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Aussie bishops can't shy from celibacy questions



By a seemingly providential quirk, the first pope's mother-in-law appeared just in time to set the record straight. Thanks to the cycle of readings in the Catholic Church's lectionary, the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus healing Saint Peter's mother-in-law was read from pulpits worldwide on 15 January 2020.

From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church by Cardinal Robert SarahThis was the very day after the question of priestly celibacy exploded in Rome in a quagmire of Church politics, becoming a timely reminder of facts for Australia's Catholic Community.

News that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had co-authored a book with Cardinal Robert Sarah surprised many. Most of all, it seems, the Pope Emeritus and those close to him. On 14 January, Benedict's private secretary clarified that Benedict did not co-author the volume and asked the publisher to remove Benedict's name from the cover.

Of course, behind the covers was a debate about sex.

This scandal-causing book argues against possible changes to the rule of mandatory celibacy for Latin-rite Catholic priests. Its publication was rather transparently an attempt to thwart proposals coming out of the Amazonian Synod of 2019, where the idea of relaxing mandatory celibacy had been discussed. If Sarah's intervention hoped to dampen debate, his book has of course had the opposite effect.

Australian Catholics have a particular dog in this fight. Whatever the fallout from Rome over this book, it should not be allowed to scare Australia's bishops off from discussing the subject during the Plenary Council which is opening in Australia this year. In fact — and this is hard for a historian to say — the bishops should perhaps stop worrying about history quite so much. Habit should never trump tradition.

Debates about priestly celibacy and sexual continence are almost as old as the Catholic priesthood itself. Progressive-minded commentators will usually point out than the strict, universal rule for Latin-rite priests is of medieval European origin. In other words, for more than a millennium, western priests could be married until — as my former hometown country priest once put it with some exaggeration but also a sprinkling of truth — 'monks became popes'.


"The Universal Church's own history bears out the fact that priestly celibacy is not mandatory."


On the other side, conservative-minded commentators tend to highlight that historic married priests were periodically discouraged from having sex until they gradually abandoned the habit of marrying in the first place, and that the last half a millennium bears witness to the ideal of sexual continence

For the record, in most of the Church's other rites there are married priests and long have been. Rather than a clear-cut history, what the Church really has is a long-running argument about the nature of the priesthood, of which the continence and celibacy questions are a multi-millennia point of contention, and to which Sarah's book is merely one of the latest contributions.

But what history does tell us very clearly is that circumstances matter. The main reason the Catholic Church currently has priests who are not celibate is a function of the church having multiple rites. From the ancient Churches of the east to the Anglican Ordinaries brought into full communication by the Pope Emeritus only a few years ago, the Universal Church's own history does bear out the fact that priestly celibacy is not mandatory. A wealth of individual exceptions are merely the icing on an already really big and ancient cake.

Whether Australia's bishops are willing to discuss seeking a local relaxation of the rule of mandatory celibacy is one of the big questions of Plenary 2020. But if they are hesitant to broach this issue with the confidence of their Amazonian confreres, then they could at least take some inspiration from that timely reading from the Gospel of Mark. If Jesus had had a problem with Peter having a mother-in-law, he could have let the fever take her, and later generations would have been none the wiser.



Nick BrodieNick Brodie is a historian and author. His recent works include The Vandemonian War (2017) and 1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings (2016). He appears regularly on ABC24's Matter of Fact with Stan Grant.

Topic tags: Nick Brodie, Plenary Council 2020, celibacy



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Existing comments

Whatever the decision of the local bishops to allow married priests, I would argue that it should not be due to priest shortage. It should be acknowledged that it is possible for married men with families to undertake the role just as well as unmarried men, as our Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches have done for centuries with success. The fact that Jesus was supposed to have remained unmarried has nothing to do with the arguement, and as Mr. Brodie has pointed out here, Peter was clearly married. So, celebacy is a choice, and has nothing to do with whether it makes a better priest. For those who wish to live in celebate life, there are the religious orders and congregations who live in community, or for diocesan priests, they could choose to remain celebate.

