This papal election is turning out to be very bizarre. As we mark the last few days of Pope Benedict's pontificate and we prepare for what will be a tearful farewell, the media circus is running circles around our cardinals with all sorts of stories. We have allegations flying - the latest claiming the head of Cardinal Keith O'Brien; we have the gay ring blackmailing curia article in La Repubblica and then the statement from the Holy See condemning unverifiable articles. One has to wonder what is going on?
Is is a case that the media are trying to revive the old European monarchies's perceived veto over an election? Is it trying to kibosh the whole election? Or is it the Holy Spirit doing a spring clean before the cardinals enter into the Sistine Chapel? Well, when it comes to conclaves the Holy Spirit tends to muscle in a bit more than usual, so let's pray that whatever is happening, the Lord will guide things.
I am sad to see Cardinal O'Brien resign. I was very fond of him. He is the most heroic defender of human life and marriage on these islands, and he certainly earned the red he wore as a Prince of the Church. I know he had to sign a profession of faith before he was made a cardinal: he had some funny ideas. However since donning the hat he has proved himself worthy of it.
In recent days he has expressed his opinion on celibacy, rightly pointing out that it is a discipline not a dogma. He is entitled to his view and it is one that does not rock the foundation of the Church. Could the Pope change the discipline in the Latin Rite? Yes he could. Will he? Probably not, history and practice reveals that celibacy is best as the norm and married priests as an exception. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is availability.
Actually I think that many of those who are calling for married priests now would regret such a change if it happened: they would find that when it came to ministry they would (correctly) come second to the wife and family. Priests would not be there 24/7 as we are now - and we would need to be paid more than we are now in order to support a family. Despite what many believe, most of us priests are paid a salary which, given the hours we work, is well below the average industrial wage. And let's face it, we would need a major wage increase to support the big families we'll have - there will no contraception! So those who want married priests - dig deeper on Sunday mornings!
Oh yes, one more point: if the Pope did change the rule it would make no difference to serving priests - the tradition would be implemented, so a man would have to be married before becoming a deacon. And should Mrs Priest die, Father would then be celibate...for life. And, correct me if I am wrong, I think that in the tradition (as observed in the Eastern Rites and in the Orthodox Church) if Father dies, Mrs Priest would also be unable to remarry. And yes, married priests could not become bishops. So if the Pope does change the discipline, it will not be case of joyful priests running to the Knock Marriage Bureau to find an eligible spinster.
Regarding the accusations against Cardinal O'Brien, Fr Longenecker has an interesting article on his blog.