Monday, March 4, 2013

Married priests on the Huffington Post

Mark Shea was on the Huffington Post today, discussing the whole priestly celibacy topic.  Mark didn't get much of a chance to talk, and was clearly outnumbered by those who think it's time to put the whole priestly celibacy issue to rest.  I don't have time to go into much, but here are a couple of ideas of mine when it comes to this.

First, as I've said, I think the clergy convert movement has turned a corner, and we won't be seeing broad ordinations of married former protestant clergy like we did.  At least that's what I've been told.  I didn't say much, but a couple years ago, after being approached by several individuals suggesting I consider the diaconate, I went to our parish pastor to discuss the possibilities.  After a while, it was floated that I consider going all the way into the priesthood.  To be honest, I never really thought about that, and hadn't really considered it.  But who was I to say no?  After almost two years of discussions it just came back to me, on the eve of our pastor leaving for another parish, that the married priest ship has sailed.  At least in our diocese.

In fact, on a side note, I've been told that the attitude toward clergy converts is such that not mentioning that I was a clergy convert could go a long way toward increasing my possibilities in our diocese.  I had already been told this before, but now it came from on high.  But that's a different issue.  Right now, the answer is what piqued my curiosity.  Basically, from the high seat itself, I was informed that there is a Canon Law limit of 2 married priests per diocese, we have 2, that's that.  Don't even think about it.

That's the first thing with the priest shortage.  I've noticed that even now, the Church turns people away.  Whether because of class size, availability of resources, demands for apparently a far from perfect screening process, an arbitrarily decided upon number, whatever - the Church does its thing and that's that.  Better to shut down parishes and close ministries than consider moving the number to 3, or possibly letting 4 more into the class this year.  The Church does its thing.  Reason  #1.  The Church simply does its thing and isn't going to change, demographics or stats be damned.

Reason #2 is that the Church has lost some of its zing.  It's trying to adapt to a rapidly changing anti-Christian world while standing firm in a 2000 year old tradition.  And so you have a Church that seems to say, on one hand, that it's better that a million babies be murdered than a single person tell a white lie to save them.  And on the other hand, is willing to embrace the latest hippest that all the cool post-Christian progressive Westerners embrace, as I said yesterday.

That sort of 'everything because sometimes it's near darn close to what is almost always for the most part nearly true based on the clear teachings of the ancient Church until yesterday but need to be understood without coming full near to saying up to the down of something' approach to crystal clear teaching has left a Church where a whole lot of people are on record not believing.  Period.  Half of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence.  Most accept the use of birth control.  Most American Catholics support abortion rights.  Most Catholic scholarship is far closer to the mainline liberal scholarship of Protestantism than traditional understandings of biblical studies (see above).  Catholics are quite frankly all over the map, some to the extreme left, others to the extreme right, and others calling down a pox on both extremes while simultaneously, and not too subtlety  forging their own fiscal version of what the Church really should have said.

In my seven years, I've met three priests whose homilies call it like it is.  So many times, I hear priests talk in ways I can't pin down, even though I know the context.  I've not heard one priest say that homosexual relations are sinful.  Not one.  Abortion?  Yeah.  That's the one issue the Church will take a bullet for.  But unlike Patton, the Church seems to have forgotten what many Protestants are now forgetting, but both traditions (and Patton) once knew: you don't just get a bunch of guys together, hand them guns, then say storm the bunker.  You train them.  You discipline them.  You teach them it's the little things that are as important as the big things, because those who are faithful with little things will typically end up being faithful with bigger things (Luke 16).  Any coach worth his salt will say the same thing.  You learn the fundamentals.  The basics.  The little disciplines.  Then, and only then, are you ready to take on the powers of hell.

Unfortunately, that's not the Church today.  It's troubles' roots no doubt precede Vatican II.  I would wager they predate Vatican I.  Truth be told, the difficulties are rooted in Luther's rather successful throwing off of the Church's authority.  For centuries, that has caused no end of trouble.  And in the last century, the trouble has been overflowing.  Vatican II was simply an expression of trying to fit the square peg of the historical Catholic faith in the increasingly round hole of post-enlightenment, post-Christian contexts. Because of that, the Church is confused, or at least appears that way to the average Jane and Joe who don't have multiple advanced doctoral degrees in hermeneutics, historical theology, philosophy, and biblical interpretation.  Mixed up.  Not sure.  I hear Catholics say more things than I ever heard in a dozen different Protestant denominations.

Catholics, and especially Catholic converts, love to point out that once upon a time there was a Protestant denomination, now look how many!  Fair enough.  One of the clear problems with Protestantism was its very origins.  I knew that well.  It's true.  But in many ways, there are as many Catholic denominations today, at least mentally and religiously.  That they all gather together around a table that only half believe to be true is hardly the point.  Do we really think in such a setting, in such a fragmented and quite frankly confused environment you're going to have parents pushing their kids to be priests?   Do you think you're going to have kids grow up and want to be priests?  Fighting and dying for a cause is one thing.  Fighting and dying for something that's not really sure how it wants to say this, is something else.

Naturally some will, and God bless them. Because not all Catholics are like this.  Many are faithful, finding balance, seeking wisdom in humility, following the Church, questioning the Church, but doing so with honesty and restraint with a heart toward obedience.  But the Church is made up of far more who are not there, for whatever reasons, and their numbers have pushed the limit I'm afraid. And sometimes, to be brutally honest, I can't help but believe the aforesaid things I've noticed are part of the problem.  At some point, the Church needs to get its act together, and remember that God takes a dim view of religion that stands by while the flock drifts off into oblivion (Ezekiel 22.26, Hosea 4.6).

One more thing.  For the most part, I don't buy the whole concern over priestly celibacy as anything but the outrage of it interfering with the mantra of the sexual revolution   After all, the keystone to to our entire post-Freudian sexual ethic is that sex is like oxygen   No, scratch that.  Food, oxygen  and water we can live without.  But not sex.  Not Sex!  Everything we teach, believe, or follow just happily points to this idea that man can live on sex alone.  And celibacy  of any sort, especially of a traditional Christian sort, is a smack in the face to that little lie.  It's Jessie Owens sprinting down before the pride of Nazi Germany in the 36 Olympics, smacking Hitler's entire Master Race theory square in the jaw.  That's why they want celibacy to just go away.  It's a powerful reminder upon just how much of a falsehood is our entire modern sexual ethic.  So here's hoping that the Church can get it's act together, learn to not always be an Ent about adapting to changes, and yet that it stands firm on its traditions, especially because of the rather nefarious nature of those who are so eager for her to change them.

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