Rorate Caeli

Warning about ordaining married priests -- by a married priest

Once again we hear from the highest circles of power in the Church of the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood.  But this time, what is being talked about is not men in “special circumstances” but in general.  I was able and gratuitously blessed to be ordained a Catholic priest while married because of a special Pastoral Provision instituted by Saint John Paul II in 1982 that gave permission for married Episcopal priests who had left the Episcopal Church because of reasons of conscience to be considered for the Catholic priesthood.   For me these reasons for leaving Anglicanism included the ordination of women priests and women bishops and the rapidly accelerating cutting of ties to Christian orthodoxy.  The recent formation of the Anglican Ordinariate is the result of a similar situation where Anglican priests who want to be in full Communion with the Catholic Church are given this special privilege and grace.

But what is being contemplated now at the highest levels of the Church is to allow married priests as a general rule.  Those who are pushing this say they are doing so because of the severe shortage of priests in certain areas of the world, i.e. those areas associated with the “West”.   Of course, they never ask the question of why there are so few men being called to the priesthood (except those who have a love of the Tradition). So their solution is to ordain “viri probati”, married men who are good examples of what it means to be a Catholic man.  In this pontificate one must be cautious about reacting negatively to every trial balloon that rises over Casa Santa Marta.  But this trial balloon if blossomed into a luxury aircraft would open up the priesthood to a radical reformulation that would deny the understanding of the priesthood in Catholic Tradition. 

It is certainly true that St Peter was married.  The Gospels tell us about the healing of his mother-in-law.  But that certainly is no basis for an abandonment of the celibate priesthood.  We never hear about Peter’s wife or family. It is not a part of the Gospel message. We do know that Peter abandoned everything and became a “fisher of men”.  Priestly celibacy is part of the development of the doctrine of the priesthood, a development that begins as early as the fourth century in the West.  It is also true that priestly celibacy was not always enforced in the history of the Church, but priests living with women and fathering children was never understood as the norm or ideal.  Nor did this situation lead to a rethinking of clerical celibacy.  In fact the great reformers of the Church of every age did all that they could to enforce clerical celibacy, and they did so because of celibacy’s relationship to the celibacy of Christ himself, and specifically to Christ as the High Priest.  Although married men are allowed to be priests in the Eastern Churches, their situation is quite different from the Catholic priest.  And, significantly, both in the East and West, all bishops, who have the fullness of priesthood,  are required to be celibate.

Those who are advocating this change have little experience in living a typical and normal life as husband and father.  They are part of a clerical system that lives in an unreal world, where celibacy is lived as being “unmarried” and gives one freedom to do what one wants to do when wants to do it and have too many long dinners on the Borgo Pio.  That behavior is impossible in a marriage.  There is no doubt that this call for married priests is a result, at least partially, of the deliberate misunderstanding of what “priest” means.  And this misunderstanding is one of the results of fifty years of the Mass of Paul VI and how it is commonly celebrated that has made our people forget that the heart of the priesthood is to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, that he stands there in persona Christi, in the person of Christ himself, to offer up the Sacrifice of the Cross that is re-presented at every Mass.  It is no accident that the post-Vatican II terminology for the one who celebrates Mass is not priest but rather “celebrant” or “officiant” or that awful Orwellian word “presider”. Cardinal Sarah said recently that he believes that the great majority of priests and bishops have forgotten or do not know that the Mass is a Sacrifice, in and of itself, and that the function of the priest, is to offer that Sacrifice.  Now this does not mean that a married man cannot offer the Sacrifice.  But what it does mean is that the Tradition of celibate priests is consonant in the deepest way with the person of Christ who offered Himself totally and completely on the Cross.

But what is even more disturbing about this latest trial balloon, which may morph into a gas filled dirigible( would that it met the fate of the Hindenberg without loss of life!),  is that it seems that the ‘60s gang who caused so much damage to the Church in the liturgy and the priesthood are hell bent on becoming like the main stream Protestant denominations that have abandoned orthodox Christianity in favor of a “live and let live” attitude covered by a veneer of religiosity.  There is no direct link between allowing “viri probati” to be ordained priests and allowing women priests and women bishops and a reversal of Humane Vitae and a further degradation of the liturgy.  But they lie on the same trajectory, and this is what must be cause for great concern for those who love the Church of Jesus Christ. 

The hatred of the Traditional Roman Mass by the current builders of balloons is completely understandable, quite apart from their abundant fount of hot air.  For it is the Traditional Mass that embodies the Tradition of the Church and that exposes for all to see that the emperor has no clothes.  The Church today is living in Alice’s Wonderland where the Queen of Hearts can order the white roses painted red and declare by fiat that they are red roses. The current hierarchy are fed on a positivism that has nothing to do with the freedom bought on the Cross by Jesus Christ and so are powerless to oppose either the beast that slouches to Bethlehem or Robert Hugh Benson’s machines of destruction in “Lord of the World” whose goal is to destroy the Catholic Church. 

But don’t get too excited and don’t get worried.  Sit back and enjoy the show. For the gates of hell will not prevail.  But what if hell does not exist, as some princes of the Church say?

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla