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Celibacy not "theologically necessary"

The new head of the German Bishops Conference on celibacy:,2144,3135174,00.htmlAnd when the media doesn't haveany other issues with the Church, you can always make one up: St. Pat's Spat Pits Church Vs. Cities

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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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You gotta hand it to the Germans. As Goethe put it, "The Germans make everything difficult, both for themselves and for everyone else." I kind of like it. As for the Irish...It's actually a very good story, Peggy. It gets at what is more important--ethnicity or religion, culture or faith, a saint like Patrick or some pope in Rome...I'm with the "hard-line" bishops on this one. Move it back outta Holy Week. And don't give a cored beef dispensation for that Friday, even though it;s in Lent.

David: It's called corNed beef--not that I ever touch the stuff. If I read the story right, there's only one hardline bishop. Even Cardinal Egan seems to have finessed the issue.

Ain't it grand when a bishop can be thought suspect when he states the obvious about clerical celibacy and we can have a row over St. Patrick's Day celebrations? More soda bread for everyone (that's so that abstainers and vegans can celebrate) -- even the German hierachy may enjoy some of that... with nice caraway sees... and golden raisins... warm... with lotsa real butter....

I thought the most interesting part of Zollitsch was his willingness to draw up guidlines on gay unions.(Of course, celibacy is not theologically necessary - what were we doing the first 1000 years?)As to St, Paddy's, even if it's Holy week, I submit it's blest to tip a glass of Irish Coffee in honor of the good saint, as we used to do in the office in Manhattan every year when i was working.

In New York and Boston, with legendary St. Patrick's events planned by the cities' large Irish communities, bishops are taking a hands-off approach, saying the church has no part in planning civic celebrations.

Now, when Cardinal O'Connor was around, and the issue was whether a gay group could march in the parade, it was a different story altogether. A bit of old news (from 1993):

John Cardinal O'Connor sharply questioned yesterday New York City's decision to give the permit for the St. Patrick's Day parade to a group that will allow a gay and lesbian group to march, suggesting that the move violated the constitutional separation of church and state.Noting that the new sponsor said it would make the parade a more open political forum, the Cardinal, speaking during Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, asked: "Do the Mayor and Police Commissioner agree to this arbitrary transformation from the religious to the political? Will other religiously related activities become equally vulnerable to arbitrary politicization in this land which boasts of its tradition of separation of church and state?"His comments came two days after Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly awarded the permit to the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, formed by liberal Irish-American allies of Mayor David N. Dinkins who have pledged to let gay people and other political groups participate. Rebuff for HiberniansBy choosing the new sponsor, the city rebuffed the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal society that has organized the parade for more than a century and has not allowed gay groups to participate.

Well ... in my extended family, we celebrate Christmas on the nearest weekend, e.g. 12/23 or 12/28, because that's when we can get together. We still find ourselves in church on 12/25. It's just kind of an extended celebration.That being the case, I don't really see a problem with the liturgical observance on 3/15, and a glass of warm, dyed domestic beer and half pound of cheap boiled meat on 3/17, if that's when the city fathers deign to serve it. I may even enjoy myself - is that ok during Holy Week?

''Actually, you're born Irish first,'' he said, ''and then you're baptized Catholic.''*sigh*(refer to Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

As Bob Nunz says, celibacy is obviously not necessary for the priesthood. But as the head of the German bishops said, it would be "revolutionary" to abolish the celibacy requirement. What an abolition would bring about in the U. S., to say nothing of the entire world, staggers my imagination. That's no argument in favor of keeping obligatory celibacy, but it does show the need for full and thorough discussion before any change is made.

Bernard -- why assume the change in the celibacy rule would have to be world-wide? Why not change it for countries such as the U.S. where there are so few priests that parishes are closing for lack of them and old people in nursing homes never see a priest unless they're dying? In effect, the policy (it's only a policy) denies the Eucharist to many people, a right we have by canon law. Contradictions, contradictions.Imo the value of "universality" for the Church has been grossly over-estimated. Not only does Rome require it of settled teachings but it requires it of important unsettled teachings as well. Further, the Pope would make certain aspects of the liturgy universal (e.g., having churches face East) where such symbolism is not of great value in the varied Church cultures..

