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Priests' wives

An op-ed piece in today's Times asks an interesting question: "What will life be like for the wives of Roman Catholic priests?" The article, by historian Sara Ritchey, considers the fate of women married to Episcopal priests who join the Catholic church.But Professor Ritchey gives a very strange answer to her question, considering it solely in terms of what she says happened to the wives of priests up to and around the time the First Lateran Council prohibited clerical marriage in 1123. Quoting Peter Damian, she says that priests' wives should beware a tradition that views them as the clerics charmers, devils choice tidbits, expellers from paradise, virus of minds, sword of soul, wolfbane to drinkers, poison to companions, material of sinning, occasion of death ... the female chambers of the ancient enemy, of hoopoes, of screech owls, of night owls, of she-wolves, of blood suckers.I wouldn't have expected an argument like this from an academic historian; it takes the ascetic Peter Damian's advocacy of clerical celibacy in the 11th century totally out of its historical context, and inserts it without qualification into a vastly different time.The article doesn't take into account that a few things might have changed in the church and in society at large in the last nine centuries.

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Ann: Charles Davis died in 1999.Here is an obit written by Adrian Hastings: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-charles-davis-1...

2,000 years of Christian revelation? Revelation! you do jest, don't you. If you expect us to take you at your word that you are "savvy," you need to exhibit more than you did above.

Thanks, JAK and Jimmy Mac. Poor man.

Ken writes (1/14 8:05 am):

Our Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers in the Priesthood provide us an example of married priests in ministry that has worked for many centuries. Their wives, by the way, are respected and honored. In the Greek Orthodox parishes, the priests wife is referred to as Presbytera and she is fondly considered the Mother of the parish along with her husband, Father; the Russian Orthodox refer to the priests wife as Matushka (Mother).Yes, but that's also a different culture, one in which the people apparently are looking up to the priest and his wife, not across, as to a peer, as modern Roman Catholics seem to be doing. If the priest is just another parishioner, distinguished only by his being able to perform the sacraments, the wife would likely be far less than a mother. More likely, she'd be just another parish wife, with almost nothing adhering from her husband's priesthood.And because of that, would parishioners be willing to contribute enough to support both husband and wife and children, from day to day and in retirement? Doubtful, I think.In other words, it's far more than just allowing priests to marry, as "fair" and "logical" as that seems. Sex and companionship are only one part of marriage. Leap if you must, but think first - long and hard - about all those big unintended consequences down the road.

Oops. Sorry about quoting everything. Again:Ken writes (1/14 8:05 am):

Our Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers in the Priesthood provide us an example of married priests in ministry that has worked for many centuries. Their wives, by the way, are respected and honored. In the Greek Orthodox parishes, the priests wife is referred to as Presbytera and she is fondly considered the Mother of the parish along with her husband, Father; the Russian Orthodox refer to the priests wife as Matushka (Mother).

Yes, but thats also a different culture, one in which the people apparently are looking up to the priest and his wife, not across, as to a peer, as modern Roman Catholics seem to be doing. If the priest is just another parishioner, distinguished only by his being able to perform the sacraments, the wife would likely be far less than a mother. More likely, shed be just another parish wife, with almost nothing adhering from her husbands priesthood.And because of that, would parishioners be willing to contribute enough to support both husband and wife and children, from day to day and in retirement? Doubtful, I think.In other words, its far more than just allowing priests to marry, as fair and logical as that seems. Sex and companionship are only one part of marriage. Leap if you must, but think first long and hard about all those big unintended consequences down the road.

Gerelyn, see bishop-accountabiltiy.org for the case of converted Episcopal priest William Winston, age 52, Morris Twp. NJ in 2006. It has already happened.

I am personally saddened that the only efforts Rome seems to be able to make are toultra-conservatives like the Lefebrists and now the ultra-conservative Anglicansnever an olive branch to those wounded by those suffering from Romes intransigence and fear of change.Ken Lovasik 01/14/2012 - 9:58 am subscriberSSorry for the typo: I meant to write in my last line to those suffering from Romes intransigence and fear of change.

