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Curtains for Celibacy

2009 October 21
by Gordon Reid

If the proposed Anglican Uniate initiative catches on, I predict that within a few years (or perhaps decades) a Pope will declare priestly celibacy optional for the secular clergy of the Western Rite. This will  be because all over the world there will be the Anglican RC Rite churches run by married priests, rectories resounding to the jolly cries of children, Mothers Unions run by the Vicar’s wife. The celibate clergy of the Latin Rite are already voicing discontent that they too cannot have a wife, and surely this can only increase?

Of course I know that there already exist Uniate groups in communion with Rome, but these are mostly of an Eastern sort, and their parishes, clergy and clergy wives hardly impinge on the consciousness of their Western brethren. But when (as many seem to think will happen) there are Anglican Rite RC churches all over America and the UK, this will be a very different matter.

Papal pronouncements on priestly celibacy for the secular clergy have praised it to such an extent that they seem to be condemning their Eastern Uniate brethen to second-class status. I have often wondered at the insensitivity of this, especially since the Popes who have made such statements claim to be the successor of Peter, whose mother-in-law is shown in the Gospel as a fine woman.

The next logical step is for a future Pope to take Scripture seriously when it says that “A bishop shall be the husband of one wife”, and return to the Early Church practice of married bishops. Of course, this provision would rule out not a few of the Anglican bishops who seem at the moment to be keen on becoming Roman Catholics, since I am sure it never meant having two or three wives at the same time, but rather marrying one wife for life and being faithful to that vow, which some of them have found irksome.

If a future Pope takes the title “Peter II”, watch out for fireworks!

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Timothy Kowalski permalink
    October 23, 2009

    As negligible as the presence of married Eastern Catholic priests are today, such was not always the case. At the beginning of the last century, the influx into the U.S. of Eastern Catholics (and their married clergy) was met with consternation on the part of the Irish-American R.C. bishops, many of whom had never even heard of the Eastern Rites and their supposedly guaranteed customs. The upshot was that married (or even widowed) Eastern Catholic priests were outlawed in America. The reason? “To avoid scandal,” the usual excuse. As a result, more than half of the Eastern Catholic congregations by then established left the Roman fold and returned to Orthodoxy. One of their leaders, Fr. Alexis Toth, was later canonized by the OCA. Perhaps the “Anglican Rite” priests can look forward to the same treatment?

    • October 23, 2009

      That’s a little piece of history I did not know. I hope the Anglican Rite priests are better treated. If not, they can always come back (as many of those who went over to Rome because of the ordination of women have done).

  2. John permalink
    October 23, 2009

    The archbishop of Minneapolis, John Ireland, is often called “The Father of Orthodoxy in America” as it was his treatment of St. Alexis Toth and his parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, to seek out reception into the Russian Orthodox church in San Francisco, starting the flood of Carpatho-Rusyns into Orthodoxy.
    Hopefully the Catholic bishops will have learned from this mistake. If not, I’d be happy to remind them…

  3. October 23, 2009

    Do you really think there will be that many Anglican Rite parishes? I don’t think most RC folks will even notice. In this country, at least, no one has a clue what an Anglican is.

    I think that for Rome, the biggest challenge to having married clergy isn’t theological but practical. It would require a whole new economic paradigm for parishes to be able to afford married priests, especially given that they’ll be expected to have large families.

  4. October 26, 2009

    An interesting take:

    October 26, 2009
    Op-Ed Columnist
    Benedict’s Gambit

    The Church of England has survived the Spanish Armada, the English Civil War and Elton John performing “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral. So it will probably survive the note the Vatican issued last week, inviting disaffected Anglicans to head Romeward, and offering them an Anglo-Catholic mansion within the walls of the Roman Catholic faith.

    But the invitation is a bombshell nonetheless. Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach to Anglicans may produce only a few conversions; it may produce a few million. Either way, it represents an unusual effort at targeted proselytism, remarkable both for its concessions to potential converts — married priests, a self-contained institutional structure, an Anglican rite — and for its indifference to the wishes of the Church of England’s leadership.

    This is not the way well-mannered modern churches are supposed to behave. Spurred by the optimism of the early 1960s, the major denominations of Western Christendom have spent half a century being exquisitely polite to one another, setting aside a history of strife in the name of greater Christian unity.

    This ecumenical era has borne real theological fruit, especially on issues that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. But what began as a daring experiment has decayed into bureaucratized complacency — a dull round of interdenominational statements on global warming and Third World debt, only tenuously connected to the Gospel.

    At the same time, the more ecumenically minded denominations have lost believers to more assertive faiths — Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mormonism and even Islam — or seen them drift into agnosticism and apathy.

    Nobody is more aware of this erosion than Benedict. So the pope is going back to basics — touting the particular witness of Catholicism even when he’s addressing universal subjects, and seeking converts more than common ground.

    Along the way, he’s courting both ends of the theological spectrum. In his encyclicals, Benedict has addressed a range of issues — social justice, environmental protection, even erotic love — that are close to the hearts of secular liberals and lukewarm, progressive-minded Christians. But instead of stopping at a place of broad agreement, he has pushed further, trying to persuade his more liberal readers that many of their beliefs actually depend on the West’s Catholic heritage, and make sense only when grounded in a serious religious faith.

    At the same time, the pope has systematically lowered the barriers for conservative Christians hovering on the threshold of the church, unsure whether to slip inside. This was the purpose behind his controversial outreach to schismatic Latin Mass Catholics, and it explains the current opening to Anglicans.

    Many Anglicans will never become Catholic; their theology is too evangelical, their suspicion of papal authority too ingrained, their objections to the veneration of the Virgin Mary too deeply felt. But for those who could, Benedict is trying to make reunion with Rome a flesh-and-blood possibility, rather than a matter for academic conversation.

    The news media have portrayed this rightward outreach largely through the lens of culture-war politics — as an attempt to consolidate, inside the Catholic tent, anyone who joins the Vatican in rejecting female priests and gay marriage.

    But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

    Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

    Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

    By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.

    There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

    This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.

  5. October 26, 2009

    Fr. ,
    Enjoy your blog very much. I appreciate your even-keel on the new R.C. Rite. One question that I have is will the future priests of the Anglican Use be allowed to take a wife, or be ordained after marriage? The sources I see seem to be clear that presently married clergy will be accepted, but what of future members of those churches? Very subversive stuff.


  6. AMM permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Perhaps the “Anglican Rite” priests can look forward to the same treatment?

    I don’t think history will repeat itself in that regard, cum data fuerit represented a state and mentality that no longer predominates. The irony is the majority of Latinizations, and in particular opposition to married clergy, among the Eastern particular churches in the Catholic communion is self enforced and directed from within.

    I do think the personal prelature for Anglicans will be limited in scope, numbers and visibility similar to the Eastern Churches; and therefore whatever happens in regards to celibacy there may not have a wider impact. Certainly those who are married now and went over would stay married after ordination. I would not be shocked if that practice was no longer the norm though after the initial inrush.

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