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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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More about Married Priests, Celibacy & the Vocation Crisis

This is the sixth post in a discussion about married priests and breakaway groups.

ARCHBISHP PETER BRENNAN

Dear Fr. Joe, you are dealing with too little information which you are spinning into nonsense. Perhaps, that is the same spin the Vatican puts on it statements.

My baptismal vows, which are of great interest to you, were made by someone else in my name and are quite intact.

My vows as a religious were simple vows which expired and were not renewed and I did not take final vows.

I was ordained as a married man and did not take any major orders in the RC diocese.

I hate to disturb your fixation on vows but there you go now. No vows were broken. Are you sure you are a Christian, Fr. Joe? Your words sure do not show that. Didn’t Jesus say something about forgiveness and mercy — seventy times seventy? To call your brother priests a cancer is over the top.

FATHER JOE

I am not sure what you mean by too little information. The facts seem quite clear to me and I have no problem with being associated with the mind of the Vatican. Unlike you, I accept the juridical authority of the Holy See and believe that such is an essential element of true Catholicity. Where Peter is, there is the Church!

Promises made by another when we are infants or made by ourselves after the age of reason, either way baptism in the Catholic Church makes one an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, remits original sin, infuses sanctifying grace, and incorporates one as a member of the Catholic Church. If you are no longer a real or practical member of that Church, and as an excommunicant you are not, then you have breached your baptismal promises. If we are baptized as children, we make those vows or promises consciously our own as we get older and reflect upon them. We give thanks for the arms that carried us to the baptismal font and the parents and godparents who formed us in the faith. They gave us a priceless gift.

I cannot speak for you but I know that one of the priests recently consecrated with you, if you are indeed “Archbishop” Peter Brennan, was always driven by a deep-seated need for power and authority. His ambition drove him from Catholic unity and fueled his efforts to create a Church in his own image.

Our parents and sponsors witness on our behalf. As we receive the other sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation those promises are further ratified and made our own.

The priest or deacon says: “By the mystery of your death and resurrection, bathe this child in light, give him the new life of baptism and welcome him into your holy Church.” All respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.” If your baptism took place in a Catholic Church, then it is into this faith community that you were incorporated. The Holy See has clarified again and again, that references in the ritual do not refer to a generic or interdenominational church. In the context of the Church’s prayers and rituals, they always apply specifically to the Catholic Church under the Pope in Rome.

The promise of the Creed also referred directly to the Roman Catholic Church, in which all four marks of the Church are present and undiminished:

The priest or deacon says, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and Life Everlasting?”

Parents and godparents respond, “I do.”

The priest continues: “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Everyone answers, “Amen.”

This particular I DO and the baptism that followed constituted the most important event in my life. I was too young to remember it, but I became a Christian and a member of the Roman Catholic Church. More important than ordination or even the honors of the episcopacy, is the day when we become adopted sons and daughters of the Father and are reborn in the womb of Mother Church.

You may still espouse a faith in Jesus, but it is not the same as your baptismal faith. You broke away from Catholic unity and joined yourself to schismatics. Now you have excommunicated yourself with Archbishop Milingo. God’s mercy may truly embrace those who through no fault of their own are born into non-Catholic churches; however, as with the Protestant reformers of old, I suspect God’s judgment will be severe for those who abandon Catholicism and lead others to do so as well.

There is no Catholic Church without the Magisterium in union with the Pope. All who would be in this Church must be under the authority of the Holy See and the power of the keys. Even the Orthodox churches, which still possess the sacraments, suffer because of their separation from the Chair of Peter.

Given what you say now, you were not a fully professed religious and should not have claimed as much. My father was a monk for a while but left after a few months. There is a big difference. I wonder what you vows stipulated though.

You write, “I was ordained as a married man and did not take any major orders in the RC diocese.” I suspected this much by looking up your long pedigree. Some critics like me would judge that ordination as dubious.

You write: “I hate to disturb your fixation on vows but there you go now. No vows were broken.” No, I still do not buy it. Any Catholic who turns renegade, breeches his promises before God, even if they were only made on his behalf. I suspect your situation was more complicated than that. Further, look at your associations with Milingo and Stallings. They made all sorts of promises, George as a priest who pledged obedience to Cardinal Hickey and his successors and Milingo who made another special pledge prior to his elevation to the episcopacy. These are your bedfellows. There is an old saying, you know a man by the company he keeps!

