Friday, January 28, 2011

Should Priests Marry?

There is an excellent post by Fr Dwight Longnecker on his blog dealing with the question of married priests in the Catholic Church.   He reminds us that there is a difference between priests marrying and married men being ordained.  As a former Anglican priest who converted, he was ordained a priest for the Church while having a wife and children, so his reflection is very interesting - from the inside you might say.  And he has a few interesting things to say, things which will dispel the rosy view many calling for married priests have. The paragraph on practical problems will make them quite uncomfortable methinks.  

In Ireland today you often hear the call for married priests, and it is seen by many as the solution to many of the Church's problems (they are not following what is going on in the Anglican communion - lots of problems there).   

At the beginning of the Year of the Priest, I decided to dedicate a few homilies throughout the year to the priesthood.  In one of them I touched on the call for priests to be allowed marry.  I briefly explained the theology behind it - I could see a few faces in the congregation tighten up - they were determined not to be convinced. 

Then I got on to a few practical points, same as those Fr Dwight raises.  Well, the reaction was amazing!   When they realised that THEY would have to support the priest and his family, the looks on their faces changed - reality was hitting.  "You would need to give perhaps three or four times more to bring the priest's salary up to a decent rate to support his wife and children" (their mouths opened).  "As we will follow the Church's teachings on all things, there will probably be a lot of children to support" (indignant look - it seems they will want their priest to be contracepting with the rest of them).  "And remember, a priest will have to put his marriage first, so if it comes to a decision between your needs and his family's needs, you'll have to take second place" (ie they'll pay more, less availability). 

To be honest I was smiling inside.  Many who argue for priests to marry, as Fr Dwight alludes to, are not very realistic, even a touch naive - they really do not consider all the issues.  Personally I favour the continuance of the discipline in the Western Church which dates to apostolic times (we need to tackle the false history that claims celibacy only came in around the 12th century).   Celibacy makes a priest available to his flock and symbolises his total dedication to Christ.  As one who lives and acts in persona Christi, when the priest is celibate he is living a life more imitative of Christ who was celibate himself.   That said, I have no problem with the exceptions which are made for those former Anglican clergy who convert - I trust the Church will be careful in its decision and prudent in appointments: the exception does not nullify the rule. 

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