Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Question of Clerical Celibacy

It is the discipline of the Roman Church, and yet I keep running across discussions among people, whom I assume are Roman Catholics, saying that they would not mind having "married priests," because it works so well for the Eastern rites. Perhaps the reason for this ancient discipline is beyond the trite attitude of "Well, I think it is a good idea," that is so prevalent on the Catholic blogosphere. Perhaps there is a very good reason that the popes and bishops of the Western Church long ago decided that celibacy was the best policy for the secular clergy. Until the Pope and bishops change the rule, if they ever do so, practicing Roman Catholics should accept the discipline of their Church with serenity and peace. And I am tired of having the Byzantines and Orthodox lifted up as an example of all that is perfect, when they have had their scandals, too, in spite of having married clergy. According to a beautiful article on the Vatican website, the reason so many of us have a problem with clerical celibacy and think our priests should all be married, is that we have lost a sense of the supernatural. The entire article merits a careful reading. To quote:

So, if we are to understand the problem of the relevance of priestly celibacy, we must study it within its true dimension: that of the supernatural. To say that priestly celibacy per se is not a dogmatic datum must not be taken as meaning that it can be relegated to some ‘cultural context’ or other. For we have to bear in mind that neither the doctrine nor the life of the Church can be reduced to formally revealed truths and everything else be regarded as arbitrary. On the contrary, these things are to be regarded as the fruit of the guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit, and part of the Church’s two-thousand-year-old tradition.

In the question of celibacy, as in many others concerning the practical life of the Church, we have therefore to avoid minimalism, on the basis of which the only truly legitimate institutions and doctrines would be those of proven apostolic origin or otherwise infallibly defined. Seen aright, it is clear that the Latin discipline of ecclesiastical celibacy is neither arbitrary nor in conflict with the natural right to marriage, even though it cannot be affirmed that it can be deduced from revelation by an irrefutable syllogism. It belongs — indeed, very much so — to the sphere of ‘congruity’, in the sense that the basis for it lies in the very nature of priesthood.



Anonymous said...

One of the most powerful explanations I have ever come across on this subject is from Cardinal Arinze; here, in reference to the religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience he says:

The religious is not saying that marriage, possessions and doing our own will are bad. Indeed, if they were bad, they should not be offered to God, and it would be no virtue to do so. Rather the religious is saying he wants to give to God the three things which most attract the human heart...

The religious state is proof that the grace of Christ is stronger than the attractions of the things of this world. In Heaven there will be no marriage, no possessions, and no seeking of our own will. There will only be seeing God as He is. The religious wants to anticipate that, as far as possible, on this earth.

Anonymous said...

Well done evaluation which helps one grasp and fully comprehend the distinction between sentiment and Church authority.

Vara said...

Speaking as an Orthodox Christian, having a married parish clergy does not solve all problems, nor does it create a nirvana. It is something that we Orthodox have lived with since very early times, and any attempt to "imitate" it in Western circles would go wrong somehow, I fear.

In fact, any attempt at tinkering with "lived Tradition" usually ends a disasterous failure. You folks in the Latin Church are not used to dealing with married clergy and their problems, full stop. Any move to introduce same would result in worse problems than you have now. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

All too many modernists (including those on our side of the fence as well) point to an idyllic "early church" that never existed. I would say that if you think there was ever an ideal period in the Church, read Apostle Paul. That you should learn you good, and make you appreciate the wisdom of our forefathers and the Tradition they left us.


Anonymous said...

Elena,I am of Eastern Rite.I liked your article, it has much common-sense.

My question is: why the laity has to discuss, debate, examine, doubt, dissect and express opinions about every possible issue concerning the Church? Why is so much dissent and discontent and rebelling against the authority of clergy? What about obedience and accepting the fact that the Church is not a democracy? What about being concerned first to save our souls and leaving our appointed priests and bishops to decide what is their to decide?

elena maria vidal said...

I wonder about that myself, Paula. I guess it is because obedience requires not only faith but humility. Humility is sadly lacking in many Catholic circles, and is replaced with a sort of obtuse arrogance and snarkiness.

Anonymous said...

I read time to time from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Very refreshing and down-to-earth stuff. When I will have time I will post what the Abbas and Ammas were saying about obedience and humility.

Have a nice day, Elena, it must be morning to you now.

elena maria vidal said...

I love the sayings of the Desert Fathers (and mothers)! Paula, that is a wonderful idea to make some posts on their sayings on obedience. Have you read "The Ladder" by St John Climacus? It is powerful stuff!

Yes, it is a beautiful September morning here.

Anonymous said...

I have the book but I did not read it. For some days starting from today I will not be able to post. I am way too busy.
Blessings for you my dear friend

elena maria vidal said...

I'm taking a break, too, Paula, for prayer and serious writing. God bless you!!