2016-06-30
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Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing priests to marry?

Domenico Bettinelli, managing editor of Catholic World Report magazine and Catholic World News website

There are practical problems with allowing married priests in the Latin rite as the norm. The number one practical problem is that many if not most parishes can barely support one priest on its collections, never mind a priest with a family, including kids going to college and so on. If you have more than one priest assigned to a parish, which family gets to live in the rectory? And you have to pay the other priest more to pay for rent/mortgage or the parish has to own more houses.

Apart from the monetary issues are the vocational issues. Only one vocation can have priority: Which one is it? When the doorbell rings at 1 a.m. and it's a scruffy, scary-looking, obviously tipsy guy who wants to talk about God, a married man with children asleep upstairs must turn him away. A celibate priest could have him come in, placing only himself at risk. A man cannot serve two masters. He is either completely dedicated to serving the Church and his church or he is completely dedicated to his family.

Ah, but men have to balance their jobs and family all the time, some say. But the priesthood is not a job; it is a vocation, a calling that requires a complete emptying of self. No man can have two vocations simultaneously. One or both will suffer.

So why is it allowed in the Eastern Rite and among former Anglicans and others? As an accommodation. It is not the ideal, but it works for the particular situations. But I think the premise is flawed in any case. People claim that allowing married priests and priestesses would solve the priestly vocation dearth. It hasn't seemed to help the Anglican and other denominations that are trying it.

Russell Shaw, author of "Papal Primacy in the Third Millennium," former Secretary for Public Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference

People who advocate married priests need to get realistic. It isn't going to happen any time in the foreseeable future-if ever. Except, just possibly, in a very limited way. What I mean is this. Back in the Vatican II years the idea of ordaining "viri probati" in situations of need was floated now and then. For those whose Latin is rusty: "viri probati" means something like "men who have been tested and proven." The phrase is a term of art referring to older married men-exemplary married laymen who no longer have the responsibility of young children at home.

The idea didn't go any place forty years ago, but it hasn't completely died. It could be revived again in the next pontificate-and who knows what the new pope might say? My guess is that at the absolute most, he might allow the ordination of older married men in countries whose bishops requested it on an experimental basis. (You might find some takers among the bishops of Western Europe.) But he might not allow even that.

In any case, there will be no wholesale permission for priests of the Western Church to marry or for the return to ministry of priests who quit and married in years past. Anyone who imagines otherwise is living in a dream world.

Michelle Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University

I find the tone of the responses to this question a bit distressing. First of all, to claim the possibility of married priests unrealistic dreaming is to dismiss those for which this is a dear and pressing issue. I am sure that if you asked Catholics 30 years ago if there would be female altar servers-and I am not here comparing the priesthood to altar service-they would have laughed. Second, to imply that a married priest cannot have a vocation and that one is exclusive to the other is insulting to our Protestant brothers and sisters who are in ministry positions.

Domenico Bettinelli

Even as you make the analogy you dismiss. The married priesthood is not the same as female altar servers. And while the celibate priesthood is a discipline that can be changed, unlike female ordination which can never be, it is unproductive to pine for it.

There are a lot better ways to address the shortage than to look to an unpractical solution. The problems I posited are real problems and I don't see any married priesthood supporters addressing them.

As for the slight to Protestant ministers, I'm sorry but the priesthood is a whole different ball of wax. I've seen the lives of priests close-up and I've known several Protestant ministers. Not even close.

Fr. Juan Pablo Torrebiarte, teacher at the seminary of Our Lady of the Way in Solala, Guatemala. He has a Ph.D. in Dogmatic Theology.

I have worked in the Seminary of my Diocese all my life as a priest. During the weekends, I serve some of the small communities that surround the main town. If I were married and with children, I would certainly not like the idea of having my family striving to live under these conditions. Yes, I am poor and penniless, and I thank Our Good Lord for that. But why should my family suffer for the way of life I chose?

Some twenty years ago, as a young college undergraduate in the USA, I rented for a year a room in the home of a Protestant Pastor. I only hold good memories of him and his wife. Yet, I could witness firsthand how his family life interfered, sometimes in subtle ways, with his ministry. Then, long before thinking seriously of becoming a priest, I understood the wisdom behind a celibate priesthood.

When I entered the Seminary, my Bishop (the late Msgr. Fuentes) sent me to an International Seminary in Rome. In that seminary, there were some candidates to the priesthood from the Eastern rite. They certainly could marry, if they wanted. Only one of them (out of five) chose to do so. We all respected each others' culture and rite, thought of them a wonderful development of the Church's life, but we stuck to our own.

Why did not all of the five candidates wanted to marry? Well, they had their reasons, and I will not be telling them here. I will add only that the life of a married priest (and the life of the woman married to that priest) is certainly not laid on a rose bed without thorns.

