dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

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.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).

87 comments
Close

87 comments

Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Maybe we should chalk it up to a medieval historian trying desperately to be relevant. I just read it and had the same reaction. She says we're a tradition that is suspicious of priest's wives, which is true historically, but that doesn't explain how it is that this new arrangement came about. Peter Damian would not approve, so how did we get from here to there in the last thousand years?At least she noted the multiple causes of the celibacy rule. Gary Wills once claimed in the Boston Globe that it was just a property thing and some misplaced asceticism, which is true, but only part of the story. Often it is claimed that the church didn't want to lose property, but as Ritchie properly notes, it was the laity who didn't want priest's sons running off with their donated lands.

I know it's early, but I think we have a front-runner for Worst Op-Ed of the Year...A couple of things:Ritchey doesn't seem to realize that there have been a couple hundred, at least, married clergy in Latin-rite Catholicism for 30 years, not to mention Eastern-rite Catholic priests. So the experience has already occurred, and in my interactions with married priests and their wives it's been fine. Moreover, Ritchey seems unaware of the experience of wives in Protestant denominations, where they are still often treated as humble help mates and little more. I've spoken with several female clergy who have often remarked how much more congenial they often find Catholic priests to work with than their own male counterparts who view women as wives. A couple suggsted that Catholic priests may be used to working with women religious, who are used to running organizations and institutions. Oh, and Peter Damian should be given some credit for being ahead of his time on calling out the clergy on sex abuse. In any case, Paul's critcisms (and JC's) are bang on.Oh, and give Bill Donohue his due! http://www.catholicleague.org/the-plight-of-priests%E2%80%99-wives/

What will life be like for wives of Roman Catholic priests?Perhaps proud, honored, and deeply spiritual. Proud, honored, and deeply spiritual that they and their spouses are gifted with the sacrament of marriage and ordination, honored that with God they can experience intimacy and divine love in their relationship, deeply spiritual in that where two or more are gathered in God's name, God is with them.Why should the public see them any differently?

Poor op ed.If a significant number of married priests take over parish assignments, will the issue of mandatory celibacy in the Western rite be questioned more?

I liked the piece. As to what has changed in nine centuries? The Church's attitude towards women has not. Ask a priest what he was taught in the seminary about women. (I liked the article on The Heights, too. What about a thread on all the D.C. big shots, like Santorum, whose children attend the Opus Dei school?)http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/us/the-heights-a-catholic-school-draws...

In some Protestant churches, the pastor's wife has a significant role as counselor to women, organizer of parish events, etc. They do this without training, of course, and sometimes well and sometimes badly. I'm not suggesting this (heck, I train people for ministry, so I DO think preparation is a good thing!) but it is a role beyond that of standard "wife" for many pastor-partners, often a substantial ministerial role. This becomes an interesting dynamic in our time, when pastors' spouses come in both sexes (in most churches) and are often professionals in other fields themselves, and may not want to be thought of as an adjunct pastor, or a pastoral assistant without pay.

Gerelyn,Santorum went to Rome in 2002 to deliver a speech in honor of Escriva, on the centenary anniversary of Escriva's birth. Thanks for the link to the OD school. I understand Harvard and other Ivy schools have OD residences for students like alums of The Heights.While Prof. Ritchey's op-ed quotes vivid language that no doubt was also part of Protestant thinking that emerged a few centuries later, I believe the underlying attitudes linger surreptitiously. Otherwise, why the need to escape Episcopalian women priests by becoming Catholic clergy? I am heartened to hear that exposure to sisters by Catholic priests supposedly moderates discrimination. Sisters I know find the atmosphere less salutary. It seems progress comes very slowly; two thousand years to get only this far? A hopeful future beckons though because of the male Catholic priest shortage.An Episcopalian husband and wife are both priests, and good friends of ours. See what is possible.

Yes, the place near Harvard is included in this list:http://www.odan.org/foundations.htmI read a novel recently, Vestments, that was pretty good. I found the priests' conversations about women interesting. (And I loved the bits about the great Archbishop Ireland.)http://www.amazon.com/Vestments-John-Reimringer/dp/157131086X/ref=sr_1_1...

