Priestly celibacy is back in the news again because of an interview given by the new Vatican Secretary of State.
A blogger who goes by the name of Mundabor, who, I warn you, is adamantly opposed to Pope Francis, has an interesting post on the matter of celibacy in which the Ordinariates are mentioned. His post also refers to one of Father Ray Blake on serving the poor that has received negative attention by the mainstream media in Britain. Mundabor writes:
Think of the post of Father Ray Blake that caused the recent controversy, and the kind of situations he described then and in the following days. Drug addicted in your kitchen at two in the morning, vomiting around, desperate people of all kind; many of them, as always, thinking they are entitled to whatever they need at the moment.
This is Brighton in 2013, and is not without an element of danger. You would not let a desperate drug addicted at 2 am in your home – actually, not at any hour -; particularly not, if you had wife and children. If you had wife and children, your wife would be the first – and rightly so! – to tell you to avoid dangerous people in your children’s home, or to put yourself in dangerous situations.
Many places on earth are more dangerous than Brighton in 2013; and many of those are evangelisation territory; many more that aren’t could soon become, if priests for the job are to be found.
Crude as it may be to say so, the priest is celibate not only because he can be free to be entirely focused on his mission, but because his celibacy makes him more expendable. Wife and children make things more complicated, introduce a double loyalty – you can’t avoid, if you are a father and husband, to be concerned about your children and wife: nature has appointed a father as the provider and protector of his wife and children – and makes difficult choices more difficult.
Then there is the economic factor, with a priest then required to have the money to maintain a family, and possibly a numerous one. The same difficulties would present themselves is said priest were to be moved, with much higher costs. And who would ask a priest with wife and children to move to, say, Iraq or Syria? Would the family be split, then? Or would they all be required to move to the danger zone?
Two priests are required to obey the Government and disobey Christ or go to jail, or to obey the government and betray their priesthood or be executed. For whom is it easier to stay with Christ?
For whom is it easier to deal with the junkie at 2 am? For whom is it easier to be transferred the other side of the planet at short notice? For whom is it easier to be despised, threatened, perhaps beaten with a stick, perhaps killed?
For whom is it easier not to be blackmailed with what would happened to his wife and children: the one who has them, or the one who hasn’t?
I know what some think. Priesthood is not really like that. Priesthood is a job for a nice chap with an assured income for life, telling people to rejoice in their inevitable salvation and celebrate their own goodness.
This may apply to Anglicans wannabe vicars. It certainly does not apply to Catholic priests.
The priest is not his own. He belongs to Christ first, second, third and last. He is and must be – crude as it is to say that – expendable; and in order to be more easily expendable, it is best that he is always aware of the One to Whom he has already given his life; without distractions, and without other loyalties and obligations. Priesthood is a vocation, not a profession. It is a choice of self-sacrifice, not of quiet family living.
Certainly, the Church can – and did; and does; let’s think of the Ordinariates – in particular occasions allow a married man to become a priest. But these are exceptions, and sub-optimal solutions, chosen after weighing very special circumstances in very special cases. Extreme circumstances make bad laws, and the tiny minority of married priests must not lead us into believing if it is allowed, then it must be the right things to do. It is allowed, but it’s not the best thing to do. It may be the practical solution in some particular circumstances, but it is the less efficient one.
I think Mundabor underestimates the sacrifices and challenges of marriage and the benefits of marriage as a crucible for holiness. It is not an easier way out for a priest, in my opinion, to have his family at the centre of parish life. And having a family at the heart of the parish—common in Eastern Christian churches and orthodoxy—is a different charism. It is not meant to be a comfortable profession and being a father to one’s earthly children —having to do things you don’t want to do in the middle of the night, may make the priest more likely to serve the drug addict because he is used to doing what he doesn’t want to do when he doesn’t want to do it for the sake of his offspring. As a priest in Rome told me in 2008, the life of a celibate priest can be an attractive, interesting life and watching fathers deal with their children, doing things for their sake when it is not pleasant or interesting or easy, is an example that helped him be a better priest.
That said, what an amazing gift to the church are celibate men who could have been great fathers and husbands and who choose to give up the goods of marriage and family for the sake of the Church. Celibacy is not such a great thing when it’s undertaken because the priest is not interested in women, is asexual and more attuned to books for example, or worse attracted to other men.
Chastity as a virtue is hard, whether married or single.