Skip to comments.Messori: Married priests no remedy for “vocations crisis”
Posted on 01/20/2007 3:43:16 PM PST by GCC Catholic
Madrid, Jan 18, 2007 / 02:11 pm (CNA).- The renowned Italian journalist Vittorio Messori published an article recently in which he blasted one of the most popular myths of the day: that married priests would solve the crisis of vocations.
Reprinted by the Spanish daily La Razon, Messoris article notes, The Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish communities are all undergoing similar crisis of vocations, if not greater, than that of the Catholic Church, despite the fact that their pastors, priests and rabbis can marry.
Marriage, therefore, would not be the remedy for the shortage of priests, Messori continued. Nor would it be the remedy for the sexual disorders in certain religious environments, beginning with pedophilia. Most of all because pedophilia manifests homosexual impulses (boys are more often victims than girls) and having a wife would therefore not be an adequate solution. And moreover, as the statistics confirm, because the vast majority of abuse takes place in the home, between parents and children and uncles and nephews, this would not be remedy for such situations.
Messori underscores in his article that sexual continence is not some imposition by the Church, but rather the result of a free choice that has its origins in the early Church and that has been practiced for centuries both in the West and the East. It is not a dogma, he noted, but rather an aspect of Tradition that should be treated with the reverence due to that which is considered to be of apostolic times.
In the early Church, the vast majority of the clergy was made up of older men who assumed holy orders, left behind their wives, who gave their consent, and entrusted their families to the community. From that moment they were called to live in perfect continence, no longer living at home but rather in church buildings, Messori asserted, citing a study by Cardinal Alfons Stickler, the former Vatican librarian and archivist.
Cardinal Sticklers research proved that priestly celibacy was never considered a novelty and that it has always been an indisputable part of early Church tradition, and it demolishes the theory that clerical celibacy can only be traced back to 1139, to the Second Lateran Council.
And what of the Eastern Churches, where only monks and bishops are obliged to embrace celibacy, while priests and deacons can marry, as long as it is the first and only marriage and takes place before ordination? Messori asked. All of the documents show that for many centuries, the abstinence practiced in the West was discussed in those communities and the exceptions that are cited today are actually based on fraudulent sources.
Messori explained that only in 691, at the Council of Trullano, was the practice of todays Orthodox established. But there was an explicit capitulation: the Church in the East did not have the hierarchal organization of the West and it lacked means for repressing abuses, which were increasingly more numerous. And not only that: subject to the Byzantine emperor, the Church in the East gave in to politicians who claimed that a clergy with family was more easily controlled. The attempt was made to salvage the principle, imposing sexual continence at least during the period in which priests were exercising their ministry and saying Mass, while aspiring to chastity for bishops and monks. No doubt it was a forced situation, not ideal at all, as many complained and as many still complain about in the East. Its curious that some today consider that to be desirable for the West also.
I would think that allowing married men to serve as parish priests (i.e. they cannot rise to the rank of Bishop) would be preferable to the increasing trend of having layity serve at the altar and/or distribute the Eucharist.
At least in the United States, it's a dramatic oversimplification to say that there is a vocations crisis. On average, the ratio of baptized Catholics in the United States to American Catholic priests is about 1400:1. If the typical Catholic family comprises three persons, that's not quite 500 Catholic families to each priest.
However, these ratios vary widely from diocese to diocese.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, there are about 500 Catholics to each Catholic priest.
But in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it's more like 3,500 to 1, and getting worse each year.
The Diocese of Orange, CA is over 4200 to 1.
Vocations to the priesthood don't seem all too problematic in dioceses that are relatively orthodox in teaching and practice. You don't see too many threads about clown Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington. Vocations here are going pretty well.
You may have seen some threads related to the abuses rampant in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Although they have eight times as many Catholics as the Archdiocese of Washington, they ordain less than half the number of priests each year.
Thus, it doesn't appear that the fix is ordaining married men, but rather, is continuing to work to make our dioceses more faithful to Catholic Faith.
Vatican City, Oct. 07, 2005 (CNA) - The Cardinal defended the practice of the celibate priesthood and discussed the beauty of the tradition, calling it the "most precious jewel in the treasury of the Catholic Church."
While pointing out that "the Maronite Church admits married priests" and that "half of our diocesan priests are married", the Cardinal Patriarch said that "it must be recognized that if admitting married men resolves one problem, it creates others just as serious."
"A married priest", he said, "has the duty to look after his wife and family, ensuring his children receive a good education and overseeing their entry into society. ... Another difficulty facing a married priest arises if he does not enjoy a good relationship with his parishioners; his bishop cannot transfer him because of the difficulty of transferring his whole family.
He noted that "married priests have perpetuated the faith among people whose difficult lives they shared, and without them this faith would no longer exist."
"On the other hand," he said, "celibacy is the most precious jewel in the treasury of the Catholic Church,"
Lamenting a culture which is all but outright opposed to purity, the Cardinal asked: "How can [celibacy] be conserved in an atmosphere laden with eroticism? Newspapers, Internet, billboards, shows, everything appears shameless and constantly offends the virtue of chastity."
Suggesting that their are no easy solutions to the problem of priest shortages in the Church--an oft brought up point during the Synod--he noted that, "Of course a priest, once ordained, can no longer get married. Sending priests to countries where they are lacking, taking them from a country that has many, is not the ideal solution if one bears in mind the question of tradition, customs and mentality. The problem remains."
