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By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 22, 2003

The man who "mentored" Milwaukee seminarians reflects on the petition to permit priests to marry:

Father Andrew Nelson, the retired rector of St. Francis Seminary, said he did not sign the letter but was in sympathy with the cause. "My concern is the timeliness of it," Nelson said. "Under the present papacy it's not going to be received or attended to."

Pretend you're a priest, who'd heard from the man in charge of his seminary formation that an end to obligatory celibacy was impossible "under the present papacy." Almost certainly you'd draw the conclusion he meant you to draw: namely, that in a successive papacy the discipline could change and that you -- you personally -- would have the chance to marry.

Perhaps your own resolve to be celibate is initially sincere. But the alternative possibility is there, in the back of your mind, knocking for admission.

The possibility eats at you on two levels. On one hand you find yourself hedging your bets in your homilies and teaching, rarely able to give a convincing answer even to a child's naive question about why priests don't marry. On the other hand a small gesture of affection from a marriageable woman causes an increasingly familiar twinge: maybe...

Passing through middle age, as your waist thickens and hair thins, you begin to watch the clock, realizing that, should there come a change in the celibacy discipline, your time for exercising the option is running out. If you're the emotive type, you become increasingly despondent; if you're more cerebral, you become bitter. The normal temptations to unchastity are given a new urgency by a sense of injustice: the promised dawn has not arrived, and you want to avenge your feelings of betrayal.

Whether you break your vows or not, you enter your 60s with the realization that you never embraced any state of life with a whole heart. You've been a half-man, living a parallel life in an imaginary future.

When teenagers and young adults -- the men that could be expected to follow you in the priesthood -- examine you and your attitude toward your own life, will they see the kind of joy, or tranquility, or at least purposeful focus that they will want to imitate? Will they say "This is a kind of life I want for myself"?

Well, not under this present papacy.

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