I think Paul Moses tries a bit too hard to remove the mote from Sara Ritcheys eye who draws present day lessons for Catholics from history of a millennium ago of the origins of celibacy as Catholics are now asked to embrace a married clergy, refugees from an Anglican community that honors women and gay/lesbian priests.As David Gibson points out, the operative model and comparative experience for a Catholic married priesthood is the one that has already existed for millennia with our Greek Catholic and Orthodox cousins.In Ritcheys defense, it seems to me that the initial critical reaction from some on this blog to her historical deconstruction of a married clergy may be that it originates from an woman in her academic perch who enjoys more than several degrees of freedom in her analysis from the rigid, male-dominated Catholic mythology about priesthood and, in particular, its peculiar central celibate character.From my reading of the NY Times op-ed, its hard to argue that Ritchey doesnt hit all the historical bases in her argument. To complain that she doesnt give 11th-century monk Peter Damian his due for calling out clergy sexual predation essentially amounts to nitpicking. [Dont you think Ritchey nails Damian with the women-married-to-priests as blood suckers quote?]My favorite part of the op-ed is Ritcheys bang on depiction of the wives role of these new Catholic married priest as SACERDOTAL ATTACHE the perfect appellation which evokes Catholicisms desperate eternal struggle to diminish the human dignity of women.Its like saying to women: Mind your place girl, after all you only came from Adams rib.P.S. The best way to give Bill Donohue his due is to ignore him.

As I am wont to do in discussions of this sort, I'll mention that there are thousands of deacons in the US (about 15,000, I believe), and most of them are married. So the contemporary Catholic church's experience with this is quite extensive.Our formation program was very encouraging of wives to serve alongside their husbands. They received all the same formation that we did, including the same certificate in pastoral theology at the end. The official church has a vision, I think, that it is a beautiful expression of the sacrament of marriage that a deacon and his wife minister together.Yet the involvement of deacons' wives in ministry is all over the map. Some have the inclination, time and skills to be very involved, and a number do minister alongside their husbands. Some want absolutely nothing to do with it for whatever reason (often because they don't want to be in the public eye). And a lot end up somewhere in between. FWIW, that's where my wife and I are. I do some things with her and some things without her. She has done the same over the years.Also - my understanding of the "ordinariate" is that these priests and their wives are coming over specifically to minister to Anglicans who have become Catholic, and will continue to worship using Anglican liturgy. It will sort of be Anglicanism within Catholicism. I presume a lot of Episcopalians are already accustomed to priests being married. So I don't think it's going to be a big deal for them.

Perhaps Ritcheys op-ed was an act of reparation on the part of the Times for the balanced piece on the experience of married Catholic priests that was published last Saturday, which you can find here.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/07/us/married-roman-catholic-priests-are-...

Gerolyn, You wrote: "As to what has changed in nine centuries? The Churchs attitude towards women has not. Ask a priest what he was taught in the seminary about women." This priest was not taught in the seminary anything remotely like what Peter Damian wrote. I was taught that women are of equal dignity with men. As for "the Church's attitude towards women," let's not commit Ritchey's mistake of confusing the views of Damian with "the Church's attitude" in the twelfth century, nor with "the tradition." And I don't remember anything like his crazy views in the writings on women of recent popes. Surely something has changed.

The sheer illogic of this op-ed piece, with its reliance on evidence from centuries ago but complete lack of interest in evidence from today,is blatant. Is that illogic as well as exaggeration and distortion justified because the treatment of women in Catholicism remains far from what it should be? To some people, evidently. I am not sure which is more discouraging, the op-ed or this reaction.

Latin Rite Catholics will soon get a dose of what Protestants have experienced for a long time:errant "PKs" - priest's/preacher's kids (a significant problem in Protestant ministerial families)divorceinfidelityrebellious wives who don't want to be treated as a free worker bee (well, we pay for her housing, healthcare, etc., don't we? why shouldn't she work for it?)These experiences will be quite new for Latin Rite Catholics and let's hope that the (un)natural reaction will NOT be: it must be her/their - the kids' - fault.