Thomas Amory | 15 January 2020  

As Australia's bishops deliberate on the issue of the rule of priestly celibacy in the light of the 2019 Amazonian Synod and some proposals of Plenary Council 2020 preliminary sessions, I hope their considerations include how neither the inability of some priests to live out the demands of celibacy nor the incomprehensibility to the secular-minded of a celibate way of life for the sake of the Gospel provide sufficient reason to compromise a dimension of the Catholic priesthood that has witnessed and contributed significantly to the radical claims of Christian discipleship and the eschatological character of the reign of God realised in the person of Christ.

John RD | 15 January 2020  

1 Corinthians 9:4: This is my defense to those who scrutinize me: 4Have we no right to food and to drink? 5Have we no right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?…kevin your brother In Christ

Kevin Walters | 16 January 2020  

As Jesus' brothers can be interpreted as 'cousins' to fit a theology around the facts, perhaps Peter's mother-in-law was actually his 'auntie' (or something)?

RJ | 16 January 2020  

What strikes me as odd in this whole debate about celibacy, its lifetime attainability and its wisdom as a goal given the worldwide abuse crisis, is that we cede the principles of the debate to the Bishops and clergy. The very people who have presided over the abuse of children, covered the tracks of offenders, engage in a lofty debate over purity? That alone is scandalous as the so called princes of the church are the least qualified to make decisions that effect the lives of those wishing to make the priesthood a vocation. In Australia alone ( a reasonably conservative society) thousands of religious have fallen off the wagon. Therefore what may be an attainable ideal for a minority of ascetics is obviously an impossible achievement for the majority. Therefore it stretches the bounds of credulity to propose more of the same nonsense. Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", and as Kevin Walters rightly pointed out from Paul, let them have wives. Because nothing will save the clergy if they keep taking out their uncontrollable urges on children. In Pakistan Imran Khan wants the death penalty for this offence.

francis Armstrong | 16 January 2020  

It is significant that the Pope Emeritus, a distinguished theologian, has publicly dissociated himself from supposed joint authorship of Cardinal Sarah's book. Married priests in the Latin Rite is a question which the Church should address. The witness of so many Eastern Rite Catholic clergy; Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox priests; Anglican and Ordinariate clergy and Protestant ministers to discipleship in marriage and the ministry is not something which can be airbrushed out. Of course there are failures here, as there are with celibate clerics. The failures do not obviate some outstanding witness. One of the greatest examples in my life was the late Reverend Fred Imray, a married Anglican clergyman and long-time Senior Chaplain of Melbourne Grammar School, who influenced so many OMs. In these days of irreligion I am amazed how many OMs are still practicing Christians. The Orthodox rationale for having married parish clergy and celibate bishops is that the former are closer to their congregations whilst the latter have more time for their office and are detached. Cardinal Manning, one of the greatest modern English Catholic leaders, was once a married Anglican cleric. His wife died early but he never ceased to love her. These are the things we need to consider.

Edward Fido | 16 January 2020  

Surely a mans sexuality is integral to his wholeness and completeness as an ordinary human being. It should be respected. The fact of his ordination does not change his predisposition - so optional celibacy seems to make sense to me.

Margaret | 21 January 2020  

The last page of this book, says it all.

AO | 21 January 2020  

If married priests had been permitted in Australia my father, Athanasius Pryor Treweek, would have become a priest. He was a very devout man who was educated at Riverview and always held the Jesuits in the highest regard. He corresponded with some of his Jesuit teachers for many years. He was a Professor at Sydney University and a Papal knight. He attended Mass every morning until he was no longer able to. Then he watched Mass on TV. He always had his rosary in his pocket. He would have been an excellent priest. He said to us that he was not called to a celibate life. He taught himself Japanese starting in 1937 when he foresaw the war with Japan. As a mathematician and a linguist he was one of the breakers of Japanese codes in WWII.

Helen Treweek | 22 January 2020  

The Brodie article is welcome but would carry more weight and be more useful for readers if it carried even a few references. Thank you.

Charles Rue | 22 January 2020  

In reading through the comments over several days, I would agree with Thomas Amory's first sentence and I believe John RD's rigorous viewpoint has merit. However, this is clearly a subject which should be discussed at the Plenary Council this year. Marriage, like the priesthood, is a vocation. And its joys and tribulations are summed up beautifully by St Paul in 1 Cor 13, even as he was writing about charity.

