For weeks, I have watched public Catholics freak out about whether the Pope was going to allow more married men to be ordained priests.
This was in response to the Amazon Synod and what Pope Francis might do about the question of a shortage of priests in the Amazon region of South America. Everybody had a strong opinion on this but me. I don’t know how to adequately signal in writing that I’m not being tongue and cheek about this: I have no idea whether it would be a good idea for more married men to be ordained in the Latin Catholic church.
I don’t see that it would be a bad one.
I know that the Eastern churches in and out of communion with Rome have been quietly ordaining married men for centuries, and it hasn’t made them abandon their traditions. They’re a lot more “traditional” than most of the Latin churches I’ve attended.
A couple years ago, I attended a Holy Friday service at one of the Orthodox churches downtown. It was haunting, beautiful, “traditional;” there were smells and bells and icons. The young priest was a little late to start it because he had been hearing confessions all afternoon and he wanted to get through all of them. Afterwards, he greeted me and introduced me to his wife and daughters. He spent an hour talking very politely with me about what he viewed as the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and then he went to get the evening service ready. A year later, also during Lent, I went back to that church for Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, and he asked me to stay with the Bible study group afterward. He served me vegan leek soup he’d made himself from scratch. Being married and having children didn’t seem to break this man’s stride in administering the sacraments, fostering a healthy parish community and teaching others about his faith at all. He’d even found time to make soup. I do not see why it would suddenly ruin the Latin Catholic Church to expect the same thing of our priests. But of course, I could be missing something.
I could be missing a lot of things.
But other people had lots of opinions. I saw a couple of folks you’d probably consider liberal saying it probably wouldn’t happen, but if it did it would be a good thing for the Church. I saw a pack of traditionalist reactionaries certain that it was going to happen, and that it would ruin the Church. They were just sure that Pope Francis was going to use those scary people from the Amazon with their indigenous costumes and carved wooden statues of the Virgin Mary as an excuse to launch his dastardly plan for destroying the whole Catholic Church, and allowing priests to marry would be the first step. Never mind that this didn’t happen when a few Anglican priests with wives and children converted to the Catholic church and were ordained. If married men were ordained in the Amazon to help the faithful be able to access the sacraments more than once a year, it would surely be the end of the church.
Yesterday, after four whole months of buildup, the Holy Father released an apostolic exhortation, “Querida Amazonia.” In this document, he did NOT change the rules to more widely allow the ordination of married men. He didn’t change the rules at all or signal that he was going to; he just encouraged a greater participation of lay people and asked everyone to pray for vocations. It turns out that the Pope is Catholic. Not only Catholic, but the sort of Catholic who’s extremely comfortable not questioning business as usual– which is a highly traditional kind.
Certain conspiracy mongers had their week ruined by this. How are they supposed to make a living touting their apocalyptic warnings that Francis is the antipope if Francis insists on acting like the Pope all the time? Still, they tried. One particularly insufferable fellow said that this was all “a feint,” as if Pope Francis meant to secretly allow married priests sometime later. The Pope is only pretending not to be a heretic to throw certain of his internet naysayers off the scent, of that he’s certain.
He promised he’d be on a podcast to explain his theories yesterday evening, but I didn’t tune in. If I want fantasy, I’ll play Dungeons and Dragons.
Oh, and there was an actual papal document in there as well. Pope Francis wrote at length about his “dreams for the Amazon region,” to preserve and revere its ecosystem, to fight for the poor and indigenous people who live there, to respect their culture in a uniquely Catholic way. You know, the important things the Amazon synod was supposed to be about.
But to care about those, you’d have to take seriously your obligation as a Catholic to view your neighbor as another self and to be a good steward. And it’s much more fun to run around with your hair on fire and worry about other people’s sex lives.
(image via Pixabay)
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