The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church history
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and power
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformation
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations.
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:

  • Research shows that the majority of Catholics want an end to the policy.
  • As a young man, Joseph Ratzinger himself signed a document asking for the ban to end.
  • As pope, Benedict XVI has conceded that celibacy is difficult, but becomes possible when living in a supportive community of fellow priests. He can offer no advice on how it becomes “possible” for one who can not live in such a community, implicitly conceding that for many men, perhaps it is not (agreeing in this, with St Paul).
  • The only objection he raised in the interview to ending the rule was not not one of principle, but of practicality, saying there were questions as to how this could be arranged.

But the most serious difficulty to my mind, is that as a universal practice, even within the Roman rite, it is a myth – and a dangerous one. It is a myth, because it is a rule that is widely broken.

Ordinands: A Lifetime of Celibacy?

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Exceptionalism: failing to learn from history

(Gay priest Bart writes on the impact of the culture of clericalism on the Church):

Exceptionalism (Wikipedia; Collins English Dictionary) is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. In recent decades, we heard more often of the term “American exceptionalism”, but really this word has a long pedigree, with British and Soviet exceptionalism being other recent examples. The perception behind exceptionalism is not dissimilar to that belief which holds that certain companies or institutions are too big to fail. The last decade disproved  this perception in a horrific way, first with the Enron collapse, and then more recently with the collapse of Lehman Brothers (and with it the whole banking sector), followed by the bailing-out of a corporation that used to boast a product output that was larger than the GDP of most countries: General Motors. As I sat reading Terry’s Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church, I couldn’t but help remembering that the Catholic Church promotes its own brand of exceptionalism. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this point with my readers.

Catholicism locks onto a cluster of foundational principles, the most important being the following:

1.      The belief that the Church is established by Jesus Christ, who also promised that he would be with it till the end of time (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:20);

2.      The belief in the unifying, leadership role of Peter the Apostle and his successor, the Pope, the bishop of Rome (Matthew 16:18-19); and

3.      The belief that the one Church of Jesus Christ – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Nicene Creed) – subsists in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.”

 

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Image by Waka Jawaka via Flickr

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Catholic Revolution Gaining Momentum: Germany, Ireland

Within hours of my post earlier today on the Catholic silent revolution, came news of a dramatic corroboration, with a solid band of German academic theologians in open revolt.

In September this year, Pope Benedict will make his first papal visit to Berlin. This will be worth watching: there have been numerous indications that the German Church has been transformed by public anger and disillusionment following the abuse scandals. Well in advance of the visit, prominent German Catholics are preparing for the visit by making public calls for reforms in the Church.

Reuters has a call by a sizeable number of Catholic theologians, said to represent fully one third of all the theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for far-reaching, radical reforms of the Catholic Church.

English language reports have concentrated on the call to ordain “older” married men, which intriguingly appears to mirror a similar call made right back in 1970 by – Fr Joseph Ratzinger.

Supporters of a married priesthood caused a stir late last month when they unearthed a 1970 appeal to ordain older married men signed by nine German theologians including the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope.

An end to celibacy though is not the only reform that is needed, nor the only one demanded by the German theologians.  They have also asked for the ordination of women, lay participation in the election of bishops, and greater inclusion for those who have remarried or are in homosexual partnerships. Read the rest of this entry »

The Incarnation and Celibacy: Reflection on a Reader’s Comment

One of the joys of blogging is that I sometimes get to learn so much from my readers. This response to my post on Jesus and the Beloved Disciple set me thinking:

One of the points traditional theology makes on the Incarnation is that what was not taken on by the human nature of Jesus was not redeemed. Hence the idea that Jesus experienced same sex attraction is essential for those who look to him as the source of salvation. Perhaps the Celtic View of Salvation would be more helpful here than the Augustinian One. Rather than concentrating on the woundedness of human nature by sin undone by the redemption the idea that Jesus is teaching us how to be truly human serves to give context to the meaning of what redemption is about. It is as if Jesus is teaching us a song that we once knew but have forgotten. Jesus is providing the courage to take up the melody again.

His is not only instruction but empowerment. Intellect and Will Together assemble a portrait of genuine human persons fully integrated in all aspects of the character and personality. Jesus makes us whole. The Spirit continues this Mission of the Son in our time renewing the face of the earth so that Eden is Intimacy with God, with Self and With Others: a Garden of Delight, Openness and Love.


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When Will the Catholic Church Repeal Its Own DADT?

My colleague Bart and I clearly think along the same lines. This was his response to my post on the repeal of DADT:

When is the Catholic Church going to follow suit? The way the Church leadership is dealing with the issue of the gay clergy within its ranks is similar in many ways to the DADT story in the American military. When will the Church enter the 21st century?

As his comment came through, I was halfway done with preparing a full post on precisely this theme. It was this observation by Rep Tammy Baldwin that initially set me thinking:

Integrity is a hallmark of military service. Yet, for 17 years, we have had a statutory policy that requires some in our military to conceal, deceive, and lie.  This is an inexcusable affront to all who wear the uniform.

Change a word or two, and precisely the same thing could be said about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. If it is true (and it is) that integrity is a hallmark of military service, so it should be even more so in the Church. DADT in the Catholic church most directly affects our gay priests, presenting them with a major challenge in any attempt to live honest lives of integrity. This is the continuing theme of Bart’s own excellent series on gay priests and his personal struggles with coming out, so I leave the discussion of DADT and priests entirely to him (the next instalment will appear tomorrow morning).

However, Catholic DADT also affects all gay and lesbian lay people, and it this aspect that I address here.

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Pope Benedict, on the Priesthood

Before I elaborate on Pope Benedict’s views on gay men and the priesthood as expressed in “Light of the World”, I want to put this into the broader context of his views on the priesthood generally, and some other observations on sexuality.  Before doing that, I just want to post verbatim the relevant specific questions that Peter Seewald put to him, and his responses. First, I place here his quoted observations on the priesthood. In a companion posting, I do the same with his responses on divorce and contraception. The questions are lightly edited, to remove some of Seewald’s less relevant remarks, or those which are specific to Germany. Benedict’s responses I have quoted in full.  (My own reflection on these responses will follow shortly).

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A Reader’s Excellent Questions On Celibacy.

My reader William is not Catholic, and has declared to me in private correspondence that he does not regard himself as a highly educated man. Sometimes though, it takes an outsider’s perspective to see things clearly, and sometimes great learning just gets in the way. I find great wisdom in his question, below, which we supposedly educated Catholics would do well to ponder – and also his conclusion.

I am going to take a stab at this and please understand I am not trying to offend anyone who regards themselves as Catholic. It is my understanding that the Catholic Church regards Peter as the first Pope. Then please tell me why Jesus would make a married man Pope if He was opposed to men, in the service of the Lord, being married? As I recall were not the majority of the priests in the Old Testament married? How is it that the ruling body of this church consist entirely of men who say they are celibate and have remained so their entire “official” life, how can someone without any sexual experience advise anyone on a sexual matter much less make regulations regarding a subject they know nothing of? Of course this could also be asked of anyone who regards themselves as heterosexual and claiming that being homosexual is a choice. The fact that they are heterosexual eliminates them from any discussion on any sexual matter not related to heterosexual matters.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned is that if Jesus did not oppose marriage for His followers including Peter and future Popes and if He also did not have anything to say about same sex matters then we who are His creation should remain silent as well.