Married Priests and Women Priests

I commented last week on an article in the Irish press about liberal priests pushing for married priests and women priests. What gets me going is that people don’t see that the two issues are not connected.

The Catholic teaching is clear. The issue of married priests is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It’s like fish on Fridays. It’s a venerable tradition, but it can be changed and exceptions to the rule can be made. That’s why I’ve been allowed to be ordained as a Catholic priest. The Pope made an exception to the rule. Furthermore, he could change the rule overnight if he wanted to.

Women priests, on the other hand, are not a matter of discipline. The church has spoken and said that women cannot be ordained as priests because the church does not have the authority to change what our Lord instituted. Sorry. Can’t do it. It’s like this: Jesus instituted the Eucharist with bread and wine. You can’t–even for “good”  cultural reasons use other substances. Let’s say a missionary is in a jungle culture where they have never had wheaten bread or wine made from grapes. Their local staples are bananas and fermented banana juice. Can a Catholic priest celebrate a valid Mass using banana bread and fermented banana juice? No. He has to use wheaten bread and wine.

Same with the priesthood. It has to be a man. Can’t change the rule. Can’t make exceptions.

Married priests, on the other hand, could happen, but should the rule be changed? I don’t think so–even though I am a married priest myself.

Here’s why: the celibate priesthood is a way the priest is most fully configured to Christ himself. Within the vow of celibacy he shows the rest of us what it means to be “married to Jesus” and to no one else. This discipline and devotion of the church is powerful and strong, but it is not one which is totally mandatory for the priesthood. I support it nonetheless because it is the ideal. It is the tradition. It is the fullest way to be configured to Christ. My own ordination–by virtue of being an exception to the rule–is meant to support the rule by that exception–not challenge the rule.

The real issue here is not married priests or women priests, but that the dissidents in the church know full well that the two issues are not connected and that one is more important and more unchangeable than the other. They want to blur the distinctions on purpose. They want the issue of married priests and the issue of women priests discussed on the same page because they want the issue of women’s ordination to be treated as merely a disciplinary issue like the issue of married priests.

Their campaign is therefore either intentionally dishonest and deceitful or they are ignorant. Either way it doesn’t speak well of either them or their campaign.

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