Rorate Caeli

A Vatican II Moment in the New York Times today: “Priest weds Nun"

In today’s Sunday New York Times, this is the title—“When ‘Priest Marries Nun’”--  for an Op-Ed piece written by a man who is the son of a Catholic priest and a Catholic nun who were married fifty years ago.  In this piece the son describes their decision to get married. His mother had already left her teaching Order. But his father was still a priest, on leave from his parish.  His father decided to marry his mother as a Catholic priest without receiving a dispensation from the obligations of his ordination. His father said: “We believe in the goals of the church and love the church deeply…and we believe we are doing this for the good of the church.. I really felt that in order to be true to the Gospel I should enter into the deepest relationship possible for the church.”  His son comments that by this his father meant marriage, not the celibate priesthood.

Towards the end of the article the son comments:

As a historian of American religion and no longer a practicing Catholic, I have developed some distance on my parents’ story.  I have far less of a stake than they do in the future of vocations they left behind.  Whether the ranks of priests and nuns continue to decline or somehow return again to the kind of flourishing that made them the significant cultural markers they remain, I will watch with interest, comparing their rise and fall with that of other religious groups that have experienced similar trajectories.

Those of us who lived through those times—this was 1969—remember all too well the turmoil of those days, both in the secular world and in the Catholic Church.  

In many ways it was a revolt against what was seen as a rigid past that demanded conformity. Freedom was the word of the day, freedom to be whomever I want.  The sexual revolution was an important part of what happened.  It was a call to a life-style whose motto was:  "Let it all hang out." In the Church, seminaries emptied, monasteries and convents followed suit, Catholic worship turned itself inside out, forgetting what liturgical worship means, and instead imitating Protestant worship in the worst possible way.  All of this exposed the shallowness of the Church in faith and practice in those days following World War II that some still want to see as “golden days” of Catholicism.  In the end, what happened to the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council—which was co-temporaneous with the secular revolution of the 1960s—was not merely a part of the 1960s phenomenon: it was the inability of the Church to respond to the challenges of those heady years, because the Church could not, would not, sift through the spirit of those times, to see what was true and good and what was not, and instead in her own, albeit weak and sometimes silly, way tried to open herself up to the “winds” of change.  The rest is history.  The sharp decline in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.  The trivialization of her worship life.  Then the terrible sexual scandals of the thirty years following the Council, which scandals—pace the secular press and the dishonest of the hierarchy—involved priests preying almost exclusively on young boys, not girls, which in no way lessens the crimes against girls and women perpetrated by clergy of all ranks.  But that is the fact. The failure of the hierarchy to come to terms with an entrenched homosexual culture within the clergy that not only defiled the vow of celibacy but also allowed the flourishing of a subculture that ate at the very heart of the Church.  The fall of the erstwhile Cardinal McCarrick so very recently shows clearly the persistence of this subculture that poisons the Church.  In this regard the cynic may ask:  why did not McCarrick have a church trial?

I wrote a piece shortly after Pope Francis’ election in which I characterized the future under Francis as “back to the future”.  I believed—and still do—that the Church would be forced to undergo the 1960s all over again. The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were successful—the former more than the latter—in stanching the wounds opened up after the Second Vatican Council.  But those for whom the immediate post-Conciliar days were days of glory and freedom—for themselves, not for the Church—went underground.  After the current Pope’s election they have all come once again into the light of day and have promoted with vigor what they see as the unfinished business of the “Spirit of Vatican II”, and they have been joined by new converts, mostly from Northern Europe, to the establishment of a Catholic Church made in their own secular and un-Catholic image.  The Instrumentum Laboris of the Amazon Synod is a classic document that reveals quite clearly the agenda of those living in the past of the 1960s.  The silence of the bishops with very few exceptions as this agenda unfolds is disheartening at best. The conflict has nothing to do with conservatism versus liberalism, in the political sense.  It has to do with Tradition, as understood by the Catholic Church, versus that liberalism in religion that John Henry Newman, about to be canonized, fought against his whole life.

If I were to speak to the son of the married priest and nun who wrote today’s Op-Ed piece, I would agree that the Church has indeed “seen better days” and is not in good shape today.  But I would point out to him two things.  The answer to the Church’s problems today is not to become a mirror image of the Episcopal Church, the quintessential example of what happens when Christians forget who they are within the Tradition of the Church whose Head is Jesus Christ and instead embrace that form of liberalism that is incompatible with the Christian faith.  Rather the answer is what is happening this evening at my local parish church.  The young pastor is going to offer his first Solemn Mass in the Traditional Roman Rite  celebrating the External Solemnity of the patron of the parish, St. Pius X.  And his curate is the Deacon of the Mass.  And the parish music director has learned the Propers and Ordinary of the Mass and will be an integral part of this wonderful event, as will priests in choir, and, most importantly,  the congregation.  That, dear son of a priest and a nun, that is the answer.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla