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.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.
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