Think of it. A man and his wife are both devoted Catholics. Let’s say they both feel a genuine call to ministry. In the Protestant model the minister and his wife work together in the parish. They’re a team. They pray together and work together as a kind of father and mother to the parish. The best examples are the couple who bring up their family and live the life of service to the church in a way that inspires and guides all the other married couples and families.
An old college friend of mine is named JD. He and his wife Kim both felt called to be missionaries. After serving as a Baptist pastor he and Kim went to train in linguistics. After doing their own fund raising they went out the hill tribes of Burma with their growing family. Eventually they settled in a grass hut in the jungle and began to learn the tribal language. They had to learn it by ear since it was an unwritten language. They brought up six kids in the jungle. JD eventually not only learned the language, but he created an alphabet, taught the tribal people to read and began to translate the New Testament into their language. Kim raised the kids, helped start a village school, worked with government agencies to improve the health care for the tribe–and they are still out there.
Now if clergy marriages were like that–I say let’s have them. A couple like that would go into any parish where the bishop sent them. If they went to an inner city deprived area they’d go as missionaries–and they’d transform the place. They’d put their kids in the local schools or they’d start a school. They’d minister with zeal, grace and good humor and they’d live on whatever money the Lord provided. (I’m going to address the money issue tomorrow)
If a bishop had a couple like that he would have a pair of loyal missionaries who would be totally dedicated to Christ and his church.
Problem is–there aren’t many JDs and Kims out there. Heck, for that matter there aren’t many celibate priests who have that kind of missionary spirit!
Take a less happy story: Harry and Jane are converts from the Anglican Church. (I hasten to add that they aren’t real–I made them up from a compilation of details from real stories) Harry and Jane were used to receiving an of $120,000 by the time his salary, benefits and housing were included. As Anglicans they had a certain amount of prestige in society and as the priest’s wife Jane was used to being queen bee of the parish. When Harry came into the Catholic Church and was ordained their income was halved. Jane remained an Episcopalian and went out to work and complained bitterly about it. Their house was a dull and cramped rectory built to house two bachelors and a housekeeper. The layout was all wrong. Harry didn’t much like the immigrants he had to work with in the parish and Jane had no idea how to relate to the working class Catholic women. Their marriage began to come apart. Jane began to see their former Episcopal pastor–first for counseling and then the affair started. Harry threw himself into his work and the divorce was ugly and bitter. The Catholic parish was scandalized…..and so it goes.
So shall we have married priests? It depends on the man and woman doesn’t it?
In the church’s wisdom over the last 2000 years she has considered it best not to have married priests. Why? Because there are not enough JDs and Kims out there and too many Harry and Janes.
Does that mean that celibacy is the magic bullet? Of course not. There are plenty of problems surrounding that choice too.
I’ll be coming down with a recommendation of what I could see happening at the end of this series, but maybe today’s post helps people realize that having married priests can be a great blessing, but it an also be a great curse.