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On Priestly Celibacy and the Diaconate

This has been on my mind since the first minor flurry of stories about Pope Francis’ openness to discussion on the topic, based on the recounting of a single remark shared by Bishop Erwin Krautler of the Territorial Prelature of Xingu, Brazil. So, it is a lot of musing, but enough to get some conversations started, I hope.

First, an aside about numbers.  Most accounts, like the RNS article linked above, cite 27 priests serving 700,000 Catholics, meaning a ratio of 1:25,925, a staggering reality if accurate.

However, I am not sure where these numbers come from. According to the Annuario Pontificio 2012, there are only 250,000 Catholics there, being served by 27 priests (about half diocesan and half religious), and according to Catholic-hierarchy.org,  there are 320,000 Catholics (but only as of 2004). This means a ration of either 1:8620 (AP) or 1:13,333 (CH).

Still a staggering reality when you consider as frame of reference the following: The Archdiocese of Seattle, my home diocese, currently lists 122 active diocesan priests, 87 religious priests, and 31 externs borrowed from other dioceses serving a Catholic population of 974,000.  This makes a priest to Catholic ratio of 1:4058 (the US average is just under 1:2000).

The Vicariate of Rome, my current diocese, has nearly 11,000 priests and bishops present, counting religious, externs, and curial staff. They are at least sacramentally available to the 2.5 million Catholics here. This makes a ratio of 1:234.

(Since priests were the subject of the article, I have left out deacons, catechists, and lay ecclesial ministers, as well as non-clerical religious, though not to discount their great service to the Church, to be sure!)

Even with the most conservative estimate of Xingu, the priests there are stretched more than twice as thin as their Seattle counterparts and 36x the scope of their Roman brethren.

What has really been on my mind, though, and again in the light of Pope Francis’ comments yesterday that the ‘door is always open’ to this change in discipline, is the effect that a sudden shift in allowing for a married presbyterate would have on the diaconate.

Some refreshers on basic points of the general discussion:

  • We are only talking about diocesan (sometimes called secular) clergy, not religious. The latter would remain celibate under their vow of chastity, but diocesan clergy do not take such vows.
  • We already have some married Catholic priests. Almost all of the Eastern Catholic Churches allow for both married and monastic clergy, and even in the Latin Church (i.e., Roman Catholic Church) we have married priests who were ordained as Anglicans or Lutherans, later came into full communion, and have been incorporated into Catholic holy orders.
  • We do have celibate deacons, though not many. I have long held we need more celibate deacons and more married priests in the west, for various reasons.
  • Most likely we would be talking about admitting married men to orders, rather than allowing priests to marry after ordination. This is the ancient tradition of the Church, east and west, since the Council of Nicaea when it was offered as a compromise between some who wanted celibacy as the norm, and others who thought it should not matter whether marriage or orders come first. We still have both extreme practices present in the Church today, however, so it is not impossible that we should choose a different practice. Unlikely, but possible.
  • The Latin Church has maintained celibacy as a norm for its diocesan clergy since about the 12th century, though historians argue whether it was universally enforced until as late as the 16th. There are rituals as late as the 13th allowing for a place in procession for the bishop’s wife.
  • Technically, it is currently the norm for all diocesan clergy, and any exceptions, including married deacons, are exceptions. Which begs the question, if it is so easy to make these exceptions for deacons, why not for priests?
  • The Byzantine tradition has long held that bishops come from the monastic (celibate) clergy, whereas the Latin tradition has long held that bishops come from the diocesan clergy – which means we had married bishops when we had married priests and deacons.  Given the situation with the Anglican Ordinariate, there seems to be a reluctance to return to this tradition, but as it was part of our Roman patrimony for a millennium, it seems it should be at least considered.
  • Finally, it is not actually clerical, or priestly, celibacy per se that is at issue, but the idea of requiring celibacy of those to be ordained. There will always be room in the church for celibate deacons, presbyters, and bishops, and these charisms will always be honored. As it should be.
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Rev. Bart Stevens and family, Diocese of Great Falls-Billings

With all that in mind, I finally get to my point.

