BY MAX LINDENMAN
My more socially responsible friends tell me that part of a soldier’s first general order is to quit his post only when properly relieved. Elizabeth, the once and future Anchoress, has asked me to remain on duty for a little while longer. Her arrival home has found her under the weather. I’m sure it’s nothing major — just one of those bugs a traveller’s bound to pick up when consorting with new and exotic germs. The last time I was in Rome, I came down with a wicked case of Pio Nono’s Revenge, probably from some bad veal, which serves me right.
All the same, I shall presume to solicit your prayers on her behalf.
Okay, first in the lineup: married priests. Cardinal Bertone has just announced that married priests have no longterm future in the Church:
Married priests will be only a temporary aberration within the Anglican Ordinariate, says Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state. Speaking in an interview in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and in recently published extracts from his forthcoming book, A Great Heart: Homage to John Paul II, Bertone said that although already married Anglican priests will be acceptable under the ordinariate, “the enduring value of celibacy will be reaffirmed, necessitating that for the future, unmarried priests will be the norm in such ordinariates.” Until then, the procedures developed by Pope John Paul II for the reception of already married Anglican clergy will apply.
Mandatory celibacy has already been debated from every angle. I’m not sure there’s anything left to say. For what they’re worth, here are my two cents:
Some in favor of changing the discipline like to argue that married clergy will be better able to plug the Church’s line on birth control, etc., to married couples. Maybe — but only if the married couples are receptive. Once, several years before entering the Church, I attended a “Victorious Christian Living” seminar at a nearby Baptist church. (I was wingman for my buddy, who went at the insistence of his girlfriend, who brought him at the insistence of her grandmother.) At the podium we found a pastor and his wife standing in front of a whiteboard. They were both wearing acid-washed denim that had gone out of style around the time of the Velvet Revolution. On the whiteboard, someone had sketched a pyramid. One end of the base was marked: “PASTOR RON”; the other, “HIS WIFE”; the peak, “GOD.”
Pastor Ron began by pointing at his wife: “I despise her flesh,” he told us.
The pastor’s wife pointed back at her husband. “And I despise his flesh,” she said, smiling demurely.
I can’t really tell you what happened after that, since I quickly jammed half my fingers in my ears and the remaining ones in my eyes.
Another time, a good friend of mine, the wife of an Episcopalian priest, told me, “We use condoms.” I’m fairly sure the “we” referred to Episcopalians, or even Protestants, in general. But the possibility that it meant, “Me and hub,” remote though it might have been, sufficed to skeeve me out. If my clergy have a sex life, I‘d prefer not to hear the faintest whisper of it, which just goes to prove that I do regard them with a properly filial attitude.
At a very recent point in my life, I was underemployed and for that reason, under equipped to search for love. Knowing that my pastor, a mendicant friar, went home to board with three other priests and maybe a cat made me confident he’d be able to relate to my feelings of marginality. If he’d had a still-lovely wife and a passel of tow-headed kids, I’d probably have written him off as a smug creep. Unfair of me, yes, but there it is.
As it happened, I found my pastor to be sympathetic even when my luck changed. “You’ll never guess what happened to me at the vocational discernment retreat, Father,” I told him. “Go on, try.”
“You’re right, I can’t,” he said. “What.”
“I met a girl!” I crowed. “How do you like that, huh? Who else does that happen to?”
He shrugged. “It happens.”
Just goes to show you celibacy and hipness can march hand-in-hand.
Oh, and in a final aside, doesn’t Cardinal Bertone look just like Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show? Shut up; he does, too.
Update: Here’s Elizabeth’s latest First Things column, “Finding the Silence of the Romans.” Apparently, during a beatification, Roman silence can’t be found; it must be compelled — with a Swiss halberd:
Shortly before the solemn procession, a debate broke out in the stands. An exchange between two Italians became heated enough to turn heads, and when another voice rang out, “si, bellissimo!” in agreement with one gladiator, a few gentlemen in authority intervened.
Within moments a Swiss Guard appeared at the corner of our rows, where he remained throughout, his back turned away from the holy pageant taking place directly below. His attention was wholly trained on our stand, which his eyes scanned over and over again, while his body remained motionless, resisting even the shifts of muscle fatigue. A handsome, fit young man in medieval dress stood sentry, ready to respond to rashness or rage. He made his purpose clear in a perfect Swiss-Roman silence of stillness, and he was heard and understood.
At the pronouncement of the new beato and the unveiling of John Paul’s portrait, a shout of jubilation arose from the square, but in the loggia, the joy was low-key. The pope’s youthful image drew an appreciative gasp from the Italians, who nodded and murmured “vabene,” among themselves. From the Poles, not even that. They wiped their tears and crossed themselves and simply gazed in reverent awe, remembering a beloved countryman in palpable and soundless pride.