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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  • Posted by: Eagle - Aug. 25, 2003 10:57 PM ET USA

    The debate on the retention of celibacy reminds me of the legal debate on Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision. Although the decision was a constitutional aberation, one of the reasons for keeping it is "stare decesis", paraphrased as: "now that it's there, it's disruptive to get rid of it." Not Christ, nor the early Church, nor the Eastern Church require it. Still, the vocational crisis does not originate in celibacy; it originates from lack of vigorous evangelization of our secular culture.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 24, 2003 2:38 PM ET USA

    Verax said:I KNOW; I have been there. WF, become a priest. We NEED YOU. Wish I could shake your hand. If now married, come all the more ! Believe me, even those who don't believe we're called to the priesthood, but are married lay people with kids, would storm the Bastille in a second if a reliable, Orthodox Catholic priest(s) helped us discern a call. That said, I caution against married *assuming* that their call is to the Priesthood as a call to cleanup the woeful state of affairs.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 24, 2003 2:35 PM ET USA

    JohnS: Why not campaign for Catholics to stop being so stingy ? Many of us are deliberately starving our parish to divert money to CWNews, EWTN, Catholic Universities [new ones], Catholic book publishers, magazines etc. Other suggestions certainly welcome.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 23, 2003 6:07 PM ET USA

    The priests wanting the Catholic Church to allow married clergy may have deeper needs that are not being expressed. When priests refuse to preach about moral issues that are eating away at their congregation (contraception, abortion, voting for prochoice candidates) perhaps they have lost the faith. Little unborn children use to be killed within view of my church and nothing was done about it. Perhaps the deeper need of these priests is a better relationship with the Lord.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 23, 2003 3:11 PM ET USA

    JohnS: Why not campaign for Catholics to stop being so stingy ? Protestants far more generous to their churches than Catholics. Too many take too much for granted. In a way I'm glad there is a priest shortage: going without may wake some people up. They demand the impossible of their priests, and if a priest looks sideways, out come the machetes. Are any more vicious toward priests than lay people? Probably other priests. "By this shall all men know you are my disciples: that you LOVE."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 23, 2003 2:58 PM ET USA

    BRAVO, WF. "old ladies in men's bodies" "sapping its MASCULINE vigor" "clique ... hives ... take aim [at any guy] who refuses ... effete behavior" You have been there, YOU KNOW. You left, countless others did. Little wonder: a MALE priest shortage ! When sacerdotal sewing circles gather to GOSSIP, the most foul & vicious language I ever heard & "IN VINO VERITAS"! I KNOW; I have been there. WF, become a priest. We NEED YOU. Wish I could shake your hand. If now married, come all the more !

  • Posted by: - Aug. 22, 2003 10:21 AM ET USA

    Can anybody with knowledge of the Orthodox Churches confirm whether the same effects are found among them: more frequent relocations of priests, more transfers between dioceses?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 22, 2003 12:22 AM ET USA

    When I went to seminary in the mid-90s, I was full of faith, zeal and good, solid apologetics. It was time to take back the Church! However, what I found is that seminarians and priests, by and large, aren't ordinary guys called to great things--they're little old ladies in men's bodies quietly destroying the Church by sapping its masculine vigor. They clique in passive-aggressive hives and take aim at those who refuse to adopt their effete behavior. Who wants to be a part of that? I didn't.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Aug. 21, 2003 6:59 PM ET USA

    Dear Father: You don't know why, do you? However, if you hear of anyone who does or has a reasonable theological or philosophical explanation to "no discipline" let me know. It appears to me to be an evil thing.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 21, 2003 3:24 PM ET USA

    Married clergy in other Christian denominations are effective because the Catholic Church has abrogated most of its previous missionary work. Do you honestly think the Portugese Jesuit missionaries in Shusaku Endo's Silence could have done what they did if they were married? Lets be real. When the Catholic Church recovers the Splendor of Truth in its Liturgy and Sacraments and Prayer, as Archbishop Pell has said, then the priesthood will flourish again. Our Lord and Saviour demands it!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 21, 2003 1:41 PM ET USA

    I am orthodox and conservative, and believe in the teachings of the Church, and if the pope says celibacy is the best option, so I accept it. In the other hand all of the objections that you have stated, while real and valid, we have to look at what the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lutherans, Anglicans (conservative evangelical in both cases), Baptists and many other Christian groups have experienced. They all admit married clergy, and this has not precluded active missionary work, taking care of business, directing their congregations, getting and education, etc. It may be a hard working living, but it can be done.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 21, 2003 10:03 AM ET USA

    Oh yes. I agree. Twenty years ago, I was studying in the Long Island seminary, and thought the Moral Theology we were getting was seriously flawed by Catholic standards. Ten years later, Pope John Paul used a third of Veritatis Splendor to condemn that very school of Moral Theology. Just two months ago I spoke with a fellow who formerly studied at that seminary (and is now suing it), and discovered to my astonishment that they were STILL teaching the same stuff...defying a papal encyclical.

  • Posted by: Eusebuis1 - Aug. 21, 2003 9:36 AM ET USA

    QUESTIONS: Did the Priest's letter discuss 1) the Churchs teaching on the need for chastity within a marriage? 2) The principal purpose of marriage  procreation? 3) Estimate of how many children? 4) Who would take care the children when sick, school conferences, etc.? 5) The conflicting priorities between family and their responsibilities of a Priest? and 5) The significant extra costs that would be incurred by the Church for such a married priest/family, e.g., college tuition?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 21, 2003 9:04 AM ET USA

    This shows the extent of the mess Weakland left in Milwaukee. There are many reasons why calls to the priesthood aren't answered. A major one is the focus on "Women's Issues." I am so tired of their whining. Unfortunately, our bishop is busy "dialoguing" with these fuzz brained femmes. I just found out he's on the NCCB committee. Our diocese is infested with these silly women. At least, now I know why. Bishops seem to spend more time on silly femmes than they do priestly vocations.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Aug. 21, 2003 7:45 AM ET USA

    Dear Father; It is interesting to note that one of the objections from the Vatican to the recent war in Iraq was that there didn't need to be any war simply because there were already enough rules and treaties ALREADY in existence to solve the problems there without war. The same argument, interestingly enough, applies to the above discussion. There are more than enough effective Canon Laws to cure the problems in the Church today without relaxing standards. Why are they not enforced???

  • Posted by: - Aug. 20, 2003 11:31 PM ET USA

    This proposal would certainly occasion great changes in the present R.C. Church. The ecclesiastical police state would be shattered. The quasi-military dictatorship would collapse for want of slave labor. Celibate priests would be associating so much more with nomal MEN. The sacerdotal sewing circles of gossipy cronies might become past history. So, come one, married priests. Knock down the rotting old house, so we can build a new one, seriously dedicated to Gospel values !