Let us imagine, unlikely though it may be, that tomorrow Pope Francis announces we will no longer require celibacy of our candidates for orders – whether deacon, presbyter, or bishop. The most immediate effect and response of the faithful, and the press, will be about the change in the discipline of priestly celibacy.

If it is done that directly, it would be disastrous for the diaconate. Many men, I have no doubt, have been ordained to the diaconate simply because they or their bishops saw no alternative for someone called to both marriage and ordained ministry. Many may in fact be called to the presbyterate instead, and given the opportunity, ‘jump ship’ from one order to the other.

One can likewise imagine there are many currently in the presbyterate who are actually called to the diaconate, but they or their bishop saw no reason for not ordaining them to the presbyterate because they were called to celibacy as well. I have heard many a bishop say something along the lines of, ‘why be ordained a celibate deacon? If you can be a priest, we need that more!’

Without completing the restoration of the diaconate as a full and equal order, and a better understanding of both orders separated out from the question of marriage/celibacy, what will happen is a return to the ‘omnivorous priesthood’ and an ecclesiology of only one super-ministry. Rather than a plethora of gifts and ministries as envisioned in the Scriptures, lived in the early church, and tantalizingly promised at Vatican II, everyone would flock to the presbyterate and we would have set back some aspects of ecclesiological reform half a century.

Rather than simply a change to the discipline of clerical celibacy, what is needed is a comprehensive reform of ministry in the Church. Tomorrow Pope Francis could say, instead, ‘Let’s open the conversation. Over the next three years, we will look at the diaconate and the presbyterate, lay ecclesial ministry and the episcopate, and we will consider the question of celibacy in this context. At the end of this study period, a synod on ministry.’

What I would hope to come out of this would be first a separation of two distinct vocational questions that have for too long been intertwined: ecclesial ministry on one hand and relationships on the other. We have been mixing apples and oranges for too long, but priesthood or diaconate is an apple questions, and marriage or celibacy is an orange question.

deaconsSeattle

2012 Diaconate Ordination, St. James Cathedral, Seattle

The deacons, traditionally, are the strong right arm of the bishop. Make it clear that deanery, diocesan, and diplomatic tasks (and the Roman curia for that matter) are diaconal offices. In need, a qualified lay person could step in, or rarely a presbyter, but these are normatively for deacons. This also makes it obvious why we need more celibate deacons, such as in the case of the papal diplomatic corps. They tend to be younger and more itinerant, needed wherever the bishop sends them.

Presbyters are traditionally parish pastors and advisors of, rather than assistants to, the bishop. As the deacon is sent by the bishop, the pastor ought to be chosen from and by the people he serves.. He should be a shepherd who smells like his sheep, right? How exactly this looks can take various forms, to be sure the bishop cannot be excluded, but the balance of ministerial relationships should show clearly that the presbyter is more advisor to the bishop and minister among the people he is called to serve, and the deacon is the agent of the bishop. At least one should not be ordained until there is an office to which he is called which requires his ordination This also makes it obvious why presbyters can, and often are in other churches, married.  They tend to be more stable and older.

The minimum age for ordination should be the same for both orders, regardless of marriage or celibacy, and in general one can imagine that deacons would be younger than presbyters. Let the elders be older, indeed!

Some deacons may even find, later in life, reason or office to transition to the presbyterate, but otherwise there should be no such thing as a transitional diaconate. Candidates for both orders should spend at least five years, perhaps more, in lay ecclesial ministry, before being ordained, as long as this does not reduce lay ministry to a transitional step only, as a similar move did to the diaconate all those centuries ago!

Bishops could be chosen from either order, and be either married or celibate. Indeed, celibacy should be rejoined with the rest of the monastic ideal, and there should be no such thing as a celibate without a community. It need not be a community of other permanent celibates or of other clergy – there are some great examples, such as the Emmanuel Community in France, who have found ways for celibate priests to live in an intentional Christian community that includes young single people, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers, etc.

