Last week I was asked by an editor at the New York Times to contribute a very short article as part of a forum on the issue of married priests in the Catholic Church. She asked me specifically to outline some practical reasons against having married priests.
I did so, and thereby received a fair bit of criticism because I “had it all” but wanted to prohibit this gift to other married men.
This is hardly an issue that could be dealt with in 300 words, so I thought I’d outline here on the blog some pros and cons of having married priests.
First, however, I should state that it is not easy for us married Catholic priests to speak or write about this issue.
On the one hand, you would have thought that we are exactly the people to write on the issue because we are the ones who are living it and we can advise the church on the practicalities better than anyone else.
However, no one from the hierarchy has asked for my two cents so far, and they are unlikely to.
The subject itself is very complex with too many variables to come down hard and fast on one side or the other.
Not only is the subject complicated, but for married former Anglicans to write on the subject is even more complex.
First of all, most of us have received mixed reactions from Catholics because we are converts.
In my experience the vast majority have given me a very warm welcome. However, there are some liberal Catholics who sneer at us because they assume we are all “dangerous arch conservatives” as one person has put it, “fundamentalists with incense.” Then we are also derided by the arch conservatives themselves who tell us to “learn to be a proper Catholic” and “go to a proper seminary”. They suspect us of being crypto Protestants–bringing terrible things into the Catholic church like Bible studies, evangelization, efficiency and being nice to people.
We therefore tread carefully on the married priest issue. The crazy thing is that I have found liberal Catholics are generally in favor of married priests, but they don’t want married priests like us. The conservatives are opposed to married priests for good reasons.
Therefore, if I take a position on married priests in a public way I’m going to be shot down one way or the other.
If I take a position in favor of the church changing her discipline I will be accused of getting too big for my britches. “Who are you to campaign for change?” the conservatives will cry while the liberals will suspect that my standing up for married priests is because I want more “dangerous conservatives” like myself to be ordained.
It ain’t easy.
If I quietly support the status quo I am attacked for “having my cake and eating it” while denying the same privilege to others.
I’ve had some people tell me I should have divorced my wife if I wanted to be ordained!
Therefore my general position is that I support the status quo. It is not for me to say the church should change her discipline. There are good reasons to have married priests and good reasons to maintain the discipline of celibacy. To make the call is above my pay grade. Therefore I quietly support the status quo.
The status quo, by the way is that celibacy is required for most men as part of the “ordination deal”. However, the status quo is also that Eastern Rite churches may ordain married men and men in my situation through the pastoral provision or the Anglican Ordinariate may be ordained.
Because people are curious about the pros and cons from the front line (as it were) I’ll be blogging on the topic this week.
I hope you’ll follow the posts, read, share and think through the topic with me.