Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh has repeatedly raised doubts about mandatory clerical celibacy in the Roman Church. In 2002, just prior to being named cardinal, he went on record as being open to changes in this discipline and was promptly hounded into silence by some oversensitive, self-identified “traditionalists” in Scotland and elsewhere. Yet he stuck his head up again in May 2005-just after Pope Benedict XVI took office-raising the question of whether this pontificate might be open to a change in Latin practice.
Though it is too early to know whether Pope Benedict will want to give much consideration to the issue, it is being regularly discussed by a variety of interested parties (see Commonweal, August 12). Yet that discussion is often theoretical and fails to include much practical thinking. Such thinking will be required if Roman Catholics are to prepare for the possibility of a married priesthood.
Many Catholics think that opening the priesthood to married men will bring about a massive infusion of new vocations, filling all vacancies, letting the elderly clergy finally retire, and setting the church up for a bright, well-manned future. Think again.
A married priesthood would bring many difficulties the Latin West has not had to deal with in centuries. First, it costs money and, crass though it sounds, this is one of the important historic reasons why the West chose to require...