Questions about rentapriest.com

As the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc often says, there are times when you are interested in a story, yet you just have trouble “drawing a bead” on it. I think that is a violent, gun-related metaphor, which is kind of strange for Doug, but it is still appropriate.

For the past week, I have been trying to figure out what bothers me about Elizabeth Mehren’s story in the Los Angeles Times about the growing number of “married priests” in the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps I am having trouble with that handy URL in the story — rentapriest.com.

Then again, perhaps I am stuck on one phrase in particular. Can you guess which one? Here is the opening of the story.

BOSTON — The priests came from three states, converging on a suburban park one Sunday to conduct an outdoor Mass. Wearing white vestments with rainbow-hued stoles, they led the worshippers in prayer and song. They stuck closely to traditional Roman Catholic liturgy.

But as they raised their arms in blessing, the five men revealed unmistakable proof of defiance: All wore wedding bands.

These men, who still consider themselves Roman Catholic priests, have wives, children — and unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith. As married priests, they say, they are not heretical anomalies but, instead, are following a model set by priests and popes in the earliest days of their church. They are part of a growing national network of thousands of deeply religious men who believe marriage does not compromise their ability to serve as spiritual ministers.

No it’s not the “rainbow-hued stoles.” And it isn’t that off phrase that the clergy “stuck closely to traditional Roman Catholic liturgy.”

No, what gets to me is the phrase “unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith.”

Now, please understand that — bias confession again — I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, so I worship in a church that has maintained the ancient tradition that priests can marry, before they are ordained, but that bishops are chosen from celibate monastics or parish priests. I understand some of the Roman arguments for celibate clergy. I just don’t happen to agree with them.

What has been bothering me about this story is that Mehren does not seem to notice that many of these “married priests” have other major differences with basic Catholic and ancient Christian doctrines. In other words, many are rebels about marriage, but they have trouble with other doctrinal issues as well. See any clues?

Yet the story — early on — stresses that these men have held on to “unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith.” Isn’t that a rather loaded statement? The facts reported in the story seem to suggest otherwise. Read it and let me know what you think.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian lewis

    Terry writes: “The facts reported in the story seem to suggest otherwise.”

    And to an extent they do. The problem is that the reporter blindly accepts statements that throw up theological red-flags without pressing for the deeper meaning.
    Here are some of those statements: “These married priests honor ordination as an irreversible sacrament, though the church no longer recognizes them as priests. They are solemnizing marriages — including second marriages and same-sex unions.”
    Second marriages and same-sex unions. How does that square with church teaching?
    “Married priests head renegade congregations around the country.”
    Renegade congregations. What’s that mean? And under the authority of what bishop or superior?
    “Ron Ingalls, 70, said it would be simplistic to say “that the only reason we left is because of sex.”…
    Growing up, Ingalls played priest, making vestments out of crepe paper and blessing the neighborhood children. After he was ordained, the real job exceeded his expectations.
    Ingalls worked as a college chaplain during the civil rights and Vietnam War eras — heady days of progressive Catholic theology. He dressed casually and spoke out loudly. When his superiors reprimanded him, he retaliated by urging his students to question their Catholic faith.
    Then he developed bone cancer. The illness and the loss of a leg made him crave independence, something he could not find in the regimentation of the church.”

    The reporter sticks pretty close to the “celibacy is the issue” theme but she also raises and does not answer questions about what it means ot be unflinchingly committed to a 2,000-year-old-faith.

  • Tom Breen

    The phrase “unflinching commitment” is an interesting one to use about a group of people who couldn’t keep their vows. Not just the vow of chastity, either: they’ve also violated their vow of obedience and, based on the URL “rent-a-priest,” they seem to hope they can also violate the vow of poverty.

    These all seem like highly significant “flinches” to me.


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