Pam | 22 January 2020  

Why is the Catholic Church so obsessed with SEX? From the issue of priests - married or not, previously married or not, celibate or not, female - (God forbid)-or not, homosexual or not, through to contraception or not, whose body is it anyway? Given that sex is one of the basic drives of human beings, it will seek an outlet somewhere- and usually not just in masturbation. My understanding is that the rule of celibacy in the Roman Church anyway, arose from a disinclination of the Church to spend money on families, should priests marry. And here's one for the lawyers- what about the rules of wills, succession and estate planning in that scenario? If the above is true, it is ironic that the RC church is now having to fork out vast amounts of money- if grudgingly in some notorious cases - in compensation for the unfortunates whose lives have been ruined by clerical abuse all in the name of face saving by "The Church". I am not suggesting that married priests will stem the tide of child abuse by clergy. We all know that married men are just as capable of abuse as the non-married. I do think that the RC Church has complicated life for its members by having a rule of celibacy and that it should be a free choice for priests, if there are any left by now.

Henri | 22 January 2020  

We are living through these difficult and troubled times in distress and suffering. It is our sacred duty to recall the truth about the catholic priesthood. For through it, the whole beauty of the Church. is being called into question. The church is not a human organisation. She is a mystery. She is the Mystical Bride of Christ. Our priestly celibacy continually reminds the world of precisely this. It is urgent and necessary that every one- bishops, priests and lay people to stop letting themselves be intimidated by the wrong-headed pleas the theatrical productions, the diabolical lies, and the fashionable errors that try to put down priestly celibacy. From the depths of our Heart. Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah.

AO | 22 January 2020  

‘Why is the Church so obsessed with sex?’ I’ve asked that question too Henri but never received a convincing reply. I’m inclined to believe that it has something to do with power, then through seeking to control such a fundamental aspect of life, the hierarchy can achieve control over the whole. As one of the US generals said during their military action in Vietnam, ‘when you have them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow’. The problem is, in the long run, it doesn’t work, in neither Vietnam nor the Church.

Ginger Meggs | 22 January 2020  

The Australian bishops can discuss this topic day and night BUT the fact remains, an Australian bishop has no authority to change what is currently.

Mrs Linda Behan | 22 January 2020  

Henri | 23 January 2020. Thanks Henri. The answer to your question re why the RC church is so obsessed with sex, would take volumes to explain, clearly not available here. Suffice to say that Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas are the main ‘offenders’ in this regard, so you would have to do some reading. WARNING: Some of it is mind-bending stuff!! In light of contemporary scholarship re human sexuality, biology, anthropology, psychology, biblical scholarship and so forth, the Church’s teaching is way out of whack and is in desperate need of review. As to the question re married clergy and property, there is no problem. There has always been married clergy in the Church, in our Eastern rites for example, and now with groups such as the Anglican Ordinariate, where clergy can be married. In all cases, for deacons (who can be married), priests and bishops, church property belongs to the church, and it is only personal property of the cleric that belongs to them, and therefore would be the subject of inheritance, wills etc. Of course, this is a simple explanation, but in a nutshell, there would be no problems for married priests and bishops.

Thomas Amory | 22 January 2020  

Henri. Maybe the Church is "obsessed with sex" because it is the instrument of human creation, the greatest obligation imposed on Mankind and thus deserving of a moral code of practice. Celibacy, however, is hardly an indication of this "obsession with sex".

john frawley | 22 January 2020  

Where is the discussion about the impact on women of denial of a relationship between a women and a priest? Why is the choice a binary one - priesthood or adult human relationship? According to Fowler’s Stages of Faith, Both/and perspectives (conjunctive faith) denote a more mature faith than any binary approach and understanding. Religious communities evoke relationship that includes the other too. These communal relationships are not the same as what the priests in the Church hierarchy understands sacred relationships to be. Francis Armstrong is right to question how and who the Church permits to make and implement decisions.

