Action Alert!

celibacy

By Fr. Wilson ( articles ) | Aug 20, 2003

One hundred sixty Milwaukee priests signed a statement supporting optional celibacy in the Roman Rite.

I wonder if people realize how clerical life would be revolutionized by that change. For one thing, Catholics would need to get used to their priests living off-campus (in the Northeast at least, this is still unusual), and priests serving in troubled areas would be living significantly far away in places where they could raise their families. Compensation would have to be looked at, stewardship and Catholics' poor level of giving addressed. Catholics would have to get used to the fact that their priest would have fixed hours on duty and off duty, and live with the consequence of troubled clergy families if they didn't. We'd also have to face the fact of clergy family divorce (there already is a divorced Catholic priest, I think in Tennessee -- a married former Episcopal priest who divorced after being received into the Church and ordained).

A HUGE change would be in the matter of incardination. Presently, at diaconate ordination a diocesan priest pledges himself to his Bishop and his successors. For the rest of my life, I will live and minister in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., for those two counties are my Diocese. If I were married, raising a family and, no doubt, depending on my wife's salary as well as mine, and her job moved her to Houston, to Houston we'd need to go. Excardinating from one diocese and into another would have to become routine, as it is among Episcopal clergy. Indeed, the amount of freedom this would introduce into clerical life -- priests free to live where they wish, move to other dioceses -- it would be a HUGE change to the system.

What intrigues me about this is what it would mean for diocesan day to day workings. You'd have, I'd think, a tendency for priests to migrate to family-friendly places as they're raising children. You'd ALSO have an interesting new situation: bishops would not simply be dealing with their presbyterates as a captive body of subjects. A priest would be free to move to a different diocese if he thought its policies more enlightened, more priest-friendly. That could be very significant (in the troubled Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, for example, there are currently some fifty vacancies, well over a quarter of the total parishes-- and those vacancies last for several years -- so few Episcopal clergy want to work in the Long Island diocese). It would really be interesting to see bishops having to deal with their priests as something other than a guaranteed labor pool.

In the end, I find myself more and more opposed to "optional celibacy" as the years go by. I say this despite the fact that I have very fine, close priest friends who are married Priests engaged in fine ministries. I think we'd lose something very precious, would end up "professionalizing" the priesthood, to our great loss. Personally, I have NO IDEA how I'd juggle ministry and marriage. And I think the proposal is a perfect example of how we re-arrange the deck chairs as the ship is sinking -- here's a problem, let's change the rules. Pope John Paul II addressed this in one of his early Holy Thursday Letters to Priests: to say, 'the people have the right to the Eucharist,' so we must change these rules to get more priests, is to treat the Eucharist as an entitlement, not a Gift. The question we should be asking is, "If the Eucharist is the center of our Faith, why AREN'T there enough young men coming forward to give themselves to Its service??"

Are the 160 Milwaukee priests planning to address the faith crisis we see today? Why don't they have enough priests?

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