Celibacy talks on the Roman table

capt pl10210061028 vatican bishop meeting pl102Here is a level-headed news tip from Andrew Sullivan and, surprise, surprise, it’s about the Roman Catholic Church.

Based on conversartions I’ve had in the past month or so with some Catholic leaders and writers (no names, please), I think he is on to something. I can hint at what I am thinking by saying that I am still trying to follow up on this column. Anyway, here is the Sullivan item:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

IN ROME: There’s a new news black-out on the latest synod in Rome. Some may well interpret this as yet another sign of Benedict’s authoritarian nature. They may be right. But the scope of the subjects discussed — “a purported shortage of priests, proposals to let priests marry, and whether communion should be offered to certain divorced Catholics and denied to politicians who support abortion rights” — strikes me as something that John Paul II would never have even allowed to be on the table. Some sources tell me that Benedict has not shut the door completely to a married priesthood. Personally, I think it is critical to the survival of the Western church at least. It already exists if the priest is a convert from Anglicanism, and if I were a newpaper editor, I would assign a reporter to write a feature on today’s married Catholic priests. Most people don’t even realize they exist. Who knows what might happen? But if the option for clerical marriage emerges under Benedict, you read it here first. I for one would not be surprised.

Sullivan is spinning off of a punchy, newsy Washington Post report from Rome by Daniel Williams. All kinds of issues are being discussed and the issue of Communion rights for pro-abortion-rights politicians is not even the hottest item on the menu.

By the way, I would add that, in the first paragraph quoted below, Williams should have mentioned that the Eastern Rite churches have married priests, as do all the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This is the more ancient tradition for the priesthood — married priests, celibate monks as bishops.

Like Sullivan said, something is going on when a reporter can write the following:

A representative from an Eastern Rite church, one of the bodies in the traditionally Orthodox Christian region of the world that recognize Vatican authority, suggested that Catholic rules requiring celibacy among priests had no theological grounds.

Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said the synod had to squarely confront a priest shortage so as to provide congregations with proper services.

The National Council of Priests of Australia, which claims to represent half the country’s clergy, offered a letter to the synod saying the priesthood could attract more recruits if the church allowed priests to marry and opened a debate on letting women be ordained.

Venice Archbishop Angelo Scola, who functions as a kind of master of ceremonies at the synod, noted that some delegates had “put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue,” a special category made up of older, married and religiously grounded Catholic men known as viri probati.

As you would expect, the usual suspects (the photo is from Amy Welborn’s site) have all kinds of news and commentary about the synod. Kudos to the Post for running a major report on the debates there, in the midst of a big news day back in the U.S.

Speaking of which: What is The New York Times doing using an Associated Press report for its coverage of this story? Did I miss a staff byline somewhere in the past 24 hours or so?

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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.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    As usual, a bit sloppy coverage by those who want priests to have the Protestant “right” to marry after ordination.

    It’s important to distinguish between what the Orthodox and Roman Catholics do (e.g. allow some married men to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders) and what Protestants do (e.g. allow those in Holy Orders to marry).

    What is usually proposed is the latter. But typically those who propose it claim that the fact that the Orthodox have married priests supports their position, which is dead wrong.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    Which, incidentally and unfortunately, makes TMatt’s headline misleading. There have never been “wedding bells for priests” except those of the Protestant persuasion.

  • tmatt

    I concede the point. Orthodox and Eastern Rite priests must marry before they are ordained.

    Nevertheless, the overwhelming reality is the ancient tradition — married priests and bishops who are celibate and, as the norm, monks.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    So, about those ex-Anglican married priests…

    I assume that, were they to become widowers, they would not be allowed to remarry. There’s one of the items that would have to be included in any profile of married RC priests!

  • http://amywelborn.typepad.com Amy Welborn

    Actually, Dan, no one really knows. Permanent Deacons can be given permission to marry if they are widowed, and the Holy Orders they receive is…Holy Orders. And of course, the double weirdness is that if a Catholic priest is laicized, he can marry in the Church. But, of course, he is still a priest (tu es sacerdos in aeternam). He is required to hear someone’s confession if they are in danger of death, and although I am not sure of the canonical dance on the exact status, any Mass he says would of course still be valid, if not licit.

  • http://fiat.cybercatholics.com Josh Miller

    I’ve heard this topic kicked around by priests, and they’ve offered up the possibility that in the case of children, a widowed Lutheran/Anglican priest might be allowed to remarry.

    I become extremely nervous whenever I see “allowing priests to marry” and “letting women be ordained” in the same paragraph; the latter is a theological impossibility (put to bed once and for all by John Paul II, as clarified by…. Ratzinger) and is almost always brought up by those who want to ignore theological arguments in favor of “inclusiveness” to begin with.

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