Mary Tehan | 22 January 2020  

People seem to have forgotten that a former Archbishop of Hobart, the Most Rev. Dr. Guildford Young, ordained Peter John Rushton in 1969. Fr Rushton, a former married Anglican minister, had left the Anglican ministry, and was ordained in the Catholic Church, becoming the first married Catholic priest in the English-speaking world. He served the Archdiocese of Hobart until his death in 1981. The world didn't end; the Church didn't disintegrate! As the wiki article dealing with celibacy in the Catholic Church states: 'Because the rule of celibacy is an ecclesiastical law and not a doctrine, it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope.' The Pope usually acts on the advice of his Cardinals and Archbishops; the coming Plenary will be an opportunity for some serious discussion about this matter.

Paddy Byers | 22 January 2020  

Seriously, why not forget about the bishops who can't act. Why not canvass parishes who would accept a married priest call for volunteers from former clerics and women and let the parishioners chose their leader? Why not take back some of the power which has been misused? all the talk and speculation just delays the improvement.

Michael D. Breen | 22 January 2020  

I was ordained 50 years ago. I was laicised after 3 years of ministry. Since being laicised I have served on the National Council the SVDP Society, assisted with the Burdekin Enquiry into the rights of the mentally ill, worked for 10 years supporting people with HID/AIDS. I feel the work I have been doing would not have been possible in the constraints of the current clerical lifestyle. My Partner has been an essential support. We have 4 children who are active in the community with socially useful vocations

Bill | 22 January 2020  

If the Catholic Church is 'obsessed with sex' as quoted, then that is in direct contradiction to its Founder, Jesus. His blessing of the Marriage Feast in Galilee was, to me, a sure sign that He approved of the married state. All of Jesus' disciples, as far as we know, were married men and He did not want them to put their wives aside or do anything else equally ludicrous. One of the things we need to remember about Jesus is that He was the archetype of sanity. As He said, His yoke was light, He was not into heavy mortification. Of course, the final decision to allow married priests in the Latin Rite will be made in Rome. That does not mean that the Pope would not wish to hear what the groundswell in the Church is. One of the salient points lay Catholics need to consider is the life many secular clergy (priests who are not members of religious orders) in the Latin Rite lead. Perhaps this is why so few Australian young men are offering for the priesthood. We seem to be poaching Indian and African ordinands to fill our seminaries. This is not a long term solution.

Edward Fido | 22 January 2020  

That Sarah sought to implicate Emeritus Pope Benedict by citing him as a coauthor and having his image on the front cover is telling. That Benedict has repudiated the claim of coauthership is equally telling. If one were to read “the signs of the times” then there is a compelling case to drop mandatory celibacy as a requirement for priesthood. In Australia we were asked what we thought the Spirit was calling us to do as we prepared for the Plenary Council. Listen to the Spirit and read the signs of the times would be my response. Then there’s the “pub test.” Many at the bar would welcome the dropping of compulsory celibacy.

Ernest Azzopardi | 23 January 2020  

Michael D. Breen and Bill. As you have both left the priesthood. Congratulations on 'your' found true life and vocation. Let priests who have another calling- a life of dedication to those they minister to. Follow in the footsteps of Christ. Leaving all earthly attachments, to follow Him. Certain attachments are not for those who are not of 'this world'. But for the wordily. Who are you to choose the path of another? Without celibacy, the priesthood would have come to ruin, just as the second temple of Jerusalem did, centuries ago. Let it be. Celibate priests, women and children are ones holding the Church together now. And for future times.

AO | 23 January 2020  

First, the adjective "catholic" is defined as "including a wide variety of things; all-embracing". It follows, that a catholic church should be focused on inclusion rather than exclusion. As John put it "In my Father's house are many rooms." Those who would seek to have a "vanilla" church are welcome as long as they do not criticise my preference for pistachio. Second, Sarah's assertion that Benedict supports his position when that has been denied casts doubt on the authenticity of his writings. Sarah has been found out as having been untruthful in this instance. Of course, that does not mean that all his utterances are the same but that he is unreliable as a source and scepticism is warranted in considering what he advances. Once bitten twice shy stuff.

Kimball Chen | 23 January 2020  

Well stated, John Frawley.

John RD | 23 January 2020  

In one respect your supposition is correct, Ginger - the moral and social attention paid by the Church to sex has something to do with power; however, not the Machiavellian-motivated power you imagine - rather, a due recognition of the power of sex itself, and the respect the beauty and purpose this gift inherently bears.