To this I would add that it is the policy of the Patriarch NOT to assign married priests to parishes in the diaspora. To appreciate this decision, you need to understand that the Maronite Catholic Church is now spread to every continent around the world. There are large communities of Maronites in the US, South America, Mexico and Australia. ALL of the priests serving in these parishes have taken vows of celbacy.
Be that as it may, Pope Gregory VII and other popes before him pushed celibacy because otherwise the clergy would have formed another feudal caste. As it was, Bishops often behaved like barons. With a married priesthood, church holdings would have fallen into the hands of yet one more set of noble families. As it way, many bishoprics fell into the hands of "nephews." One of the great problems of the French Church in the 18th Century was that almost all the bishops came from noble families, leaving little room at the top for priests from the lower orders.
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Remember that in the Latin Church, most of those pushing for married priests as the norm also have other modernist/liberal tendencies. I posted this more as affirmation that allowing married clergy isn't the end-all-be-all solution as many Catholics think.
So far as that last paragraph goes, those are facts that either are true or they aren't. If they aren't, then please help me (and others) to eschew that "Roman mindset."
Again, I'm still learning, and I didn't mean to offend via the post.
RS, I've heard that reason for pushing celibacy before and have no reason to doubt it at all. I also have no reason to question the Latin Church's discipline. I doubt many, if any, Orthodox Christians question Rome's absolute right to set such disciplines for its particular church. So far as I know, Rome doesn't seek to impose that discipline on churches in communion with it in their own territories, let alone on Orthodoxy if a reunion ever occurs. I do question the reasoning of the author of this article and find his abuse of historic Orthopraxis offensive.
"Again, I'm still learning, and I didn't mean to offend via the post."
You posting this article was not in the least offensive, I assure you. Messori's comments are. Don't worry about! :)
It is also true that our church also had the tradtion of maintaining a distance between itself and imperial authority. One of the consequences of the Reformation. was an acceleration of the a weakening of the papacy that had begun began at the turn of the 14th Century, was a radical caesaropapism. I don't think that even in the Russian Church were the clergy so beholden to the crown as they were in England. On the other hand., western understanding of eastern Christianity is quite limited. Even under the most powerful Byzantine emperors, the clergy acted with great independence, so that they could resist strongly the iconoclasm of Leo the Isaurian.
Amen. The religious life is one of contemplation, among other pursuits. It's difficult to imagine that as a married man or woman.
You have to realize that we Orthodox Christians are used to numbers far less that half that per priest. We have priests tending parishes of less that 100 people in some cases.
"You have to realize that we Orthodox Christians are used to numbers far less that half that per priest. We have priests tending parishes of less that 100 people in some cases."
I'm referencing the overall baptized Catholics in a diocese. Even in a diocese that averages 500 families per priest, regrettably, we don't see 100% of Catholics involved actively in parish life. Unfortunately, it's probably closer to about a third, and in some dioceses, even less.
I used baptized Catholics only to illustrate the dramatic differences between dioceses.
And I was referencing the baptised Orthodox Christians in a parish. Regretably, we also do not see 100% participation of baptised in parish life.
The contrast in numbers remains valid.
Compliments to you for your gracious attitude.
It's refreshing .
And thanks for posting this article. It's very helpful in presenting the Latin rite discipline of celibacy. It also points out the need to encourage vocations. I am convinced that the vocations are there, as God will always provide them. They only need to be fostered, encouraged and supported.
What they are proposing is a professionalization of the priesthood. There is a difference between a calling and a profession, because the latter focuses on
earning a livehood with service secondary. The second reading today, I corninthians 12, is about the different gifts that members of the Church enjoy. We need to reflect on that.
There is something heroic about the celibate priesthood. I am reminded of the movie, "The Keys of the Kingdom," with Gregory Peck. The contrast between his life and that of the American missionary couple is striking. because as much as they have given, he has given even more. John Wesley who devoted his life to spreading ding the Gospel to the common people of England, was married and a poor husband, because he was always away.
Exactly! I wish I could have defined it so clearly.
Then it seems that Orthodox parishes can be very, very small.
If there are 100 MEMBERS (not families) in a parish, and two-thirds of those aren't active (often the regrettable situation in Catholic parishes), that means that there are priests who have a single parish for which to care comprising perhaps 35 active members?
That wouldn't be typical at all in the Catholic Church.
My own parish is far more typical, where there are perhaps 650 or 700 registered families, but where perhaps 200 families are active, with a single, full-time priest dedicated to our parish, assisted by one deacon. Our parish used to be larger, with over 1,000 families, and perhaps 300 or more active families, but then, we had two priests and two full-time deacons.
And that we have a lot more priests in comparison and no laity serving the Eucharist.
"And that we have a lot more priests in comparison and no laity serving the Eucharist."
It would be interesting to know, in the United States, how many folks are counted as Orthodox, how many are active, and how many priests there are.
Also, it would be interesting to know these statistics in the rest of the world at large. I remember looking a couple of years ago about Orthodoxy in the Republic of Georgia. There were around 600 priests, if I recall correctly, for several million nominally-Orthodox persons. But it seems that at least in that country, the ratio of active believers to the entire number of nominal believers is quite low.
Bump for later.