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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Married Priests Now? Um, No Thank You!

Cathy feels very strongly that the Church should allow priests to marry. I took exception to her opinion.

CATHY:  It is impossible to make the assumption that having a wife and children would be distraction to priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope when they were never allowed to have a family in the first place and many have fooled around anyway.

FATHER JOE:  You are presumptuous that many priests have “fooled around.”  Most Catholic priests are faithful to their promises and to the commitment of obedience and celibacy.  Priests are normal men who grew up in families.  We also deal with the marriages and families of others.  Many married people who have come to understand what priesthood entails have themselves told me that celibacy is the best way.  The Catholic preference is that the priest’s wife and family is his parish— he belongs to them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (or 366 in leap year).  I am not saying that we do not have some good and holy married priests.  We do.  But the daily character of their priesthood and personal life is very different.  It has to be or they would not be good and faithful husbands and fathers.  Even things that are usually reckoned as good can be distractions to the priest.  Here I speak not just about activity but about the donation or surrender of himself and of his heart.

CATHY:  To make people choose against a holy sacrament of marriage is to break the first commandment in the bible which is to be fruitful and multiply.

FATHER JOE:  First, the sacrament of marriage comes with the Christian dispensation; all that comes before belongs to the natural covenant of marriage.  Second, the mention of fruitfulness comes not as a command in itself but rather as part of man’s stewardship over creation.  Third, what we are dealing with here is a divine benediction or blessing.  We read:  “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. (Genesis 1:28).  Fourth, it is a generalized matter for the whole human race and not a particular command to individuals.  You personally cannot fill the earth and subdue it.  You personally do not have mastery over all the animals.  There is no commandment that says that men and women MUST get married.  Choosing celibacy is not simply opting never to get married; rather, it is the decision to love in another way.  Marriage is regarded by the Church as a natural right.  However, the man called to priesthood or religious life opts not to exert this right.  Yes, it does signify sacrificial love but so does marriage.  What makes it a higher form of love is that it is the road less traveled.  It points in a unique fashion to the coming kingdom where there will neither be marriage nor the giving in marriage.  This is what theologians mean when they speak of priestly celibacy as an eschatological sign.

CATHY:  You would take away some of the supposed scandal from the church if you would allow for men and women (nuns) to serve and be married.

FATHER JOE:  Are you so sure?  Have you noticed the divorce and remarriage rates among Lutheran clergy?  Child abuse rates are higher in marriages than among celibate clergy.  No, you are very wrong about this.  The Church could make the discipline of celibacy optional; however, it will neither be because of scandals nor because genital sexual expression has become a modern necessity.

CATHY:  How can ministers of the word even begin to identify with parishioners if they have not lived through some of their circumstances, especially since ministry begins in the home?

FATHER JOE:  Again, you pile one false presupposition upon another.  Priests do not come from distant Pluto.  We have grown up in families, some good and a few that were dysfunctional.  Priests prepare couples for marriage, give counseling, interact regularly with families, and know all the blessings and malignancies that can plague the home.  It comes first through our pastoral training and then in our daily association with the people we serve.  I would suspect in all this that priestly experience is far beyond yours or that of many married people.  This is precisely an area where celibacy frees the priest so that he can be available to his parishioners.  Otherwise, the cares and tribulations of his own home would have to come first.

CATHY:  Sex is not vile if done within marriage. It is a God sanctioned act.

FATHER JOE:  Did I ever say that sex was vile?  Please do not put words into my mouth.  The marital act consummates the marital union and it regularly renews the covenant of the spouses with each other and with God.  Marital love and family are great treasures; but celibate love is a still greater gift.  You do not prize it.  You do not understand.  This is the tragedy of the modern age.  We agree with St. Paul, that the single-hearted love of God (celibacy) is the better way.  But, it is not the only way.  God will give the gift of celibacy to any man truly called to the priesthood.  I firmly believe this.  We see it realized in the lives of thousands upon thousands of priests.

CATHY:  This not being married is a man sanctioned decree.

FATHER JOE:  There are doctrinal components, but yes it is what the Church terms a discipline.  Remember that the Church is both a human and a divine institution.  While the Church has charge over such disciplines, it is the mind of the Church that celibacy pleases God and that such reflects his providential will over the orders of the Church.

CATHY:  Every prophet and most of the apostles including St. Peter were married.

FATHER JOE:  So what?  We still have married clergy, a few priests and many deacons.  And they are permitted to exercise their marital prerogatives.  However, many married clergy in the early Church opted after their ordinations to live like Joseph and Mary.  They may have had children before ordination but then practiced perfect and perpetual continence just as the Jewish priests practiced temporary abstention during their terms of service.

CATHY:  Their trials were due to the times they were living in. Now, unless you are living in pagan or atheist parts of the world, no one is trying to burn or stone you for being Catholic.

FATHER JOE:  What you say here is not entirely topical to this discussion.  But, your gullibility frightens me.  Have you missed all the uproar this past year about religious liberty?  I have a parish with members from Asia and Africa.  They have seen their priests killed and churches at home destroyed.  I know priests here at home who have suffered the prison cell for peacefully protesting evils in our society like abortion.  I suspect the day will soon come when declaring homosexual acts as sinful from the pulpit will be equated as hate-speech.  When that happens, we will see many more priests behind bars.  A priest-friend was murdered in his bedroom just a few years ago by a madman unhappy with him.  We had several priests up north killed by a homeless man who beat their brains out with the very soup can with which these holy men sought to give the beggar nourishment.  The family of married priests, as with ministers, can become the ground for manipulation and the cause for passivity in the face of evil.  How is that?  The celibate priest has only himself.  The married man thinks first of his wife and children.  He needs an income to provide for them.  He needs a home to shelter them.  The world plays hardball all the time.  How many ministers have shut their mouths on certain issues for fear of alienating parishioners and forfeiting lucrative positions?  We have some incredibly poor parishes.  We already have men who can barely pay their small salaries.  Could you raise a family on a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars a month?  When all the assessments are paid there is not much left.  Sometimes there is nothing left.  The Church’s resources go back into our care for the poor, our schools, hospitals, and churches.  As I said, we belong to the people we serve.