John RD | 23 January 2020  

This discussion about relieving mandatory celibacy is all well and good until you realise the high percentage of same-sex attracted clergy. How does this all affect them? Just wondering.

Stephen de Weger | 23 January 2020  

While mandatory celibacy exists in law, it doesn't in reality. The result, a culture of secrecy and fear of exposure resulting in inaction, cover up and recidivism. Getting rid of celibacy rules would at least work towards decreasing a little, the need for at least heterosexual secrecy. But then again, sins and crimes occur in all contexts, not just celibate clergy culture. Mature agape love is not the core of the clergy class, fear is. But celibacy is one thing; maintaining clergy chastity even if clergy are married, is another. If you get rid of mandatory celibacy, then you probably will need to get rid of Church teachings on sex outside of marriage and same-sex sex, as well, that's if you ant to remove the need for secrecy and the culture of cover up in which it results. But then, you'd more or less have to start a new church, I suspect.

Stephen de Weger | 23 January 2020  

AO. I respectfully disagree with your argument regarding only celibate clergy being suitable for priestly ministry. Firstly, your argument disregards the fact that we have married deacons in the Church who also minister to the faithful in the same way that priests do, with the exception of celebrating mass, hearing confessions and a few other minor details. Secondly, for those who wish to live a celibate life in ordained ministry (Deacon, Priest and Bishop), we have religious orders and congregations where it is obviously necessary to remain celebrate in the unmarried state, in order to live in community, and thus, abstaining from sex as per the Church’s teaching regarding sex outside marriage. As has already been mentioned in other posts, we have always had married priests in the Church, in the Catholic Eastern Rites (Maronite, Ukrainian Catholic, Melkite for example), and thus, these clergy have successfully fulfilled their vocation and duties of which you speak. Therefore, I would argue that to say, that in the Latin Rite Catholic Church, that clergy would be unable to successfully fulfil their duties and live their vocation if they chose to marry, simply does not make sense, given the points I have herein established.

Thomas Amory | 23 January 2020  

I find it hard to believe that anyone could deny that the Catholic Church is obsessed about sex. Perhaps they are too young to remember, or are indifferent to the damage it has done? In any event I doubt that the Catholic Church can or should be saved.

Lee | 23 January 2020  

Thank you very much for your well written piece. Blessings, iain

Iain Gow | 23 January 2020  

Sex is not a gift. It has evolved in many species. Homo sapiens is not the only species that reproduces sexually. It's a powerful instinct, and can be an enjoyable activity. Some species mate for life, others are what might be called promiscuous if it were not for the connotations of that word in some circles. In Homo sapiens, different customs have developed in different places and at different times to regularise the ways in which sex is practiced. Those customs often reflect other aspects of the society in which they develop - the nurture of children, the inheritance of property, the power of alpa males, etc. There is no 'one size fits all' approach to sex or sexuality. It's all about context.

Ginger Meggs | 23 January 2020  

Thomas A. How about married catholic nuns? Would this scenario 'also' make sense to you? Divorce and remarriage in the Protestant churches is lawful. You can have as many wives, or husbands as you like, as long as you have legally divorced from the last one. The 'old' Jewish law, 'also' offered legal polygamy. Just because some branches of the catholic Church allow priests to marry and to have a family. This doesn't necessarily mean their Cross is any lighter. Nor that it's God's Will for them. The dichotomy of mind, heart, soul and body, experienced by the many demands, placed on the married priest in the Church branches you mention, from his God, wife and children, is not in my opinion God's Will of 'freedom' for His chosen. This dichotomy is solely the fruit of 'his own will'. As he understands: ''You can't have two desirable but contradictory options - you have to choose''.

AO | 23 January 2020  

I don't think it's just the Catholic Church that's obsessed with sex - just turn on the TV, listen t the music - it's almost all about sex at the opposite end of the scale. The secular 'obsession with sex' is perhaps even more destructive.