Ken, that word "fear" is used too often, I think, to cast aspersions on others' motives: If someone's unwilling to do what we want, it must be because he's trembling in fear of doing the things we do bravely and nobly. There is nothing inherently wrong, disordered, fearful, shameful in not surrendering when attacked, especially when it's a matter of principle and deeply felt belief.

Gerelyn 01/14/2012 - 2:42 pmWhile following the Mary Winkler case (Tennessee preachers wife who killed her husband), I noticed many posts on the old Court T.V. message board from preachers wives who were abusedphysically, financially, emotionally, professionally, spiriturally, sexually, by their husbands.

Couple of caveats, Gerilyn. First, what people write - usually anonymously - on the internet can never be assumed to be true. Second, "abuse" has come to have such an all-encompassing definition that it's practically meaningless. I just abused my cat by not giving him dinner when he asked for it, and he abused me by bothering me about it while I was typing.

David Smith,Thanks for your viewpoints. Yes, a married priesthood is not the magic bullet. Priests in the East are also subject to ritual purity laws, that make clear distinctions between life and death. In the West the priest has become no more than a Protestant pastor.

Jerry Mac,You need better come-back lines. Not impressed.

Former Anglican Priest on his Catholic ministry"From conversations Ive had, most of my fellow married Catholic priests have a tremendous respect for our celibate brothers, and were grateful for the welcoming atmosphere and support they extend to us and our families. We admire the sacrifices they make, and appreciate they can give more of themselves to priestly service than we can."When we answered Gods call to Catholic ministry, we didnt set out to break the mold. None of us, to my knowledge, want to be poster boys for a new paradigm of priesthood.""In our day, debates about celibacy swirl in Catholic circles. This ancient and biblical discipline has both its defenders and critics. Speaking for myself, I feel uncomfortable when circumstances like mine are used to further an argument or make a point."http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

Re: William Taylor @ 12:22AM 1/14:Richard McBrien told a VOTF conference some years back that, contrary to popular belief, the impact of celibacy on priests is felt most keenly in old age. Taylor's experience seems to confirm that, and I thank him for generously sharing his thoughts.I go fairly often to a priest's retirement home, where the secretary commented that one priest who often sat in the waiting room, and was thrilled to see my grandson, "should have married and had ten kids." I get that sense for many there.While loneliness in later years is certainly not unique to priests, I find a special sadness attached to the circumstance.

"I just abused my cat by not giving him dinner when he asked for it, and he abused me by bothering me about it while I was typing."Funny, David S. :-) But must you always be so cynical? No, you're not a total cynic, just a semi-cynic. Please note: even cats often accept that what appears to be so, actually is so.

Ann, it's my sense that cats are realists: what is, is. Humans, on the other hand, frequently call spades steam shovels.

The readings at Mass last night were about hearing God's call. I truly believe God calls us all to different vocations and I can certainly see God calling a man to be a priest AND a husband AND a father all at the same time. It's a tragedy not to be able to answer the call, once heard.

Irene -- Not all at the same time. Vicar General Hurd of the new North American Ordinariate reflects warmly in WaPo 1/13 on "My life as a married Catholic priest", which he has been for 11 years. The piece appears to be a diplomatic effort to offer an ingratiating example of the 21st-century paradigm of priestly marriage amid the celibates, who cannot share that particular joy, challenge, honor and blessing which he says he finds from juggling two vocations. A week earlier, he wrote a similarly enthusiastic, short article in the Post on his transition from married Episcopal priest 16 years ago to find God-given authority for church teachings. The relevance to this thread of his brief statements is limited since he displays little awareness to date that another adult (Stephanie) might be intimately affected each day by his juggling. Maybe later if he keeps publishing. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/my-life-as-a-marri... http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/rev-r-scott-hurd-draws-on-his-own-fa...

Irene,A calling is individual rather than collective. A person has to spend time in discernment to figure out where if they are being called, and where.