I missed the "Beliefs" column Fr. Komonchak linked to above, but I'm guessing Richey didn't - I suspect she read that and recognized a timely "hook" on which to hang some research, and the op-ed editors liked the pitch. The silliest thing about this piece, in my view, is how it ignores the fact that these women are already priests' wives. What Peter Damian said in the 11th century is surely just as relevant for contemporary Episcopalians.

Gerolyn, You wrote: As to what has changed in nine centuries? The Churchs attitude towards women has not. Ask a priest what he was taught in the seminary about women. This priest was not taught in the seminary anything remotely like what Peter Damian wrote. I was taught that women are of equal dignity with men. As for the Churchs attitude towards women, lets not commit Ritcheys mistake of confusing the views of Damian with the Churchs attitude in the twelfth century, nor with the tradition. And I dont remember anything like his crazy views in the writings on women of recent popes. Surely something has changed.---------Hi, Joseph,Glad to know priests were/are taught that "women are of equal dignity with men".

Yes--as an academic (and as someone whose parish has a married assistant pastor--a former Methodist minister), I had a similar reaction when I read the piece this morning: I don't know anyone who's so irresponsible as to suggest that the conditions that obtained in their time period are totally true today! Had she acknowledged Oppenheimer's "Beliefs" column and presented her Op-Ed as merely providing some (very limited) historical perspective on priests' wives, it would have been okay--though to be worthwhile, it ought really to have given a fuller survey of attitudes towards priests' wives through the centuries.As it is, it's dumb punditry and dumb scholarship.

An important question, but there seems a chance for a new start on this front, since most Catholics don't have any traditions or (in most cases) preconceived notions about priests' wives. 1. As others have pointed out, this is not totally new in the RCC, since we have had a few married priests for several years in the Roman rite, and a much longer history (though not in the USA) in the Catholic Eastern Churches. 2. It seems to me that the Anglican Ordinariate will face a crisis in a few years when its convert priests (and their wives) start to retire or die. Rome apparently does not envision replacing them with young married priests raised in the same flock. 3. The Melkites (Catholic Syrian Byzantines) recently announced that they will consider ordaining married men to the priesthood in the U.S. That sad prohibition goes back to the aforementioned Archbishop John Ireland of St Paul, who objected (in the late 19th century) to the presence of a widower priest from the then-Austro-Hungarian Empire in his diocese. Many Eastern Catholics became Orthodox as a result; their descendants are mostly part of the Orthodox Church in America. It gave -- and still gives -- the lie to the notion that the Roman Church truly respects the legitimate customs of the various Eastern Churches (and they differ among themselves). 4. To make any of this work, seminaries -- at least some of them -- are going to have to change. We need a way to educate priests' wives as well as the priests themselves. Even without a "cookie cutter" pattern for priests' wives to follow, they are bound to face some unusual challenges. At least one Eastern Catholic jurisdiction sent its seminarians to an Orthodox institution, as one way around the problem. Good for ecumenical relations, too. 5. Perhaps a major obstacle to be faced is the increased cost of married clergy. We need to be sure that they are adequately compensated, have family health insurance, and otherwise implement the social teaching of the Church toward them. The Melkites made a tremendous contribution at Vatican II. It is good to see them once again coming up to bat. Maybe we'll get through the current craziness after all.

Fr KEqual dignity with men!!!! lovely theoretical sweettalk. Can't be Priests. Can't be bishops. And , the church would crumble we should have a red hat. Peter Damian is a saint for the Roman bureaucracy ,

The Times is just having a little fun at the expense of Catholics, whose church has become fair game for journalists in recent years. One of the author's specialties is gender relations in medieval Europe.Both paper and professor are probably enjoying the outrage.http://www.history.louisiana.edu/Ritchey%20page.htmhttp://www.ratemyprof...

Mollie, I suspect Dr. Ritchey may have been driven to some distraction by Mark Oppenheimer's column, as she wrote about it here, and somehow managed to work in Bishop Zavala:http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/5553/catholic_prie...