Mary Louise Hartman, president of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church

I wonder if the Catholics of the first 11 centuries of the Church's life ever envisioned a priestly life without marriage? Perhaps we should be careful about categorically stating that there will never be a married priesthood - unless of course one of us has a direct line to the Holy Spirit. We do not know what forces will come into play in the future. As for the difficulties of married life affecting the priesthood, married life is a challenge for people in every vocation. We cope, we survive, we rejoice. Many of us are active lay ministers who balance both lives. Seminarians who might chose to marry should receive appropriate education about the vocation of marriage. Likewise their fiancees should agree to special training. Married priests would bring a wonderful new perspective to the priesthood. Just ask any active member of CORPUS.

Amy Welborn, author of "Here.Now. A Catholic Guide to the Good Life," and other books; runs the popular weblog "Open Book"

The question of marriage and priesthood is going to be worked out on a diocesan level, with the knowledge and permission of Rome, I think, for it a sense it already is - in the US and England, at any rate, with the convert ministers. Several years ago, the subject came up among the bishops of Oceania, and it has in other dioceses as well. It is not as unthinkable as some people think.

Rosemary Bray McNatt, Unitarian Universalist minister in New York City; author of "Unafraid of the Dark" and a former Catholic

As a married, female member of the clergy (with two young children!), it is fascinating to read these posts. My life as a minister is full and demanding, and so is my life as a wife; so is my life as a mother of two sons. I believe that each aspect of my life strengthens my work in the other aspects. Members of my congregations in troubled marriages have confidence in my counsel about what it takes to be in a good, long-term relationship, because they see my husband and I. They know I understand the challenges of childrearing because they see me with our children.

I believe that God calls some of us into service in ministry; in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, we understand that call to come via the congregation. I also believe that when we are called, God gives us the capacity to do the work, and sustains us in it. I believe I am a better minister to my congregation because I am a wife and mother too. I believe that by refusing to ordain women and not allowing priests to marry, the Church creates an unnecessary barrier between people and faith; it misses an opportunity to open people's hearts to God.

Helen Hull Hitchcock, founding editor of "Women for Faith & Family" and editor of "Voices"

The claim that married priests are necessary because of the "priest shortage" in the Catholic Church is disingenuous. Those who push hardest for this change have other agendas. The reason the Church needs priests is to say Mass and to exemplify a life totally committed to Christ and His Church. Most advocates of a married priesthood also argue for ordaining women, also citing the "priest shortage" as their reason. The objective, however, is to fundamentally change what the Catholic Church means by "priesthood," with its essential idea of sacrifice "in the person of Christ," both personal sacrifice and sacramental sacrifice.

Those who most loudly bewail an impending "eucharistic famine" are the same ones who complain about the "oppressive patriarchy" of the "institutional church," and advocate radical change in both the essential structure of the Church and the fundamental content of the Catholic faith.

The comparison of Catholic priests with married Protestant ministers in Protestant bodies is superficial, at the very least. The Protestant understanding of ordination and priesthood is radically different from Catholic teaching.

The Catholic priest is "Father" to his entire parish family in a way that Protestant ministers are not. Though his fatherhood is spiritual, its demands are (or should be) similarly absorbing of his energy, time, and concern. The Catholic priesthood is a symbol to everyone, not only of holiness, but of self-sacrifice and fatherhood as well. Marriage changes this symbolism.

It is precisely because of the unique nature of the Catholic priesthood that the pederasty scandals have shaken the entire Church to its roots and seriously jeopardize her mission, and has equally scandalized and disgusted both Catholics and non-Catholics.

The merely practical aspects of a married priesthood are also daunting. Among them,
1. The daily life and obligations of a Catholic parish priest are far more rigorous than that of Protestant ministers. Unlike Protestant ministers, a parish priest is obliged to daily Mass and several Sunday Masses and regularly scheduled confessions, and he often has a parish school to oversee, as well as other sacraments to administer;

2. The financial commitment of parishes (and dioceses) to provide housing, wages and benefits to support a family is not irrelevant, especially in dioceses where finances are constrained.

Is there a shortage of priests? How severe is the "vocation crisis"? We constantly see grim statistics that show a diminished percentage of priests per capita of the Catholic population in the United States since 1965. No dispute there. But the same statisticians also say that only about 1/4 of the Catholic population actually attends Mass every week. Might this factor affect the figures?

There are dioceses in the U.S. that have a notably larger number of ordinations and of men studying for the priesthood than elsewhere in the country. What are the bishops of these dioceses doing to make this difference? (Hint: they are not watering down Catholic doctrine.)

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