Celebacy for Priest

This reading is in support of the St Thomas mission to support the Year of Faith and the Holy Father’s call for mission.

The man who called us to this renewal of faith, has this past week become our Roman pontiff emeritus or pope emeritus. The word “emeritus” comes from Latin. It’s an adjective that means “retired” but it is also used to honor the position once held by the retired person.

The most common usage is with professors who are still professors even if they’re not teaching any more. However, presidents, prime ministers and bishops also use the title.

We know that changing the Pope can mean a change for the church. If our church is to remain alive and relevant to us in our daily lives, then what might change bring?

Could we address some of the long debate issues of the church? Some Bishops have started to speak about issues such as Marriage of Priest, Woman’s roles in the Church among others.

Is it sacrilege to talk about Priest being married? Women as priest? Let’s explore:

First of all, we must separate what is divine and what is tradition. Divine, are those things given to us clearly by God in the Old Testament, or by Christ in the New Testament. We were given the “Commandments, the Our Father, the Eucharistic Rite, in the Last Supper, the command to love our neighbor as thyself, and to forgive as we would be forgiven.”

From History we know:
• St Peter himself was married and Priests were allowed to be married for the first 1000 years of the church.
• in 366, Pope Damasus began the assault on the married priesthood by declaring that priests could continue to marry, but that they were not allowed to express their love sexually with their wives. The priests and people alike rejected this law.
• In 494 women’s participation in the leadership of small communities came to an end when Pope Gelasius decreed that women could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. This legislation is perhaps the strongest proof we have of women serving as spiritual leaders in the early Church. Women’s roles in the church diminished as popes and bishops aligned practices with the Roman authorities.
• In 1074, Pope Gregory VII legislated that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy. He publicly stated that "...the Church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape the clutches of their wives".
• In the year 1095, there was an escalation of brutal force against married priests and their families. Pope Urban II ordered that married priests who ignored the celibacy laws be imprisoned for the good of their souls. He had the wives and children of those married priests sold into slavery.

• The legislation that effectively ended optional celibacy for priests came from the Second Lateran Council under Pope Innocent II.

Biblical Reference:

Pope John Paul II referred to the scripture Mathew 19:12 which states “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

The discussion within Mathew 19 is a complex one, as it was a testing by the Pharisees in order to trick Jesus. This is the same chapter that tells us “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Our support for one marriage; and in verse 19 “Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

It is interesting to note, that the Holy Father John Paul II also stated “Celibacy is not essential to the Priesthood”.

The modern church acknowledges that the demand for priest to be unmarried is not one of divinity, but one of interpretation and tradition. Let’s have some facts:

• One does not have to be celibate to become a priest: Ordained individuals from other churches can petition to become priest in the Catholic Church and they are allowed to remain married.
• Ordained Priest in the Eastern Rites, Orthodox Greek, and other Catholic religious sects are allowed and even encouraged to be married (one cannot hold a senior position until one is married)
• Anyone wishing to be a priest can also petition the Holy Father for special disposition and in fact there are 110,000 married priests in the world today.

In the Latin Rite married priest are still priest, but they are not clerics. They lose their ability to hold offices of responsibility within the Catholic Church.

Will we address these issues with the New Holy Father? One can only hope. The real point is that if we are to be a living church, we need knowledge and debate. One cannot question the Christian Law of not committing murder nor of providing charity and love to those around us, these are of divine origin. Questioning the monastic ritual of celibacy and whether or not we would like to have married priest is one of responsibility.

God Bless.