Skip to comments.Married Priests Aren’t the Answer (a seminarian states his view)
Posted on 11/07/2005 10:20:41 AM PST by NYer
The Vatican’s Synod of Bishops and the ongoing Apostolic Visitation of U.S. seminaries has piqued media speculation about the possibility of allowing married men to be ordained priests.
One participant in the synod, Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, said last week that he did not favor this possibility. As a student for the priesthood, I agree. Celibacy is an asset for both practical and spiritual reasons. What’s more, I am skeptical of the notion that married clergy is the miracle solution to the priest shortage. Here’s why.
For starters, I reject the notion that the current crisis of vocations in the Catholic Church is rooted in the celibacy requirement. According to a 2004 USA Today article entitled “Protestant Churches Struggle to Fill Pulpits,” most mainline Christian denominations that allow married clergy are also facing serious recruitment challenges. A life of service to God is a hard sell for every denomination in a materialistic culture that touts six-figure salaries and fast cars as the benchmark of fulfillment.
But if the Catholic Church allowed priests to marry, there would be other complications as well. Father David Medow, 47, of the Diocese of Joliet, knows that first-hand. A former Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism in 1996, Father Medow received a dispensation from Rome to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood as a married man.
“It would fundamentally misunderstand the issue if, by allowing married priests, we would automatically ensure numbers sufficient to minister to the people of God,” Medow said. “To ordain married clergy is to trade one set of challenges for another.”
One of those challenges would be maintaining the delicate balance between work and family. Married clergy have made an ultimate promise and obligation to two different entities. According to Medow, the family almost always loses.
“My obligations in my parish work often take me away from time when I would prefer to be with kids. I can’t go their ball games, or recitals or school plays,” Medow said.
A second challenge would be financial. Most priests in the United States earn a yearly salary in the neighborhood of $20,000, paid by donations from the collection basket.
Even if that number were to triple, what guarantee is there that droves of married men would leave higher paying jobs to line up at the seminary doors? And realistically, how many Catholics in the pews would be willing to triple their Sunday offerings?
If certain small but vocal Catholic groups want married priests, they have to be willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Third, the possibility of marital difficulties cannot be discounted. How will Catholics react if their parish priest is going through a divorce? To deny that such a thing would never happen is naïve, given the stress placed on the families of married clergy.
Finally, it is categorically false to link celibacy to the sexual abuse of minors, as if to say, “If only priests could marry, then there would be no more pedophiles.”
Sexual abuse is a tragic sin committed across the board by married and single people from all walks of life, though this heinous crime seems to make the front page only if the perpetrator is a Catholic priest.
It is a common misconception that priests are dissatisfied with celibacy and clamoring for change. In his 2004 book, Priests, Father Andrew Greeley noted that most priests surveyed are very happy as celibates, despite the fact that most in our pan-sexual American society look strangely upon their lifestyle.
But more than that, celibacy has value in and of itself for Catholic priests and nuns. It is not primarily a functional matter, adopted so that we can work longer hours. It has a spiritual dimension which is really the primary reason we in the Church regard it as a gift, not an onerous sacrifice.
For one, a celibate is a living sign here on Earth of how things will be in heaven (see Mark 12:25). Furthermore, celibacy is a sign of total dedication to Christ and to the people of God, and becomes therefore a motive for pastoral charity. Any priest or sister will tell you that lay people welcome them with an almost implicit trust and intimacy. As Father William Bausch of Trenton, N.J., put it, “I was a father of no one, yet father to everyone.” I was, he said, “an unspoken family member” of every person in the parish.
The result is often great personal fulfillment. Father Stephen Rossetti of the Washington D.C.-based St. Luke’s Institute found that 90% of priests were happy overall. In a 2004 article in America, Rossetti wrote: “The picture of the priesthood as largely populated by single, isolated males made dysfunctional by years of celibate, Catholic living is a fiction.”
Now, I’m not interested in whitewashing celibacy; it does entail an enormous sacrifice. Wearing a Roman collar doesn’t make attraction to the opposite sex go away. Nevertheless, I believe that celibacy can be an asset, not a hindrance, in recruiting for the priesthood.
There are many examples today of men and women who have given up far more than I have. I’m thinking of those members of the military who have left behind fiancés and spouses to serve our country overseas; some have even made the ultimate sacrifice. If they responded to their calling, how can I not respond to mine?
In the midst of this crisis, perhaps we need to challenge young people to choose priesthood by emphasizing celibacy, not soft-pedaling it. When the Marines recruit, they don’t say: “Well, if you’re looking for an easy, comfortable life, join us.”
What attracts young people to the Marine Corps is the challenge; it’s tough, but the calling is bigger than you. So is the priesthood. It’s about serving a cause greater than all of us.
