Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't throw stones inside your own glass house: An Eastern Catholic criticizes Celibacy for Latin Catholic Priests

This piece by Joseph Wakim ("Enlightenment from the East") is really unhelpful. In an earlier post I acknowledged that the East and the West have different (but not unrelated) disciplines with regard to priestly celibacy. The Latin (Roman) Catholic Church acknowledges and in no way seeks to interfere in the Eastern Catholic rites' discipline in this area. However, she also has her own tradition, as venerable as the tradition of the East, and it is a little much for an Easterner to take his fellow Latin Catholics to task in the secular press over this matter.

Here are a few paragraphs from his article, with my comments in [bold]:
Maronite Catholics from Lebanon, one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, have had an unbroken communion with Rome, yet about half their priests are married. There is no evidence that their holiness or sanctity is compromised by their matrimonial and paternal role. [The Latin Church is not suggesting that marriage compromises personal sanctity, and it is dishonest of Mr Wakim to suggest we do. If marriage compromised sanctity in any way, the Church could hardly propose it as a legitimate and blessed Christian calling].

...Anecdotes abound about good examples of married priests. The real irony is not that they already thrive within the Catholic Church, but that the arguments against such ordination echo the arguments for celibacy a millennium ago. [Why should we be surprised that the arguments for celibacy are the same today as they were a 1000 years ago? Has our theology changed? Does Mr Wakim suggest it should have? How would he feel if the Pope were to suggest a few changes to the ancient Maronite discipline because they are not "up to date"?]

Today, we hear the voices of establishment [Who? The Holy See? The Catholic bishops? How would he feel about us calling his Maronite Church leaders "the establishment"?] endeavouring to trivialise the calls for a rethink [The Latin Church may consistently reject calls for a "rethink", but it is too much to suggest that she "trivialises" these calls] with condescending conclusions such as: They regard the priestly vocation more as a right than as a gift from God [never heard this brought up in a discussion regarding celibate priesthood--with regard to ordination of women, yes, but not celibacy]; they want the priesthood to be modelled on their own selfish image rather than that of the celibate Christ [again, I have never heard calls for an end to compulsory celibacy for Latin priests put down to "selfishness"]; they are petitioning bishops rather than petitioning Christ through prayer [ummm... relevancy???]. They are from the Flower Power generation, who were anti-tradition and ordained in the '60s and '70s [who are these "they" that Mr Wakim keeps saying the "establishment" keeps going on about?]. They want to solve a "temporary staffing problem in one part of the world" by overturning important traditions. [I don't think anyone sees this in terms simply of staffing. It is a matter of vocations.]

These "holier than thou" dismissals are fraught with contradictions. [Well, yes, but they are "straw men" made up by Mr Wakim. -- None of them are authentic reasons why the discipline of priestly celibacy is maintained in the Latin Church.]

...For the first millennium, married priests were commonplace. In 1074, Pope Gregory VII announced that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy, as ordination marked the end of married life together – "priests (must) first escape from the clutches of their wives" [I found this quotation only on two places on the web: on a "Future Church" website and on an "atheists" website newsletter...]. This was enshrined during the First Lateran Council in 1123, when Pope Calistus II decreed that clerical marriages were invalid. [This is too much--it is as if to suggest that up until 1123, it was lawful for those in major orders in the Latin Church to marry. It was not. The first council in the West to order clerical celibacy was in 305AD. The marriages were declared invalid because they were contracted against the canons of the Church--just as if a priest today were to attempt a marriage without first being laicized].

...Church leaders could mount arguments that go to the core of the real crisis [They do. The Holy Father himself gave such core arguments in Sacramentum Caritatis p. 23-25. But I guess that Mr Wakim has not read the Exhortation.]. The decreasing number of priests cannot be separated from the decreasing number of parishioners, the pool from whom the priests are called. Celibacy per se may not be the core problem, as married men could become Catholic deacons and serve the church, if this was the stumbling block. [Que? I don't get it.]

...Celibate priests have traditionally been on call 24 hours a day. ...Therefore, this begs a different question – would the parishes benefit by a pool of "part-time" priests to complement the supermen? [In the Latin Church, there are no "part-time" priests. Priesthood is regarded as a "whole-of-life" vocation, like marriage. The situation of a Permanent Deacon is entirely different due to the different nature of the ministry.]
In short, I think that Joseph Wakim fails in three regards on this matter:

1) It is at least impolite and at most uncharitable for a Catholic of one rite to criticise the legitimate and venerable practices of Catholics of another rite.
2) It cannot be for the good of the Church that such discussions take place in secular media.
3) Mr Wakim misrepresents the Latin Church's reasons for maintaining celibacy -- in fact one is led to conclude that he may actually be ignorant of these reasons.


At Friday, August 24, 2007 8:31:00 pm , Anonymous Lucian said...

This article also poses a lot of q's I had myself while having the struggle I spoke of above.

At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 3:13:00 pm , Anonymous julie said...

Great commentary David. I agree to take this issue to task in the secular media was not appropriate.
Julie M
(A Maronite Catholic.)

At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 9:29:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Ta, Julie. Welcome to the comments page, and thanks for the Maronite balance! I assure you I value the Eastern Catholic Churches very highly, especially the Maronite rite that has always been in communion with the Petrine See since the very beginning.

Come back and comment often!


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