Milingo and Stallings attempted marriage in a Moonie ceremony. Violating their promises of celibacy and obedience was bad enough, but they sought marriage in the Unification Church. Their doctrines are so bizarre that they cannot even be reckoned as truly Christian! This was no interfaith ceremony; this was a Moonie service, presided over by the so-called new Messiah himself. Milingo and Stallings thus participated in FALSE WORSHIP!

Now you are in ecclesial communion with them. Beware what “spirit” you might have really received in your so-called consecration!

Finally, yes, I am a Christian, but I will never subscribe to the counterfeit churches that pretend to be Catholic and worship the false Christs that tolerate all sorts of perversity and rebellion but never the hard truths that come from the successors of Peter and the actual Church established by our Lord. If you want mercy then you must be disposed to mercy. Return to an authentic Catholic unity, seek the absolution of the Church and regularize your status as a son of the Church. Accept whatever humiliation that is placed upon your shoulders and do penance for the souls that are lost to the world, the flesh and the devil. Will you do this?

Absolution cannot be offered when there is no sorrow for sin or contrition and firm amendment of life.

The real Jesus forgave sins and healed bodies. But, he also whipped the money-changers out of the temple, he called the Pharisees and scribes whited sepulchers and dead-men’s bones, and he warned us again and again about the terrible tragedy of hell.

ARCHBISHOP PETER BRENNAN

[THE FIRST PART OF THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN DELETED. A MAGAZINE THAT SPECIALIZES IN RUINOUS GOSSIP AGAINST CLERGY WAS CITED AND I HAVE DECIDED IN THIS INSTANCE TO CENSOR THE COMMENTS. THE GIST OF THE COMMENTS REMAIN.–Father Joe]

I wonder how many more celibate priests keep the vow like the good [DELETED]? Celibacy is fine for those like you who say they have the charism and are happy with this enforced obligation. But some are not, and it should be optional. No one is calling for the abolition of celibacy, only that it should be optional. Remember Jesus called married men first. What was good for Jesus should be good for the church. The church will be well blessed when priests can marry again.

FATHER JOE

Actually Jesus initially called married and single men to his priesthood. Given the travels of some of the apostles like Peter, it is evident that a higher premium was placed upon ministry than upon marriage. It is possible that some if not many married clergy also practiced periodic or permanent celibacy. IGNATIUS PRESS has a number of books on this subject. (The early model that comes to light is that of married men practicing perpetual continence.)

The Church already has married clergy, our permanent deacons. They can do everything a Baptist minister can do, and are truly within holy orders as well. They can preach, offer communion services, baptize, witness marriages, take communion to the sick, offer instructions and bible studies, and even administer parishes. This is sufficient and we can treasure our priests and their wonderful commitment to celibacy on the behalf of God and his people.

MATTHEW

Frater, one last comment and I’m finished with this… as I am certain will be a relief to you. The discipline (your word) of celibacy is arbitrary in that our Eastern rite brethren in union with the Papacy still have married priests. It is only in the West that it is mandated. Clearly, since this has been a constant practice in the East, celibacy is not a necessary element to priestly ministry. Rome itself does not insist on this. To put your mind at ease, I am and always have been a member in good standing of the Catholic Church. I have been a lector, have taught religious education classes and have counted many members of the clergy as my friends.

However, I am concerned at the decline in members of the ordained ministry. It is not wrong, or disloyal, or heretical to suggest that it might be possible to ordain married men to the priesthood. I am not suggesting the abolition of celibacy, only the expansion of the sacrament to another area of the faithful.

The right to “regulate the sacraments as she sees fit” must be understood in the context of the whole community. The restriction of one sacrament to the point that the others are effectively denied to the faithful is a misuse of power. I grieve to acknowledge that the Albany diocese has just closed another parish, not because of a lack of parishioners, or a lack of offertory receipts, but because of a shortage of priests. My own pastor presides at a Saturday evening vigil, and two or three Sunday Eucharistic celebrations. We discussed this last Sunday, and he agreed that one is draining, two exhausting and a third done almost automatically. This is hardly how we are to be treated by our clergy or how we should treat our clergy, but it is becoming more and more difficult for it to be otherwise.

As a final note, I received some time ago, a missive from my mother. It contained an article from the Michigan Catholic reporting the assignment of the former archbishop of Detroit to a new position in Rome. Cardinal Maida’s new posting was as an administrator. Reading through the list of his new duties, I recognized that he had been made city manager of Vatican City. To take a priest and assign him a full time position outside of priestly ministry rather than putting him back into pastoral service is just poor human resources management. But priestly formation programs do not contain courses in business, accounting, or management. And the hierarchy still hasn’t figured out that they are answerable to us, the faithful.

