Will Marriage Solve The Priests' Problems?
We have a newspaper headline stuck on our fridge which says, "Married Priests favor Celibacy From Personal Experience." I'm one of them, and my wife doesn't mind me saying so. You see, I'm a married Catholic priest. I have a wife and four children.One
of only about 200 in the United States, I am a former Anglican minister
who has been dispensed from the usual vow of celibacy to be ordained as
a Catholic priest.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker
GREENVILLE, S.C. (Catholic Online) - We have a newspaper headline stuck on our fridge which says, "Married Priests favor Celibacy From Personal Experience."
I'm one of them, and my wife doesn't mind me saying so. You see, I'm a married Catholic priest. I have a wife and four children.
One of only about 200 in the United States, I am a former Anglican minister who has been dispensed from the usual vow of celibacy to be ordained as a Catholic priest.
As an Anglican priest I was celibate for seven years. Then I got married. Then we became Catholics. I can therefore speak with some personal experience about the question of celibacy or marriage for priests.
This hot topic should be cooled down with a bit of common sense. Firstly, it should be plain to everyone that marriage does not solve the problem of pedophile priests. Marriage doesn't cure pedophilia. The fact is, most child abuse is committed by married men.
Furthermore, most of the sex abuse by priests was against young men. Are those who think marriage would cure man-boy sex suggesting that homosexual pedophiles would be cured if they just found a good woman?
Neither will marriage purge the priesthood of other sexual scandal. Plenty of married Protestant clergy still manage to tumble out of the pulpit onto the wrong pillow. Being married doesn't mean a person is free from lust and adultery.
On the other hand, being celibate doesn't mean a person is constantly panting for sex. There are plenty of people in all walks of life, of both genders and all ages who are sexually inactive for many different reasons. That doesn't make them all insatiable sex hounds or sad and desperately lonely souls.
Some Catholics speak enthusiastically about their desire for priests to marry, but when the subject of financial support for the married priest's family comes up it's remarkable how their enthusiasm fades.
Speaking of the married priest's family, has no one else seen the most obvious problem? If a young priest is married and he and his young wife are fertile they would be expected to live within the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Yes, it is still Catholic policy that artificial means of contraception are forbidden.
The Catholic priest and his wife would be expected to live within that teaching. Do the parishioners who are so gung ho about married priests really want to support the priest's twelve children?
Would they want to re-build the rectory to house them? Pay their health insurance, deductibles and orthodontics? Would they be willing to cough up to send the priest's kids through Catholic school and college?
I'm the first to admit that there are problems with celibacy for priests. My celibate colleagues are sometimes isolated and lonely, but then, I know married people who are isolated and lonely. Many celibate priests are workaholics and starved for real relationships and affection. Ditto many married men.
Marriage for priests is a pipe dream panacea. It will solve few problems and create many more: What happens to clergy widows? Who picks up the pieces when a clergy marriage breaks down? Will a priest be able to date? In the present climate would he go courting in an old fashioned chaste way, or would he just sleep around like everyone else?
The powers at the Vatican might change the rule. It's unlikely they'll allow priests to marry, but they might adopt the Eastern Orthodox discipline in which priests may not marry, but married men may be ordained, or they might decide to allow older married men to be ordained.
In the meantime, the discipline of celibacy for our priests reminds everyone that sexuality is something which we all need to control in order to be happy--married people and single people alike.
The celibate priest, brother or sister reminds us that sex and marriage are given to lead us on to something better than sex: true and lasting Love. That's why we insist that marriage and the celibacy vow are for life: because lifetime love gives us a taste of the eternal.
For this reason alone celibacy should be a valued virtue-- because it is a self discipline that reminds us that while true love is tender, for it to last it also has to be tough.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary church in Greenville, South Carolina.Visit his blog, listen to his radio show, subscribe to his weekly newsletter and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com Join Fr Longenecker during Lent for a Blobble Study. That is a Bible study on a blog. On his blog, Standing on My Head he will lead readers through a study of Mark's gospel. There will be a reading from the gospel each day with a short reflection. Then the combox is open for comment and discussion. His latest book is The Romance of Religion --Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty
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