The point here is that the creation of the Ordinariate is about sex, and resoundingly so. It affirms, not questions or challenges, the Catholic teaching on priestly celibacy and procreative marital sexuality. In fact some outspoken Catholic leaders, like Cardinal Donald Wuerl, have even suggested that the questions posed by the presence of married Catholic priests will disappear within a generation as potential seminary applicants who wish to enter the ordinariate must choose to commit to celibacy.The creation of the Ordinariate has firm historical roots in Catholic doctrine on priestly celibacy. So while members of the Ordinariate may celebrate their homecoming into Catholic fullness of the faith, let them know that their whole reason for being lies in matters of limiting the sphere of permissible human sexuality.Bishop Zavala, after a career of service to 66 churches and advocacy for immigration rights and the conditions of the working poor, still resigned. Catholic teachings on the dignity of human sexuality have hardly been challenged.

I don't think Dr. Ritchey is as [distracted] as some on this blog seem to be when a woman blurts out the obvious, and then anchors it in historical research: After a thousand years, the Catholic Church's misogyny still is wearing no clothes!

Mary Bergan: If you don't see any difference between Peter Damian's views and those of the leaders of the contemporary Church, you should have your eyes examined.

Jim Jenkins, please -- What evidence do you or Ritchey have that priests' wives are subject to the treatment Peter Damian describes, or anything like that? I mean, this argument is a bit absurd, but you, Jim Jenkins, are a layman. So I imagine all you do is "hunt, fish and entertain"? Because that's all Msgr. Talbot said you could do, and over the centuries there have been any number of derogatory things said about lay people by clerics. Ergo...

The point is, Fr. Komonchak, if you look at the church's history of its treatment of women through women's eyes, Ritchey's view would find many sisters and brothers.If I may suggest, the diagnosis of myopia may be an artifact of gender and politics.

David Gibson, please - You know as well as I do that while the church has somewhat cleaned up its act over the last few centuries [At least, I haven't heard of any organized witch burnings recently?], the Catholic Church, especially its hierarchy, goes out of its way week after week to denigrate and demean the humanity of women. Don't you read?Interesting that you mentioned above Gambino Zavala: Didn't you find it curious that Arch. Gomez went out of his way to announce that the mother of Zavala's children would be financially compensated? Is this an example of what Ritchey cited as the church's fear that priests' wives only covet the church's wealth?I have personally witnessed members of the hierarchy in private meetings react with thinly veiled fear and loathing for women. [Most are good enough politicians to not put this side of themselves on public display.] Especially if any woman would dare attempt to hold bishops or clerics to account for their betrayal of the people's trust and confidence. These are the same clinical symptoms associated and consistent with insults to the pathological narcissistic ego. I do entertain whenever possible. I don't hunt or fish. Had to put the tennis racket away - knees no good. Hiking is all I can manage these days - had to give up the team sports, but my teenagers keep me young. I don't consider myself a "laymen" about any part of my life, personal or public or religious. Who is Msgr. Talbot, anyway? Sorry, I don't get your attempt at condescending analogy.

M'arrendo alla Madonna.

Mr. Jenkins: I won't apologize for wanting to make some distinctions in these discussions. Yes, many women are dissatisfied with the situation of women in the Church today, but it helps no one to pretend that the reason for what they think is discrimination are the same ones articulated by Peter Damian.

"As David Gibson points out, the operative model and comparative experience for a Catholic married priesthood is the one that has already existed for millennia with our Greek Catholic and Orthodox cousins."Jim Jenkins ==Hmm. I wonder. I suspect that I'm much closer culturally and perhaps even theologically to a dear high church Anglican lady friend that I would be to an Eastern Catholic. Granted, I haven't known any of the latter well, except for the boyfriend of one of my room-mates. She dated a Ukranian Catholic boy quite seriously. Let's just say I"m glad she didn't marry him. How close to the spirituality of the Orthodox Churches are the Uniate Churches? While the Uniates can have wives, is their spirituality more like that of the Orthodox, e.g., like that of the monks of St. Athos? The latter are so anti-female that women are not allowed anywhere near the islnd, and the monks won't even allow female animals on the island.