"That being the case, I dont really see a problem with the liturgical observance on 3/15, and a glass of warm, dyed domestic beer and half pound of cheap boiled meat on 3/17, if thats when the city fathers deign to serve it. I may even enjoy myself - is that ok during Holy Week?"In my opinion, two plates of corned beef and cabbage washed down by two green beers would be a suitable penance for manslaughter. It's no mystery why people only eat this stuff during Lent.

To quote from Commonweal way back in ancient times:Celibacy's continued requirement for priests is today injuring the Body of Christ. A system which forces adult men to remain compliant adolescents into their senescence cannot present to the church-at-large a model of leadership to which normally adjusted males will be attracted. When compulsory celibacy is compounded by compulsive compliancy in the clergy, it ends up attracting men who are comfortable with feeling dependent, disabled, and relieved at the possibility of being sexless agents of spiritual reality. Celibacy with no sense of paradox to keep it honest about itself will always tend to become a self-satisfied, but dishonest, ideology. Those who accept their handicap and deal with it honestly develop creative and vivacious ministries which turn the humdrum of pastoral duties into community building tasks which can change peoples' lives. Priests today quietly refuse to involve themselves in the "feel good" promotions which try to entice male children and adolescents into a vocation to the priesthood by pandering to their immature emotional quest for an identity. Neither celibacy nor the priesthood, nor even the two combined as a clerical caste attempts to do, can supply an adequate sense of identity if nature and nurture have not adequately installed it in the personality. Simplistic affirmation of celibacy as a heroic ideal, which requires only the will to accomplish (assisted by grace, of course), cuts a priest off from the wellsprings of redemptive suffering. It teaches self-satisfaction and an arrogance which continually alienates the clergy from the laity whom they are supposed to serve. By their trust that the "gift of celibacy" would always be generously bestowed by God and by their assurance that the "grace of fidelity" to celibacy would never be denied to those who ask, the bishops at Vatican II and since have effectively stanched any serious discernment on the part of the church (laity and clergy) about whether an exclusively celibate and male clergy can continue to serve the Kingdom adequately within the changed conditions of the life of the church on the brink of another millennium. If being celibate for the sake of the Kingdom stems from the paradox of grace, legislating it as a requirement of priestly service amounts to institutional self-establishment, a refusal to live by the grace which we are confident God bestows.Paul E. Dinter, Disabled for The Kingdom, "Commonweal, October 12, 1990.

Ann Olivier--You always have something worthwhile to say, so let me reply, just briefly. If the celibacy rule were changed in the U. S., consider just a few of the practical implications. For example, transferring priests from one assignment to another would be a much more complex matter. And consider the matter of celibate priests migrating into the U. S. Many do so today. What rules would apply to them?None of the problems I see are in principle insuperable. But they are problems that have no quick, easy solutions.Cheers. And I hope that you are keeping up the Louisiana tradition of including in your Lenten observance an opportunity to have its delicious seafood concoctions more frequently.

At senior lunch the other day, we were talking about what would happen if our pastor left. I said maybe we could get former Anglicasn Bishop Steenson and his family here -we could certainly afford to support him and his wife and children.If we started ordianing our married deacons, many of whom are older, would that be a major problem?Or are we always tenciously clinging to the past no matter what the pastoral considerations are?

"Celibacy is not dogma" agreed Cardinal Ratzinger (as he was then) in an interview with Peter Seewald ( ) Excerpt....Seewald:On the other hand, [celibacy is] certainly not a dogma. Couldn't the question perhaps be negotiated one day in the direction of a free choice between a celibate and a noncelibate form of life?Cardinal Ratzinger : No, it's certainly not a dogma. It is an accustomed way of life that evolved very early in the Church on good biblical grounds. Recent studies show that celibacy goes back much farther than the usually acknowledged canonical sources would indicate, back to the second century. In the East, too, it was much more widespread than we have been able to realize up until now. In the East it isn't until the seventh century that there is a parting of the ways. Today as before, monasticism in the East is still the foundation that sustains the priesthood and the hierarchy. In that sense, celibacy also has a very major significance in the East.It is not a dogma. It is a form of life that has grown up in the Church and that naturally always brings with it the danger of a fall. When one aims so high, there are failures. I think that what provokes people today against celibacy is that they see how many priests really aren't inwardly in agreement with it and either live it hypocritically, badly, not at all, or only live it in a tortured way. So people say ...... it ruins them ...

