Married Catholic Priests: Nothing New Said on Clerical Celibacy by Archbishop Pietro Parolin or Vatican
For those in the Press reading this piece and looking for news, Catholics already have married clergy, deacons and priests
The prophetic witness of voluntary, consecrated celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders, the sacrificial witness of religious men and women, and the increasing new ecclesial associations of lay men and woman, who have chosen it, not to avoid marriage, but to enter more fully into the very nuptial mystery that marriage also reveals, but in a unique and prophetic way. Catholics already have married clergy, deacons and priests. If there is to be a change in the discipline of mandatory celibacy for men considered for ordination to the priesthood in the Latin Rite, the Lord will unfold it through those whom he has chosen to lead His Church.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online) - I was driving to the gym Thursday morning and turned on a local talk radio program. A local talk radio personality was discussing the interview that Archbishop Pietro Parolin gave to the Venezuela Newspaper, El Universal, on Sunday, August 31, 2013. He discussed mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
The host was ill informed about what the new Vatican Secretary of State said. He was also a former Catholic with an axe to grind against the Church. Like some former Catholics, he had been poorly catechized and never understood his faith. Later in his adult life he rejected what he thought was the Catholic faith. It is a sad story too often repeated. It is also one more reason we need the New Evangelization.
Now the man engages in anti-Catholic mockery on a regular basis. My experience has been that former Catholics who never really understood their faith often make the worst anti-Catholics. I pray for them. I have even had the privilege of helping a few come home in the past. For that reason, I will not mention his name lest I cause further anger. I would welcome a dialogue.
The radio interview was the last straw for me. I had seen many of the stories appearing in multiple media venues claiming that the Archbishop had announced some kind of huge change in the position of the Catholic Church concerning mandatory celibacy for priests and Bishops. Those mistaken stories have been passed off as News around the globe.
In fact, the Archbishop said nothing new. This story - like those which attempt to make the admirable dialogue of Pope Francis with contemporary atheists seem like a rejection of the ancient Christian faith- is part of the spin of a media which has no idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches but is fascinated with this Pope. Rather than react, I have used this fascination as an opportunity in my apostolate as a convinced and happy Catholic Christian.
Some of the reports in Christian media, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, have been inaccurate. Sadly, some Catholics in media take their cue from news sources such as the Huffington Post and do not understand the teaching of their own Church. For example, they do not know that priestly celibacy is a discipline and not a dogma. Some are passing on misinformation, thinking they are defending the Church and an ancient godly practice against those who seek to harm the Church.
Still others take up their position in the all too present circular firing squad, firing shots at other Catholics, setting up their arguments as to when the practice became mandatory for priestly ordination in the Latin Church as the correct ones, when there is a legitimate disagreement. I refuse to participate in their misguided and often uncharitable banter.
The first thing that every Christian should do is read the actual interview. Fortunately, it is now available in English. It was published in an article entitled New Secretary of State Parolin on celibacy, democracy, written by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. Before some of my traditionalist readers use my mention of that self described "independent catholic" newspaper as ammunition to write nasty comments against me, I am not endorsing the paper. In fact, I find much of what is written in it to be offensive dissent from the Church. However, John Allen is the exception.
There is really no story here. The Archbishop simply expressed what the Church teaches and indicated that there is room for discussion. So, let us turn to an aspect of this topic which too many Catholics do not know, there are already married clerics in the Western or Latin Rite Catholic Church, who are they and what does this teach us?
First, there already are married clerics. One example is in the Order of Deacons. The restoration of the Order was promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Its ranks are open to both married and celibate men. Remember, married men become clerics when they are ordained as deacons. They are no longer laymen. Thus the oxymoron lay deacons reflects a lack of good teaching and is just plain wrong.
The adjective permanent, often used to describe married deacons, does not change the nature of the ordination or what is sacramentally conferred with the imposition of the Bishops hands on the ordinand. A deacon is a deacon. Rather, it denotes the intention of the deacon to remain in that rank of ordered service. A transitional deacon intends to be considered for ordination to the priesthood.
Second, we have a growing body of married men who have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood. For these men the discipline of celibacy was dispensed by the Church prior to ordination. Most come from other Christian communities. The most visible and fastest growing of these priests are coming to us as a gift, through the Ordinariates established for groups of former Anglicans coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
However there are more who, through the pastoral provision established by Blessed John Paul II , have been invited to orders as first a deacon and then a priest from a former Christian community,only after laying aside their ministry and choosing the full communion of the Catholic Church.
Many Press reports, opinion pieces and editorials often pose the questionwe are considering in this way, "Should priests be allowed to marry?" That way of posing the question reveals a complete misunderstanding of the issues and the history - or it reveals an agenda. None of the discussions over clerical celibacy concern those already ordained and pledged to lifelong celibacy. That cannot change.
The real issue is whether already married men should be allowed to discern a vocation to the priesthood and, if chosen by the Church, be ordained? They can already be considered for ordination to the diaconate.
