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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Issue of married priests

Before I wade into this point, let me state a few things -
1. I fully agree that there have been married priests in the past.
2. I agree that the tradition of having a celibate clergy in the West is a matter of discipline and not dogma.
3. I fully support the Eastern Christian tradition returning to its tradition of married clergy.
4. I am biased as a celibate deacon - soon to be priest.
5. I think the effect of ordaining married men in the Roman Catholic Church as a matter of routine will have a negligable effect on overall numbers of clergy.

I post this in response to a gathering of 80 former priests in Germany calling for the Vatican to change its policy regarding married clergy in an open letter. [As an aside, why does everything have to be an "Open Letter"?] Interestingly, the group is calling for the practice of the Eastern Church to be implemented in the West. Well, according to the practice of the Eastern Church, none of them should have gotten married after they were ordained. In this matter, the policy of the East is the same as the West.

Under current church practice, priests who take a partner or marry must revert to being lay Catholics, lose their jobs and face disapproval from fellow Catholics.

If the West adopted the Eastern practice, this would be the same. Priests who wished to get married would lose their right to act as priests. They would lose their jobs and likely face disapproval.

The federation draws its optimism from a rumoured account of remarks by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in summer 2004, well before his election as pope, when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He reportedly asked a delegation of U.S. bishops, "What would your people think about a re-introduction of the tradition of married priests?" The Americans were supposed to have been speechless for a moment with surprise.

I don't know if the current Pope actually said this, but again we are speaking of permitting married men to get ordained, not of letting current priests get married. In East as in West, once you get ordained, you can't get married. This is why many in the Eastern Church put off ordination until after they wed.

Yet, I consistently see these groups of former priests getting together in support of something that will have absolutely no benefit for them. Perhaps they are just being generous. Perhaps the reference to the East is just a canard, a distraction from their real desire that both the traditions of the East and the West be abolished.

Should the West begin a practice of ordaining married men? As I said, it wouldn't benefit me directly. But I don't see any dogmatic reason against it. I do, however, think more thought needs to be done in terms of the sociological effects - how does the parish deal with the creation of the priest wife and the priest children? will the parish be willing to contribute more to support the family of the priest? how will the church deal with divorce in the priest family?

In other words, I don't think enough thought has been done. We talk a lot about whether it would be possible, but not whether it would be helpful and useful other than simply asserting that there would be more priests. If the only reason you don't want to be a priest is because you want to get married, I don't know if you really want to be a priest.


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