provisional celibates & tactical christians

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 25, 2005

Along with the news of the death of Scotland's famously philandering bishop, we are treated to more "leadership" from St. Andrews-Edinburgh:

The leader of Scotland's Catholics has risked reigniting a row over married priests by predicting the Vatican will eventually relent and allow the practice. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said the success of married deacons in the church means the change is likely. ...

Asked if he believed married priests will become a reality, he said: "Having seen something of the apostolate of married deacons, I can foresee the day when there will be married priests."

Note the reasoning: "Having seen something of the apostolate of married deacons" -- i.e., that they do their jobs well -- "I can foresee the day..."

O'Brien's hidden premise is that the Church's reluctance to allow priests to marry stems from a belief -- which empirical evidence now renders false -- that married men cannot perform such-and-such set of tasks adequately. Contrast this with the language of Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis which followed the Synod on the Priesthood:

The synod does not wish to leave any doubts in the mind of anyone regarding the Church's firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin rite. The synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world."

Not only has O'Brien failed to present and explain celibacy in its "biblical, theological and spiritual richness," he almost certainly doesn't see this richness himself, otherwise he couldn't have so casually predicted its obsolescence. Not a word about chastity as a gift offered to God in imitation of Christ: the married priest, like the cordless microphone, is an idea whose time has come. Whence the message sent to the faithful celibate dragging his 50 years of priesthood toward retirement is, "You lose, old boy! Enjoy your stamp collection."

I don't want to be too hard on the Cardinal. Obviously he feels the spiritual responsibilities of his job are an obstacle to the really important business, and the inroads made by secularism into the clerical life bring problems in the temporal order that, to such a mind, call for solutions in the temporal order. And we should admit that his own seminary formation didn't prepare him for leadership of a presbyterate that spends more on protease inhibitors than on incense. The Cardinal looks out on his clergy and sees an aging platoon, gapped by defections, despondent, enfeebled by alcohol and unnatural vice, and he extends them compassion from the bottom of his social worker's heart: "Once they're married, poor buggers, at least they'll get a decent breakfast."

Now suppose you were a seminarian for one of the Scottish dioceses, having heard from the principal hierarch that celibacy is on the way out and that it's only a matter of time before the Church changes the discipline. You watch your lay friends as they date, as they fall in love, as they marry, as they have children -- all the while believing that next year, or the year after, the green light might be given to you as well. Is it psychologically possible to make a total commitment in these circumstances? Perhaps -- but only for those with the guts to reject the "escape clause" spirituality at the outset. By his cheery capitulation, the Cardinal has not made chastity easier for anyone.

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  • Posted by: Don Vicente - May. 26, 2005 2:48 PM ET USA

    Not totally surprisingly, since the Church is almost 2000 years old, there is at least one exception to the unmarried bishops rule: Sinesius, around the 5th. Century was elected a Bishop in the East, but insisted on keeping his wife, and not going through the motions of sending her away. He was a very brilliant but rather unhappy camper. He was a student of the non-Christian philosopher, Hypatia of Alexandria -- who was herself killed by a mob. I don't know of any other married bishops...

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2005 12:22 PM ET USA

    That is not true, Latinae. Regarding the discipline in the west, it has been gradual; not absolute since the beginning of the church.

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2005 11:06 AM ET USA

    O'Brien speaks from the same mindset that compromises sex education with the "comprehensive" model (abstinence AND condoms). Low expectations for performance set the standard and the path of least resistance becomes the norm.

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2005 8:17 AM ET USA

    In Scotland as in the West, young men do not watch their peers have children, but rather contracept. But Cdl O'Brien failed to mention that the Church has never allowed priests to marry. In the East and in exceptional cases ie converting Anglican ministers, the Church will ordain a married man. Nor has the Church anywhere elevated a married priest to the episcopacy. And if the Church were more involved in making saints instead of millionaires (social work) many problems would disappear.

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2005 6:56 AM ET USA

    Your last paragraph is well thought out. I know many brother priests ordained during the 60's and 70's who lost half of their classmates because they were told by the seminary faculty that one day they would be allowed to marry. Lo and behold, many of them left because they were getting older and celebacy wasn't ending. I wonder how many priests would have been ordained in the 60's if the truth had been told from the very beginning. I think about half.

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2005 6:49 AM ET USA

    Things are not well generally in the British Isles. So, His Eminence is not out of step with the general tenor of a place that is quickly exhibiting a rush towards extinction as a civilization. But with the European portion of the population sliding into consummate sexual decadence, and the immigrant side becoming almost entirely Islamic fundamentalist, I don't see the reason for his concern about a seemingly moribund solution like marriage for the vanishing RC priesthood there.