Fr. Komonchak -- Many men are dissatisfied with the situation of women in the Church today. The very different meanings of "equal dignity" as said to be taught in the classroom, as demonstrated in practice, and as rationalized post facto drive home the emptiness of the claimed theory. Peter Damian's views on females may have been distorted by the environment in which he spent most of his adult life; it was probably a better school for developing expertise about the state of clerical vice which he documented for Leo IX. Above (7:55pm), it's unclear whether you are dismissing the questionable reasons from Peter Damian or the current phenomenon of discrimination. if the former, what would you suggest as alternative reasons "for what they think is discrimination"?

"For Peter Damian, one's sex did not determine a person's virtue or power."see pp. 761-763 here:http://www.ts.mu.edu/content/65/65.4/65.4.3.pdfThe article also touches on another issue raised by the op-ed. It argues that although Peter's original view was that priestly impurity might invalidate the sacraments he later changed his mind, having read Augustine more closely. Cf. also the interesting letters of Peter to Agnes of Poitiers, former regent of the Holy Roman Empire, who had been accused of favoring abbesses presiding over brothels.http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/woman/23.htmlThere's probably enough material here for several George Stephanopoulos questions and numerous follow-ups in the next debate.

As a priest, I would welcome married priests and their wives--as I have welcomed deacons and their wives. But I do have a thought or two. 1) Catholics will have to learn to give more to support a priest and his family. Over the years I have come to know some Protestant ministers who work for next to nothing. That is not just. My Diocese has a better insurance program and better retirement than most of the Protestants I know, especially the Assembly of God and Foursquare. But, with a family, a priest will need more. 2) The PK thing is real. There must be some way to help kids deal with the fact that their father is a priest. But at the same time, many of the best ministers I have come to know are the sons or daughters of ministers. It always amazes me that the hierarachy in its wisdom dismisses that possibility. 3) I have known some wonderful deacons over the years, and I have known some wonderful deacons' wives. But some of the most outrageous human beings I have ever had to endure have been the wives of deacons. 4) Now I am in my seventies, living by myself, helping out where I can. I am sure the Lord is overjoyed by my loneliness. I try to fill it with prayer, am learning how to make friends in the senior community etc.. But it would be wonderful to have someone by my side. Over the years, when I had to face life with its problems by myself, that would also have been wonderful. They say that the Church is my spouse. Yikes! OK, then. The parish. Well, sometimes. But as often as not such a metaphor is baloney.

I am in my sixties and grew up Protestant, attended Orthodox services for 16 years, and have known so many PKs both as children and adults that they are too numerous for me to number. If anything these PKs were better behaved and "adjusted' than most kids. In my current parish we have two adult PKs and one stepson of a priest who are more devout than most people. Our senior priest has four fine adult children and 12 grandchildren. His grandchildren are no different from those of anyone else. As far as I am concerned this PK concept is a stereotype just like "army brat." In my hometown, the village bad boy was the son of a prominent doctor. Maybe doctors should be celibate and devote their lives to healing our bodies 24/7?

"At least 25,000 Americans have left the priesthood since 1970, Father Sullins says. Many of them expected the church to lift the celibacy rule, but when they realized the rule was staying, they left and got married. Twenty-five thousand former priests in a country with fewer than 40,000 priests today. Celibate or not, all Catholics can do the math." (the last paragraph of the balanced NYT article cited by Fr. Komonchak above)I am one of those 25,000 married priests, barred from priestly ministry because I chose to marry. It's been almost 20 years since I withdrew from active priestly ministry. If the leaders of the Church really believe that one does not cease "being" a priest just because he no longer permitted to actively minister as a priest, they are playing a dangerous game: as the NYT writer concludes, "Catholics can do the math." A fellow married priest commented recently, "They have squandered a generation of priests."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 priest's 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 priest's wife as "Matushka" (Mother).The 25,000 of us who are "married Catholic priests" probably will not live to see a day when we will be recognized and called back to active ministry, because our leaders do not have a vision or imagination big enough to see beyond combining and closing parishes ... bending over backwards to preserve the status quo. The married priests I know are passionate in their love for the Church and continue to serve their fellow parishoners in whatever limited capacities the Church allows. And, by the way, the official line that priests who have married has "scandalized" their fellow Catholics is just not true: we married priests are known in our parish communites, respected by our fellow parishoners, and appreciated for the gifts we are able to offer.What has "scandalized" and deeply wounded our Catholic people -- internationally -- is thecover-up of the devastating and criminal sexual abuse of our youth.

