Thursday, September 13, 2007

Perhaps this is Overdue

American Papist linked to this story from Newsweek about a young woman, Jessica Rowley, who claims to have been ordained to the Roman Catholic Priesthood. There are many blogs out there commenting on the ins and outs of this topic, offering theological arguments for and against and whatnot. There is no need for me to do that, although I disagree with quite a bit of the article. There is, however, one piece I’d like to comment on. I’ve been putting this topic off for some time but I think I owe it to those of you out there who actually read this thing to post on the subject of celibacy and my thoughts on it.

But before, I want to remind everyone that there are many married Roman Catholic Priests out there, who are converts from other Christian denominations (Lutherans and Episcopalians) who do wonderful work for the Church. This in no way is meant to detract from the service they perform to God and the Church. Nor is it to meant to detract from the service our Eastern Rite Catholic Priests perform for their communities.

Here is the part of the article that grabbed my attention:

"[My marriage has] been nothing but a blessing in my ministry. It isn’t so odd if we look at the Episcopal Church or other denominations that have had married clergy for a long time. Being exposed to those traditions made me see that it could be possible. Married priesthood was a reality in the Catholic Church in medieval centuries. It wasn’t until later that celibacy was mandated. [In the Ecumenical Catholic Communion] we have married priests…. We see the benefit of intimate connections. That helps us relate to couples. We also receive the kind of emotional support that so many Roman Catholic priests have to live without because they’re mandated to be celibate."

Well, I guess I’ll comment on it one point at a time. Since these views are common in the modern Church, and who knows, maybe you feel the same way as Jessica, I’m going to write this post in the second person, like I’m talking to the newly ordained. Also, I intend this to be in a very charitable tone. Sometimes when issues come up like this it's tempting to want to read anger into the other person’s words, so if you disagree with me on any this, then please give me the benefit of the doubt that I am not angry. Just a bit confused and disappointed.

“[My marriage has] been nothing but a blessing in my ministry.”

Perhaps that’s true Jessica, but it says that you’ve only been ordained for one week. Not to mention that, but probably one of the most joyful weeks of your life. Perhaps the best time to evaluate this one would be 2, 5, or even 10 years from now, after you’ve been at this for a while. Also, you say in another place that you can’t wait to be a pregnant priest. Well, what will happen to your congregation should you go into labor on a Sunday Morning? What will you tell the elderly woman who is waiting for you to anoint her dying husband when you’re resting after going through the birthing process? Will he wait around for you to recover so you can anoint him? No, and when you aren’t there do you know who the couple will call? The celibate priest from the Roman Catholic parish across town.

Is being married with children a blessing to your congregation of 80? Paying a salary for one person would be difficult for a congregation of 80, let alone paying a salary for one person plus her husband, plus their x number of children. I’m sure that your husband probably has a great job and that he will make more than enough money for this, but if he is working, then you will have to spend even more time raising your children. Applying the above scenario to this situation, are you going to bring your newborn and your 3 year old to the hospital with you when you go to anoint the sick of your flock?

“[In the Ecumenical Catholic Communion] we have married priests… We see the benefit of intimate connections.”

It seems, Jessica, that what you are saying is that “Because we see the benefit of intimate connections, we have married priests.” Logically, it would follow that if a group does not have married priests, then they do not see the benefit of intimate connections (law of modus tollens, I think). Do you really believe this? Here is what the Catholic Church teaches about “intimate connections.”

“Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity… (CCC 2335)” “Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man (CCC 1604)”

Thus I object to your inference that the Catholic Church does not see the benefit of intimate connections. The reason our priests forego sexual intimacy is not because sex is bad or sex is unimportant. Its just the opposite. I’ll depart from references to the Catechism in favor of something more personal…

I believe women are the most beautiful things God has created. Seriously. Nothing else even compares. Unfortunately (in my opinion) women are victimized terribly in today’s society. Pornography, prostitution, rape, and abortion are all terrible offenses to the dignity of women. I know some women who feel that they can’t even walk down the street without being judged by men, and unfortunately, I also know many men who can’t talk about women without objectifying them in some capacity. By being celibate, I feel as though I can help remedy this in two ways, ways I wouldn’t have if I was married. 1) Women will be able to bring their problems to me without having to worry about being used. This might sound funny to some people, but (celibate) priests I know have told me this before. Women who have been victimized are able to open up to the truly celibate priest. (Surely one or two of you reading this will say “not me, I feel completely the opposite…” but in practice, this is just the case based on the testimony of many celibate priests I know.) 2) Men will have an example of someone who doesn’t have to act on every single urge they get and might think twice before they buy their next mag.

But you know what, Jessica? There is something even more mysterious going on here aside from this practical concern. Something in me, something I don’t understand fully, causes me to want to embrace the entire Church through the gift of celibacy. Like you, I’m looking forward to the symbol, “This is my body given up for you,” only when I make my promise to the Church, it will not just be to my spouse, but to the entire Church. Because I have the desire to love the Church like this, I don’t want to place obstacles in between myself and the people of God, such as the possible scenarios dealing with anointing I mentioned above.

Furthermore, I believe that celibacy will help me accomplish my hope to lead souls to Christ. When I was a child, I used to consider the sacrifice of the priests and say to myself, “If that priest has that much faith to give up a family, then maybe I can have just a little bit of faith.” In other words, the priest’s witness to me through his celibacy helped me to accept the gift of faith that God wanted to plant in my heart.

Thus, Jessica, my decision to be celibate is not out of fear, not out of coercion, not out of a misguided papal mandate, but rather out of a sincere gift I hope to give to the Body of Christ, the Church.

“[Being involved in an ‘intimate connection’] helps us relate to couples.

The folks at wikipedia have nicely summarized a concept I was taught in a Sociological Theory class in college called the Availability Heuristic. Basically what this is is a cognitive bias where the availability of objects in an environment influences the judgments about their relative frequency, plausibility, and efficacy. For example, when I was young and in Catholic School, about 90% of my friends were Catholic. This fact left me with the wrong impression that 90% of my hometown were Catholic. What I needed to do to give an accurate guess on the number of Catholics in my hometown was to step out of Catholic School. Well when you’re in your marriage, and I hope it is a happy marriage, you will receive information based on your marriage. But the danger here is that you will have a natural bias about “the happy marriage,” and will thus be in danger of unintentionally passing on advice that might be in flawed.

What I think couples need is someone who can step out of the experience of earthly marriage and view it from a more objective standpoint. If I was married, I’d go to a celibate priest for advice before anyone else, because I feel he will not have a bias on what a perfect marriage is.
Other than this sociological argument, I again find it a bit disheartening and shocking and, dare I say, offensive that you would infer that because I’m celibate I’m unable to do something that I can in fact do. I have many married friends with children and yes, I relate to them quite well.

“We also receive the kind of emotional support that so many Roman Catholic priests have to live without because they’re mandated to be celibate.”

Emotional support. Is that what you kids are calling it these days? (just kidding). But I’ve heard this one a thousand times before, and it seems to me as though it stems from a ridiculous and false caricature of the priestly life. It goes something like this. The priest gets up early, goes to say mass in front of an empty Church with old people who can’t hear a thing he says, then he sits in the confessional for a few hours listening to story after story of people’s sexual fantasies, wishing he had an “outlet for his sexual energy.” Then after a few hours of paying bills or whatever he goes home to an empty house where he breaks open another bottle of scotch and drunkenly cries himself to sleep because he doesn’t have any “emotional support" because that guy in Rome forced him to be celibate.”

Well I’m not a priest, but I am in the seminary, and I can honestly say that, although it isn’t from a spouse, I have emotional support. So often I receive letters from the faithful urging me not to give up. I receive letters from kids in our Catholic Schools telling me that they are happy I’m becoming a priest. My friends call me up and encourage me all the time, reminding me that they’re praying for me. Not only do these people console me, I also have the consolation of the Holy Spirit. So no, Jessica, I don’t live without emotional support.

Also, nobody is forcing me into anything. I’m free to pack up my belongings right now and leave the seminary. Perhaps I’d even find a girl who would want to enter into the sacrament of matrimony and I could experience God’s love in that way. But I’m choosing not to do that because I believe that God has chosen for me to be happy as a celibate priest. It is my choice, and every priest’s choice, to be celibate.

Final Thoughts

Well, Jessica, you said your piece, now I've said mine. I could go on and on about this, but I won't. Good luck in your marriage and in your ministry. I mean that. I hope in ten years or so I will see another article about you in Newsweek so I can see how you've been doing.

This was my attempt to answer the common objections of priestly celibacy that run deep in our Church today and to respond to a small section of the Newsweek article mentioned above. If you read this and disagree, please email me (the link is in my profile). If you read this and agree completely, please comment or email me. But I ask everyone, no matter where you sit on this issue, to please pray for me and all the young men out there in formation. No matter how cheesy it sounds, we are doing this because we love you and want to serve you. We want to baptize your children, and witness their marriages. We want to join you in the hospital as you prepare for the death of your loved ones. We want to hear your confessions and offer you God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. But most of all, we want to bring you the Eucharist, Christ’s Body and Blood, who makes himself present on our altars at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.


Mallahan Family said...

Incredibly well said. I think few people have the authority to respond in the way you have - being a seminarian. The ECC is nothing more than a "twisting" of the Truth of the true Church. The foundation of their beleifs is built on modern day Relativism. Your comments speak volumes about the celibate vocation, not only from a theological standpoint, but from the heart. We're praying for you as you follow Christ's unadulterated will. --Z

Tom & Carrie Herring said...

Great post, Bryan.

Btw, I left a comment on your Sept. 5th post as well.

Annie said...

Bryan, You are a brave face and a truthful voice in our mixed up world. I'm so proud of you and I'm praying for you! Keep up the good work for the Lord!