"The piece appears to be a diplomatic effort to offer an ingratiating example of the 21st-century paradigm of priestly marriage amid the celibates, who cannot share that particular joy, challenge, honor and blessing which he says he finds from juggling two vocations."This is looking at the practical aspect. What's forgotten is the spiritual aspect of celibacy for those who are called to marry their divine spouse. Something we all will do someday, if we make it to heaven.

savvy sed: " You need better come-back lines. Not impressed. "First of all, it is not my goal in life to impress you.I'll let Daniel Patrick Moynihan speak to you: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts."And you could try this: John 8:32.David said: "Humans, on the other hand, frequently call spades steam shovels." Gee, sounds a wee bit like hope to me.

David Smith, what I wrote about the Eastern Orthodox Churches was what I have learned from Orthodox Churches in THIS culture in the US. And as far as supporting a priest's family is concerned, the Orthodox faithful do not have a problem with that either. In many of the Greek and Antiochian parishes in the US, there is not a rectory next to the Church building. The priest and his family live in a residence away from the Church that they either own or rent. When I hear Catholics say that we could never have a married priesthood because we couldn't support the priests' families, I remember that the number of members in the average Orthodox parish is much smaller than the number of members in the average Catholic parish, yet their collections are much larger. Many of these parishes tithe. I have never heard an Orthodox Christian complain about supporting his priest and his family.

"I have never heard an Orthodox Christian complain about supporting his priest and his family.' I would say the same for Episcopals..

Orthodoxy does not have "we are church movement". A priest whose wife dies cannot re-marry and a priest who gets a divorce even if it's not his fault cannot re-marry. The Orthodox accept this.

I would like to acknowledge how poignant and impressive I found the postings on this blog stream from especially William Taylor, Ken Lovasik, and Carolyn Disco.Their compassion for the loneliness and isolation that many priests endure at the end of a long life of service evokes a more human imperative for why we Catholics have to change the way we do priesthood if our church is to even survive the next few decades.It is my contention that much of the corruption of the priesthood that we have witnessed with priests and bishops sexually exploiting particularly children over especially the last decade is, at least in part, an artifact of the irrelevance and alienation from the lives of people in the church that priest suffer - more often than not, alone.The experience of both the Greek Catholics and Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglicans and Lutherans, [not to mention most Protestant denominations] confirms that a married clergy works well. Catholics today should not be limited by the histories of these Christian cousins, but we should let their experience inform our strategies for the future. Good friends of my wife and me, since before we were married, are a woman and her Episcopal priest husband. Deb and Bruce Smith, while experiencing all the vicissitudes of marriage and parenthood, have made a very happy life for themselves pastoring for almost twenty-five years with their friends in their Walnut Creek, CA parish.For me, it would matter little if a priest or bishop is man or woman, married or celibate, gay/lesbian or straight as long as they were called to ordination and selected as priest or bishop by the very community they serve - not by some distant and remote hierarch.In transitioning to such a new and revolutionary priestly regimen it would require the help and renewed ministry of all those thousands of priests who are now grandpa's and looking for opportunities for service in their retirement years.If we can make room for the disaffected Anglican and Episcopal priests and their wives, then Catholics can very easily welcome home our brother priests and their wives and families.

Jim Jenkins --Hear, hear! I just read the current statistics about priests and "ex-priests". There are 40,000 priests and 25,000 "ex" ones. And the bishops are closing parishes, pastors are cutting back the number of Masses per week, places like nursing homes are not being served at all, and people with problems can't find a priest to talk with them, pastors are vastly over-worked and on and on and on.Madness.

Jim Jenkins,There is a generation missing since most priests left their vocations after V2. The priesthood today is made up of either old or very young people.Why is there a generation missing?The lack of proper catechesis?

"What about the Lefebrists, Jim, who deny the validity of the Second Vatican II outright?"I would say that denying the validity of the Second Vatican Council is a major obstacle to unity. I know of no reason to suppose that the Holy See intends to whitewash all of the disagreements between Lefebvrists and Rome."My point is that Rome seems so worried about these conservative groups, but there has been no olive branch offered at least for dialogue to groups that dissent on the progressive side. Can you think of any?"I don't particularly sort the Christian world into progressive and conservative, but certainly there are a number of instances of ecumenical dialogue that have taken place with groups other than the Lefebvrists. Ecumenism has taken place with Protestant churches and with Orthodox churches. Those are olive branches.