Consecrated celibacy is a prophetic sign and a gift to the Church which was instituted and lived by Jesus, demonstrated in the lives of many of the Apostles, confirmed in the earliest witness of the ancient Church and confirmed in the unbroken tradition of the Church. (See, e.g., Matt. 19:12)
Consecrated Christian marriage is also a prophetic sign and a gift to the Church, especially in an age preoccupied with rejecting marriage at its own peril and replacing it with profane counterfeits. At the foundation of both chaste, consecrated celibacy and chaste, sacramental marriage is a call to live the nuptial or spousal mystery in which they both participate.
The consecrated celibate does so in an immediate and prophetic way, while the married man does so in a mediated way, through his chaste love with one woman and the couple's openness to life. Both responses have a prophetic dimension as well as a pastoral one. After all, when love is perfected and complete in the Resurrection there will be no marriage.
The teaching of Jesus on this is quite clear. In heaven there will be no marriage. (See, e.g, Mt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25) We will all be married to the Lamb and live in the eternal communion of Trinitarian Love where all love is completed and perfected. (See, Rev 19:7-10)
The prophetic witness of voluntary, consecrated celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders, the sacrificial witness of religious men and women, and the increasing new ecclesial associations of lay men and woman, who have chosen it, not to avoid marriage, but to enter more fully into the very nuptial mystery that marriage also reveals, but in a unique and prophetic way.
I write with deep appreciation for the celibate vocation among the ordained ministers of the Church, the religious orders and the growing lay ecclesial movements. I have had the privilege of knowing some profoundly holy consecrated celibates. To use an old cliché some of my best friends are priests and deacons, both celibate and married. They are all living their vocation with dignity and holiness. Within that community of celibate and married priests, there are different kinds of ministry, in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The Eastern Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, often assigns married priests to different types of ministry than celibate priests. Similarly, in the Latin rite of the Western Church, married men ordained to the priesthood serve in a manner that reflects and respects their state in life and offers its pastoral witness as a gift to the whole Church.
In the Eastern Catholic Church there is an unbroken tradition of admitting both celibate and married men to candidacy for the order of deacon and priest. The men must have married before ordination as deacons. In the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches we read:
"Clerical celibacy chosen for the Kingdom of Heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end. In leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful." (Canons # 373-375)
Both married and celibate men are considered for ordination to the priesthood from the ranks of deacons in the Eastern Church. The decision for the state in life was made before they were ordained as deacons and cannot be changed. Bishops are always celibate and monastic. Even in the instances of married men ordained as deacons or priests, those ordained clerics pledge not to remarry should their spouse die.
Rather than rely on secondary sources which often surround the discussion of this matter let us turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for what the Church has to say. It should settle the matter for most, except perhaps a few traditionalist brethren who simply do not like the practice of allowing married men to be ordained at all and may be suspect of the what some of them still call the new Catholic Catechism.
These paragraphs are taken from the treatment of Holy orders in Article Six of the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. I commend this entire section to all who want to understand the issues surrounding the gift of ordained service to the whole Church.
The Catechism contains important footnotes to sources of authority, drawn from the Scriptures and the sacred Tradition, which are well worth studying. Remember, if you want to know what the Catholic Church REALLY teaches, go first to the Scriptures and to the Catholic Catechism, not to the emerging class of those who are only too eager to give you their opinion and use sources of authority as proof texts for their own opinions.
In an age which reflects a decreasing respect for the Catholic Church, this task is essential! In addition, even in the ranks of those who are faithful Catholics, opinions can often be confused with official teachings of the Church. Here are the words of the Catechism concerning clerical ordination:
"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination." The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. "
"No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God's call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift. "
"All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God."
"In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry." (CCC #1577 - 1579)
For those in the Press reading this piece and looking for news, Catholics already have married clergy - deacons and priests. For Catholic Christians reading it we must learn from this fact and trust that the Lord is behind it. If there is to be a change in the discipline of mandatory celibacy for men considered for ordination to the priesthood in the Latin Rite, the Lord will unfold it through those whom he has chosen to lead His Church.
When I was invited to Holy Orders as a deacon, I knew that it was a life altering vocation, not a weekend task. As a Married man, I pledged to embrace celibacy if my wife should predecease me. My wife gave her consent. I soon came to understand the theology I had studied and have studied since; there truly is an ontological change which occurs at ordination. My life was turned upside down and has never been the same.
I personally believe there is room in the Catholic Church, East and West, for a both celibate and a married clergy, deacons and priests. Both consecrated celibacy and consecrated Christian marriage are a response to the universal call to holiness. They are also a gift to the whole Church because they both participate in the one nuptial or spousal mystery revealed in Jesus Christ.
However, what I personally believe is not the issue. It is what the Holy Spirit reveals in guiding the whole Catholic Church. For that, we should look to the teaching office, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, not the Press reports. There was nothing new said on Clerical Celibacy by Archbishop Pietro Parolin or the Vatican.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Keywords: married priests, deacons, celibacy, Archbishop Parolin, clerical celibacy, vatican, change on celibacy, Pope Francis, married priests, tony mccready, married deacons, traditionalists, Deacon Keith Fournier
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