The Anglican Ordinariate has raised the issue of celibacy. For the past several years, as these discussions have been taking place (a positive fruit of Cardinal Law’s exile to the basements of the Vatican), in conjunction with discussions regarding Milingo and other recent scandals, even many very conservative Catholics have wondered if things might change in regard to mandatory celibacy, and there are some passages in the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger that suggest similar questions.
Now, there are several points that I think need to be addressed:
1. Allowing a lax in discipline “to solve a problem” never works; it just opens the floodgates. There may be exceptions for the Anglican Ordinariate and similar situations, but I don’t think the required discipline of celibacy will be lifted, if at all, during our lifetimes. The Church acts slowly on these things. It took 2 centuries after the discovery of “rhythm method” to get Natural Family Planning fully approved by _Humanae Vitae_.
2. *If* celibacy is lifted, it will not be as a concession to the Culture of Death but as a celebration of the Theology of the Body. The Church’s teachings on marriage itself have evolved from the non-dogmatic positions of Augustine and Aquinas that have dominated Roman Catholic theology for centuries. Augustine held that marital relatoins were, at best, venially sinful. Aquinas does not even talk about “unitive purpose”, which Paul VI says is equal to “procreative purpose.”
Yes, the _Theology of the Body_ says that celibacy is an important corollary to marriage because the ability to live in celibate continent chastity verifies the true gift of marital sexuality.
3. Ordination is and always has been an impediment to marriage. This means that a man who is ordained cannot be married, but it does not preclude a married man from being ordained. Even then, the Church has occasionally made exceptions to this. Further, bishops have always been celibate.
4. Many of the reasons for mandatory celibacy were practical or financial. The main theological or moral reason was that married priests were required to live in continence, and this wasn’t working out. I’ve read many versions of exactly what went on in the first 1000 years of the Church in this regard. However, it boils down to the fact that the Roman Church ended up with mandatory celibacy while all the sui iuris “Eastern” Churches (except the Maronites, because the Maronite sui iuris church is also a religious order) have permitted married priests, but such priests have to abstain before saying DIvine Liturgy, and they’re not allowed to say “Daily Mass.”
5. I’m aware that there are practical problems with married ministers having divided time and all that, as there are problems with married men in various professoins. However, I think it’s pretty obvious there are problems with the celibate priesthood, including the rampant homosexuality, priests who keep mistresses, priests who have “wives” but still practice as priests (in Haiti and many missionary countries, including the early US), etc.
6. A common defense of mandatory celibacy is the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. John Paul II says in _Theology of the Body_ that the ability to relinquish sexual activity by choosing celibacy for the Kingdom elevates the gift of sexuality in marriage. Fair enough, but I would think that Byzantines may respond that having the option to be married and ordained elevates the sacrifice made by those who choose celibacy. Monasticism is very highly regarded in the East, and most priests are Priest-Monks, anyway.
7. It is an old argument–an argument I used to reject offhand till I was married myself and had kids–that celibate priests don’t really understand what it’s like to be married. Now, I think it’s stupid to say that a Pope can’t speak about chastity because he’s celibate. He’s more than able to speak about chastity. But chastity when you’re single is a very different thing from continence when you’re married. And there are just day-to-day aspects of married life that a priest cannot understand if he’s living the “ivory tower’ lifestyle most contempoarary priests live in. In a society where the extended family is more important, where Catholics live in much-maligned “Catholic ghettoes,” where priests are integral members of community, that’s a different story.
But there are just day to day things that a priest can never understand. Certainly, the writings of John Paul II show a deep understanding of marriage gained from his many friendships and his time in the confessoinal and whatever else. But even JPII’s writings often seem to fall short.
Before you’re married, people say, “Everything changes.” You don’t believe them, but it does. Your whole view is different. Before you have kids, people say, “Everything changes.” You don’t believe them, but it does. The best understanding a priest can ever have of marriage is that of a therapist or social scientist, looking very closely and accutely from the outside at a situation that he does not know first hand.
For the Anglicans, here are the rules:
1. Married deacons, priests and bishops in the Anglican church can be ordained as Catholics, but only celibate Anglican bishops may serve as ordinariate bishops.
2. Catholic priests who left the Church, attempted marriage and began serving as Anglican priests cannot resume their ministry as Catholic priests.
3. Married Anglican men who become Catholic as part of the ordinariate can be considered for the priesthood on a case-by-case basis.
4. Married Anglican priests who get ordained as Catholic priests may not remarry if their wives die.
5. Anglican priests who are divorced and remarried or in some other kind of “irregular” marital state are also excluded from ordination as Catholic priests.
Therefore, presuming that the world doesn’t end between now and then, I doubt that ordination of married men will be permitted in the Roman Church any time soon, if even in our lifetimes. But I do think we’re in a time equivalent to when confessors first started to privately tell couples in extreme circumstances and under confidentiality that it was Ok to use the rhythm method.
All of this said, I do find it hilariously stupid when liberal nuns, brothers and religious priests say they want the ‘right’ to be married: then why did you join a religious order??