Bottom line, if it is just a conversation about priesthood, as much as mandatory celibacy needs to be discussed openly and without taboo, it is not enough. It must be a holistic discussion about ministry, and the diaconate has a special place in this conversation given its recent history and current experience.   We have such a deep and broad Tradition from which to draw, why would we not dive in to find ancient practices to suggest modern solutions?

maximiano

The WYSIWYG Pope

Mideast PopeWhat I like most about Pope Francis is probably his integrity. Honesty and humility wrapped up with transparency. This is exactly what some people seem to find most frustrating – the off-the-cuff remarks, open to interpretation, or occasionally without all the details in place. The WYSIWYG Pope (What You See Is What You Get). But that is precisely the charm. And a much needed breath of fresh air. Just as Benedict XVI was a different kind of fresh air after the long lingering of John Paul II, and his theological acumen and teaching gifts a welcome change from the poetic philosophy of our most recent sainted bishop of Rome, the straight-shooter Francis is a welcome change from the meticulously careful German academic.

I am still unpacking all the ecumenical and interreligious activity of the weekend, but some small examples suffice as well. During his interview on the plane, Papa Francesco again responded to questions about celibacy, stating ‘nothing new’ when he said that the door is (theoretically) open, as required celibacy for diocesan priests is a discipline and not doctrine or dogma. Many have said it before and anyone who has studied Church history or understands the hierarchy of truths knows this and is probably thinking, “Just words… I’ll believe it when I see it.”

But whether he is talking about celibacy, or clericalism, or retiring popes, he is willing to speak directly on subjects that have been largely taboo for the rest of us for the last generation. I am not talking about ‘liberal’ issues like changing church moral teaching, ordaining women, or embracing New Age spirituality as a replacement for the rosary. I am talking about centrist, orthodox, reform issues like creative responses to our ministry problems drawn from the Tradition of the Church. This is about healing wounds caused by scandal and sex abuse, and demolishing systems that promoted or allowed such to happen, and build up in their place living adaptations of even more ancient ecclesiological structures.

Pope Francis is willing to name these problems, and at least open them up for discussion. Hopefully that attitude will trickle down, like a bad economic model (or perhaps, like the dewfall), to the rank and file church leadership, and we will have a vibrant discussion on how best to support our priests, bishops and deacons without enabling clericalism; how to support celibacy as a charism without foisting it on anyone with a call to ecclesial ministry and leadership; and how to accept that the bishop of Rome is not a monarch for life by divine right, but a diakonos of the diakonoi of God.

Married Priests: Optional Celibacy among Eastern Catholics – Past and Present

Report on the Chrysostom Seminar at the Domus Australia, Rome

November 2012

Presentation Panelists with their host

Presentation Panelists with their host

Did you know that there are now more married Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. than Eastern Catholic priests?

I do not actually remember a time when I did not know that there were married Catholic presbyters, so it has always been amusing to encounter people who find this a scandal in some way. The real scandal is that Catholic Churches with a right (and a rite!) to ordain married men are not allowed to do so, basically because of 19th and 20th century anti-immigrant sentiment, in the U.S.

That was not a main theme of the conference this morning, but it was certainly an interesting fact that was new to me.

Of the varied and lively discussion, probably the main take-away theme was this: The Gospel does not coerce, but offers conversion.

In other words, conversion is a response of the heart, whereas coercion is an exercise of power. Any relationship of supposedly sister churches, say, of Rome and of Constantinople – or of New York and Parma, for that matter – which is experienced as a relationship of coercion, becomes a church-dividing issue. This came up repeatedly regarding the imposition of a Latin discipline – mandatory celibacy for diocesan presbyterate – on non-Latin churches.

Speakers for the day included:

  • Archpriest Lawrence Cross, Archpriest, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University
  • Rev. Prof. Basilio Petrà, Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Centrale (Firenze)
  • Rev. Thomas Loya, Tabor Life Institute, Chicago:
  • Protopresbyter James Dutko, Emeritus Dean of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior, PA
  • Archpriest Peter Galazda, Sheptytsky Institute, Saint Paul University, Ottawa

Archpriest Dr. Lawrence Cross spoke on “Married Clergy: At the Heart of Tradition.” Father Cross opened by stating for the record that the conference here was not a critique on the Latin practice, internally, but a protest against what he described as ‘bullying’ in some parts of the Latin Church against Eastern sister churches in communion with Rome: namely, the requirements in some places (such as the U.S.) that Eastern Catholic churches not allow married clergy because of pressure from the Latin (Roman) Catholic bishops.