Just a coiple of thoughts:1)Both here parochially and in the broader Church, the sense of ecumenism has diminished.Almost nothing in my parish and the diocesan paper repotys four out of how many parises wil hold "prayer servivces" to celebtarte week of Christian Unity.2)As to the role of both women and civil unions and diminishing numbers of priests, much has changed in the past 50 years particulaly :-the emergence of women into the work force and consequent role of feminization and the drive for equality;-the emergence of GLTG forces against prejudice beginning with Stonewall and the concomitant broad understanding that that is the way God made these folks;-a much stronger sense that lovem,arriage is essentially relational and a diminished sense of the import of procreation;-a consequent broader sense of what family means to many.All of this challenged traditional understandings just as our understanding of the macro and mini world and its dynamics changed.The issues raised in the thread here and about civil unions and several other matters really touches on how we approach modernity and frame the questions we bring.3)ISTM that part of the moving back on eceumenism touches on these lines as well.This I think is unfortunate as, more and more, the world is more (and becoming more aware of) how interrelational it is.

Perhaps, savvy, I don't understand how you have connected "proper catechesis" with a "missing generation."["most priests left their vocations" - that is pretty harsh. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit: Bidden or not bidden, God is present.]In any case the responsibility of the state of the priesthood must be placed at the feet of those who have been in charge of church leadership really since JP2 became pope. That is really when the boat starting sinking.It's true that the Catholic priesthood is aging fast. I don't see many young men being ordained these days. Just speculating, but I would have to believe that there is a negative replacement rate (i.e., the number of young men being ordained does not match the number of deaths of older priests)?Most of the new ordinations I have observed here in California are men who have embarked upon "second careers" and are mostly in their late thirties to early fifties. Most of the young men being ordained are from first or second generation immigrant families of South Asians or Latinos - they are not enough to sustain the needs of the people.Actually, I don't think it is such a good idea for Catholics to be encouraging their sons, or daughters for that matter, to vocations of service in the church at this time in history. Ultimately, as attrition and death continues its steady erosion of the priesthood, the best lever Catholics have to move the hierarchy and clerics is to deny them our children until the priesthood is reformed from parish to pope. Besides, no loving parent would ever want to encourage their son to a life where he will be isolated, alienated, and lonely, and doesn't have a good chance for happiness - which is our ultimate hope for our children.

In any case the responsibility of the state of the priesthood must be placed at the feet of those who have been in charge of church leadership really since JP2 became pope. That is really when the boat starting sinking.

I think the reason for the sudden departures and the drying up of vocations is the sexual revolution, not much more. Young guys wanted sex and were telling themselves Rome ought to understand that they deserved it. I guess you could blame the pope for not giving in.

@ David Smith:Priests can, and do, have sex whenever they choose to, and have been doing so for millennia - one of the hard lessons Catholics have learned over the last several decades.Sure the church is not immune from cultural evolution such as changes in sexual morays. But it would be the height of reductionist thinking to blame the decline of the priesthood on the so-called sexual revolution.That is like the hierarchs blaming the rape and sodomy of children by priests since the end of WW2 on sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.One could argue, as many social anthropologists do, that with the ever increasing economic and educational empowerment of women, and the introduction and acceptance of easy to use birth control, has had far greater effect on sexual behaviors of both men and women than any other factor(s).My favorite [pet theory] for the decline in priestly vocations is that, especially after Humane Vitae, parents, women in particularly, stopped encouraging their children to vocations and careers in the church. [I realize that there is a whole host of social and economic factors that formed a constellation of influences for this social and cultural change among Catholics. This is just my hypothesis talking ...]I never met a priest that was not encouraged and supported in their vocation by especially their mother. If Mom did say that it was OK to go off to seminary and religious life, I don't think most men would ever have been able to emotionally and psychologically buck their moms. [I'm speaking hypothetically here, I'm sure there are exceptions!]When the church demonstrated disregard and disrespect for women's needs and wants to manage and control the number of births in their families, I believe most women on an unconscious level instinctively knew how to get back at the unfeeling and inconsiderate feudal male celibates: Deny them the one thing that male celibates can't do on their own - reproduce themselves.Face it padres, by design God made women the more powerful of the two genders, the gender that most approximates the creative nature of the divine.It really is the ultimate in gender revenge for the arrogance of the hierarchs. And as I said above in another posting, I believe that not encouraging children to vocations in the church is a corrective strategy for Catholics to try to reign in the abusive corruption of the hierarchs and priests.