Stephen de Weger | 24 January 2020  

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. But it is nonsense for AO to say that Protestant ministers (or Anglican and Episcopalian priests) can have as many wives or husbands as they like as long as they are legally divorced !! There is a great lack of priests in the Amazon and in parts of Africa. I know of lay brothers in Africa who long ago celebrated Mass themselves because there was just no priest available. But even in our local hospital, over the last 21 years of volunteering as an Anglican priest, we have had sisters for some years collecting names for Communion (that no longer happens) but we have had a priest chaplain only for a few years - an excellent one. He went some years ago and so, in addition to visiting Anglicans and Protestants - with fellow chaplains, and Antiochan Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, for the last year or so I have also visited as many RC patients as possible, often blessing and anointing them, and providing a - Presbyterian made - icon, and I hope a listening ear. (Local RC parish priests do readily come for emergencies and not only for those of their own flock.) The need is so great and having married RC priests would make an enormous difference. ( Look at the figures for ordinands in the Church of England and the Church of Australia, single and married, men and women.) It is hard to understand why there is still support for obligatory celibacy for most RC priests other than those in the Eastern Rites. This is almost wicked. The hungry look up and too often are just not being fed.

John Bunyan | 24 January 2020  

It's important not to overlook that if celibacy for priests became optional, it woud also require a significant overhaul of the priestly training and formation system. You can hardly expect trainee priests to secrete themselves away in an all-male environment for 5-6 years if they are not going to be required to be celibate! The training will have to mirror what protestant clegy undertake, which is full-time day attendance at university for their theology degree, plus practicums in parishes. I would bety most protestant married clergy met their spouses while still at college (one I know comes immediately to mind) and the same will almost certainly happen to Catholic trainee priests. There is a precedent: Pope Pius XII was a day student at his seminary, not a boarder.

Bruce | 24 January 2020  

There is no theological impediment to married clergy since it existed in the Church for many centuries. The National Council of Priests have responded to the “cathartic experience” of the child abuse royal commission with a push for optional celibacy; indeed a majority of priests were “in favour of optional celibacy from the point of view of opening the priesthood to married men”, Father Clarke said. There is value in listening to the voices of priests themselves. In many parishes, where there is only one priest, there is little sense of priestly community except for diocesan retreats, Easter liturgy etc and it can be a lonely life. Priests serve the parish community, often at great personal sacrifice, and the momentum for optional celibacy is motivated at the core by a sense of compassion and support for our wonderful priests. Of lesser importance, at a logistics level, if you consider vocation numbers in Australia, the need to bring priests in from other countries, parishes without priests, change is also required,

PeterD | 24 January 2020  

Several comments here about sex and power. Question: if you want to strongly control people, what do you do? Answer: try to take control over their basic life drives, and put in place draconian penalties for those that transgress your rules. An obvious target is human sex drive; it is so important for the survival of our species which is why nature (or God if you like) has made it so imperative. In Christendom control could mean getting thrown into a dungeon for breaches; in post Reformantion/post Trent times it meant earning eternal damnation for even the most trivial "offences". Ever wondered why there are 16,866 mortal sins against 'purity" but only two against the First Commandment? (OK, 16,866 is an exaggeration, but not much of one). In the U.S. it's called "pelvic theology".

Bruce | 25 January 2020  

It is already hard enough for a man to be a good priest. So how on earth can anyone think a married priest could also be a good father, husband and family man in addition. Just ask any father how difficult parenting and being a good husband is. A priest is asked to place God first in his life. And if a man should never neglect his family for business or anything else. What's the answer? Do the math. Celibate male priesthood. And married family men. Life is complicated enough as it is...And most importantly: Let's not make it worse for women and children. Please.

AO | 25 January 2020  

Thank you to all those priests, present and past, whose lives of faithful celibate service help remind us of the fullness of life revealed in the Gospels and the personal dedication of Jesus in his proclamation of God's reign.

John RD | 27 January 2020  

JohnRD, there is nothing about 'the personal dedication of Jesus in his proclamation of God's reign' or even 'the eschatological character of the reign of God realised in the person of Christ' that informs our Catholic tradition of compulsory priestly celibacy, established a millennium after Christ. As for 'pelvic theology', a (Catholic) aunt of mine married an Anglican priest, who tragically died prematurely, though not before they had four children. The Church of England housed them in a disused rectory in Harrogate, from where the girls attended the Bar Convent in York and the boys Ampleforth. One boy and girl each became a Benedictine and SHCJ nun respectively, while the other two are married practicing Catholics. This tells us many things: the generosity of Anglicans in referring them to the (Anglican) Society for Distressed Gentlefolk to be housed, regardless of affiliation; the exemplary effect of parental sexual love on our cousins and its ecumenical impact in shaping their Catholic formation; and the obvious fact that they escaped a religious experience with an emphasis on celibacy as a discipline rather than a requirement of an age-old and necessary communal monastic rule. Above all, it shows compulsory celibacy to be a no-brainer.