Both married and celibate clergy belong to the deep tradition of the church. Though some try to point to the origins of mandatory celibacy as far back as the Council of Trullo in Spain, it is really from the 11th century Gregorian reforms – based on monasticism and coincident with a resurgence of manichaeism in the Church.

One of the results of this, much later, is the novelty, he says, of speaking of an ontological change in ordination, or an ontological configuration to Christ, as in Pastores Dabo Vobis 20, which sees married priesthood as secondary. One US Cardinal, he did not name, has referred to the ontological change of priesthood as analogous to the Incarnation or transubstantiation.  The problem with the analogy is that the humanity of Christ is unchanged!  Trying to assert an essential link between priesthood and celibacy, something which has been relatively recent in its effort, is problematic.

Indeed, there is no celibacy per se, in the Eastern tradition, just married or monastic life. Both require community, and vows to commit one to that community. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Church 374-5 highlights to mutual blessing that marriage and ordination offer to each other. He wonder why Pope John Paul II, who seemed to have such a high respect for the “primordial sacrament” did not see fit to apply it to the presbyterate.

Professor Basilio Petrà of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy (in Firenze), spoke on the topic of “Married Priests: A Divine Vocation.” Two immediate thoughts he shared were that the Catholic Church has always, officially at least, affirmed married priesthood, and to consider that vocation is always a call of the community and not of the individual. Marriage and priesthood are two separate callings, but both sacraments and therefore complementary not competitive.

Fr. Petrà drew attention to the recent apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which included this paragraph:

48. Priestly celibacy is a priceless gift of God to his Church, one which ought to be received with appreciation in East and West alike, for it represents an ever timely prophetic sign. Mention must also be made of the ministry of married priests, who are an ancient part of the Eastern tradition. I would like to encourage those priests who, along with their families, are called to holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in sometimes difficult living conditions. To all I repeat that the excellence of your priestly life will doubtless raise up new vocations which you are called to cultivate.

While he emphasized the positive nature of the bishop of Rome including the married priesthood as a respected and ancient tradition in the east, it is interesting to note that while celibacy is a priceless gift of God” which “ought to be received in East and West alike,” married priesthood is not categorized as a gift of god but “a part of the tradition” and only in “the East.”

Father Thomas Loya of the Tabor Life Institute in Chicago, and a regular part of EWTN programming, presented on the topic,  “Celibacy and the Married Priesthood: Rediscovering the Spousal Mystery.” Married priesthood witnesses to the Catholic tradition of a life that is ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or.’ We need a more integrated approach to monasticism and marriage, and relocating celibacy in its proper monastic context. But the continued practice of requiring eastern Catholic churches to defer to the Latin church hierarchy with respect to married clergy is to act as though the Latin Church is the real Catholic Church and the eastern churches are add-ons – fodder for accusations of uniatism if ever there was.

One of the clear problems of this was that when, in 1929, celibacy was imposed upon eastern churches in the US and elsewhere, married priesthood was part of the strength of these churches. Since then vocations have disappeared, evangelization has all but ceased, and the general life of the churches has withered. After “kicking this pillar of ecclesial life out from under the churches” it offered nothing to hold them up in its place, and the Church is still suffering.

Can you imagine a better seedbed for presbyteral vocations than a presbyteral family? What better way for a woman to know what it would be like to marry a priest than to be the daughter of a priest?

Married priesthood is part of the structure of the Church, but celibacy always belonged to the monasteries. Without a monastic connection, a celibate priest is in a dangerous situation, lacking the vowed relationship of either marriage or monastic life to balance the call to work. Every celibate must be connected to a monastery in some way.