On the lighter side, and anent the question of the role role of the wives of Protestant priests, ministers, etc: go rent a copy of Samuel Goldwyn's 1947 movie, The Bishop's Wife. The bishop is David Niven, the wife is Loretta Young, and when her cares and duties to her husband and her church threaten to overwhelm her, Cary Grant is the obliging angel who comes to earth to help see her through the crowded Christmas season and all that attends it. It is a charming movie, and will offend none save those who believe Bishop Niven should realize he is not a church leader, but only that of an "ecclesial community."I would agree that married priests would bring us new problems, as well as new gifts, but I expect the latter would far outweigh the former. As for scandal, yes, probably there would be the occasional marital breakup. But would any of this make us as ashamed of our church's leadership as we have been in learning of the abuse scandal in all its ramifications?

Now I am in my seventies[...] I am sure the Lord is overjoyed by my loneliness.[...] But it would be wonderful to have someone by my side.The same is true for many formerly married people who are now widowed. In every couple in which the two spouses do not die at the same time, one is going to outlive the other: about half of the people live the end of their life without a spouse.

Your empathy, Claire, is heartwarming. I suspect that this priest has suffered that loneliness most of his life (when he could have shared it with someone else). His age is not the issue. Take it from one who's been there.I cannot help imagining Rome's response if the Archbishop of Canterbury were to create an Ordinariate for disaffected Catholics and married priests, welcoming them into full union and a welcome back to active ministry the Anglican Communion. The Anglicans are far more inclusive than the Romans: they don't need to create an Ordinariate, because they've been other Christians with open arms. I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury responded with extraordinary grace when Rome poached members of his Church right under his nose.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 Anglicans...never an olive branch to those wounded by those suffering from Rome's intransigence and fear of change.

SSorry for the typo: I meant to write in my last line "to those suffering from Rome's intransigence and fear of change."

Ken - I haven't seen anything from Rome that says that it favors unity only with ultra-conservatives. If liberal Anglicans or, say, President Obama's former church in Chicago (which is United Church of Christ, I believe) petitioned Rome en masse to reunify (something, btw, that the Lefebvrists have not done), I would bet that a good-faith effort would be made to accommodate them. Naturally, reunification presumes genuine unity in faith. But if the issues can be worked out - why wouldn't Rome want to do it?

What about the Lefebrists, Jim, who deny the validity of the Second Vatican II outright?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? There are a lot of sincere, thinking Catholics who dissent on various issues who are walking oiut because they can't see any hope of real change coming from Rome. And Rome couldn't care less. It's going to take a financial jolt, and it's coming, to wake these guys up.

I think Jim P. is being disingenuous as well.One issue that there seems to be perceived as part of the problem is that the policy makers look like an"old boys club" and IMO probably are.

Just read this story yesterday: Many years ago the theologian Charles Davis, OP left the Church saying it is corrupt. His friend Herbert McCabe, OP, replied, "Of course it's corrupt. But that's no reason to leave it".Ah, Fr. McCabe. Shouldda been pope. :-)

Is there really nothing the laity can do about the state of the Church besides pray? Tomorrow is MLK's birthday. What would he do about it? How about an Occupy the Nuncio's Front Yard movement?

William Taylor raises several good practical and poignant thoughts, thank you. Re the practical, I read that the Ordinariate is having a Devil of a time in England coming up with money to support the news priests and their families. Apart from priests' wives and celibacy, this experiment may give Catholics a good sense of what it really takes to support a pastor. As with men and religious in years past, it seems to me Catholics have had it pretty good with the celibate priesthood -- men who are avaiavlable to all, all the time, and cost so little! Just as we are now discovering the real cost of a Catholic education, we may one day discover the real cost of supporting a pastor, and perhaps we'd be less smug about the state of many Protestant congregations -- or we'd learn to donate as much as they do.