A recent article in The Washington Times seemed to confirm this. Today’s seminarians, the Times reported, are strongly motivated by the image of the priest as a warrior for the good, and are willing to embrace a life of sacrifice to this end.
In his book, The Priest Is not His Own, the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said much the same. “Could it be that one reason for the lack of vocations is our failure to stress sacrifice? The young … want a mission, a challenge! When we follow the type of advertising appeal used by Madison Avenue to sell toothpaste, when we use commercial techniques in our vocation literature, do not the hearts of the young spurn our distance from the Cross?”
It is true that the pastoral needs of the Church still outweigh the number of newly ordained, but there is good news in that the numbers of men joining the celibate priesthood is on the rise.
Worldwide, vocations are up 75% from 20 years ago, and today there are 5,200 seminarians studying for the priesthood for the U.S. dioceses and orders, reported Father Edward Burns, the Director of Vocations for the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
There are currently 200 men studying at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary. This fall, the seminary welcomed one of the largest first-year classes in recent history.
Father Medow, who studies part-time at Mundelein, is very confident in the future of the celibate priesthood. “With the men I know at the seminary, it gives me great hope for the Church.”
I wholeheartedly concur.
Fr. Corapi touched on this last night, while discussing the CCC. He visited several orders before making his final selection. Many of them touted, "no habits", access to golf courses, etc. He told them that if he wanted to live that way he would remain in the world rather than give up the world to follow Christ.
Me again. It seems to me that a spiritual gift is something we receive from God, not ask for. God gives the gift to whom he so chooses. Therefore, one possibility is that the human choice is not to sacrifice, but rather whether to receive and cherish the gift through discipline. Or, is it better said that the gift of celibacy is offered to everyone, but that priests must choose to accept it?
If the former, then some number of honest Catholics might genuinely wish to serve as priests, but have not been given the gift (not their fault). They may, of course, serve God and the Church in many other righteous and honorable ways. Are there any other comparable gifts that priests must have received? I exclude basics such as salvation and adherence to Catholic teaching for this point. I mean things that would be un-obvious to a Christian non-Catholic.
I wonder if the Vatican allowed only enough pastor to priest vocations to prove to doubting Catholics as to how difficult it is to split Church and family interests?
I was about to ping you to this article because I thought the young seminarian "fleshed out" some of the issues we were discussing the other night and then,lo and behold,there you were.Nice seeing you pop up here.
Recognize, first of all, that Holy Orders is one of the 7 Sacraments. The first effect of the sacrament is an increase of sanctifying grace. With this, there is the sacramental grace which makes the recipient a fit and holy minister in the discharge of his office. As the duties of God's ministers are manifold and onerous, it is in perfect accord with the rulings of God's Providence to confer a special grace on His ministers. The dispensation of sacraments requires grace, and the rightful discharge of sacred offices presupposes a special degree of spiritual excellence. The external sacramental sign or the power of the order can be received and may exist without this grace. Grace is required for the worthy, not the valid, exercise of the power, which is immediately and inseparably connected with the priestly character. The principal effect of the sacrament is the character (q.v.), a spiritual and indelible mark impressed upon the soul, by which the recipient is distinguished from others, designated as a minister of Christ, and deputed and empowered to perform certain offices of Divine worship (Summa, III, Q. lxiii, a. 2). The sacramental character of order distinguishes the ordained from the laity.
Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. I am a Roman Catholic attending a Maronite (Eastern) Catholic Church. This is our bishop.
I was privileged to attend his 'enthronement' last year. He is a humble man of excellent character. The Maronite Church, like other Eastern Churches, allows for married clergy. However, they do not allow them to serve outside of Lebanon, the seat of the Patriarchy. Recently, Bishop Mansour wrote about his decision to become a celibate Maronite priest. Perhaps, this will give you greater insight into the emotional and personal aspect of this decision to conform one's life to Christ.
The issue that kept me from wanting to be a priest was the obligation of priestly celibacy. A priest once asked me whether I would do anything in the world that the Lord asked of me. I answered, in my own naive way, yes. He then asked, would you then give up a spouse, a family and a home to serve God and His people as a priest? After much internal reflection and struggle, I could only answer yes. And so I asked Archbishop Zayek if he would accept me to study as a priest in the Maronite Church. That was almost 30 years ago. At that time the issue of priestly celibacy was settled for me, or so I thought.
Now its this subject the people debate- seems simple Marriage in the age these days seems not to hold sacred "marriage"..but devoorice...is! out the window with till death do us part-love HONOR and obey...between man and wife(woman)...wouldn't make any difference being a priest these days...same story!
Thats why Christ said celibacy amoung HIS CATHOLIC clergry!
AND Till death do us part..in Catholic Marriages!