Michael Furtado | 27 January 2020  

MF. One boy and girl each became a Benedictine and SHCJ nun respectively. And is it a wonder?? They saw a messy world and fled from it!

AO | 27 January 2020  

Michael Furtado, the developing Church's tradition has long proposed the imitation of Christ as most fitting for Catholic priests in the Roman rite, a response to the Gospel that has influenced its current obligatory status. What would be a "no-brainer", I suggest, would be the abandonment on this distinctive Catholic tradition, for secular and exclusively pragmatic motives. Pope Paul VI was so convinced of the value of obligatory priestly celibacy that he said he would rather lose his life than change it. And John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have all expressed their personal preference for its continuance, though the latter has opened the issue for review.

John RD | 28 January 2020  

John Bunyan . Your words: "It is hard to understand why there is still support for obligatory celibacy for most RC priests other than those in the Eastern Rites". It seems to me. 'Understanding' is a supernatural spiritual gift given to those who strive by God's Grace, to be totally His. Moreover, celibacy is undoubtedly the 'key', for the RC priest, to receiving and 'understanding' all supernatural spiritual gifts and virtues, promised to those who Truly Love Him, as they strive to. As all abstaining from marriage and sexual relations seeking to Truly Love Him, also come to know. Jesus' flesh (IS) was that of His Mother, the Blessed Ever Virgin Mary. If you seek 'understanding' seek to love the way she loved her God, and the way she loved her son, Jesus. As John Henry Newman also so beautifully did his best to. And became a Catholic when he finally 'understood'. What is born of the spirit.

AO | 28 January 2020  

My prior post was shredded by some well-practiced in the legerdemain of apologetics, so often employed in these columns by an alliance of desperate causes and last-ditch stands. The rhetorical trick in doing this is to use a well-known device called 'extrinsic rethink', which defends at all costs instrumental means of attaining goals of questionable virtue, rather than risk intrinsic self-actualising faith development. Such an approach reeks of a siege mentality and defends a fortress Catholicism, which is the model underpinning the mess we are currently in. To cite yet another example, again from within my own family, and in contrast to my earlier account: a dashing armed forces uncle, married to a beautiful woman, reacted adversely to his furlough coinciding with yet another pregnancy, resulting in four children in as many years of marriage. In desperation he and my aunt approached a priest, who in their own words 'gave permission' to use contraceptives. The ceding of this right to decide how many children to have - ordinarily available in good conscience to all - resulted in an ill-informed and puerile attachment to their Catholicism. The marriage collapsed under the weight of its many contradictions, and all are lapsed Catholics.

Michael Furtado | 29 January 2020  

Edward Fido: “The witness of so many Eastern Rite Catholic clergy; Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox priests; Anglican and Ordinariate clergy and Protestant ministers….” It’s not for nothing that the Vatican owns one of the greatest art collections of the Western World. The Western (but only because of the ‘Eastern’ rebellion in 1054) Catholic Faith is not only a religion but also (because it alone honours the Petrine Primacy that is Christ’s will and testament) a custodian of aesthetic. We might as well ask why the ‘witness’ of so many Uniate and non-Catholic Christian faiths should not address why they are not like the Latin Rite. Unlike foxes and birds, the original model of priesthood, the Son of Man, had nowhere to lay his head. That aesthetic of the homeless, peripatetic other compelled so by a duty to be in but not of this world in order to serve it is why priests, latter day sons of men with the filial duty to serve man, as inheritors of the original model of the spiritual seeker, should be ‘lonely’ and not plumply domesticated. To allow some to choose to make the profound banal is to make all of the profound banal.

roy chen yee | 30 January 2020  

Three things should be borne in mind regarding the possibility of married priests in the Latin Rite. First it is perfectly within the Pope's authority to allow it. Secondly, married priests in most Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and married Anglican priests crossing the Tiber were allowed as a concession to bring whole Churches or individuals back into communion with Rome. It was a supremely practical step. It is quite possible, if it is allowed in the Latin Rite, it will be for practical reasons. Thirdly, on a purely practical level, anyone trying to tag the Ordination of Women onto this issue will find it counterproductive.

