Papal retirement, celibacy, annulment, etc.

Benedict In Retirement

After the shock of the pope’s surprise resignation I was initially inclined, like Joseph A. Komonchak (“Benedict’s Act of Humility,” March 8) and Peter Steinfels (“Shock Therapy,” March 8), to see it as an act of humility in the service of the church, contributing, intentionally or not, to a much-needed demystification of the papacy. It is not difficult, however, to imagine very different consequences from those the pope himself apparently envisions. Without questioning Benedict’s sincerity in resolving to abjure a public role in the future life of the church, I would be less apprehensive if he had chosen to live out his years in a quiet Bavarian monastery rather than in the apartment apparently being prepared for him in the heart of the Vatican. Even at this early stage it is impossible not to envision him being importuned to make his views known on the various conflicts sure to arise. It will take, I should think, the resolve of a saint for a person of his obvious abilities and deep concern for the future of the church to remain impervious to such pressures.

Joseph L. Walsh

Margate, N.J.


Better Than Burning

One fantasy Peter Steinfels did not entertain in “Shock Therapy” was that of ending the centuries-old mandate for clerical celibacy. The practice is a result of Pope Gregory VII’s denunciation of simony and nepotism during the synod of 1074. His inspiration may well have been St. Paul’s suggestion (1 Cor 7:8) that all Christians should remain celibate, but his practical motivation was purely economic. He simply did not want clerics to create dynasties by lavishing ecclesiastical offices and investitures on their relatives and progeny. Given that, in the very next verse (1 Cor 7:9), St. Paul exhorts his disciples to “marry rather than burn with passion,” it seems that much priestly temptation might be turned away were clerics permitted to marry.

Michael Patrick King

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Not Just Pretending

Thank you to Lloyd I. Sederer for his personal, balanced, and sympathetic description of the annulment process (“Null & Void?” February 22). I want to clarify one point. Annulment does not negate the experience, pain, or love of a failed marriage; it declares that the sacrament did not take place. Consequently, annulment does not “pretend” that a marriage did not happen; it declares that a couple did not bring all that was needed to that moment of commitment for a sacrament to take root in their lives. I am grateful for the church’s annulment ministry. It helped me see myself and my former relationship in a new and at times painful light. It gave me the courage to love again and the freedom to claim the graces of the sacrament once again.

Donald R. Mccrabb

Washington, D.C.


Our Other Ancestors

Donald Senior’s review of Jon D. Levenson’s Inheriting Abraham (“Our Father,” February 22) traces the problems Levenson identifies in calling Abraham the common father of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, given that the figure of Abraham evokes multiple meanings for each faith. Senior mentions other possible shared roots: Nostra aetate finds common ground in the creation; Levenson suggests Adam and Eve as an alternative; and Jewish tradition considers the Noahide Covenant to be our common bond.

I suggest one more: the Pharisees. They were the progenitors of Rabbinic Judaism, and their beliefs color Judaism, Christianity, and Islam more than we care to admit. Belief in the hereafter, resurrection of the dead, teachings about the messiah, concepts of God and prayer, the post-biblical stories we Jews call midrash that found their way into the Qur’an—all these and more can be traced to the Pharisees. Dare we say that the Pharisees are our common ancestor?

Anson Laytner

Seattle, Wash.

Published in the 2013-03-22 issue: 
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