Just as a celibate monastic must be a good husband to the church and community, so too must a married couple be good monastics. The relationship of monasticism and marriage ought to be two sides of the same coin and mutually enriching. The call to service in ordained ministry comes from these two relationships to serve. This would be a sign of an integrated and healthy church.

Protopresbyter James Dutko is retired academic dean and rector of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior in Johnstown, PA. His topic was “Mandatory Celibacy among Eastern Catholics: A Church-Dividing Issue.” Father Dutko was the only Orthodox presenter on the panel (and the only one without a beard, incidentally…) The bottom line? As long as the Latin Church (that is the Roman Catholic Church) imposes its particular practice on other Churches even within its own communion, there will be no ecumenical unity. Stop the Latinization, and the Eastern Orthodox may be more inclined to restore full communion.

Dear Father Facebook: You are not married

Dear Father Facebook,

We have been friends for a while, possibly in real life, but certainly on this social networking site, which is far more important at the moment.

You are a priest of the Catholic Church. I am pretty good at ecclesiology, and having studied and discerned ordained and non-ordained ecclesial ministry my whole life, and I am quite sure that the norm of celibacy is still in force for the Latin Church. I have a deep respect and love of Eastern Catholic Churches, which generally allow their diocesan clergy to wed, but I happen to know that you are thoroughly Latin.

That being the case, unless you are an Anglican priest or Lutheran pastor who has come into full communion since your ordination, you are not married.

Please change your relationship status.

Yes, I know you are not alone, and it is not a clear cut choice. There is no “celibate” option on the relationship status list, last time I checked, so you and your brother presbyters have to choose between “single”, “in a relationship”, or “it’s complicated”, etc. Several of you have opted to present yourself as “married”, but I suggest this is not a good idea. Primarily because, well, you are not married.

You could say you are single, which is the most obvious true choice. The problem is that it might imply that you are available, and if you are chaste in your celibacy, as I am sure you are, then you are not available and I can understand that you do not want to give that impression.

You could say you are in a relationship, or that it is complicated, indicating you are not available, but neither are you engaged or married. These might be better, because, again, they are honest descriptions, though hopefully your commitment to your orders is not really that complicated. And it never says what kind of relationship you are in, so this could work.

But the one thing you are not is “married” (nor “engaged”, for you seminarians reading this). These very clearly indicate a vowed, committed lifelong relationship between two people that is a sign of love and union, and open to children. If you are religious you are in a vowed relationship as well, but it is not marriage. If you are diocesan (secular, for you old-school types), you are not even in vows, but an oath of fealty to your bishop.

Sure, back in the day when local churches elected their own bishops for life, it was spoken of as “being married to the church” – but when princes and popes took the power of placement away from the people, and when bishops began to move from see to shining see with impunity, the analogy began to break down.

And, sure, we can joke about people being “married to the job” because of their commitment and dedication, but these parallels and analogies are not the real thing. As Catholic Christians we view holy marriage as a sacrament – Pope John Paul II called it the “primordial sacrament” – and we should not treat it lightly.

For that reason too, as well as respecting the human person, it is probably not a good idea to refer to your breviary, your calendar, or your bishop even jokingly as your “wife”.

While we are on the topic of mixed messages – please do not wear a wedding band. You are not married.

Symbols are powerful. Consider if all the baptized and confirmed began wearing a stole as a symbol of their priesthood. Even though based on a true doctrinal reality – that by Christian Initiation all share in the priesthood of Christ – we reserve that particular symbol for a particular participation in His priesthood: that of the ordained bishop, presbyter or deacon. Similarly, the wedding band is reserved for those who actually participate in the sacrament of marriage, not a parallel image, no matter how sincere the intent or worthy the service.

If you want to begin a petition for Facebook to offer a “celibate” or “vowed religious” or even “consecrated virgin” relationship status, I will “like” it. I hope you can post an honest descriptor on your page, showing to the socially networked world the sacrifice you have made “for the sake of the kingdom”.

Until that time, however, please help me in supporting the traditional definition of marriage… by removing it from your profile.

 Sincerely,
your (unmarried) brother in Christ.

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