My experience with PKs has been that more than a few of them resent the fact that, because one of their parents is a minister, they are expected to be "holier than thou." The errancy/rebelliousness usually sets in during their teen years and the ministerial status of a parent seems to be a significant factor in their rebelling.Congregants tend to hold PKs and ministerial spouses up to a standard that they would like to see emulated, ofttimes higher than they themselves emulate.I am good friends with the son of a Serbian Orthodox priest who is a marvelous man, an excellent father and about to become a deacon in his church. One of his brothers is also a priest and his uncle is a bishop. The mother has achieved the status of priest's helpmate be virtue of her personality and willingness to do the work without the pay. PKs are not all problems, but Latin Rite Catholics have never had to deal with (acknowledged) children and (open) spouses of their priests. But that day is ending.

Charles Davis was not a Dominican, but a diocesan priest.

While following the Mary Winkler case (Tennessee preacher's wife who killed her husband), I noticed many posts on the old Court T.V. message board from preachers' wives who were abused--physically, financially, emotionally, professionally, spiriturally, sexually, by their husbands.Googling "domestic abuse preachers' wives" brings up information on this topic. I hope there are no instances of this among the wives of the new Catholic priests who left the Anglican religion because of its tolerance of women. The wives and children of abusive ordained men face even more pressure to keep it secret than do other victims of domestic violence. Speaking out could cause the wage earner to lose his job. It could cause opprobrium to be heaped on them by those who believe women should submit to their husbands. Etc.

I'd like to add that it's(sad) fuuny to me how this thread at times overlaps the one below:I think the issue of religion vs. Jesus is based on a sense of instutitional lack of credibility and in the Church divided today that same issue colors the way people approach issues like the ordinariate, celibacy, etc.Ken's hopes have no hopes, whatmatters is indoctrinated clergy who wil indoctrinate - that is the prospect and that plays into the breach.I think many answer Ann's question about what to do by indifference to the institution but finding other approaches to spirituality while retaining the Eucharist(with little or no care for the indoctrinated truths.)I can't see major changes coming in support of what's happening.Part of the turnoff will continue to be the question of women in the Church -of course, no longer a hammer of witches approach - but a sense that second class is still the position asigned. Isee Fr. Barron nad the Anchoress have raised a few hackles in their view of the Church and women -clearly party of the breacvh.And the sex abuse issue is still with us (see philly today about undisclosed priest pornographers.)And good old Bill Donahue casting victims and their supporters as "malcontents" -good old Bill, beloved by Cardinal Dolan and Abp. Chaput.The problem to me is that voices of moderation get ittle shrift so why not be indifferent to the continuing approach of BXVI and his more to become Roman curia. his hierachyies chosen to support that ,and their supporters.?

Thanks, JAK. Whatever happened to Davis? Is he still a theologian? Amazon doesn't list one book by him.

First of all the op-ed forgets to mention that Peter Damian was not referring to the legitimate wives of priests, but the one's who should not have been with them in the first place, since they already had their wives.Damian had equally harsh words for the priest's themselves.This context has been missed not just by NYt, but by Commonweal as well.Liberal bias?There is also a lot more to this debate, than they hate women blah, blah.In both Catholicism/Orthodoxy the priesthood stands for something.The priestess movement would change the religion itself.To quote the former Anglican priest, Fr. Scott Newman: "No Catholic, including no Anglo-Catholic, can accept that there only two sacraments, and to dismiss the other fivemost especially the sacramental priesthood of bishops and presbytersis, in effect, to deny the sacramentality of the Eucharist.""For a Catholic, to say that a sacrament was not instituted by Christ is to say that it is not a sacrament of New Covenant. Also for a Catholic, there is no possibility of the Eucharist without the sacramental priesthood. That is why Catholics insist that it is logically impossible to talk about the Eucharist as a sacrament without also talking about the priesthood as a sacrament." The Episcopalians have only permitted priestesses by making changes to theology itself.One should also note that Apostolic tradition does not marry already ordained priest even in Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism. In both Bishops, still have to be celibate.There are many who give up everything to pursue a religious vocation, there are others who come in with a list and then throw a fuss when things don't go their way.They have misunderstood the whole point of a religious vocation.They never stop to think that what needs changing is not 2,000 years of Christian revelation, but themselves.

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)

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment