Thursday, April 4

I'll let Carl Olson do my blogging for me today, as I'm on the road. Thanks Carl!

The issue of celibacy and the priesthood has been of interest to me for a very practical reason: Until this month I worked for an Eastern Catholic parish as the director of catechetics and evangelization. Many of the Western rite Catholics in this area (western Oregon) are clueless about Eastern Catholicism. This is understandable, but it meant that I spent a lot of time explaining a great many things to good Catholic folk about particular Eastern beliefs and disciplines. As you note in today's blog, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox priests can be married, as long as they were married prior to being ordained into the deaconate. Although our priest is not married, his friendship with married priests and his knowledge of this topic have been educationally invaluable to me, and I think there are several points that can be made that would help people get a better perspective on the ongoing Catholic Closet Crisis in the American Church.

First, it would really be nice if Catholics and non-Catholics alike would attempt to understand that celibacy is NOT synonymous with the priesthood (as you point out), and that, in addition, the vocation to celibacy and the vocation to the priesthood are two, separate realities. In the West, celibacy is a discipline that is to be freely embraced by those men who are called to be priests: "In the Latin Church the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of men." (CCC 1599).

Far too many think of "priesthood" and "celibacy" as synonymous, which ends up confusing the WHY of celibacy. How many people think that celibacy is meant as a practical measure, meant to free up the priest for his duties? This is a horrible line of thinking, both logically and (more importantly) theologically. We cannot forget the many men and women, both religious and lay, who embrace the vocation of celibacy and who are never consecrated as priests. Do they do this out of pragmatic concerns? Of course not. They do this as an eschatological sign and reality. The vocation to celibacy and continence, as Pope John Paul II explains so well in his Theology of the Body, is meant first and foremost to be an eschatological sign of the kingdom of God, a foreshadowing and a visible sign of what one day will be realized: a kingdom where there is no marriage (Matt. 22:30) other than Marriage to the Bridegroom (Eph. 5). This sign can be shown forth by celibate priests, but also by celibate single men and women, both religious and secular.

So religious men and women, as well as celibate single men and women, give witness to the Marriage with the Lamb just as much as the celibate priest. The fact that a priest in the West is celibate and a priest in the East may be married in no way diminishes their priesthood, or their faculties--or even their abilities on a practical level. The celibate or married state of the priest is a completely different topic than the ordained priesthood--and yet it seems that many folks have blurred the lines, and, I am quick to add once again, for understandable reasons.

So, what might this mean in light of the Catholic Closet Crisis? Ignoring the glaring homosexual issue, it is clear that critics of the Church think that a married priesthood would solve these egregious sexual sins, as though married people themselves never commit sexual sins! The logic appears to be that if a man could only have sex, he won't have the wrong kind of sex. This is utter stupidity. When I got married, I didn't notice a dramatic lessening of sexual temptation, and I doubt I'm alone in that regard. Each vocation has it's particular challenges and difficulties (and let's face it, those who hate celibacy also hate the challenges that our fallen natures bring; for them "sin" does not exist--except when commited by "hypocritical" Catholics).

Marriage is not meant to "solve" one's sexual desires, but is the holy, God-given place where sex properly belongs, for sex expresses and consummates the self-sacrificial gift of true love that all of us are called to. Those who are celibate already participate, in a unique way, in the ultimate Love: the self-sacrificial life of the Trinity. Marriage has an analogous relationship to the Trinitarian life, of course, but is not quite the same eschatological sign as celibacy, which points to the heavenly, Kingdom reality where there will be no marriage but the Marriage with the Lamb.

From my limited perspective, it seems that the bottom line in the ongoing mess is that a great many priests lost sight of (or never saw it in the first place!) this participation in the Kingdom. Likely this was because their studies focused a great deal on the Church as a political and social institution, not the divine Body of Christ that it is. Once they had embraced the belief that active homosexuality was compatible with the Catholic Faith, or that they could "satisfy" themselves and ignore Catholic teaching, they entered into a sin from which it is very difficult to extract one's self. I would guess that the sins of adultery, fornication, and pornography are very similar: once chosen, they are not easily foresaken.

Finally, has anyone found that celibate Western and Eastern Catholic priests in Africa, Asia, or other parts of the world are also involved in these sorts of activities? I'd be surprised if much could be found in that regard. This crisis is a uniquely North American problem because (1) many Catholics here have sold out to the sexual myths in the 60s and 70s (and still today), (2) American bishops have largely failed as leaders (for various reasons), (3) Catholics often approach the Church first in political terms, and (4) many priests and laity have little or no sense of the theological realities that inform celibacy. This last point is especially obvious, considering that most Catholics are hazy about the most basic aspects of the Faith.

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