FATHER JOE

Dear Matthew,

The Church herself calls celibacy a “discipline” as opposed to something that would be “doctrinally” or “sacramentally” mandated as necessary. However, in the West it is not viewed as utterly extrinsic to the sacrament of holy orders, but rather as something that gives our form of priesthood its particular flavor and enhanced meaning. It is a great sacrifice that most men will not embrace; this amplifies something of the sacrificial nature of the priesthood and its operation. I never denied the reality of married clergy or the holiness of married priests, either the few in the West or the many in the East.

I am also concerned about the decline of vocations, although in many places and among certain groups there seems to be a turn-around. I think that it is no accident that in a society where marriage should be in trouble, that a celibate priesthood should also be threatened. We are formed it seems, more by the world than by the faith.

I have never said it was wrong or heretical to ordain married men for the priesthood. Indeed, I count several married Catholic priests, formerly Episcopalians, among my friends. All I am saying is that such has not been our tradition for the last thousand years or so and that a celibate priesthood has roots going back to the very beginning. The Holy Father and the Magisterium certainly have the authority and right to preserve this tradition, whether or not changes are made regarding married men. I have a personal bias in favor of a celibate priesthood, but would never presume to tell Pope Benedict XVI what to do.

If he makes a sweeping concession to conservative Episcopalians we could very soon see hundreds if not thousands of married priests in fully Catholic but Anglican-Use parishes. The rumor is that they would operate as another version of the Western rite, retaining their current disciplines and operating their own seminaries, allowing a married priesthood, although probably no remarriage. But who knows?

One of the more conservative Cardinals was in the press recently when he argued that the Eucharist was a privilege, not a right. I am not sure I can wholly go along with this, given how much at the heart of our faith is the Eucharistic mystery. Certainly, for one reason or another, people must sometimes excuse themselves from the reception of Holy Communion. Nevertheless, I suppose that those who view it as a privilege would fail to see any misuse of power when imposed structures seriously restrict the availability of a priest. They might argue that the real issue is faith and a willingness of candidates to sacrifice their sexual and personal lives for the sake of the needs in the community. It is not entirely clear that a married priesthood would resolve the shortages in clergy. Over half of Lutheran ministers are divorced and remarried. Married Catholic priests in such a situation could hardly get annulments and would have to be suspended just like the renegade celibates who left ministry for marriage in the past. I am not even sure such a lifestyle would be attractive to most men, married or not?

Regulation of the Church’s sacraments is up to the hierarchy established by Christ. We can make suggestions; however, I would hesitate to make moral judgments about those who have been given this sacred trust. I think they care very much for God’s people and feel, at least at present, that a celibate priesthood is still the form that best serves God’s people. That is my feeling, but you are quite right that the governing Church could modify the discipline of celibacy.

I cannot speak to what the Albany diocese is doing or what the overall reasons might be. A number of places are suffering from a priest crunch, but again, other places are seeing numbers go up. Maybe we have to look at what the dioceses are doing and learn from those places that are having success with recruitment?

It is routine practice for a Catholic priest to offer the Saturday anticipatory Mass (not technically a vigil) and a couple of Sunday Masses. This may be draining, but it is the principal work of a priest and should be no big deal. More hands would make for lighter work, but most priests I know are alright with it. We are supposed to get the bishop’s permission before we trinate (say three Masses) on any given Sunday but many bishops give this authority in our priestly faculties for the good of God’s people.

There has been a push to ordain some of the older permanent deacons as priests, since they have shown long-term stability and fidelity in their marriages. This would probably be reserved to retired men. Whether anything will come of it, I do not know.

As for the Cardinal that is going to essentially run Rome for the Holy Father, he will still offer Mass and many thousands of people visit the Vatican daily. I suppose the Pope has great trust in him. Clerics traditional run the small city-state. I never second-guess these moves since I know few of the pertinent details.

Some priestly formation programs today do include courses in accounting and management; although even small parishes hire professionals to do much of the accounting work.

You write: “And the hierarchy still hasn’t figured out that they are answerable to us, the faithful.” Well, yes, there is some truth that the Church leadership should be good stewards for God’s people; but the faithful are also required to offer filial obedience to their pastors and respect to the bishops and the Holy See. The hierarchy of the Church is answerable first, to Almighty God.

Peace, Father Joe

 

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