Bernard: transfers might take a bit more finessing, but, from what I am told by priests these days, Bishops have to be quite persuasive to get them to move about anyway.Transfers into the US of celibate priests a problem? We are talking about eliminating MANDATORY clerical celibacy, not celibacy in general. There is no doubt that local parishes will have to pony up more money to support a priest's family and to provide the necessary health insurance, housing allowance, and a salary substantial enough to also ensure that the PK's can get an education. Now I know that the dollar a Sunday crowd will need a "come to Jesus" moment about this, but other denominations have been dealing with this for more years than one can count. Just ask any priest that came to Rome from another church how it can be done. This is not a major issue unless one is definitely against the idea of non-mandatory celibacy. Then all is insurmountable, the nose of the camel under the tent, and most surely the work of Satan.I spent many years in a nondenomination church of approximatley 250 members (not families) in which about 40% of the members were former Catholics. We had to support a pastor with family and it was no problem. In fact, I was the church treasurer and discoverd that some of the best givers were the ex-Catholics. The proof shall be in the proverbial pudding.

I have alway thought there would be many practical problems in the Catholic Church allowing married priests (to say nothing of women priests--married women priests, now that would stop them in their tracks!). There is the salary/benefit problem for sure (by no means an insoluble problems) as Jimmy Mac points out.But here's some other practical considerations:Caste: the married and non-married tend to live in different social worlds. Would this affect clergy?Bishops: the Orthodox draw their bishops only from celibates while allowing priests to marry (before they are ordained). What ecclesiological/psychological/social issues does this raise?Priests' wives: this cannot be an easy role. What place would she have in the community? top volunteer? or would she better off staying with her law practice so the kids can go to college?I'm sure there are other practical matters. Throw them in the pot!

At the risk of being tedious, I'll try this one last tiem.I think Jimmy Mac correctly pointed out that other denominations have solved not only the money, but the other "practical" (logistical?) problems of married clergy and we don't have to reinvent the wheel.The issue of tradition(s) (cf. Orthodox belief is important, but...isn't the notion of abandoning mandatory celibacy "revolutionary" because it breaks with a long standing tradition.That is a big problem when leadership wants to hang on to "identity" by returning to the past and will also raise a lot of hackles in traditionalist minded folk.But, two (I think real ) questions:1)shouldn't we rexamine who should be admitted to orders as many faiths now embrace married folk including women, especialy since we've just trumpeted in Rome the equality of women? Is celibacy superior to or different from the married life ? If superior, shouldn't we all be pursuing it?If different,. but putatively freeing others to serve,2) shouldn;'t the pastoral consideration of lack of ministers outweigh the supposed freedom?At base, then, I think the real issue is that pastoral needs have and will continue to be sublimated to the perception that hanging on to the past presrves a 'pure" Church. Hence, this discussion will probably be fruitless.

I don't raise practical considerations as an impediment to married clergy! But to encourage us to think about these matter before the fact. Further, I don't find that other denominations and/or faiths are without their difficulties even if they've had married clergy for three thousand years. Talk to the wife (or husband) of a Protestant minister, to the wife of an Episcopalian priest who has become a Catholic priest, or the wife of an orthodox priest. Life is not uncomplicated--certainly possible but not uncomplicated. And then talk to their kids!!!! There is much to think about before the inevitable change takes place.

Margaret:"Priests wives: this cannot be an easy role. What place would she have in the community? top volunteer? or would she better off staying with her law practice so the kids can go to college?"We already have them, both in the non-Latin rites and the wives of former Protestant ministers. We do not have to deal with these issues in our Latin-centric environment and ways. This IS a universal church, after all; let's take advantage of what the universality has to offer.And we won't get into those women who have lived in concubinage with priests for many years in many places, inlcuding the US.

Oops, I sent my last post before reading Margaret's 4:19 contribution. Mea culpa.

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