Sorry, I messed up proof-reading. The sentence in the sixth paragraph should read:"I dont think most men would NEVER have been able to emotionally and psychologically buck their moms."

On second thought, disregard the correction. Sorry!

My favorite [pet theory] for the decline in priestly vocations is that, especially after Humane Vitae, parents, women in particularly, stopped encouraging their children to vocations and careers in the church.

Interesting, Jim. I'd never thought of that. Yes, that has got to be part of it, certainly. Of course, the withdrawing of the encouragement may not have been specifically, consciously to punish the hierarchical Church. When people are living through periods of particularly intense uncertainty, their own certainties tend to waver, I'd think. Mothers presumably want the best for their children. If the Church seems suddenly to have a very uncertain future, a mother who didn't want her son to suffer might become suddenly aware that the priesthood had ceased to offer either security or prestige.

In one of his books from the '70s-'80s time frame, Rev. Greeley reported that his research has identified two critical influences on a young man's decision to pursue the priesthood: his mother, and the parish priest. In this book, written in the wake of Humanae Vitae, Greeley speculated that many priests of this era had lost their esprit de corps and that a drop in priest candidates was one of the outcomes.Charles Morris, in his outstanding book American Catholic, has a chapter on the boom in vocations taking place at that time (1990s) in the Lincoln, NE diocese. This exceptionally large number of vocations has commonly been attributed by conservative Catholics to the diocese's alleged conservative orthodoxy, personified by its bishop. Morris discovered that there was a particular priest at the University of Nebraska's Newman Center who apparently had an unusual gift for discernment, and this priest was the source for a significant percentage of the diocese's seminarians.

@JIm, Is there an update since then? I understand that a high % of people in ministry drop out within 5 years--I'd love to see stats on retention in very conservative dioceses with all these vocations compared to those being ordained in other dioceses. I'd also want to see number of practicing Catholics (in dioceses and in parishes where these very conservative men go) compared. Getting folks to sign up for seminary and through that to ordination ain't nothing--but it's not the only relevant question.Who was the fellow promoted to a bigger diocese even though the number of Catholics in his previous diocese plummeted on his watch while the population increased substantially?

Hi, Lisa, I know that statistics are put out every year regarding seminarians, but I don't know if the Lincoln diocese is still flourishing in that regard. FWIW, this article from 2005 refers to a study that suggests that the size of the diocese may be an important factor: the dioceses in the US with the most per-capita seminarians are small dioceses (or that was the case in 2003-4). Maybe that's a signal to large metropolitan dioceses that the auxiliary bishops need to have a more visible leadership role?http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2005/sep2005p7_2045.htmlThe article notes that Chicago is relatively successful among large dioceses in that regard. My own observation of Chicago is that the great majority of our seminarians are from immigrant communities - Mexican, Polish, Filipino. Yet LA, with its huge immigrant population, is not doing well (or wasn't during the time of the study).

Caught the NYT Letters to the Editor this week in response to Ritchey's op-ed: three apologists for the hierarchy's treatment of women - one of them from Jesuit James Martin. I guess that should settle it speaking from the prospective of Catholic establishment groupthink."They have eyes but see not, ears but hear not, nor is there breathe in their mouths." (Ps. 135)

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