Problem is working at it! and loyality!
The good ole days knew the difference and should still!
Thank you for your answer, and I admit that some (or more) of it was over my head. :) For the above, I am not sure what it is that can be received and by whom without that grace. (More basically, I don't understand what the sacrament of Holy Orders is. I generally understand what the sacrament of marriage entails for a priest, but for this I don't know what the "act" is.) I also do not understand the difference between a worthy and a valid exercise of the power.
I know this man personally.
This man will make a wonderful holy priest. I met him last year and it was a real pleasure. He is very faithful and very Orthodox. He understands the teachings of the Church and is able to thoughtfully explain them to others. I hope and pray my pastor someday is like this man. And yes, I am praising him immensely, he has earned it.
I had no idea it was this many, and thanks so much for the link. When I read your last paragraph I thought it was your story, so at least I can prove that I read the testimony. The Bishop's moving story also answered another question I have always had about a celibate priest's ability to counsel married couples given his lack of actual experience. I love how the Bishop compared his own bout with lonliness with the problems of unmet expectations (marital and otherwise) and then knew the answer to both was to focus toward God for help and guidance.
You are not alone! It wasn't until I went searching for a new parish 2 years ago, that I discovered the truly rich heritage of the Church. Since then, I have been trying to spread the word to disgruntled catholics who seek a more reverent form of worship. Perhaps the following, also from the bishop's web site, will graphically explain it better.
As Jesus commissioned the apostles to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, the early church grew and spread out from Jerusalem. It experienced other traditions, cultures, customs, languages, art forms, architecture and music. Eastern and Western Christians expressed the same basic truths of their Catholic faith in unique ways and worshiped differently.
There are over 750 million Catholics (Eastern and Western) in the world. Nearly 2 million Catholics of the Eastern Churches live in the United States.
All Catholics share three important things:
A Church is not the same as a rite. Within the Catholic Church there are 22 autonomous churches, each of which follows one of the 6 major rites.
Each Church has its own:
Liturgy: Activity for accomplishing God's work of salvation
Theology: Study of relations between God and humans
Spirituality: The living out of a faith experience
Law: The principle for ordering church life
A church is a universal community of faith having a distinct tradition founded by an apostle or successor and guided by an autonomous hierarchy by which various nations and peoples have been converted to and nurtured by the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Each church encompasses a unique liturgy, theology, spirituality and law, and is characterized by its own cultural and linguistic influences. Each church enjoys an autonomy from its sister churches and is guided by its patriarch and bishops in unity with the Successor of Peter.
All the churches of the Catholic Church are one by their unity in faith, mysteries (Sacraments) and hierarchy. Each church of the Catholic Church has its own specific form of liturgy, theology, spirituality and law.
The first time I attended a Maronite Divine Liturgy, I felt disoriented. It bore no resemblance to the Latin Mass. The liturgy began with the priest incensing the church and the congregation, to prepare them to receive the Word of God. This was followed by the priest chanting the Thrice Holy Hymn ....
Holy Mighty One
Holy Immortal One
Have mercy on us!
This prayer is ancient, dating back 2,000+ years. The Maronite Church is older than the Latin Church, retaining its Jewish heritage more than any other of the Catholic Churches. The words of Consecration are chanted by the priest in Aramaic - the language or our Lord, using His words at the Last Supper. During the Epiclesis, the priest drops to his knees behind the altar, raises his hands heavenward and calls down the Holy Spirit to accept these offerings. These words are also chanted in Aramaic. It's like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the first decade AD.
You can learn more about the 22 different Churches at this link:
A priest may be in the state of sin but when he dispenses the Sacraments, they are valid. In other words, the gifts he receives at Holy Orders render the Sacraments he administers valid, despite his own personal state.
Thank you for the clarification of your comment in the previous post :-). As Fr. Corapi also mentioned last night, young men who commit their lives to Christ, desperately desire a self-sacrificing experience, not one that resembles that offered in secularr life. Give them a challenge, and you will draw in so many more young souls.
The Maronite Church USA is following up the pope's proclamation of the Year of the Eucharist by declaring this the Year of the Priest. I convinced the parish women's group to adopt the practice of coming together 1/2 hour before liturgy on the first Sunday of each month (you have to begin somewhere) to pray for our pastor, the parish community and for new ordinations. We are a small group but began yesterday. As others arrived at church, they joined us in praying the Rosary. Soon the entire church was filled with Our Fathers and Hail Marys, rising up to our Lord, the ultimate Priest and His blessed Mother, who loves and watches over her Son's priests. It culminated with JPII's prayer for vocations.
It would be wonderful if other Churches began a similar practice. Imagine the outpouring of prayers for those who have forfeited so much in service to our Lord.