Lies generally do not result in good things. Having to live a life that is based so fundamentally on a lie is unhealthy, and it’s not a good witness to the faithful.

However, the issue of whether a person could be a good priest and also be a good spouse, and even a loving and involved parent, seems to have been settled. Under both JP2 and B16, we have married men — former pastors in the Anglican church — being ordained as Roman Catholic priests. I’m sure neither pope would have permitted this (much less encouraged it, as both popes–particularly Benedict–have done) if they thought this would result in bad priests, or mediocre priests, or poor examples for the faithful. Fr. Dwight Longenecker (whose blog recently moved to Patheos) is a good example of someone who manages to be a husband, a father, and a Father — and while I’m not much in agreement with him on political or cultural issues, I don’t doubt that he fulfills both vocations effectively. I’m confident that he (and his peers in similar circumstances) would not have sought ordination if they didn’t think they could do justice to all of his roles. In fact, Fr. Dwight has more or less celebrated Benedict’s creation of a more defined process for married Anglican priests to “cross the Tiber” and then seek ordination as Catholic priests.

Setting aside for the moment the particulars of this Australian priest’s deception and double life, we all know that the celibate priesthood is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It COULD be lifted. In some cases (e.g., Fr. Dwight), it HAS been set aside. Yet the faithful are left to believe that cradle Catholics should never be ordained if they are already married or think they might wish to marry after ordination. We are told by the Vatican that combining priesthood and marriage works out okay only if the prospective priest is a convert. Nothing against converts — but I find this line of reasoning rather odd. Hollow, even.

Photo from Pavement Pieces blog:

I have heard many priests argue that celibacy is a gift, and it's a gift that brings special graces into their lives.  I can respect that idea.  Still, it does not seem to be a gift for every priest who has ever been ordained.  In some cases, I'm sure, celibacy has led to deep, prolonged loneliness rather than a healthy, focused sense of vocation. 

Therefore:  Why in heck could celibacy not be made optional for Catholic priests in the Latin rite? And why is the Vatican so resistant to that for cradle Catholics?

[ Newest post:  Lessons That Should Not be Learned:  the bishops and the LCWR ]


~N. said...

And why, given that they ARE so resistant to the idea, do they continue to welcome Anglican and other ordained, married priests/ministers into the priesthood?

It's such a mixed message. Whether it's hopeful or shockingly hypocritical, I don't know. JPII and Benedect XVI seem to have closed the door on the matter, but one hopes that perhaps they are leaving the key in the lock for future popes.

Celibacy may indeed be a gift. But so is marriage and fatherhood, and its a gift the Church would stand to benefit greatly from, IMO.

Steve said...

Yes, N., I have to agree with you completely. Very much a mixed message from the two most recent popes on this--and puzzling resistance, as you point out, to married priests in some cases but not others.

By the way--thanks for stopping by!