Edward Fido | 30 January 2020  

The Catholics' views on the Priesthood are reflected in The Eucharist. The Eucharist or Lord's Supper: The Catholics' views on the spiritual office are reflected in The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, a rite commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples before his crucifixion. Once consecrated by a priest in the name of Jesus, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." Therefore, the Eucharist has a different meaning for Catholics and Protestants. For Protestants, the ritual only serves to commemorate Jesus' death and resurrection. The understanding of the office: This continuous chain, known as the apostolic succession, is overall significant for different spiritual offices in the Catholic Church. With the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops, priests and deacons receive a lifelong seal of God giving them sacramental authority over Catholic laypeople. This consecration can only be given to men. Protestants do not consecrate specific persons into office, but rather accept the principle that priesthood can be transferred to every believer — even to women.

AO | 30 January 2020  

AO, you wrote: "A priest is asked to place God first in his life". But anren't we all? Even Opus Dei says that. I think you would agree too, John RD. Consider that many Anglican and protestant pastors manage a ministry as well as a family quite well. And what about Eastern Rite priests? This is also about optional celibacy for priests, not for monastic orders on nuns and monks for whom it would make no sense. Stephen de Weger, the issue of same-sex attracted clergy is indeed the elephant in the room. I will bet it's a significant factor in the opposition to voluntary celibacy by the Roman Curia.

Bruce | 31 January 2020  

Bruce. Simply put. Had Jesus Christ been married to a women, the historian Titus Flavius Josephus would have written about this 'fact'. And Paul ( or Luke) would have mentioned it. Instead Paul wrote. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless''...''This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church''. (Letter to the Ephesians). Here you see the Sacrament of Marriage, between a man and his wife. And the Sacrament of the Priesthood, the priest who stands in Persona Christi, (an alter Christus) and the church. Though being many different parts. We are His Body. And if Jesus wasn't married. Nor should His chosen be.

AO | 31 January 2020  

Bruce, I don't consider the argument from availability to be the main one for why the Catholic Church proposes celibacy for her priests; spiritually and theologically, I believe it has more to do with signifying Christ's own personal and sacrificial commitment to his salvific mission and emphasising that our home, happiness and fulfillment are not confined this world and its goods only - which remains the basic motivation of many fine priests I've been privileged to know.

John RD | 01 February 2020  

The question of gay priests muddying the waters of this discussion, raised by Stephen de Weger while commented upon approvingly by Bruce, bears no application to this discussion. Since the official teaching of the Church treats gays like disembodied angels, abjectly denying us any legitimacy in the expression of sexual love, it follows that the celibacy issue and debate will be limited to a discussion of the married male priesthood, with questions of female ordination and sacramental gay marriage contained as issues that cannot be dealt with simultaneously, regardless of their 'gendered' nomenclature. Indeed the topic of priestly celibacy is in a sense not at all about gender but about the undeveloped and continuing issue of the changing nature of the sacramentology of marriage and its deeper and more complex meanings in contexts that have dramatically come to a head in recent years, especially since Vatican II and its reference to the unitive purpose of marriage and the extent to which such acknowledgment and choice would enhance the pastoral ministry of the priesthood. Granted there are some if not many gay priests, some of whom break their vows of chastity, this would also be a problem for some straight priests.

Michael Furtado | 05 February 2020  

It's worth noting, I think, that Pope Francis does not rate celibacy as a priority issue in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Qerida Amazonia", wherein he also warns against a "clericising of women" that would detract from the variety of ways they make vital contributions to faith and society in the Amazon.

John RD | 13 February 2020  

Michael Furtudo. "it follows that the celibacy issue and debate will be limited to a discussion of the married male priesthood",.... yes, that's one of the points I was trying to make. Thank you for confirming it. It's probably one of the more taboo elements of this whole issue.

Stephen de Weger | 26 February 2020  

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